Jeanette White: Busy week ahead for State Senate

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The Town Meeting break from Montpelier is thanks to Senator Bob Gannett. He felt that we should all be home visiting town meetings, seeing constituents, and perhaps taking a week long breather to help focus our thoughts. And all are true. But on Tuesday the 12th we head back up to the Statehouse for the second half of the first year of this biennium. It is already shaping up to be a busy week.

Tuesday night the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the five bills that deal with firearms. It will certainly be crowded as both the NRA and Gun Sense have put out calls for folks to attend and testify. A bit of information about public hearings. First, all of our committee meetings are public — they are open to all, within our time parameters anyone is welcome to testify, and we listen to all sides of an issue. During these committee meetings we can discuss with the witnesses and have a more in-depth understanding about their position. What we think of as public hearings are big affairs where as many as 60-100 people each get two minutes to state their views. There is no discussion with committee members. Often people think that if they show up early they can sign up folks for all of the slots. Not true, we take staggered testimony from both sides. These are not popularity contests — the bigger number that turns out does not win. They are not rallies — there is no cheering or clapping. They are a chance for more people to have some input. That is what will be happening on Tuesday the 12th at Vermont Technical College. (For more info check the Senate Judiciary website.)

Time is always an issue for us. With few exceptions, bills must be passed out of their original committees by Friday the 15th if we want them acted on this year. Senate Government Operations, which I chair, will be working on an elections clean up bill (those changes must be done this year as they cannot be done during an election year), the burn pit bill (I will have more details on that in a couple weeks) and a bill that would create a pilot for limited self governance for municipalities. This pilot is very popular with municipalities and treated with suspect by legislators (we do not like to give up any power). It would allow municipalities to make decisions that are truly local, that affect local issues, and that are much better made at the local level where they feel the impact. We are working on the details to assure legislators that there are certain areas municipalities cannot wander into thus creating a patchwork of laws. This pilot was so successful in West Virginia that it is no longer a pilot, it is an ongoing program.

There are many other issues in our committees that we will continue to work on. Remember, this is a two year process. Anything that isn't done when we leave in May (hopefully early May) will still be alive when we return in January of 2020. So if your issue doesn't seem to be moving, don't despair — it may be active but not slated for this year. And as always, remember to let us know what you are thinking. Just a suggestion: It is always a good idea to let us know what town you are from when you contact us. We get messages and emails from all over the state and country. In reality I simply cannot answer all of them. And the ones I don't answer are the ones that I can't identify as coming from this district. Email jwhite@leg.state.vt.us or 387-4379, 800-322-5616 to leave a message.

State Sen. Jeanette White, a Democrat, represents the Windham District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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