As the end of 2016 Legislative Session approaches, the tension level in the State House is dialed up a few notches. Speaker Shap Smith is very determined to adjourn by May 6th or 7th at the latest, so all bills need to be coming down the homestretch. Once the Budget Bill and the funding bills that go along with it are finalized, we will be on a fast track to adjournment.
This is the time of year when intrigue abounds with certain bills being held up because the other body wants something. Logjams can form and then, when the lynch pin gets released, the whole logjam let’s go and you see things happen very fast. I liken the end of Session to a game of three-dimensional chess, which can be fun to participate in but you have to be on your toes.
It is also a time of “hurry up and wait”. The last week, we will do some work on the Floor of the House and then recess while the Senate does some work, which then gets sent to us. This drives some legislators nuts but for those of us who have been around for a while, it is a great time to pack up our files and clean out our drawers. In some states legislators have their own offices – in Vermont we each get a desk on the Floor of the House (or Senate) and a desk and a file drawer in our committee room so there’s not much to clean out. With the advent of IPads, the amount of paper has been significantly decreased.
It is also a good opportunity to say goodbye to our colleagues who we know won’t be running again. This Monday, the Windham County delegation will be having dinner together to say farewell to Ann Manwaring. Ann is a very thoughtful legislator and I will miss her greatly.
The very good news is that the Gilfeather Turnip Bill designating the tasty tuber as the State Vegetable was approved by the Senate and we are currently making arrangements with the governor’s office for the bill signing. It hasn’t been determined where or when it will happen but I am hopeful to be able to attend.
The Gilfeather Turnip Bill was involved in one of those intrigues I mentioned earlier. The Senate really wants a piece of legislation, known as the Rozo McLaughlin Bill, which would create universal meal programs at more schools in the state. The House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee (HAFPC) received the bill late, has been taking testimony on it, and passed it out last week. It will be on the Floor of the House for action on Monday and Tuesday.
We support the bill because it enables the Farm to School program to do more regarding school meal programs. More children will have access to healthy, nutritious food without the stigma associated with the free or reduced program. It also makes it easier for local farmers to sell their products to our schools, which keeps more Vermont money within our state. All of this made sense to us and we planned to pass it, but the Senate wanted to see action before they let the Gilfeather Turnip Bill go.
Also involved in the intrigue is another bill, H.512, relating to adequate shelter for dogs and cats. The HAFPC worked hard on the bill after a task force of stakeholders studied the situation and offered suggestions last fall. Our agreement with the stakeholders was that any changes that were made by the committee would have to been agreed to by them. The Senate added a provision that one of the stakeholders does not agree with and, as a result, the entire bill might die. That would be unfortunate but in the State House one’s word is one’s bond and I am not willing to break that. We have a week left to come to terms with the Senate on this.
As we look to next year, we realize there will be big changes in leadership. There will be a new governor, lieutenant governor, House Speaker, Senate President Pro Tempore, and presumably changes in House and Senate leadership. This creates a level of uncertainty that may cause anxiety for some – I would like to think of it as an opportunity for growth.
We will definitely miss Speaker Shap Smith. His management style, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and sense of humor have made serving as the Chair of the Agriculture and Forest Products Committee a pleasure. His support for the important work we have done such as the Farm to Plate Initiative, the expansion of Farm to School, the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, and the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering played a major role in making them realities. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as his wife, Melissa, recovers from cancer and we wish him luck in whatever he chooses to do next.
As I contemplate the coming summer, I look forward to shearing my sheep and goats, doing the barn chores (thanks to my husband, Alan, for doing them all winter!), and trying some new things in my garden. For one thing, I will try to grow cotton again. I was able to germinate one good plant and we will see how far it gets. Last year, I got to the flowering stage – maybe this year I will get some bolls!