The 14th week of the 2019 legislative session was solemn, as many lawmakers made the trek to Springfield to celebrate the life of Rep. Bob Forguites, who recently passed away. Bob was a friend and tremendous public servant. He lived a full life and chose to spend his final years in the Vermont House. He was nonpartisan. We never saw Bob grandstand — it wasn’t in his DNA. His style was quiet compromise.
Bob Forguites was part of what makes the Vermont General Assembly special. We are a closely knit family. There are 150 of us. We come from across the state and spam the political spectrum. Sure, our debates sometimes lead to disagreement, but most of us break bread with erstwhile political adversaries, aware that there is more that binds than divides us. As I watched two busloads of lawmakers disembark to our fallen colleague’s funeral service, I was reminded of what sets Vermont apart. We may not be perfect, but our smallness links us.
With about one month remaining in the 2019 session, we are moving ahead with a number of bills. Ultimately, only several of the 549 House bills that have been introduced this session will move to the Governor’s desk this year. Major issues that catch headlines provide a skewed sense of how many priorities move forward. In fact, many less flashy (but no less important) bills are the majority that move into law.
An old political science adage states that “leadership is letting people down at a rate they can stomach.” Part-time state legislators quickly learn that we cannot address every bill or issue that comes forward. We lack time, and often lack resources. In Vermont, we are limited by the realities of our citizen-legislator model. We don’t have paid staff, per se, but rely instead on legislative and executive branch employees, as well as stakeholders who take part in our process.
Seven Days recently asked me about how bills are sifted before they move forward or are put on pause. I used the image of pouring liquid through a funnel to describe how certain issues are prioritized: “We’ve got all these bills at the top of a funnel,” said Rep. Dylan Giambatista (D-Essex). “Only some of them will get through. It’s funnel time.” Indeed, it is time to separate our priorities from those that will remain on the wall for debate in 2020. This is the first step to ensuring a timely adjournment this year.
Time is short as the House Education Committee works to assemble its miscellaneous education bill. Several provisions are included in the bill. I continue to work to ensure we pass a measure to begin a statewide school infrastructure assessment. The language is currently being developed. I will provide updates on this as things wrap up. Stay tuned.