Newcomers learn Statehouse ropes
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | November 30,2012
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Waterbury House member Rebecca Ellis, front left, and other incoming legislators listen to instructions on House etiquette during an orientation session at the Statehouse on Thursday.
MONTPELIER — Incoming legislators recently learned just how much the Statehouse can resemble grade school, how committee work can be like family dinners, and how Vermonters can bring anything from sheep to marijuana to a committee’s witness stand.
State staffers and senior legislators held talks with some 36 legislators, many first-timers, on Thursday at the Statehouse. The group was assembled for the second day of a three-day orientation facilitated by the Snelling Center for Government, which began the conferences in 1994.
“You’re going to build some of the best relationships you’ll have for the rest of your life,” said Rutland County Sen. Kevin Mullin, a Republican.
While the conference covers everything from rules on the chamber floors to ethics, some legislators had already jumped into the bill-drafting process that was covered Thursday morning.
Rutland Rep.-elect Larry “Cooper” Cupoli said he gave paperwork to the Legislative Council’s chief counsel and director, Luke Martland, to propose one bill. Cupoli said the measure would require social welfare recipients to pass drug screening tests to keep receiving benefits.
As legislators continue proposing bills, the Legislative Council expects to receive 1,000 to 1,200 drafting requests in 2013 and 900 to 1,000 in the second year of the biennium.
About 50 percent of the requests for next year will be approved, printed and introduced as bills by sponsors.
In explaining the Progressive Party’s influence on the General Assembly, Burlington Rep. Chris Pearson, the Progressive leader, said during a panel discussion the party can make a difference, especially in committees. He said despite the party’s minority of members, their effect can be similar to “making a comment at a Thanksgiving dinner,” then sitting back and seeing how the conversation is steered in a certain direction.
Some legislators role-played committee work, and others learned how unusual Vermonters can be. Legislative counsel Michael O’Grady said people testifying may bring some surprises into committee rooms in the Statehouse.
During committee testimony about an animal identification bill about eight years ago, O’Grady said, dozens were there to speak and he looked over and noticed someone had brought a sheep into the room.
Another person sought to comment during a House Government Operations Committee meeting and was arrested when she left, O’Grady said. She happened to testify in front of state troopers, he recalled. When the woman got up to speak, she pulled out a jar of marijuana and another of joints, placing both on a table in front of her, O’Grady said.
He noted how the committee became stone-faced.
“Not stoned, but stone-faced,” said Winooski Rep.-elect George Cross.
Today is the final day of orientation.