Public hearing on education, paid sick leave and the gun bill

We are in the final weeks of the session, and my House committee is working to get our economic development bill out this week.  You can follow the progress on our committee page where we are working on S.138, the Senate’s economic development bill.
Hearing on Education Consolidation Efforts:

This Wednesday April 22, 2015 a Public Hearings has been set on H.361 –  An act relating to making amendments to education funding, education spending and education governance.

The Hearing will take place in Room 11 5:00-7:00 pm.  This is an important opportunity to voice support or opposition for the significant governance change in H.361 as it emerges from the Senate Education Committee and before it is voted on by the entire Senate.  The Senate bill is different from the house and still changing.  You can monitor it here

Testifying is easy, and if you feel strongly about this legislation, either way, you should come and say why!  You should prepare two minutes of comments.  You can, but don’t have to, bring those comments in written format for easy reading during your testimony.

Paid sick leave:
The House will be voting on paid sick leave this week.  This is an initiative that has received some good work in response to past concerns from the business community.  It is also an initiative that continues to highlight the difference between our more rural employers and national chain employers.  This is a bill that may make sense for Chittenden County, but probably still doesn’t make sense for our mom and pops in our little towns.  H.187 proposes three mandated sick days for full-time workers after working a minimum of 1,400 hours.  The latest version of the bill is here
New gun regulations passed:
Through the election and my conversations with voters in my district I have been consistent and clear that I would support better enforcement of existing federal laws, but I would not vote in favor of new gun regulations.  That has been my position when asked by staunch second amendment rights advocates and when asked by constituent GunSense supporters.   S.141 is the bill regarding possession of firearms that passed the Senate and came in front of the House.  Thursday, on the second reading of S.141, a parliamentary procedure caused the bill to be divided into several sections.  I was pleased with the divided question, as I was able to vote, as I said I would, in favor of the sections having to do with enforcement of existing federal law, but against the sections having to do with new regulations.

The bill needed 72 votes to pass.  Friday, after incredibly moving, personal and courageous testimony about mental illness by a number of my colleagues, S.141 in its entirety passed the House by a vote of 80-62 on third reading.   I voted no.  I thank all who contacted me in support, and opposition, of this bill for doing so.

You can read about the progress of the bill through the Senate and House here.

In general, I’m opposed to national lobbying efforts like GunSense, (or the NRA for that matter) driving Vermont policy, though I did agree to meet with the GunSenseVT chapter and hear them out.  While I understand GunSense has a significant base of Vermont supporters, it is not, as some have claimed to me, a “grassroots Vermont organization.”  While I further understand that not all, or even a majority, of my colleagues in the House who voted in favor of this bill accepted campaign contributions from GunSense, the fact of the matter is a number of them did.  GunSense also spent nearly 80K this year on full time lobbying.

When I met with Ann Braden and GunSenseVT, there were three ways they lost my potential partial support for their efforts.
1. Data manipulation:  GunSense use of select data to justify a campaign for background checks in Vermont immediately drew my attention.  The expression of that data in percentages seemed to show there was a significant problem, but the actual numbers of incidents cited were very low, presumably this is why percentages were used to express the data. Not a fan of that type of manipulation – disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. One of the problems GunSense set out to solve was Vermont guns being used in MA crimes.  I’m not sure how the bill that we just passed will prevent the annual average 25 stolen guns from Vermont showing up in MA.  Those that are desperate enough to steal guns are not likely to be deterred by this bill.
2. All or nothing: I offered a willingness to work with GunSense on better enforcement of existing federal laws.   In response to that offer, GunSense sent one of my opponents a campaign contribution.  These folks never followed up on how I could be even partially supportive, even though they had full time everyday lobbying effort going on in the Vermont Statehouse.
3. Attempt to intimidate: During my meeting, Ann and Co. promised me that they were raising money and were going to fund and get elected candidates who supported their effort.  There is actually nothing wrong with doing that.  Many causes, including pro gun activists, operate similarly.   But this strategy is the least likely to change my mind or elicit my cooperation on any issue.
I hope to continue to talk with folks about guns and how they are regulated, and I encourage you to be in touch if this is an issue you care about.  You can count on me to always listen, consider and then to always be candid about how I will vote.
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