Notes from Montpelier: Gearing up for the next session

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The 2017 Legislative Session got underway at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 4. There are many changes in the leadership of the executive and legislative branches of government — we have a new governor, lieutenant governor, Speaker of the House, and Senate President Pro Tempore. As a result of the change in the Administration, leadership in all the agencies and departments will, for the most part, be new as well. Because of these changes, our new Speaker, Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, chose to keep House committee leadership as close to what it has been as possible. I was once again honored to be chosen chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee, which will be taking on some additional responsibilities and will now be known as Agriculture and Forestry. Our purview will be expanded to include all of agriculture and forest products and their markets, as well as forestry and state parks and lands. This is an exciting development and I look forward to taking on new responsibilities.

Several of the committee jurisdictions were changed and Natural Resources and Energy will no longer exist — its responsibilities have been reassigned to other committees. Other committee changes offer interesting opportunities. Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources has been renamed and will become Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife.

It will continue with its current responsibilities and add to its purview conservation and development of lands, land resources, land use, geology, air quality and environmental permitting, climate change, scenery, and solid waste and toxic substances management.

House Commerce and Economic Development will take on workforce development, utilities, telecommunications, and energy. The Health Care committee will take on, as a sign of parity, issues surrounding mental health and will no longer deal with health care finance and administration.

A new committee, known as Energy and Technology, is created that will take on energy, including the regulation of power generation, transmission facilities, energy efficiency, natural gas facilities, and the siting of energy facilities; utility rates and quality of service; telecommunications, siting of telecommunications facilities, the buildout of cellular and broadband services, and rates and quality of service. They will also take on the state's information technology systems issues.

Governor Peter Shumlin gave his farewell address Wednesday afternoon. He spoke about the challenges he faced when he took office in 2011 — the aftermath of the Great Recession, lost jobs, high unemployment, crumbling transportation infrastructure, a decertified State hospital, 30,000 Vermonters with no broadband service, an increasing prison population, an opiate crisis, and tens of thousands of Vermonters without health insurance, not to mention Tropical Storm Irene. He then went on to talk about some of his successes including 16,000 jobs created, the number of people without broadband cut in half, a new State hospital, an increased minimum wage, and the opportunity for workers to earn sick leave.

Governor Shumlin spoke about budget successes such as the elimination of the use of one-time funds for ongoing programs and spending growth at an average 3.7 percent for the last five years. We have the second lowest electric rates in New England.

There are fewer people incarcerated, which saves significant money. In education, we now have universal pre-kindergarten, universal school meals, dual enrollment, and personalized learning plans. More than 25,000 additional Vermonters are covered with health insurance.

Governor Shumlin's wife, mother, and family were with him as he expressed his thanks to the people of Vermont as he returns to his new home in Putney and his sense of honor having served for 30 years in public service to the State.

The beginning of every new biennium fills me with an overwhelming sense of honor and pride, as well — I am humbled by the trust my constituents place in me and thankful I have the chance to serve them. As I walk through the heavy State House doors the first day of the Session, I think about all of the people who have served before me and how fortunate we are to have this form and scale of government. The State House is very accessible, as are the people working here, and I encourage you to contact your legislators with any thoughts, questions, or concerns that you might have.

The toll-free number at the State House is 1-800- 322-5616. The Sergeant at Arms office will answer and take a message, which will be delivered to us usually by page. We will then return your call as soon as possible. Our email address is usually the first letter of our first name, our last name, and @leg.state.vt.us.

Things get very busy at the State House and it is always helpful to have another set of eyes on an issue, so speak up! Together, we govern.

State Rep. Carolyn Partridge , D-Windham, welcomes emails at cpartridge@leg.state.vt.us. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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