REP. SETH CHASE

So, what exactly is a state representative anyway? A year ago, I only thought I knew. Many people have a rough idea of the three branches of government, for the state and the nation, but until I got to Montpelier, I had no idea of the details. We all know the executive branch is charged with enacting and enforcing laws, and is led by the governor. The judicial branch includes the courts, and, like the executive branch, operates year ‘round. The legislative branch, of which I am now a part, only runs for the winter and into early spring, and is made up of 150 representatives and 30 senators. It’s our job to cultivate and maintain the laws for the state of Vermont, enacting new laws to reflect changes in our world, or sometimes pruning or weeding out older statutes that may be less (or not) relevant.

Within the legislature, each member of the house is assigned to one specialized committee, and senators are assigned to two. This specialization allows a much deeper dive into a given set of topics than could possibly be hoped to achieve in one big room with 150 people sharing their experience and opinions. Any representative may draft a bill, which will be referred to the appropriate committee for that topic for detailed scrutiny. The committee weighs the merits, benefits, and costs for a proposal, and then makes a recommendation to the House at large, either with or without adjustments proposed to the original bill. For my part, as a network engineer, I’ve been assigned to the energy and technology committee, which will allow me to utilize my skills for the benefit of all Vermonters.

In the first few weeks of session, the energy and technology committee has been presented with 13 new bills, covering topics such as fossil fuel infrastructure, siting for telecom projects, renewable energy credits, funding and plans for statewide broadband projects, and official designation of a new state agency for digital services. We have heard testimony from energy and telecommunications companies, state agencies, and independent groups who spend their days studying specific topics or issues. I expect many more to come through in the next few weeks, as we get down to the business of prioritizing and analyzing the proposals.

To the larger group of the House as a whole, there seem to be several resolutions every day, most often congratulating particular groups or individuals on a notable achievement, or designating a day to be for the recognition of a particular topic or issue. We have passed a few new laws already this year, even though most bills are still in the early stages with their committees. The first was a “simple” budget adjustment to true up state finances for the year based on last year’s full budget. (Just don’t let anyone on appropriations or ways and means hear anyone call it simple!) There was also a new law to ensure education covers the diverse history and experiences of residents of our state/country, and a law to apply tobacco taxes uniformly across e-cigs and assorted materials.

I expect we’ll have many more coming through in the coming weeks, including some that will likely create opportunities for discussion among neighbors. We’ll keep you posted!