State News

Universal healthcare advocates stage sit-in

Demonstrators demand legislators move forward with nation’s first universal healthcare law

Dozens of universal healthcare supporters held a sit-in at the Vermont statehouse on the evening of Jan. 8, following a colorful rally drawing hundreds. Numerous times members of the demonstrating group interrupted Governor Shumlin as he delivered his annual State of the State address.

The group was protesting the governor’s December announcement that he would no longer move forward with Act 48, a law passed in 2011 after a sustained grassroots campaign which commits the state to a universal, publicly-financed healthcare system by 2017. Sit-in participants denounced the governor’s decision and refused to leave until the Legislature commits to moving forward with and holding a public hearing on the governor’s financing proposals by Jan. 29.

“We’re here today because healthcare is a human right, and Legislators have a moral imperative to move forward with financing Green Mountain Care, as laid out in Act 48,” said Anna Gebhardt, a Burlington resident and mother of two. “So many of us are struggling with astronomical healthcare costs and medical debt, and we’re not going to let the governor’s decision hold us back. Today we’re sending a clear message to the legislature that now is the time to act on universal healthcare is Vermont.”

Earlier in the day, over a hundred people congregated across the street for a “People’s State of the State,” sharing stories about the impacts of the economic crisis on their communities and receiving a national statement of support from over 50 national and state-based organizations, including Amnesty International, Ms. Foundation for Women, and Healthcare NOW! Signatories include national organizations as well as groups from California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Washington.

Members from the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign also delivered an open letter to Vermont legislators, pointing out that according to the Governor’s own estimates, a universal publicly-financed healthcare system would increase net incomes for 9 in 10 Vermont families. The campaign is developing its own rights-based proposal for equitable financing, which it will release to the legislature in the coming weeks.

Police response

During the days leading up to the gubernatorial inauguration law enforcement officials became aware of the fact that various groups were planning to stage protests at the State House on January 8th, the day of the inauguration.  The Vermont Capitol Police has responsibility for law enforcement within the capitol building however additional assistance was requested from the Vermont State Police, the Montpelier Police Department, and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, as well as the Security Division of the Dept. of Buildings and General Services.

On Jan. 8 a team of officers was assembled to provide additional security measures during the election of the governor and the ensuing inauguration.

None of the disruptions during the governor’s address required law enforcement intervention.

At the conclusion of the business day a group of people gathered in the House of Representatives’ chamber and staged a sit-in. These protesters were told that the State House closes to the public at 8 p.m. and that they would need to leave at that time. They were given many warnings that refusal to leave the building at 8 p.m. would result in arrest and physical removal. Some people chose to leave but others remained and had to be removed.

A total of 29 people were removed from the House chamber and issued citations to appear in Vermont Superior Court – Washington County Criminal Division, to answer charges of Unlawful Trespass. Of those 29 people, nine of them were also cited for the crime of Resisting Arrest.

Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Protesters, some of whom are with the Vermont Workers’ Center, stage a sit-in on the floor of the Vermont House chamber.

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