By REP. CURT TAYLOR
The first week or so of a biennium is a mix of pageantry, paperwork and preparation. Oaths of office are recited by all members of the General Assembly, the governor, the treasurer, the auditor and more: standing ovations, flag ceremonies, even some songs and laughter. Legislators complete forms for financial disclosures, identification badges, online biographies, state IDs and paychecks. The speaker announces the all-important committee assignments, and we settle into the committee room chairs we will occupy for the next five months … or so.
The governor’s inaugural address was the first inkling of how the session might progress. Things have changed a bit. Last biennium a united Republican caucus could support the governor’s veto and prevent any bill from becoming law. Thirteen bills were vetoed during the 2017-18 biennium. We came dangerously close to a state government shutdown. Now, Democrats and Progressives might combine to override such a veto. How that plays out is yet to be seen, but the governor urged Vermont-style cooperation between all the parties. His speech correctly identified many of the pressing needs facing Vermont: clean water funding, affordability, opioids, workforce development, demographics and K-12 education. The funding for any solutions was not mentioned. That’s the meat of his next speech to the General Assembly. This week’s budget address will contain hard numbers clearly defining his priorities and how he hopes to achieve solutions. Those numbers are eagerly anticipated.
Some House members are not so eagerly anticipating another upcoming event: the Feb. 21 election of an adjutant general for the Vermont National Guard. Vermont is the only state in the union that selects the head of its militia in such a manner. The position has no prerequisites. No committee vets the candidates and offers recommendations. The governor is not involved. Legislators are on their own with this one. It’s a challenge.
Each day, on the floor, the speaker announces more bills and shunts them off to committees. House members convene and adjourn within half an hour, then disappear to committee rooms to hear testimony and discuss policy. In each committee room there is a corkboard with small square papers for each bill received. Before the session all the boards were cleared. A fresh start. Now committee assistants stick pushpins in a growing column of papers marked “In Committee.” There is a conspicuous absence of papers in the “Taken Up” and “Out of Committee” columns. This week that will change.