At the top of this week’s “Boy, do I miss Peter Freyne” column in Seven Days, Paul Heintz puts his oar in the water thusly:
Nearly two months into the legislative session, the scene at the Statehouse remains unusually slow.
Yeah, well, actually, no. It may be unusually smooth, or unusually dull. It may be low on bickering, hand-wringing, and stumblebumitude (if it ain’t a word, it oughta be), but actually, this legislative session has been pretty eventful.
It’s just that most of the events involve the legislative process at work. Bills on a variety of tough subjects — bills that have foundered in past sessions — are moving through the system with dispatch. Some of those bills are better than others (let us not speak further of campaign finance reform), but a hell of a lot of stuff is being accomplished with not much drama.
Methinks the Democrats have gotten a solid handle on how to operate with a veto-proof majority.
Maybe they learned some stuff from the difficulties of 2012, when bills were derailed by the least little bit of opposition or controversy and the State Senate was basically a disaster. (So bad that Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell came thisclose to losing his job, and only hung onto it by promising to overhaul his office and whip himself into shape.) Yeah, that 2012 session was kind of a stinker. Especially since the Democrats had zero excuses.
Last year was better, but there was still room for improvement. Some things got through: end of life, marijuana decrim, drivers’ licenses for migrant workers, to name a few. But others went nowhere, or fell victim to House-Senate disputes: campaign finance reform, shorelands protection, child-care unionization. Governor Shumlin’s doomed tax proposals (Earned Income Tax Credit cut and hey, remember that zany break-open ticket tax?) sucked a lot of air out of the room, and he allowed some good proposals on child care and energy to die rather than accept alternative funding sources.
This year, a lot of formerly difficult items have been sailing along. There’s still time for the session to go sideways, but look at some of the legislature’s accomplishments to date:
— Campaign finance reform. Yes, the bill set high contribution limits, but at least they got something through after years and years of kicking the can down the road.
— The Senate has approved a child-care unionization bill.
— The shorelands protection bill, which was blocked in the Senate last year after House passage, has cleared the Senate.
— The Senate has passed a bill to streamline decisions on hospitalization and medication of psychiatric patients.
— Lawmakers have begun taking some real steps toward water quality improvement and Lake Champlain cleanup, including the ever-nettlesome identification of potential funding sources.
— The House Education Committee is finalizing a bill to consolidate public school governance.
The Legislature is also moving on two bills (a ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving and a mandate for employers to provide paid sick time) that may face a gubernatorial veto — or a face-saving derailment before reaching the Governor’s desk. But at least they’re moving.
I can’t say I like everything that’s been done. But I like the fact that the Dems are working together in an apparently harmonious way to get stuff done. It’s better than the squabbling and vacillation that too often characterized 2012 and 2013.
What’s this? A happy blogger? Horrors!
Well, not entirely. But satisfied, within reasonable expectations.