The 2015 Legislative Session began on Jan. 7 at 10 AM. The first order of business was to take the roll (done by the Secretary of State, Jim Condos) and elect the Speaker of the House. Rep. Shap Smith was easily elected for the fourth time – no one ran against him. Committees were promptly assigned and I was honored to be chosen to Chair the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee (AFP) for the fourth biennium.
In recent years, House AFP has done very important work including Farm to Plate legislation; the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative; and H.112 (now Act 120), the bill that requires the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering. I am very proud of the thoughtful, sometimes groundbreaking, work we have done and look forward to another productive biennium. I know our plate will be full working on water quality along with Rep. David Deen’s Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources Committee.
On Thursday, it was the Legislature’s job to elect our governor. Since none of the gubernatorial candidates had more than 50% of the vote, it is required by the Vermont Constitution that the Legislature vote on it. I have been very clear about my choice and the fact that I would vote for Peter Shumlin. He received the most votes in the state and for the sake of the one person, one vote concept and democracy, in general, I cast my vote for Gov. Shumlin who won 110-69.
During the inauguration, demonstrators in favor of single payer disrupted the proceedings with noisy singing, outbursts, and banners, all of which is in violation of the Vermont Constitution. I believe their target was the governor who recently backed away from progress on single payer. Their demonstration was, unfortunately, misplaced as they disrupted the very body that passed the bill creating a path to single payer in the first place.
I have been a single payer supporter for 20 years and I, too, was disappointed that the governor chose to back away from implementation of single payer at this point. However, I understand why he did it and I, and hopefully he, will be looking for other ways, perhaps more incremental, to continue on the path to single payer.
The demonstration on Thursday did not help the cause, however, and has potentially set it back. It was disrespectful to our guests and to the veterans who were escorting them into the chamber; it was disrespectful to House and Senate members, as well as the minister saying the benediction; and it was heartbreaking for those of us who have worked so hard and so long to bring about single payer. It has made our work harder. I am a strong believer in a person’s right to demonstrate but timing and location are everything and this did us no favors.
The Vermont State House is the “People’s House”. It is a very open building, unlike most other states where you have to go through strict security every day of the year. I fear that events like this might change the environment of openness and that would be unfortunate.
I am proud of the Sergeant at Arms’ team and the State and Capitol Police for showing restraint, thus preventing injury and an even bigger story. It wasn’t until later in the evening when the State House closed and the demonstrators refused to leave that they were removed and arrested.
On Friday, committees got down to work. The Agriculture and Forest Product Committee will be spending two to three weeks on orientation because we have six new members. This involves hearing from the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets and dozens of other organizations and witnesses whose work is involved with agriculture and forest products.
It is always a thrill to return to Montpelier and take my seat on the Floor of the House. I am humbled and truly honored by the trust my constituents place in me and will do my best to serve you. As a reminder, if you need to contact me or any other legislator, we can reached by phone at the toll-free State House number 1-800-322-5616. Leave a message with the Sergeant at Arms and I will return your call as soon as possible. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out my website – www.carolynpartridge.com – where I archive my legislative columns.