From the Statehouse

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By Debbie Evans

Well, it’s good to be back. My committee, Government Operations, is dealing with a myriad of topics. That is the beauty of this committee. Many of my constituents have contacted me with regard to a bill or bills in which they have an interest.

I’d like to give you a short summary of the legislative process. It is well worth understanding. I often hear from folks when a bill is introduced; they assume that it is immediately acted upon. To some, that is disturbing, to others, exciting because it may be an issue that they have been wanting to see in law. That assumption is premature. Ideas for legislation can come from a state agency, constituents, a lobbying organization, or a committee, and they are introduced to the Senate and House by a legislator. The bill is assigned a number and announced to the Senate or the House. It is then assigned to a committee.

Each committee receives many bills (my committee receives the most). When a committee agrees to take up a bill, testimony will be scheduled from experts, lobbyists, administration officials, and private citizens. If you are interested in a bill, the first person that you should talk to is your representative or senator. After hearing extensive testimony, if the committee wants to advance the bill they will vote on it and pass it out of committee favorably. It will be turned into the clerk and put on the Notice Calendar a day before a report is to be given to members of the House or Senate. You may check on the daily calendar of actions in the House or Senate by logging into www.leg.state.vt.us. This is the home page of the Vermont State Legislature.

A committee member will report the bill to the General Assembly. Other legislators will ask about or provide commentary and generally debate the pros and cons. Then a vote is taken. If the bill passes, it is up for third reading the following day. Additional questions may be asked of the member reporting the bill. If the bill is approved, it is forwarded to the other chamber and the entire process is repeated.

If the second chamber passes a different version of the same bill, a committee of conference is appointed to work out the differences. If both houses agree to the committee of conference’s proposal, the bill is sent to the governor. The bill becomes law only when the governor signs it.

As I stated, the work in my committee is quite diverse. Every year, the election division of the Secretary of State’s office requests some amendments to our election laws.

This year the concern is that the fourth Tuesday in August (present primary) does not provide enough time to get ballots out to the military. The Secretary of State is asking to have the Primary Election moved to the first week in August to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens’ Absentee Voting Act (federal law). The Department of Justice brought suit against Vermont in 2012 because of a delay in mailing out absentee ballots when there was a recount. A letter sent recently to the secretary stated that we needed to change the primary date to at least 80 days from the General Election.

Other proposed amendments are: the requirement of anyone running as a write-in candidate to declare by a certain date, moving independent candidates’ filing deadline in line with other candidates, and vote tabulators mandated for towns of more than a 1,000 voters.

We are also hearing testimony regarding a Whistle Blower Protection Bill. This was initiated by the State Auditor. It is his opinion that individuals would be more willing to come forward with information of wrong doings in state government if there was more protection. Presently, if someone comes forward, their name is public. We are still taking testimony on this matter.

Extensive testimony has been taken on H.497, the Open Meeting bill. The bill amends the present open meeting law to clarify when a public body may enter executive session, allow members of a public body to participate in a meeting remotely if certain requirements are met, and amend provisions to meeting agendas.

Many of you may remember, two years ago in the mountains overlooking the towns of Lincoln and Ripton, a young man died. As a result of this tragedy, my committee exposed a serious weakness in our public safety program, mainly our search and rescue efforts.

As a result of this important legislation that Government Operations put in place, we now have a strategic plan as to how search and rescue operations should be conducted in Vermont. One of the recommendations was to create a search and rescue coordinator.

My committee members and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with the brand new search and rescue coordinator. He gave us an overview of his newly appointed position: to establish training standards for state police and providing the appropriate training; search management training, 40 hours, which is the required training for a search and rescue team; working on the search and rescue database to make sure contact information is correct and accurate; maintaining records of search and rescue operations; communicating with public safety entities and creating an extensive out reach program with local fire departments and EMS agencies and what constitutes their roles.

He is also meeting with search and rescue counterparts around the state: civil air patrol, National Guard, specialized rescue groups, local law enforcement groups, police and sheriffs.

We were very excited to hear that he is working on consistency in how search and rescue is handled, such as the appropriate questions asked and proper notifications made. It is an effort to have everyone on the same page. His visit was truly a treat for my committee.

With Town Meeting in little over a week, I look forward to seeing you on March 3 at the Essex Community Education Center and/or at the polls on March 4.

It is my pleasure and honor to serve you in the Legislature. Please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns. I can be reached at devans@leg.state.vt.us or call me at 878-4317. I look forward to hearing from you.

Debbie Evans represents Essex in the Vermont House of Representatives.