Off the wall but great suggestion in the State House


Vermont State House. Photo by Mike Yantachka
Vermont State House. Photo by Mike Yantachka

It’s so fun when field trips come to the State House. This spring, one group was visiting my committee room and I asked, “If you could make a law, what would it be?”

One little cutie, who should be president someday, said, “I would make a law that puppies are allowed everywhere.”

Yes. I’ll co-sponsor.

But it wouldn’t go very far. It would, as we say, sit on the wall. In my committee room, we don’t hang things on the wall, so we have two rolling bulletin boards, but other committee rooms have bulletin boards actually on the wall. Each bill gets its own little index card, and as it comes into the room, we stick it on the wall with a thumbtack. As it progresses through the legislative process, the bill moves to different sections of the wall.

How does a bill get on the wall in the first place? It’s sponsored by a legislator, or group of legislators, and then written with the help of legislative counsel, who are the lawyers who work in the State House. Then the sponsor introduces it to the committee that has jurisdiction over that matter.

The puppy bill would definitely sit on the wall and be stuck there for the biennium. Some people don’t want puppies in a restaurant kitchen; some people don’t want puppies in the operating room while they’re getting their appendix removed. (I can’t imagine why, but fine.) If I wanted to, I could reintroduce the puppy bill every term, but I doubt it would ever get traction, unless a puppy became the governor.

The bills that don’t sit on the wall move forward because they have support from someone or someone who agrees that it’s a priority — the leadership of a political party; the committee chair or vice chair; or the speaker of the House; or the Senate president pro tempore; or the governor; or someone who has the ear of those people, like a lobbyist or political action group.

Since it was my first year and I wanted to listen and learn before I jumped into anything, I didn’t introduce any bills this past session. You can see which bills I co-sponsored, though, on my page on the General Assembly web site.

Some of the bills I co-sponsored made it all the way to the end, like Act 14, which is also known as the “shield law,” which protects healthcare providers from litigation from other states if they practice reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare on patients who are from states that ban that healthcare. I’m proud to be a part of this one.

Some of the bills made it almost all the way, like H.281, which later was merged with S.39, which is a bill to raise legislative pay. It passed in both chambers, was vetoed by the governor, and since I’m not a reporter anymore, I can do some mild rumor-peddling — I heard that the bill was one vote away from having enough support to override the veto, and that one Democrat held out in the Senate. (See, it’s not all partisan!)

I know this is an unpopular bill, and if you think it’s self-serving to give ourselves a raise, hear me out: If you believe that legislators don’t deserve a pay raise because they’re all rich people who can afford to be there, then that’s exactly why this bill is a good idea. It makes the job possible for more Vermonters, not just ones with money, or who are retired, or who have a spouse or partner who can support them financially and with health insurance. It opens the door a little wider for a more socio-economically diverse group of people who are more representative of our population.

I doubt it will move forward next session because it’s not cute for people to give themselves a pay raise in a campaign year, and because perhaps some people don’t want to invite competition to the table before an election, but I still support it and would wholeheartedly vote for it again.

And finally, some of the bills I co-sponsored went absolutely nowhere, like H.168, which would establish a state-wide database of military veterans, reduce motor vehicle fees for veterans, and exempt military pensions from state income tax. It’s still sitting on the wall where it was parked at the beginning of the session, but I’d love to see that one move forward, too. There are only seven states that make veterans pay income tax on their retirement pay, and we’re one of them.

If you have an idea for a bill, you can let me know, and we can work together to see if we can make it happen. That’s part of my job. You can contact me here or call 917-887-8231. I probably won’t be able to push forward the puppy thing, but a gal can dream.