House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) wielding the gavel
The Vermont General Assembly opened the second year of the legislative biennium Tuesday vowing to tackle unfinished business from last session and take up new concerns.
Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) quoted the boxer “and sometimes philosopher” Mike Tyson to describe how lawmakers’ best laid plans for the session have been upended by the flurry of news in recent days.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’,” Ashe quoted the boxer, prompting chuckles from his Senate colleagues.
Ashe noted that recent revelations about prison abuse, the potential insolvency of residential care facility Brattleboro Retreat and a court ruling about “people who have been poisoned” by chemicals in groundwater will all demand the attention of lawmakers in coming months.
Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) speaking Tuesday
“When we arrive here thinking we have everything figured out, things conspire to make our lives complicated,” Ashe said.
After gaveling in the House session, Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) began the ceremonial day by welcoming two new governor-appointed House members: Rep. Kristi Morris (D-Springfield), who replaces the late Bob Forguites, and Rep. Peter Reed (I-Braintree), who replaces Ben Jickling following his August resignation.
Johnson then turned her focus to the work ahead. Speaking from prepared remarks, she described a "mixed" economy in which most residents are struggling to make ends meet. She said the legislature must take "critical" steps toward improving Vermonters' lives.
"The gains since the recession have not been spread evenly or equitably to Vermonters at all income levels," she said.
She also cited the threat of climate change, which she said wasdemonstrated by the Halloween storm that flooded some Vermont communities. She said while Vermont has one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the country, "our emissions have been moving in the wrong direction."
The House will be taking a "strong look" at how the state can participate in a regional transportation climate initiative, she said.
"We have a lot to gain from the investment our state can receive back from this regional partnership, and a lot to lose if we opt out of participation," she said, adding, "We do not have time to waste."
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.
Correction: Kristi Morris' name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.