By Guy Page
A soft-spoken native son of the Northeast Kingdom is developing a reputation as a plain speaker in the Vermont House of Representatives.
It all began on Jan. 22 when Rep. Brian Smith (R-Derby) sponsored H.847, “prohibiting flags other than the U.S. flag and State of Vermont flag from being flown on public school property.” The bill was introduced after a flurry of student groups sought to fly Black Lives Matter and Rainbow Pride flags. As Smith told the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus, “I don’t care what flag you want to fly at home.” Schools should “concentrate 100% on the money that’s being spent on student education instead of what flag gets flown on the school flagpole.”
The bill’s not going anywhere this year, but Smith at least made his point. Which he also did in his one-sentence explanation to the House about his Feb. 20 vote on H.688, the potentially very expensive Global Warming Solutions Act: “I voted no because I will have no part of cheating my Northeast Kingdom constituents out of their hard earned paychecks.”
His use of the word “hooker” during floor debate of H.568, study of the legalization of prostitution, earned him a Twitter politically correct language lesson from a fellow House member. Without mentioning Smith by name, Rep. Becca White (D-Hartford) tweeted, “Just as a PSA the term is sex worker and it does not denote gender in the job title. So if you say on the floor of the house ‘If that hooker… if she has…’ your [sic] wrong already.” Rep. Mari Cordes (D-Lincoln) chimed in with “it made me gasp when he said that” and added a face vomiting emoticon.
Lawmakers Feb. 21 approved H.568 Feb. 20 by a 126-19 roll call (Smith voted no), and by Dec. 15 a working group must develop “a modern approach to State involvement in sexual activity for hire by consenting adults while maintaining criminal penalties for trafficking, coercion, and exploitation of minors and strong protections for victims of those crimes.” It also gives legal immunity to prostitutes informing on crimes committed by others.
Opponents of H.568 and H.569, a companion bill to legalize prostitution, were aghast, if not actually gasping, at the offer of self-described ‘most successful sex worker’ Alice Little to fly to Vermont to testify on behalf of the legalization. Little says on a YouTube video she is the most successful legal ‘sex worker’ in Nevada and wants Vermont women to have the same opportunity. Little thanks H.568/569 sponsor Selene Coburn and offers “to fly out [to Vermont] and communicate with the senators and legislators and inform them a little bit more about sex work.” A visit by Ms. Little proved unnecessary for H.568, but she might want to keep her calendar open to testify next year.
It’s interesting that the insistence on the term “sex worker” to describe the world’s oldest profession is a matter of controversy in feminist circles. The National Organization of Women (NOW), for example, is split on the issue of legalization of prostitution. Those opposed tend to be older members who see prostitution as an entirely injust, oppressive institution. Supporters – which includes those most likely to insist on the redefinition of ‘sex workers’ – see modern-day prostitution as ultimately an act of free choice, especially if protected from human traffickers who exploit them.
And speaking of plain speaking – Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) on the House floor chided as “deplorable” the conduct of House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Minority Leader Jill Krowinski in the wake of their failed effort to reach 100 votes to override H.107, paid family leave. This excerpt gives a flavor of the content and tone: “Apparently you failed to convince enough of us and you failed to manipulate the date of the vote in your favor successfully, as absences of those opposing did not occur. Will you be using the same bullying tactics in future veto overrides? You need to take responsibility for your own miscalculations rather than scapegoat individual legislators who had their own good reasons to vote no on H.107.”
Valley News Editor John Gregg took exception to a VT Digger columnist calling Browning a “gadfly” for her critical comments: “Gadfly? Cynthia Browning is a behavioral economist with a PhD from the University of Michigan. Don’t you want people with those skills raising questions in floor debate about potential long-term pension obligations? Also, wasn’t she a lonely Democrat warning about the fallacy of Vermont going it alone on single-payer health care in 2014 when most of the caucus had their heads in the sand?”
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The State House welcomed back an old friend when former Lyndonville representative Dick Lawrence visited on behalf of the Vermont State Fair Association. As president of the Caledonia County Fair, Lawrence has taken the lead on the thorny problem of satisfying the Vermont Secretary of State Office of Professional Regulation’s concerns with the highly popular demolition derby.
OPR licensing regs require setbacks designed to protect the crowd from cars flying off the track and into the stands. Never mind that such an accident has never happened in (at Lawrence’s count) more than 600 demolition derby events at Vermont fairs. DD cars tend to move more slowly than at Thunder Road and the likelihood of one taking flight and landing in the stands is highly unlikely.
Lawrence praised OPR for their professionalism and cooperativeness. But regs are regs. Northern Vermont University – Lyndon engineering profs have derived a formula equating the setback requirement with the actual distance x height of the stands from the track.
As a longtime legislator, Lawrence had the rep of being fiscally conservative, socially moderate and liberal with friendliness on both sides of the political aisle. He was pleased to hear that his young successor Pat Seymour – who in 2016 ran unsuccessfully against him as a Democrat (!) – is earning the same reputation.
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Where some people see offenders released from prison as a threat, Rep. Dave Yacavone (D-Morrisville) sees economic opportunity for themselves and the rest of the state. “Every year roughly 1,500 Vermonters are released from prison,” he wrote in the Feb. 20 News & Citizen. “…..We need to support these Vermonters financially and morally and help them build strong relationships without our communities. It will not be easy but business, as usual, is not easy either. We will go broke paying the incarceration tab unless we rethink our strategies.”
Read more of Guy Page’s reports.