Something New - Once again the Manchester Journal is demonstrating its civic-minded spirit by agreeing to print my weekly legislative news column during the 2013 session. However, now that I have been joined by Rep. Cynthia Browning in a two-member district (representing Manchester, Arlington, Sandgate and most of Sunderland) we thought it might prove to be an interesting new twist if Cynthia and I alternated in penning the weekly updates. So, I am starting with Week 1, and Rep. Browning will tackle Week 2 - and so on.
The House - The 2013 session of the Vermont House of Representatives was gaveled open on Wednesday morning (1/9) by Secretary of State Jim Condos. The first orders of business included the swearing-in of House members, the election of veteran House Clerk Don Milne and the election of Speaker Shap Smith (Morrisville). This will be Smith's third term as Speaker. The composition of the new House includes: 96 Democrats, 44 Republicans, 5 Progressives and 4 Independents (there's currently 1 vacancy due to the untimely death of Rep. Clark). In the afternoon of the 9th, Speaker Smith issued his committee assignments. Representative Browning was reappointed to the Corrections and Institutions Committee, while I was reappointed to the Ways and Means Committee.
The Governor - On Thursday (1/10), Governor Shumlin was sworn in for a second two-year term. During his inaugural speech before a Joint Assembly of the House and Senate, the Governor took the rather unusual tack of devoting his speech largely to one overarching topic - education. He explained the inexorable connection between a sound educational system, a trained and prepared workforce and our State's economic success. Although Vermont school children do quite well in a relative sense when compared to other states, the Governor stated his belief that we can do better, and that we are falling short in math and science. To help build a better 21st century educational system, the Governor put forward four initiatives his Administration will pursue this year. His objectives include: strengthening Vermont's commitment to pre-K education, free lunches for all low income students, enhanced access to college courses for high school students and the creation of a new Vermont Strong Scholars Program to help with the high cost of college. It's anticipated that the details (like funding sources) will be fleshed out in the Governor's budget message in a couple of weeks.
Stay tuned, because 2013 promises to be another active, issued-filled year. The budget, health care, taxes, climate change and a host of other topics are bound to be part of a very busy session.