Notes from Montpelier: The take-away from Town Meeting

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This past week away from Montpelier was productive and enjoyable. Our visits to all of our Town Meetings gave us the opportunity to catch up with folks and find out what is on their minds. The rest of the week was spent getting ready for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival even though it isn't until May. Dyeing fiber and carding it in my studio/wool room, an 1830s barn that was moved from Harmonyville, is a nice change for a few days!

One of the great pleasures we have as Representatives is to honor our constituents with resolutions. Recognizing their hard work or notable accomplishments always gives me great joy. In Rockingham on Monday night, we were able to give resolutions, though somewhat belatedly, to Doreen Aldrich for her years as Town Clerk and Ellen Howard for her years as Zoning Administrator and Health Officer. More currently, we were able to present Tom MacPhee with a resolution honoring him for his years as the Chair of the Rockingham Selectboard.

On Tuesday, in Brookline, the power was out but a good number of intrepid souls showed up for the meeting. The expectation was that the power would be back on by 10:30 a.m., which was important for hot coffee and the crockpots that contained lunch!

Athens was in the midst of a vote for Selectperson when we arrived but the counting went quickly and we were able to give a brief presentation after which we fielded several great questions.

Then it was on to Grafton where they had, once again, gotten done in what may be record time – 55 minutes! What was particularly good was the fact that Jay Karpin was present and had lingered at the meeting. We were able to call together the folks who were remaining in order to present to him a resolution congratulating him on the French government's appointment of him as a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor.

Jay's story is remarkable. He graduated from high school in 1942 and immediately enlisted in the US Army Air Force where he trained as a bombardier and an aircraft navigator. He was assigned to the 493rd Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force in Europe. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, he flew his first combat mission and saw the action below him as troops landed on Omaha Beach. On Nov. 25, 1944, Jay flew his final bombing mission and is lucky to be alive, given that more than 26,000 members of the Eighth Air Force died during World War II. Jay's memory is sharp as a tack and I suggested that he write his stories down for future generations.

It was then on to Windham where by noon they had just gotten done with the election of a new Selectperson. Apparently, there had been a lot of conversation about whether to accept the report of the auditors, which had slowed things down. We had a wonderful lunch, as always, and gave our report once the meeting resumed. Then we went to Rockingham where we stood outside the polls to visit with candidates and voters alike.

One thing that occurred to me was that there were several Selectboard races in our district that were potentially contentious. What is important to remember is that when the election is over, winners should be gracious and everyone should put aside their differences and work together civilly for the good of their town. That doesn't mean that you put aside your beliefs, just recognize that your opponent is also your neighbor, someone from whom you might need help the next time you have a flat tire or your car won't start.

In Montpelier, I truly value members of the other parties, especially those on my committee. At the beginning of every biennium, I ask that members leave their politics at the door and work together to do good work for the people of Vermont. For the very most part, that is exactly what happens and I am very proud of that.

On another topic, for those interested in the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the US Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, passed out a Chairman's Mark that would essentially gut Vermont's requirement for such labeling (Act 120) on July 1 of this year. To read a summary of the committee action, go to http://www.agriculture.senate.gov/newsroom/rep/press/release/senate-agriculture-committee-passes-chairmans-mark-on-biotechnology-labeling-solutions-. To read a copy of the bill voted on by the Senate Agriculture Committee, go to http://www.agriculture.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/EDW16221.pdf.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has been fighting the good fight and has promised that he will do everything he can to prevent this Chairman's Mark from becoming law. In fact, he introduced a bill that would require labeling on a federal level but it has not been considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee. To read a very informative article about this issue, go to http://vtdigger.org/2016/03/04/leahy-proposes-bill-to-protect-vermonts-gmo-labeling-law/.

In a statement to the members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Sen. Leahy said, "I will continue to oppose any bill that takes away the rights of Vermont, or any other state, to legislate in a way that advances public health and food safety, informs consumers about potential environmental effects, avoids consumer confusion, and protects religious traditions. We should be moving in a direction that offers consumers more information and more choices — not less information and fewer choices."

Our hope is that Sens. Leahy and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will request a Senatorial hold on the Chairman's Mark to prevent it from coming to the Floor of the Senate. The fear, however, is that it will then be attached to another "must have" bill that will be hard to vote against.

The good news in all of this is that it appears our legislation, Act 120, would stand up in court, or Sen. Roberts would not be throwing this "Hail Mary" pass to preempt it.

State Rep. Carolyn Partridge , D-Windham, welcomes emails at cpartridge@leg.state.vt.us.


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