Week 2 : January 15th to January 19th
Guns in the Statehouse
On Tuesday, January 14th, colors were presented by the Colonel Seth Warner's Extra Continental Regiment, aka Green Mountain Boys. On that date in 1777 Vermont declared itself an independent republic. It was about 13 years later that we joined the Union as the 14th state.
The General Assembly is settling into the weekly routine:
- Monday - The only committees that meet are Appropriations and perhaps Ways & Means.
- Tuesday - Commuting day. On the Floor at 10:00. Committees may meet prior. Committee work until 4:30 or 5:00 with a break for lunch.
- Wednesday - On the floor 1:00, committee before and after.
- Thursday - On the floor at 1:00, committee before and after.
- Friday - On the floor at 9:30, committee the rest of the time.
On the Floor is the time we are in the well of the House and doing the business of voting, debating etc. It's really just a small percentage of the time spent in the building, particularly now as bills are being submitted and shunted off to committees. We spend most of our time in committee rooms. Mine is the Committee on Corrections and Institutions.
Committee Work This Week
We took testimony from the Commissioner of Corrections and the Commissioner of Buildings and General Services; an overview of Corrections and a summary of what's going on with various capital projects around the state. The Chair also went over previous Capital Bills and spreadsheets in order to give our four new members an idea of what's to come. The Chair and Vice-chair set the agenda each week, though suggestions from other members are welcome.
Bills are beginning to hit the floor. Each morning we have six to ten to move to Committees by voice vote. Members with draft bills are also circulating among the us in search of additional sponsors. After collecting sponsors the draft bills are submitted to the clerk's office, given an official number and brought to the floor for first reading. That's when they are assigned to a committee.
With all this action on bills we get an idea of what controversies might be coming up. There is considerable interest in several bills relating to abortion rights. Vermont currently has no law stating anything about abortion. We are the only state in which that is the case. There is concern that a change in federal law or the interpretation of the Constitution will curtail Vermonter's rights to an abortion. The bills being circulated take existing practices and make them Vermont law.
The path from draft bill to enacted legislation is a long one. Bills change a lot in the process. These bills are just starting that process so it's hard to guess how they will end up. The Senate has introduces S.25 with the purpose of establishing a right to an abortion.
I would much rather we didn't begin the session with controversial issues, but it seems unavoidable. While some are distracted by the inevitable news coverage, there are many that are continuing to work on the less conspicuous issues: education funding, Corrections policy, housing affordability, the opioide crisis, clean water funding and much more.
Section 72 of the Vermont Constitution details a complex method for amendments. Amendments can be initiated only every four years after 1975, so 1979, 1983 . . . 2011, 2015 and yes, 2019. An amendment must originate in the Senate and pass with a two-thirds vote. It then goes to the House where it only needs a majority. If it gets that far, it sits until the next biennium (2021) when it must again pass the Senate and the House, both by simple majority. That done, it goes to the voters. If a majority of voters approve, the State Constitution is so amended.
Three constitutional amendments have been proposed by the Senate.
- PR.1: Elections; Governor; four-year term of office
- PR.2: Declaration of rights; eliminating reference to slavery
- PR.3: Declaration of rights; right to privacy
This coming Thursday (1/24/19) at 2:00 pm the Governor presents his recommended budget to a joint session of the House and Senate. That's when we really find out what the Governor wants to get done and how he intends to do it. That same day, the proposed capital budget will be dropped on our committee room desks. Our work begins in earnest.