Friday night (and Saturday morning) at the State House
Friday night, 10:15pm. The State House is quiet and dark in the evening, just the opposite of the beehive of activity during daylight hours. I’m up on the third floor the last man standing in the Health Care Committee room. I can hear a representative down the hall talking on his cellphone to his daughter in California. I know there’s a poker game going on somewhere, probably led by Alice Miller or Anne O’Brien, card sharks both, I hear. Legislators will be twiddling their thumbs for another two hours until the clock strikes midnight. At that point we will reconvene to begin voting on proposed changes to Act 46. Actually, we’ve been waiting most of the day to vote.
What’s wrong with this picture (other than Act 46!)?
If you’ve ever sat through a legislative session you may have noticed that the procedures and rules of the Vermont House are, to put it gently, not generally part of normal human discourse. Strict rules govern when a bill can be debated, if and when amendments can be offered, who can speak and on what topic, whether a roll call vote is taken, etc. House leaders frequently take a brief recess just to verify correct legislative procedure.
Unlike in Congress, Vermont’s floor sessions are infrequently marked by long speeches or overt partisanship. A significant amount of legislation passes out of committee with bipartisan support and passes the House on either a voice vote or with a very signficant majority. Exceptions tend to come as the end of the legislative year approaches and the minority party uses every tool in the parliamentary toolbox to slow down the legislative process.
But here we are, not even a month into the session, and the hijinks have already begun.
The Senate approved changes to Act 46 on Thursday evening, at which point the bill began its 214-foot journey from Secretary of the Senate’s office to the desk of the Clerk of the House. By the time it arrived, the House had already adjourned, and it was Friday morning before the Clerk could place the new arrival on the House calendar. And there’s the rub: House rule #33 states that a bill can’t be taken up until it has been posted on the calendar for at least one day. This day gives representatives time to absorb new proposals before they must cast a vote.
That “day” means the House can’t vote on the Senate’s change to Act 46 until Saturday. Or, we could wait until next week. But, there are a few towns that have delayed finalizing school budgets as they await the outcome of these proposed changes. Those school budgets need to be completed on Sunday.
Luckily, the House can suspend its rules and take up a bill without waiting a full day. Unluckily, it takes three-quarters of voting members to suspend the rules, and when it comes to Act 46, it’s hard to get 75% of House members to agree on anything. Today was no exception. We took two votes attempting to suspend the rules and fell short by about 10 votes on each occasion. Even with plenty of votes to adopt the Senate’s proposal, we wait until 12:01am Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, 1:12AM. I’m not sure what the minority party has just accomplished, though it doesn’t bode well for the temperament of this legislative session. I sense the ill-mannered specter of Ted Cruz in the building. In the last hour, we’ve taken two roll call votes, including Jim and I voting to repeal Act 46’s allowable growth percentage spending thresholds for 2018 and to lessen their effect in 2017. This legislation will head to the governor’s desk later this morning. Curiouser and curiouser.
A few pictures to share:
The confetti drop for the Montshire's 40th anniversary celebration on January 10th. January 10th. What a terrific event on a very rainy day.
At the State of the State address on January 7th, Senator Leahy plays photographer while, in the background, three photographers focus on him.
Me and my boys with Santa at the 19 Days of Norwich pancake breakfast on December 19th.
While that might look like Santa, careful observers will recognize former State Rep. Jack Candon. (photo credit: Cong. Peter Welch)