Here’s the result of the Committee work so far. There are a lot of helpful links and sidebar definitions to help understanding.
Albert Einstein famously said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. While this is certainly true, political insanity is more often doing something different just for the sake of change. With that in mind, caution seems to be the operative word in Montpelier these days.
In the face of looming problems, lawmakers are proceeding cautiously, and rightly so, on the big bills: education, healthcare, water quality, and energy policy. They are taking the time to consider options, study the research, and hear from stakeholders. The committee rooms are hives of activity.
The House chamber itself seems quiet by comparison. Bills are flooding in – 158 in the House and 72 in the Senate so far – with many more to follow. A few have been passed in the House, mostly adjustments to existing laws or of relatively minor impact.
The Budget Adjustment Act also made its way through the House; 49 pages of financial tweaking to bring spending in line with revenues for the rest of this fiscal year ending June 30. The last page is an amendment, itself amended, which requires the Vermont Health Benefit Exchange to release figures for past, present, and future spending, and the sources of that revenue, including federal grants.
Jon Margolis writing in VT Digger gives a good perspective on the mood in Montpelier these days, and on the dynamics and challenges of a citizen legislature. http://vtdigger.org/2015/02/08/margolis-now-shumlin-big-guy-not-man-montpelier/
Despite all the press coverage of Legislature discussing the “beagle issue” it has taken me longer to write these words than we spent discussing dogs in the statehouse. I read in the paper that the State Legislature is debating whether to designate the beagle as the official State Dog. But the word “debate” is not quite accurate. It is true that a bill was proposed in the senate. It is also true that it was promptly referred to committee where people expect it to die quietly, pinned to the wall and ignored.
The senator who submitted it did so because his constituents submitted a petition with 200 signatures on it asking him to do so. So he did. This little excursion into triviality has been part of my learning curve in Montpelier. So yes, there is a bill. No, we are not debating it.
What we have been discussing are the very serious issues facing Vermont: the budget, the economy, education funding, where to go with healthcare, a renewable energy portfolio, and Lake Champlain clean-up. Committees are working hard, taking testimony, weighing options, and listening to different perspectives. My committee of Natural Resources and Energy has been working on a Renewable Portfolio Standard, basically an energy roadmap to guide us toward 2050. The roadmap lays out specific thresholds for utilities to meet and designates renewable energy, energy efficiency, and distributed generation practices. it has been a steep learning curve for many of us on the committee.
There are bills presented or in the works on a dizzying variety of topics, some critical like those mentioned above, some small but important, and some just minor. Earlier we passed a bill banning the manufacture and sale of healthcare products containing microbeads – tiny plastic beads that scrub your skin but because they are non-biodegradable they also contaminate wastewater and concentrate in fish, who mistake them for tiny eggs and eat them. That bill now goes to the senate for approval. Let’s just hope they don’t send us the beagle bill in exchange.
Much of this week was devoted to learning the background needed to do effective work in committee. We have heard from Secretaries, Commissioners, Directors, CEOs, Treasurers and so on – giving us overviews of the agencies of agriculture and natural resources, utility companies, and various departments and divisions in them.
This is groundwork for crafting a Renewable Portfolio Standard bill, a must-pass piece of legislation to replace the expiring SPEED Program. Both regulate renewable energy in the state, but are relevant to the larger energy picture in New England and nationally.
Other committees like education and healthcare are working on their own critical issues, though no bills have been introduced yet in those fields. But the variety of other bills is dizzying. Each year approximately 1500 to 2000 bills are introduced, from sweeping to very minor. About 10% will usually make their way into law.
Topics of bills already introduced this year range from hearing aids to DNA databases, from dental services to beagles, flood insurance to the sex offender registry, sick leave to docking cow’s tails. And it is still early in the session!
Bills are introduced with a one line description and referred to the appropriate committee where they will be considered. Often Bills will need to work through more than one committee. Bills regarding clean up of Lake Champlain, for example, may be considered by Agriculture, Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife, and Ways & Means. Then do the same in the Senate.
The legislative website – www.legislature.vermont.gov is an amazing resource. Any interested person can go to the website and see what bills have been introduced, the members and agendas for each committee, and see copies of all the reports and documents submitted to each committee. I urge you to to spend a little time there. It is fascinating. Really!
Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman
This has been an exciting first week on the job. I expected that the legislature’s election of a Governor would be historic; it has happened quite a few times before, but this was the most controversial in recent history. Since the early 1900s, legislative votes have overwhelmingly confirmed the popular vote, with lawmakers voting for the top vote-getter rather than along party lines. This year’s election was more contended, with the final vote being: Peter Shumlin 110 and Scott Milne 69. One lawmaker did not vote.
As a “newbie” I did not expect to be chosen as a teller: distributing, collecting, and counting the ballots. It gave me an even greater sense of participation in the events. Unexpectedly, the picture of Peg Flory and me counting the vote ended up in the New York Times.
My committee assignment is Natural Resources and Energy, which I am very excited about. We will have a very full plate working on Renewable Portfolios Standards, solar siting, aspects of Lake Champlain clean-up, and a host of other issues.
The Legislature as a whole is prioritizing Education Funding, and will continue to work toward universal healthcare access while containing costs.
Check out the newly revamped Vermont General Assembly website – it is really accessible and worthwhile.
The results are in and I have won with 53% of the vote!
This would not be without the incredible support of this community, the volunteers who made this happen. Your faith and encouragement, your donations and your hard work are what carried me forward. Thank you to the voters of the district for your trust and support. And to those in the district who did not vote for me: my job is to represent the entire district, a charge I take very seriously. We will not agree on everything but we will have open and honest discussion. I will listen to you. I look forward to serving this community.
October 27, 2014 Letter of Support Sent to Rutland Herald
We are writing in support of Robin Chesnut-Tangerman. The voters of the Middletown Springs, Pawlet, Rupert, Tinmouth and Wells legislative district are fortunate to have him as a candidate for State Representative. We have worked with Robin and know him to be capable, hard working, and conscientious. With his experience as a teacher, mediator and small business owner, as well as ten years a select board member, he knows how things work and he gets things done.
NELSON & BETTI JAQUAY
October 22, 2014 Posted to: Middletown Springs Front Porch Forum
For a hundred and eighty years Middletown sent representatives to the Vermont Legislature, starting in 1785 with Joseph Spaulding and including names like Leffingwell, Coy, Clark, Vail, Gray, Copeland, Haynes, Buxton, Carpenter, Greene, Dudley, Norton, Parker, Hubbard, and Rogers – familiar names even today. The last representative to the Legislature from Middletown Springs was Lewis Barrett in 1965.
The “one town, one vote” system came to an end in Vermont after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that arrangement violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Vermont Supreme Court agreed in the case of Buckley vs. Hoff in 1964. New legislative districts were created by the Legislature, cutting the number of House members from 246 to 150. Middletown Springs joined a legislative district that includes Pawlet, Wells, Rupert and, more recently, part of Tinmouth. Since 1965 that district has been represented by successive residents of Pawlet, the town with the largest population.
Now, after fifty years without direct representation, Middletown Springs voters have a good chance of helping to elect one of our own to the Vermont House. That candidate is Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, a proven Town leader.
On November we can make history and add another familiar name to roster of Middletown’s legislators when we help elect Robin to the Vermont House!