Week 1 : January 9th to January 11th
Pomp and Circumstance
The first week of the biennium is filled with pageantry; lots of applause, oaths of office, speeches, dignitaries escorted in and out, some songs and laughter. All members are sworn in. The Speaker of the house is elected. The constitutional officers (governor, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor) are all sworn in.
The Governor gives his inaugural address and the session begins.
Election of the Speaker
The election of he Speaker of the House was (and usually is) a forgone conclusion. The majority party generally decides who the speaker will be well before the first day of the session. Mitzy Johnson was the speaker for the previous biennium and everyone knew she would be speaker for this biennium. Her formal election on the first day of the session was a good show of unity, though one Republican did vote against her.
The speaker, in consultation with party leaders, potential chairs of committees and others, decides who is on which committee and who will be chair, vice chair and ranking member of each. The November election resulted in the Democrats and Progressives gaining enough seats to have a super-majority (more than 2/3); enough votes to override a governor's veto. This will change the political dynamics in the House. The Governor's inaugural address on Wednesday was not nearly as confrontational as last year's. It was all about working together, which is good.
The change is reflected in committee assignments as well. Democratic leadership is more confident that the issues they consider important can make it to enacted legislation. That makes it more important that committee chairs reflect the agenda of the Democratic party. It's all a lot of plotting and planning that, fortunately, does not involve me. I'm back on the Corrections & Institutions committee and that's where I want to be.
Issues this Session
One of the top questions I receive is: "So, what do you think will be the big issues this session?" There are always surprises but the following are likely (in no particular order):
- Clean Water Funding - The State needs a long-term method of funding all the Clean Water Initiative projects throughout the state. Currently (and probably for the next two years) a good chunk of that comes out of Capital Funds. It's legitimate. The projects are long-term capital projects, but there is a lot of other capital fund needs that have been put off in order to fund Clean Water.
- Marijuana - There will probably be a Tax and Regulate Marijuana bill. What it will contain and it's chances of passing are up in the air.
- Education Funding - There are always bills looking at better ways to fund public education in Vermont.
- Affordable Housing - This is a bi-partisan priority and was mentioned in the Governor's address.
- Opioide Crisis - Everyone would like to see this addressed, but the approaches vary. It's a tough issue.
- Paid Family Leave - Vetoed last session, this issue will come back.
- Minimum Wage - There may well be another bill to boost the minimum wage.
- Act 250 - Recently the Act 250 Commission released a report with suggested changes to Act 250. This will surely be an issue.
- Climate Change - How this is approached I don't know, but there will be a renewed interest that could bring some changes.
I do not see any real interest in a Carbon Tax/Fee and I haven't heard anything about gun related legislation.
One way or another. it will be an interesting session.
The Governor gave a very good inaugural address. He did a fine job of outlining many of the problems facing Vermont. He also voiced a strong willingness to work with the General Assembly to get things done. In two weeks he will present his budget. That will show how he intends to address those issues and what his priorities really are.
Along with the proposed budget, there will be a proposed capital budget. My committee will be taking a careful look at that.
It is also my fervent hope that Corrections & Institutions work on along-term plan for Vermont's corrections system.