Legislative Report 1/23/2019 - What Is a Caucus?

While the first week of a new legislative biennium is filled with “pomp and circumstance”, i.e. the swearing in of new members, election of the Speaker, appointments to standing committees, and the inauguration of the Governor, the next two weeks are generally spent introducing the committees to the agencies and departments they will be working with as well as to non-governmental stakeholders in the policy areas that they will be dealing with. Most committees have a majority of members new to the committee, and it is important to ground everyone in the basics before the real work of considering legislation begins.

Most legislative work is done within the 14 standing committees such as Energy and Technology, Transportation, Health Care, etc. However, most legislators have interests beyond the areas in their own committee's jurisdiction. Legislators with similar interests will often meet together in a caucus to discuss strategy, hear from interested parties, and advise the standing committees on policy. There are at least 15 such caucuses in the Vermont House. Caucus meetings are held in the Statehouse at set times each week and are open to the public. Most are tri-partisan, i.e. not restricted to members of one political party.

There are, of course, the Party caucuses – Democratic, Republican and Progressive. Every Tuesday morning the Party caucuses meet to hear announcements, get introductions to bills that are being offered or that are scheduled for debate, and to hear from Party leadership. While these caucuses are partisan, there is usually a member or two from the other parties to observe and report back to their own caucus.

Of the non-partisan caucuses there are several regional caucuses – Rutland County, Addison County, Franklin County, and Windham County. Like college, new members of the legislature who haven't served before are called Freshman. Relationships developed during orientation among the “class” members tend to persist and are helpful in bridging partisan divides. Hence, there is a Freshman Caucus that provides both a social and supportive framework for folks going through a very accelerated learning process.

Then there are the working caucuses that are focused on interests that may span several policy areas. These include the Rural Economic Development Caucus in which issues common to rural areas are discussed to identify problems and suggest solutions. The Climate Solutions Caucus, as the name suggests, includes members who are concerned about climate change and the effects it will have on Vermont. They discuss approaches to helping Vermonters reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Working Vermonters Caucus is oriented toward labor and business issues, giving working Vermonters a voice, and improving job opportunities and working conditions in Vermont. I am a member of and attend all three of these caucus meetings when I can.

Three other caucuses include the Youth Caucus, the Older Vermonters Caucus, and the Legislative Women's Caucus. Finally, a Parliamentary Review Caucus meets early every Friday as a class in parliamentary procedure. Knowing the rules of debate and procedure is very helpful during floor debates. The caucus system enables the Vermont legislature to work more harmoniously and effectively because it helps to identify areas of agreement and improve working relationships among legislators with differing political philosophies.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in person contacts.

The Word in the House 1/17/2019 - Pomp and Circumstance

The 2019 legislative session began at 10 a.m. this past Wednesday, January 9th, with the swearing in of 148 members of the House, the election of the Speaker, and the announcement of Committee assignments. While the House consists of 150 members, the resignation before the session began of two candidates, one Democrat and one Republican, who were elected in November left two vacancies. After receiving nominations from the respective party committees within the vacant legislative districts, the Governor will fill the seats by appointment. Representative Mitzi Johnson of South Hero was unanimously elected Speaker after her nomination by a Democrat was seconded by a Republican. She acknowleged the responsibility of the Democratic majority to work with the input of the minority Republicans and Progressives for the good of all Vermonters, and she expressed the hope that the legislature can work more collaboratively with the Governor during this session.

Day two saw the swearing in of the statewide elected officials and the inauguration of the Governor with the General Assembly of the House and Senate meeting in a joint session. In his inaugural speech the Governor noted that Vermonters can be proud to live in a state where we can solve problems with civility despite our differences. This character, he said, is rooted in the good that comes from our communities and the good in our hearts and minds. Regarding the economy, he urged us to work together for a prosperous state, a quality educational system, and to provide our neighbors with what they need most when they need it the most. To reverse our population decline, we need to do a better job of advertising the qualities of Vermont as well as provide more affordable housing and access to child care. He spoke of the need for clean water, funding our pension systems, and growing our working population. However, I was disappointed that he did not mention the need to address climate change, a global problem which requires global participation, including ours.

Our first week also included training sessions on sexual harassment, physical security and cyber security, problems that are much too prevalent in today's society. We also had time to meet our 40 new legislators as well as renew acquaintances with returning members. I was reappointed to the Energy and Technology Committee which now has nine members including two freshman members. Only three members of the committee were held over from the last session. All of the fourteen committees of the House post their ongoing activities, including bills assigned to the committee and documents presented in testimony before the committee on the committee websites which can be found at https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/list/2020/House-Standing#House-Standing.

During this session I plan to hold several constituent meetings for anyone who wants to talk to me personally. The first one will be this Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon at the Charlotte Library. Drop by for a chat. I will also be at the Charlotte Senior Center for the Monday lunch at 11:30 on January 21st. Of course, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238) as well.

The Word in the House 1/3/2019 - Beginning Anew in 2019

Happy New Year, everyone!

The beginning of the year means the beginning of another session of the Vermont Legislature, and in particular this year, the reorganization of the Legislature after the election. The first week, starting January 9th, will be devoted to seating the 40 new members recently elected as well as the returning 110 members re-elected to the House. Governor Scott will be sworn into office for his second term, and we will elect the Speaker of the House. Our current Speaker, Representative Mitzi Johnson of North Hero, is expected to resume her role. One of the first tasks she will perform will be to assign House members to the 14 standing committees of the House, including naming the Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Clerks of the committees. Then we will begin working on the many issues facing Vermont.

There’s no shortage of issues to address as we work to make sure every Vermonter can get a great education, earn a livable wage, receive high-quality affordable health care, and retire with security. We still must deal with the opioid crisis, funding water quality programs and our growing greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. We have to be all-in on these issues because it will take a concerted effort by all Vermonters to implement viable solutions.

Vermont’s legislative sessions typically run 18 weeks, concluding in May. As things move along, a number of bills and topics will end up in the headlines. Less flashy, but equally important, bills will also make their way through committees as they head for votes on the floor. If you have any questions about any topic under consideration at the State House, please reach out to me via phone or email. During this session I will also try to make myself available in person at local venues like the Charlotte Senior Center and the Charlotte Library. I will be at the library on Saturday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to noon, and at the Senior Center on Monday, January 21, for the noon lunch. I will publish subsequent “office hours” via Front Porch Forum and my legislative updates in our local newspapers.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019 and look forward once again to keeping you informed about the legislature while we are in session. I encourage you to let me know your concerns and opinions. I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).