Lawmakers learn committee assignments; Sheldon to chair Natural Resources

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County lawmakers are well positioned in the state Legislature to make a big impact on cleanup of the state’s waterways, the building of its budget, and efforts to improve the way its education system is run and financed.
Area legislators secured seats at the table on those major issues last week, when House and Senate leaders announced membership of the committees that will do the grunt work on the many bills that will compete to end up on Gov. Phil Scott’s desk before the 2019 session concludes.
Addison County lawmakers will literally be in the driver’s seat for the next two years on environmental issues. Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, returns this year as chairman of Senate Natural Resources & Energy.
And Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, landed a plum leadership assignment — chairmanship of the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee. That panel will work on two priorities Gov. Phil Scott laid out in his inaugural address (see related story on Page 1): devising a way to pay for cleanup of the state’s waterways, and updating Act 250, Vermont’s 50-year-old land use planning law.
“I’m excited,” said Sheldon, a natural resource planner by trade who spent the prior two years on the Commerce & Economic Development Committee.
Having spent several months leading a legislative Act 250 study committee, Sheldon will be in a great position to share the panel’s findings and recommendations with her colleagues on Natural Resources. A bill containing some of those Act 250 recommendations is being finalized.
She’s joined on the committee this year by Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, a former longtime member of the Agriculture & Forestry Committee.
Smith, a farmer, is pleased to join the panel. He became familiar with water quality issues as a member of House Agriculture, which has heard plenty of testimony from farmers on agricultural runoff into Lake Champlain.
He’s also excited to have a chance to revise Act 250.
“I think it’s going to be a good experience for me, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
The county has one member on that Ag panel this year: Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham.
But the county will also have a voice for farmers at the Senate level.
Newly elected Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, will serve on the Senate Agriculture and Education Committees.
Hardy said she’s happy with her assignments. As a former chairperson of the Mary Hogan Elementary School board and member of the Addison Central School District board, she’s already built a solid base of knowledge on education issues
“(Education) is an area I know a lot about, and (agriculture) is something I’m excited to learn a lot more about,” Hardy said. “Obviously, agriculture is very important to our county, and I’m excited to be able to represent the farms and agricultural businesses in our area. I have a lot to learn, and that will be fun.”
Newly elected Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, got her top choice — a seat on the House Health Committee. Cordes, a longtime Registered Nurse, will have a voice in the state’s ongoing health care reform efforts.
Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, will continue to serve on the Appropriations Committee, which will help build the state’s fiscal year 2020 general fund budget.
“I’m quite pleased,” Lanpher said of her appointment to a third term on Appropriations. Lanpher, who along with Smith are now the county’s most veteran House members, previously served three terms on the House Transportation Committee.
Lanpher believes the state is better positioned than it was two years ago to navigate through choppy financial waters. That financial stability is in large part because the state has refrained from using one-time federal money to fund ongoing programs, according to Lanpher.
“It’s manageable,” she said of the state budget, though she stressed Vermont must budget conservatively in order to withstand future economic downturns.
She’ll undoubtedly work closely with fellow Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Middlebury, who landed a coveted spot on the Ways and Means Committee, which drafts the states tax laws. Scheu served last term on the Institutions & Corrections Committee.
Scheu, a former bank executive, joins a committee that will explore potential changes to public school funding, another one of Scott’s stated priorities for the coming biennium.
Scheu acknowledged Ways & Means was her top choice.
“I like numbers,” she said. “I like to learn and be challenged. Taxes affect us all in this state; it’s a big deal.”
Ways and Means will also be among the House committees that will review a “paid family leave” bill, of which Scheu is the lead sponsor.
The county has been allotted two seats on the House Education Committee. They include return panelist Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, and newly elected Rep. Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro.
“I’m excited to dig in and work with our chair,” Elder said, a former Starksboro school board official who said he’ll benefit from the mentorship of Addison County colleague Conlon, who’s spent two years on House Education in will serve as ranking member. “It’s a great assignment and I couldn’t be happier.”
Scott in his inaugural speech identified declining school enrollment as one of the most serious problems facing the state, a dilemma that he said will ultimately hurt economic development and shrink the state’s tax base.
Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, will get his first taste of state politics as a member of the General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee.
Addison County lost some veteran incumbents who played key leadership roles. Among them were Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, who chaired the Education Committee, and Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, who chaired the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. Both Ayer and Sharpe retired last year.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
Addison County lawmakers’ 2019-2020 committee assignments:
•  Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, General, Housing and Military Affairs.
•  Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, Senate Natural Resources & Energy (chair), and Government Operations.
•  Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, Education.
•  Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, Health Care.
•  Rep. Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro, Education.
•  Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, Senate Education, and Agriculture.
•  Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, Appropriations.
•  Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, Agriculture & Forestry.
•  Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Middlebury, Ways & Means.
•  Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife. (chair).
•  Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, Natural Resources, Fish & Energy.

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