With the typical first week of the session procedures, the Vermont General Assembly is poised to run a very efficient legislative session.
On Wednesday, per his usual style, House Speaker Shap Smith (D)-Morristown didnt waste any time announcing committee assignments. Freshman and even sophomore legislators did not get all they were hoping for. The Speaker and his leadership team focused on the issues and each legislators background and expertise to fill the gaps left from departed legislators. The big surprise was assigning two new Republican legislators to the House Health Care Committee. Representative John Mitchell (R)-Fairfax is retired from Champlain Oil/Jiffy Mart and Doug Gage (R)-Rutland City is an employee of the Coca-Cola Company. Both have an understanding of health insurance from an employee and employer perspective.
Committee Chair and Vice Chair positions saw no change under the Speakers assignments. He identified areas that his committees will dive into such as changes in statewide education, health care reform, clean energy, coping with climate change, drug addiction, transportation infrastructure improvements and budget constraints.
By Thursday, both the Speaker and House Minority Leader Don Turner were scooping ice cream for House members as a way to start the session in a social atmosphere and let members get to know each other. The Senate moved almost as quickly in formalizing its leadership team and committee assignments.
At the Senate Democratic caucus last weekend, Senator Phil Baruth (D)Chittenden District was approved as the Majority Leader and Claire Ayer (D)-Addison District as Assistant or formally known as the Whip. Late Thursday afternoon, the Committee assignments were announced which sent a rumble through the Senate hallways. Veteran Senators lost leadership posts; some Democrats were not given chairmanships while five Republicans were slated as Chairs or Vice Chairs.
New Committee Chairs are Senators Tim Ashe (D)-Chittenden District; Finance, Robert Hartwell (D)-Bennington District; Natural Resources and Energy, Kevin Mullin (R)-Rutland District; Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs and Peg Flory (R)-Rutland District; Institutions.
One notable change was Ginny Lyons (D)-Chittenden District lost her post on Natural Resources and Energy and was assigned to the Committee on Finance.
Senate Committees: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/lms/legdir/comms.asp?Body=S
House Committees: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/lms/legdir/comms.asp?Body=H
The first bill expected to pass the House before February is known as the budget adjustment bill. The budget adjustment act in effect trues up the budget from the current year in order to ensure the needs of the state were met and funded. In many cases, some reserves are projected within agencies or programs and these funds can be re-purposed for items like the mosquito control efforts to provide lab samples and overtime pay from last summers EEE virus which killed two Vermonters. As well, more positions may be needed to start building the Health Insurance Exchange which may require additional office space. The House of Representatives will take the first crack at approving or modifying the Governors proposal. The Senate will consider the bill shortly thereafter.
Governor Shumlin provided his Inaugural Address on Thursday afternoon. His Address was carefully crafted by his closest confident Alex MacLean and new staff members. This was one of MacLeans last assignments before moving out of the public sector and into the private sector. The Address focused on education, Pre-K funding, school choice, higher education scholarships, climate change, job training and placement as well as budget issues. Next week when the session gets into full swing, the Legislature will dive into their committee work and begin work on budgets and agency introductions. House and Senate bills are feverishly being crafted and will soon be committed to the committee of jurisdiction.