White seeks 7th Senate term


BRATTLEBORO -- Even after 12 years in the Legislature, state Sen. Jeanette White says she is committed to the nitty-gritty work of being a lawmaker.

That comes through in her service as chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which takes on a long list of matters from election law to professional regulation to government procurement and contracting policies.

White, a Putney Democrat, also is a fan of dissecting complex, sometimes-controversial issues in an attempt to find common ground.

"I do love it," White said. "My favorite part of it is taking really disparate views on an issue and having them come together in a way that best serves Vermont. We have to work together to make sure that everybody is heard and respected."

That's why White is seeking a seventh term in what has become a crowded race for Windham County Senate. Even with incumbent Sen. Peter Galbraith not running for re-election, there will be four candidates vying for two Democratic Senate nominations in the Aug. 26 primary: White, Becca Balint, Joan Bowman and Roger Allbee.

White serves on two Senate committees -- Judiciary and Government Operations. The latter committee, she says, handles "everything that doesn't neatly fit somewhere else."

That grab bag includes Vermont election law, which received a big makeover in the 2014 legislative session that ended in early May.

"Every year, we seem to tweak the election law a little bit, and it drives town clerks crazy. We decided that we would look at the entire Title 17," White said.

The major change was moving up the state's primary to the second Tuesday in August starting in 2016.

That was driven by past legal challenges to Vermont's schedule for distributing absentee ballots for the general election. If the state didn't do something to expedite that process, White said, the federal government might have mandated an even earlier primary date.

White also has been involved deeply in attempts to reform the state's campaign-financing laws. Galbraith, her Windham County colleague, was a critic of the new statute, arguing that it does not go far enough.

But White said lawmakers have hammered out the best law possible, constrained as it is by U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the nature of legislative compromise.

"The law that we had that was adopted in 1997 was struck down by the Supreme Court, so we had no law. Everything is a compromise. If you aren't willing to do that, you're not going to get anything," White said.

"I think we have now a bill that not everybody agrees with, but I think it does a lot," she added. "It increases transparency. It increases the reporting ... There were things that we wanted to do, but we weren't allowed to do."

White listed a variety of other issues -- both those that the Legislature has dealt with and those lawmakers will be dealing with -- during a recent interview. They include:

-- Taser use:

White said she was involved in developing a new law calling for a state policy and enhanced police training for the use of stun guns. With law enforcement, civil-rights advocates and others involved in the debate, White said legislators had to be careful in crafting new Taser policies.

"Somehow, we had to come up with some standard of deployment that fit these needs," she said. "And I think we did it."

-- Health care:

White said her committee will be examining administration of the state's health-care program as Vermont moves toward a universal, publicly financed model.

-- Law enforcement:

Lawmakers will be taking a hard look at "how do we get the best police coverage without duplicating (services) and still honoring local control?"

"It's complicated," White said. "I think there are some answers. Not everybody is going to like the answers."

-- "Hub" towns:

There has been some debate about the financial plight of so-called hub towns like Brattleboro, where many who are not town taxpayers work and use taxpayer-funded infrastructure and services.

"How do you deal with hub towns?" White said. "I think that's a huge issue that we're going to have to deal with."

-- Aid in dying:

The Legislature in 2013 passed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients; as part of a compromise, statutory "safeguards" for patients and doctors are due to expire in 2016 in favor of a more hands-off approach to the issue.

White says she wants to ensure that those safeguards continue and that the law stays intact.

"I know that there is some move to repeal the law we have now, and I want to make sure that doesn't happen," she said.

White says her seniority and experience, if she is re-elected, will be an asset for Windham County. As a veteran lawmaker, she says, "you understand the process better."

That's also a factor in building productive relationships with other lawmakers and state officials, White said.

"That, I think, is really important," she said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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