Legislative Report 5/2/2012 - The Decision Making Process

The closing days of the legislative session tend to generate a lot of floor debate in both the House and the Senate as we have seen in the news lately.  Perhaps by the time this article is published, we will have completed our work in Montpelier and will have adjourned.  Chances are, though, that a few more days will be needed to wrap up the session.

One of the reasons why the proceedings seem to invite more debate is that the bills dealing with some of the stickier, more controversial issues are left until the end.  This stands to reason since those bills are the ones on which the committees take the most testimony and which engender the most discussion in the committees.  All members of a committee have the opportunity to express their opinion on every aspect of a bill, and the initial version of a bill is rarely the version that is voted out of committee.  Because each representative serves on only one committee, we depend on the committee reports to inform our own decisions on how to vote on bills.

Since hundreds of bills are introduced during the two-year period, some bills never get voted out of committee.  However, some get added to another bill dealing with a similar issue.  This happened with a bill I introduced concerning record keeping on the part of second-hand coin and jewelry dealers.  I introduced a bill last year to address the problem of burglaries and car break-ins so that police would have an easier time tracking down stolen property that was pawned off at these legitimate dealers.  While my bill was not acted on, a similar bill dealing with scrap metal dealers was approved.  With the help of Senators Richard Sears and Bill Cariss, elements of my bill were added to the scrap metal bill in the Senate.

One of the lessons I learned working in the legislature is that the most controversial issues may seem cut and dry, black and white, to proponents and opponents.  But once they are examined in detail with testimony from each side, with analyses from experts, and with serious discussion in committee, it becomes obvious that there are many shades of gray.  This is true of the immunization issue, the choices in dying issue, the CVPS/GMP merger, the pros and cons of different types of renewable energy, and many others.  Legislators hear from many interest groups as well as individuals urging us to vote one way or the other.  It is our job to weigh these interests based on as many facts as we can gather.  Political philosophies are certainly a factor, as are the interests of the communities we represent.  Sometimes we will come down on one side of the question; sometimes we will try to craft a compromise if it seems both sides have merit; and sometimes we will agree not to take any action if there is too much uncertainty. 

There is much left to consider and vote on this week, and it will not be unusual for our floor sessions to run late.  But democracy requires that every issue be open to debate and every legislator that wants to be heard is allowed to be heard.  When we are finished, we hopefully will have done well for the people of Vermont.