Legislative committee work begins

Observer staff report

Vermont Legislative committee assignments were announced last week. Chittenden County senators and local House representatives are serving on a range of committees, many of which are now getting overviews and updates from state administrators. Some committees already are getting feedback and background on specific bills. Here’s a quick overview of what our representatives and one of our senators are working on.

Rep. Joan Lenes (D-St. George/Shelburne) said she’s had “plenty” of moments where she’s felt like the new kid on the block. In her first term as a Legislator, Lenes has been assigned to the House institutions committee that examines school construction issues, the state hospital, the corrections system, and the capitol improvements budget that includes maintenance and improvements of state buildings and grounds. “The amount of information is huge,” Lenes said. “(But) it wasn’t all so foreign that my head was spinning.”

Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston), who previously served on the natural resources and energy committee, has been assigned to the fish, wildlife and water resources committee. The two committees have some overlap, McCullough said, and Williston is facing several water issues that will relate to the work of his new committee. Stormwater and groundwater are the two big water-related topics, McCullough said. A resolution supporting an upcoming federal bill to ban the export of mercury from the U.S. is before the committee currently. Also, McCullough said, they’ll look at fish and wildlife division funding.

“They’re funded primarily from hunting and fishing licenses, which have been declining substantially,” McCullough said. “We’re hoping to discover a better way to help fund it.”

Rep. Mary Peterson (D-Williston) said her return to the ways and means committee is “same old, same old.” School funding is the massive topic on the table, though broadband access throughout the state is another priority, Peterson said. The committee so far has heard from the state tax commissioner and the state chief fiscal officer.

“After we’ve gotten all of the information from the administration, then I think a puzzle starts to emerge of what all the various committees are going to try to accomplish,” Peterson said.

Sen. Ginny Lyons ( D-Chittenden County) has returned as chair of the natural resources and energy Senate committee and as a member of health and welfare. Lyons designed recent and upcoming testimony for legislators on climate change and economic development. The natural resources and energy committee will then move into state energy planning, she said. One bill before her committee would make the permitting process for small renewable electric generation — like farm methane projects – more streamlined. The health and welfare committee already has started to review how Catamount Health and a chronic care initiative passed last year are being implemented. “We’ll be looking at some things that have fallen through the cracks while Catamount Health was being developed,” like foster, care, she said.