ISSUES

 

A very industrious committee…

June 8, 2017
 
I have a very real and deep pride in my legislative committee, House Government Operations, and the work which we accomplished this session.
 
Some background. Only five of the eleven members had any legislative experience with the issues within our responsibility: “The organization, oversight, and conduct of state government, compensation of state officials and employees; pensions; law enforcement; public safety; reapportionment; municipal corporations; suffrage; nominations, elections, and the election of members; local, county, and regional governmental structures; relations between State and local governments; open meeting issues, and public records issues.”
 
Of our eleven, one is a Progressive, four are Republicans, and six are Democrats… all coming with varying views of the “world order,” no one walking “in lock step” with anyone else. Three were first-time legislators, and the group was saddled with a first-time Chair… me. It could have been the proverbial train wreck.
 
But it wasn’t. Not at all. We survived having to deal with a disputed legislative election, but the due diligence required on that task took the first month of the session. We were not able to start our “usual” work until February. In one month’s time, remembering that the week of Town Meeting Day we were not in Montpelier and that “crossover” was March 17, the committee managed to vote out thirteen bills. There was H.42, a remedy to situations such as faced by Coventry (municipal officers and missing money) and H.22, law enforcement oversight (grounds for decertification and an end to “agency-hopping”). There was H.512, procedures for conducting election recounts (informed by the experience of recounts in disputed November 2016 elections handled locally as well as the committee’s experience in that disputed election which landed in our lap at the state level). There was H.111, the mammoth vital records bill (bringing order to our statutes regarding birth and death, and removing Vermont from its very foolish status as an “open access” state).
 
After “crossover,” the committee voted out twenty more bills. These included several municipal charters, and clarification in statute of the documentation required to support consideration of proposed charter changes. There was H.526, the Notaries bill (updating standards from the 1700s which had impeded individual, business, and government transactions). There was S.135B, establishing the infrastructure for Rural Economic Development Initiatives and S.135C, delineating the steps necessary to make the Green Mountain Secure Retirement plan a reality. And there was S.8, the ethics bill.
 
Was this all a “walk in the park”? Absolutely not. As an example, the law enforcement oversight bill was almost lost due to disputes among the stakeholders and within the committee. The vital records bill was going to sink from its own weight and from disputes among the stakeholders. The Green Mountain Secure Retirement plan was “dead on arrival” due to disputes within the committee, as was the ethics bill. Even charters were disputatious within the committee… it took till April 26 to vote out the Central Vermont Solid Waste District charter changes.
 
So how did it work on all these bills? Everyone, on the committee and from the public, was heard, repeatedly. Members of the committee often struggled for weeks to find common ground, to modify their “must-have” or to let loose of their “over-my-dead-body.” When all was said and done, when it came time to vote a bill out of committee, there were very few negative votes all session long.
 
Finding the common ground, the consensus means, of course, that there was and still is plenty for people outside the committee to pick at or outright condemn as worthless, if they are of such a mind. The ethics bill is a perfect example. It does not include a robust ethics commission with full investigatory powers. It does, however, shut the “revolving door,” prohibit “pay-to-play,” require financial disclosures, require a state code of ethics, and establish a straight-forward mechanism for assessing alleged ethics violations. It also requires municipalities to establish conflict of interest policies. We think that all makes for an important first step.
 
If you would like to talk about any of these bills or any other legislative issue, please do not be shy. Contact me by email at mftownsend@comcast.net, by phone at 802-862-7404, at my home at 232 Patchen Road, on the street, or at Trader Duke’s from 8:30 to 9:30 on Saturday mornings.
 
 

If you would like further information about the state of our vital events records, or if you would like to discuss any other issue or concern, please let me know.  Please contact me on my email at mftownsend@comcast.net. or on the phone at 862-7404; or at Trader Duke’s on Saturday mornings, between 8:30 and 9:30; or on the street when I am out with my dog.

 

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