Nitka’s Notes from the Statehouse, Jan. 10, 2020

Dear Editor,

The 2020 Legislative Session started Jan. 7, 2020 and was in full swing on the first day. All members had been sworn in last year and continued with their same committee assignments. There were a few exceptions, including Kristi Morris of Springfield who was selected by Gov. Scott to fill the seat of Robert Forguites, the former Springfield representative who passed away in 2019. Representative Morris has been assigned to the Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

In the Senate Chamber, inspirational words prior to our commencing work were offered by brothers Jesse and Joseph Bruchac, speakers of the Abenaki language with a translation provided. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. All members were present, as were many others in different roles: demonstrators, the press, new staff, visitors from around the state, lobbyists – and as a result, there was a shortage of places to park.

New bills were introduced, words were offered on various topics including safety, phones, demonstrations, and bills on which work will continue from last May when we adjourned. In my morning committee, Judiciary, we took up bail reform, restorative justice, and issues at the various correctional centers, including the need for officers in a tight labor market. In Appropriations, we heard testimony on the “Budget Adjustment Bill,” reviewing where additional money is needed by agencies and where less was spent than anticipated in the budget passed last year.

Gov. Phil Scott gave his State of the State address before a filled House of Representatives. It is always a day for demonstrations, and the beautiful, sunny 15 degree day made a perfect setting outside for clanging pots and pans together, singing, and speeches with regard to climate change. Persons covered in bright red draped cloth with headpieces and faces painted white walked somberly in a procession to the doors of the Statehouse but were denied admittance because they were in costumes.

There were security checkpoints at all doors. We all say that the building is the “Peoples’ House” and all are welcome unless interfering with the democratic process by violating rules that involve safety or interfering with others. Many demonstrators, not in costume, did come into the building and were seated in the gallery when the governor started his address. He didn’t get more than a few sentences out of his mouth when the group started drowning him out with chanting.

The governor and the House listened to them respectfully for more than five minutes. The governor requested that they stop and let his address be heard, as did the lieutenant governor, but to no avail. The police finally had to intervene to remove the group, most of whom cooperated while others did not.

Gov. Scott continued, calling for unity and collaborative leadership to make a difference in the lives of Vermonters across the state. He highlighted several proposals to grow the state’s labor force, including relocation incentives, education and training investments, streamlined licensing procedures, and targeted tax relief.

The governor invited and acknowledged in his address the Ludlow volunteer firefighters who spent their Thanksgiving Day cooking dinner for a family with three children whose stove had been destroyed by a fire that morning. It was a privilege to see four of them who could attend seated with the Supreme Court Justices, statewide elected officials, and other honored guests.

Feel free to contact me at the Statehouse at 1-800-322-5616, on weekends at 802-228-8432, or anitka@leg.state.vt.us.

Sincerely,

Sen. Alice Nitka

Windsor County

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