On February 14, 2018

The “Oil Can” Committee

By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon

When the new session began on Jan. 3, I was reassigned to the House Government Operations Committee, one of 14 House committees that meets on a daily basis to delve into various proposals and bills. What does Government Operations do, you may ask?

As Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters put it, the committee’s work can be viewed as the “oil can” of how government works. The committee looks at what might be considered by some, as less than exciting, with an eye towards how we can make government work better for the citizens of Vermont. Some of those “less exciting” issues we are currently working on include:

Administrative Procedures Act
This is the law that governs how various state agencies write regulations. It has been many years since the Act has been reviewed for improvement to process and transparency. The committee is looking at a recommendation from the Secretary of State’s office to move all of the state rules to one website online to make it easier for anyone to search for applicable regulations, whether it’s related to plumbers or clean air. Additionally, the current process for adopting rules is heavy on paper. Do members of the legislative committee and others that review the rules all need paper copies when they are easily available electronically. I think not.

Office of Professional Regulation
Each year the OPR office brings a proposal to update a number of the licensing it regulates from barbers to engineers and the qualifications for the various professions. This year’s bill got a little more controversial with a recommended change to the licensing of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) as is done in about 12 other states. A number of physicians do not agree with the change, putting members of the committee in the unenviable position of trying to navigate what is best in terms of competition and safe medicine.

Open Meetings & Public Records
Our committee has spent time trying to make clarifications as to what constitutes an open meeting as well as make it easier for members of the public to access public records. This law applies to both state and local government. The initial proposal would have made it harder for local government to comply with the meetings portion of the law through a new provision on serial conversations. Additionally, the Secretary of State’s Office proposed a new independent Ombudsman position to be the arbitrator of all public records requests, state and local. I think the committee soon realized that this could lead to a significant resource and staffing issue and it is not likely to be included in the final bill.

Statewide Voter Checklist
H.624 was introduced to deny future access to the federal government of Vermont’s voter checklist. The issue was introduced because of the President’s special election integrity commission set up last year to compare voter checklists for purposes of determining election fraud. The commission didn’t complete its objective and has since been disbanded. Vermont never shared its data although state law didn’t prohibit access to the federal government at the time.

I share the concern about using our checklist for potentially politically motivated outcomes, but we must ask ourselves where we do draw the line. If H.624 passes, every other state, political parties and individuals can still ask and receive our statewide voter checklist (minus personal identifiable information). Even foreign governments will be able to access the information. So if H.624 passes, presumably Russia can ask and receive this information, but not our own federal government. Does this make sense?

You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell. 802-236-3001.

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