Two committees in the Vermont Senate will have new chairs this biennium, Senate leadership announced Thursday afternoon. But in contrast to the House, which saw a substantial makeover Wednesday, Senate committee composition is relatively unchanged.
The new chairs replace two members who chose not to seek reelection last year. Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) will replace former senator Claire Ayer, a Democrat, as chair of the Health and Welfare Committee. Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) will chair the Institutions Committee, a post formerly occupied by Republican Peg Flory.
Benning also replaces Flory as the only Republican committee chair. "Even with the diminished number of Republicans, we respect the minority's point of view and want to include them in leadership roles," said Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden). Only six of the Senate's 30 members are Republicans; the GOP lost one seat in last November's elections.
Senate committee seats are assigned by a three-member panel called the Committee on Committees. Its members are Ashe, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle).
File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
Sen. Joe Benning
The committee that got the most significant makeover is Transportation, which has been helmed for years by Mazza. Ashe is the five-member panel's new vice chair. Freshman Sen. Andrew Perchlik (D/P-Washington), who has deep experience in renewable energy, was also named to the committee. Ashe removed himself from the Judiciary Committee to join Transportation.
"I have a growing interest in the role of transportation in carbon emissions," Ashe explained. "The committee will have a role in reducing transportation-based carbon emissions."
The move mirrors one in the House, where Rep. Curt McCormack (D-Burlington), a liberal Democrat who does not own a car, replaced Rep. Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester) as chair of the House Transportation Committee.
Ashe denied that the Senate Transportation shakeup meant a push toward a carbon tax, as some conservatives fear. "Rather than a debate on a carbon tax, I'd like a work product that reduces Vermont's carbon emissions," he said.
Replacing Ashe on the Judiciary Committee is Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), the Senate's most outspoken supporter of gun-control measures.
Two returning members, Lyons and Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) were removed from the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Lyons' reward is her new chairmanship; Pollina ended up on the relatively low-profile Agriculture and Government Operations committees. Finance's new members are Sens. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) and Becca Balint (D-Windham).
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.