By Guy Page
In the coming month, legislators are poised to cast historic votes on taxation, legal marijuana sales, police reform, climate change, clean water, and the next half-century of housing and business development — all while citizens have reduced face-to-face, telephone, and snailmail access to lawmakers.
Thanks to a helpful election spreadsheet posted on the Vermont Secretary of State’s website, however, complete contact information for almost all legislators is still available.
That’s a good thing because since March, the Vermont State House has been closed to legislative meetings and citizen visits alike. The days of showing up at the State House and hunting down your representative are over, at least for 2020.
Another barrier went up in January, 2019, in what was then considered a prudent security measure. When no-one could have imagined a shutdown State House and in response to racist threats against former Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and the Capitol Police allowed concerned lawmakers to withdraw personal phone and home address from the Vermont Legislature website. Some have done so, some haven’t. For Vermonters trying to reach their representatives, it’s hit or miss.
Leaving a message for lawmakers at the State House Sergeant At Arms phone number of 828-2228 also is less of a sure thing than in the past. Obviously neither lawmakers nor the young, green-jacketed pages delivering your messages to them are present. And (although not often) heavy phone traffic can result in “this mailbox is full” recording. Sergeant at Arms Janet Miller said Vermonters trying to reach lawmakers without phone numbers should email them first. But if unsuccessful, Vermonters may call her office and it will try to get the message to the lawmaker(s).
But direct contact is still doable – here’s how:
- Email your legislator(s). Every lawmaker has an email address on the Legislature’s website, http://www.legislature.vermont.gov. Because they covet feedback from constituents, in the subject line write “I am a constituent” (if you are one).
- Phone and/or snailmail your legislator(s). Many still include a number on the legislative website. If they don’t, but are running for re-election, the Vermont Secretary of State has helpfully provided a public document listing phone numbers and home addresses of all candidates. So unless your lawmaker is among the few not running for re-election, you can still call them.
No-one — least of all lawmakers, virtually none of whom like legislation by Zoom — could have foreseen the communications challenges the Pandemic of 2020 would cause. But these can overcome. The enduring hindrances to grassroots democracy are apathy, laziness, and cynicism. People of all parties, politics, and POVs: pick up the phone.
Barre Auditorium, Capitol Plaza, Fine Arts school new locations for Legislature next year?
An August 19 consultants’ report recommends the Vermont Legislature prepare for the 2021 by lining up more places to meet, in addition to the State House.
If by January 2021 Vermonters are still socially distancing, the State House will continue to be unsuitable as the sole meeting house for the House, Senate, its committees and staff – not to mention lobbyists and the general public, the Freeman-French-Freeman study finds. As one option, it recommends the Legislature rent space in the Barre Auditorium (only building large enough to safely hold the House of Representatives), Capitol Plaza hotel and conference center near the State House, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts off East State Street in Montpelier.
The study also discusses continued remote meeting, or a hybrid of remote and in-person meeting.
Should remote Legislature send children to in-person classrooms? Windsor County senator sees inconsistency
Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), argued yesterday that it is inconsistent at best for the Legislature to send children to in-person schooling why they (lawmakers) continue to meet remotely. And the Legislature should make no mistake — it’s their decision, not local governments’:
“The state may delegate authority, but not delegate responsibility. That’s from the Brigham decision of 1997. It’s a really important principle. We cannot comfort ourselves by saying, ‘Well, we handed this off to the local school boards. If school boards want to do this or that it’s their call.’ Ultimately, it’s not. Ultimately it is our call. And we can’t escape it. We are responsible for the health and safety of the students — the state. Because education is a state responsibility. We delegate authority. We delegate management to the local communities. We cannot delegate responsibility. That’s what the whole Brigham decision was about. And that’s still law.”
At about the 10-minute mark in August 25 Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting, via Zoom.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.