By Rep. Jim Harrison
In addition to the dawn of a new year, we are also on the eve of a new legislative session. The first few days of a new biennium are filled with a number of procedural items. The newly elected legislature will be sworn in on Wednesday, Jan. 9. Gov. Phil Scott and other constitutional officers will be administered their Oath of Office on Jan. 10. (Governor’s State of the State address is generally aired on VPT and/or local TV networks the afternoon of Jan 10 at 1:30 p.m.) All members of the General Assembly and state office holders serve for two years. The real work of the 2019 session will begin the week of Jan. 14.There will be no surprises in the election of the Senate president pro-tem or House speaker, both which will happen on day one. Both Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden District, and Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, are running unopposed for their respective Senate and House leadership positions which they have held the past two years.
With the start of the new biennium, all legislative proposals must start from scratch and with 40 new members in the House, proposals could take a different path this year.
Under Vermont’s constitution, amendments can be advanced every four years and must originate in the Senate. Initially they need to receive a vote of two-thirds of the entire Senate and then receive a majority vote by the full House. If a proposed amendment passes that test, it then comes up for a vote again in the next biennium (2021-22) and must pass that legislature by a majority vote by both the Senate and House. Only then does the issue go to the voters to ratify the amendment. It becomes apparent, perhaps with good reason, that we don’t amend our constitution very often.
Ashe is supporting amendments that would protect abortion access and guarantee equal protections under the law for minority groups and LGBTQ citizens. Both issues may be in response to concerns raised over the possible future direction of the US Supreme Court