Local lawmakers poised to make impact on legislative committees

MONTPELIER — Addison County lawmakers are again positioned to be “impact players” in shaping this year’s legislative agenda, according to recently announced House and Senate committee assignments.
Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, will continue as chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, while Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, will again lead the House Health Care Committee. Both of those panels will play key roles in shaping Vermont’s ongoing health care reform initiatives. Ayer will also serve on the Senate Government Operations Committee, and she was tapped by the Democrats to serve as assistant majority leader.
Meanwhile, Ayer’s new colleague in the state’s highest chamber — Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven — could not be happier with his assignments. He will serve on the Senate Agriculture and Finance committees.
“It’s like Christmas,” he said of his committee assignments, which will give him a place at the table in determining the state’s agricultural policy for the next two years, as well as input into how legislative priorities will be funded.
“I asked for Agriculture because Addison County is number one in agriculture in the state; I think we have had someone on Senate Agriculture for decades now,” said Bray, who previously served two terms on the House Agriculture Committee representing Addison-5.
“As for the Finance Committee, I feel like it’s a great opportunity to learn about the state’s finances on a broad scale,” he added. “That committee has a great purview. It does all the Ways and Means Committee stuff, they do banking regulation, insurance, health care, Public Service Board, energy issues coming forward, so it will be a great opportunity to learn about the money side of what makes the state work.”
The vast majority of the county’s House delegation consists of returning incumbents, so there are few changes in committee assignments. Among those changing places: Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven. Smith served the last biennium on the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. House leaders have agreed to transfer him to House Agriculture, where he joins Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham.
It seemed a logical switch for Smith, a lifelong farmer and former longtime member of House Agriculture during his earlier tenure as a state representative.
Smith anticipates the committee will spend some time looking for financing for the state’s sweeping “working landscapes” bill passed into law last year. The bill creates the Working Landscape Enterprise Fund and the Working Lands Enterprise Board, which will oversee the fund. The intent is to stimulate economic development on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest products sectors by advancing entrepreneurism, business development and job creation. He also expects some potential action on policies for labeling Vermont agricultural products and cleaning up Lake Champlain, among other things.
Also seeing a switch is Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton. Jewett served last biennium on the Houser Government Operations Committee and as assistant majority leader. He will now serve as House majority leader and on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee.
One of the county’s House committee assignments remains in limbo. Longtime educator and Rep. Greg Clark, R-Vergennes, died in a tragic traffic accident last November. He was a longtime member of the House Education Committee — which figures to have a busy agenda, given that Gov. Peter Shumlin stressed education advancements in his state of the state address last Thursday. Republican leaders in Clark’s district were scheduled to meet this Thursday, Jan. 17, to nominate a person to serve out Clark’s two-year term representing Addison-3 (Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Addison and Waltham). Shumlin must formally make the appointment.
Since the House Education Committee ranks are currently filled, Clark’s successor will serve on a different panel.
Reassigned to their previous committees were incumbents:
•  Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, House Commerce and Economic Development.
“The (House) Speaker (Shap Smith) specifically said that the House Education and Commerce Committees are going to work together on the governor’s education agenda, which is also about the economy and job creation and about improving the prospects of students,” Ralston said. “I think it’s a positive thing.”
•  Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. This panel will have a hand in, among other things, agricultural policy and any efforts to clean up Lake Champlain.
•  Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, House Transportation Committee. This is a panel that will consider, among other things, improvements to the state’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
•  Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, House Ways and Means Committee. This is a panel that will, among other things, consider any changes to the state’s tax structure.
“We have people in the right places,” Jewett said of the county’s delegation. “We are well spread out and in good places.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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