Local lawmakers in committee positions to make impact

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County lawmakers will wield influence over issues ranging from COVID-19 relief to education financing, thanks to committee assignments recently handed down by House and Senate leaders.
Four of the county’s legislators secured leadership positions. They include Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, who was named chair of the House Transportation Committee; Sen. Chris Bray, who will continue to lead the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee; Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, who will again chair the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee; and Sen. Ruth Hardy, named vice chair of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.
It should also be noted the county will maintain coveted spots on House and Senate money committees. Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Middlebury is taking Lanpher’s spot on House Appropriations; Scheu served her last term on House Ways & Means. Meanwhile, Rep. Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro, who served last term on House Education, will be joining Ways & Means. And Sen. Hardy — who served last term on the Senate Education and Agriculture Committees — has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee (in addition to her Health & Welfare post). Bray will also serve on Finance.
Lanpher, a 12-year veteran of the House, is no stranger to the Transportation Committee. She served on that panel during her first six years in Montpelier.
“It’s terrific; it’s a really good fit,” she said of her new assignment, which she believes will benefit from her past six years of state budget knowledge gained from her service on House Appropriations.
“It’s given me the opportunity to learn so much about the big picture (of state government),” Lanpher said.
Among other things, Lanpher believes House Transportation will help prioritize the use of federal COVID stimulus dollars and, of course, federal grants to invest in Vermont’s infrastructure. She noted the leadership transition in Washington, D.C., could change the funding stream for transportation projects.
Lanpher will also have her committee focus on harmful emissions associated with the transportation network, and she believes the next two years will see passenger rail service ramp up in the Green Mountain State.
Lanpher’s new leadership role could also be a big win for those advocating for a truck bypass around downtown Vergennes.
“My chairmanship will give me a unique perspective on where that’s at,” she said. “Right now, it’s in the study phase, and has to pass muster like all projects.”
Hardy, beginning her second term in the Senate, is also pleased with her assignments. She noted Senate Health & Welfare will have a major say in the state’s recovery from COVID-19. And she noted Senate Finance has been likened to the “Atlanta Airport of legislative committees” because it deals with many bills and has “broad jurisdiction” over proposals that affect state revenues.
“During a global pandemic and related financial crisis, I cannot think of two committees more important to the safety and recovery of Vermont, its people, and economy,” Hardy stated in an email to her constituents. “Legislative leaders have made it clear that our continued COVID response and recovery is the Legislature’s first priority during this session, so these committees will be busy.”
Sheldon said she’s “honored to be serving Vermont in this capacity, and a bit daunted at starting a new biennium via Zoom.”
She told the Independent that her panel will take some time to look at its areas of jurisdiction — air, water, wildlife, habitat, permitting, climate change, land use scenery, solid waste and toxic substances management — “to learn more about the legal origins and obligations of protecting the public’s interest and see how well we are doing that.”
The committee will also see if Vermont’s budget accurately reflects staffing for the state agencies charged with implementing natural resources and fish and wildlife priorities.
From there, the panel will set priorities for the biennium, according to Sheldon.
“COVID has set the stage for us to ask what we are doing, why we do it, and could we do it better?” she said.
Bray said he’s honored to return to a fourth term as chair of Senate Natural Resources & Energy.
“I’ve been preparing for this session since last summer and am eager to get started,” he said.
He cited the pandemic and climate change as his top two issues.
“COVID-19 will be the first order of business for every committee,” said Bray, a former EMT.
He noted the impacts of climate change on “all living things through extreme storms, droughts and floods, massive wildfires, failed crops, extinctions, damaging invasive species, and the creation of climate refugees.”
This demands that citizens become better stewards of the world’s natural resources.
“The earth, air, and water upon which we all depend was not created by any of us; we inherited it from our ancestors,” he said. “Now it is our turn to pass on these foundations of life to future generations undamaged.”
Bray wants the state to transition to a clean energy economy predicated on efficiency and renewables. He also wants to see Vermonters switch, in greater numbers, to cars, trucks, homes, and businesses that run on clean, renewable electricity.
He anticipates legislation aimed at cleaning up public waters, protecting forests and wetlands, reducing people’s exposure to toxic chemicals, and better waste management.
Here is the local legislative delegation’s committee assignments for the 2021-2022 legislative session:
• Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes — House Transportation (chair)
• Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes — General, Housing & Military Affairs
• Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham: Agriculture & Forest Products Committee
• Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall — Education
• Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Middlebury — Appropriations
• Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury — Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee (chair)
• Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven — Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee
• Rep. Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro — Ways & Means
• Rep. Mary Cordes, D-Lincoln — Health Care
• Sen. Christopher Bray — Natural Resources & Energy (chair); Finance
• Sen. Ruth Hardy — Health & Welfare (vice-chair); Finance 
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