Legislative Report - 5/15/2011

The 2011 legislative session has ended, and I would like to share with you my thoughts about my experience as a freshman legislator.  While I had a general idea of how the legislature works, I was surprised at how much of the work is done off the floor of the House. 90% of the work gets done in the 14 committees of the House.  Since each representative is assigned to only one committee, I found that it is a lot like being in a castle with only a single, narrow window to look out of.  Although every bill is announced on the floor as it is assigned to a committee, it is virtually impossible to know what they all contain, which ones will actually come out of committee, and how much they’ll change if they do get voted out.

House Natural Resources & Energy Committee
Front: Sarah Edwards, Bill Canfield, Mark Mitchell,
Margaret Cheney, Betty Nuovo, Rebecca Ellis. 
Back: Mike Yantachka, Kurt Wright, Tony Klein,
Michael Hebert, Tim Jerman

Two things helped me deal with this situation.  One was getting to know at least one or two people on each committee that I could go to if I had a question about a particular bill.  The other was the caucus system where each party’s members met regularly to share information on key legislation and which provided weekly written summaries of committee work.  From a personal standpoint I found that many issues which seemed cut and dried to me at the start had multiple facets that had to be considered before they could be dealt with effectively. 

For example, promoting alternative energy development to reduce fossil fuel consumption and create jobs is a laudable goal.  However, it has to be done in a way that will minimize increases in electric rates so that we don’t lose more jobs than are created.  It also has to provide enough of an incentive to maintain the jobs that have already been created.  Another example is the goal of providing universal access to affordable health care.  We started with the Governor’s proposal of a single payer system that covers all Vermonters.  However, the Health Committee determined that the complexity of the health care system requires a great deal of analysis to ensure that providers are fairly compensated, that costs are managed carefully, that it interacts properly with existing programs like Medicare, retirement health insurance programs, and self-insurance programs of employers.  This will definitely modify the original concept to account for all these variables.

The philosophy that government has a responsibility to provide opportunities for individuals to become productive citizens in a growing economy, a vibrant community, and a healthy environment is shared by most of my colleagues in the House.  Education, mental health services, environmental regulations, law enforcement, infrastructure, and commercial development are all parts of the complex puzzle that are vital to today’s societal structure.  Accomplishing these goals while managing a projected $176 million revenue shortfall was a daunting challenge, but this legislature managed to do it.  As a result, we had to accept more cuts to those essential programs than we wanted to, although not as much as were originally proposed. 

A lot has been accomplished during this legislative session, and I am proud to have been a part of it.  I refer you to the May 15th issue of the Burlington Free Press for an excellent summary of all the legislation that was passed as well as some that was held until we go back in January, 2012.  Throughout this session I have tried to keep the lines of communication open between you, my constituents, and me.  I hope these columns have kept you informed.  I will continue to welcome your input by phone (425-3960) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).