The first month of a new biennium in the Vermont State House is often a period of getting settled and setting the agenda for the year. The 2019 launch of the first year of that two-year legislative period has been slightly different as we have been confronted by the impact on Vermonters of the federal government’s shut down.
While our state leadership remained unchanged – returning Governor Phil Scott, Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Tim Ashe, and Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson – we saw an unusually large class of 40 first-term House members (including welcoming the newly-elected South Burlington Representative John Killacky) as well six new Senators (all six Chittenden County Senators are returning members).
The first week of a new biennium is full of pomp and circumstance, all which Vermont does very well. While there was an enthusiastic buzz on our first day together, it had as its centerpiece real solemnity as we all take the oath of office, swearing to uphold both the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions and to represent Vermonters to the best of our ability. It is an important moment in which we publicly embrace our public service and accept the responsibilities of public office. After all, 180 Vermont Legislators are sworn in, the respective bodies elect a Speaker and President Pro Tem, after which both gave speeches to their respective bodies. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson framed her remarks on the importance of ensuring Vermont is a state where families and communities thrive, where the Vermont dream is accessible to all, and that as we work together, we will embrace civility, inclusivity, and respect.
Additionally, the Legislature also holds a number of Joint Assemblies that first week, one of which hears the report from the Joint Canvassing Committee whose job is to affirm that the vote count for the statewide officers, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Auditor of Accounts, and Attorney General, is correct, which it was. The second was to hear the Inaugural Address of the Governor. The Governor will have just made his budget address when you read this article.
Returning as chair of House Human Services, my first order of business was to orient the four new members of the committee and to set the expectation that we focus on the questions to understand the complex problems we are trying to solve, that we ensure that dissenting voices are heard, and that together we concentrate on building a stronger healthier Vermont.
Because of the federal government shut down, we have immediately focused on how to blunt the negative impacts of this on impacted federal workers, citizens, businesses and farms. The ripple effects on our local economy and on Vermonters who receive certain types of federal benefits are real and will have lasting impacts on the financial wellbeing of many Vermonters.
I encourage impacted Vermonters to look to community service providers, local financial institutions, or to contact Vermont 211 (www.vermont211.org or dial 211 or call 866-652-4636).
To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills that have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website at legislature.vermont.gov. And remember that our next monthly Legislative Forum is 6:30 p.m. this Monday, Jan. 28. These present an informal opportunity to listen and ask questions of us about the issues being discussed in the State House as well as hear what is important to your South Burlington neighbors.