As lawmakers discuss gun control and climate bills, press must wait outside

By Guy Page

Members of the Vermont State House press corps are being routinely shut out of in-person coverage of committee discussion of major legislation.

Last year, the Legislature instituted capacity limits in committee rooms, in response to Covid and other respiratory public health concerns. The rooms are small, the meetings are long, and many lawmakers are elderly and susceptible to age-related illnesses. The State House’s recent (and apparently fixed) mold problem has not been forgotten.  

For some large rooms – such as Room 11, now home of House Appropriations – capacity caps are rarely a problem. 

But many big bills come out of small committee rooms.

The tiny Senate Judiciary Committee room, for example, is limited to 12 people. Five committee members and the committee assistant make six. The other six chairs are essentially first-come, first serve. 

This morning, while Judiciary discussed S4, the first of several gun control bills sponsored by Senate Pro Tem and Judiciary Committee member Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden). A couple of Second Amendment advocates (Jim Sexton and Chris Bradley) and a Scott administration lawyer and others were seated inside. 

Some press were inside, too. But at least two reporters (including Vermont Daily Chronicle) were left standing outside. Reporters are sent to cover a story. When they can’t, it’s a problem for them and for the editors who every day must decide where to allocate resources.

In-person access allows reporters to read facial and body language of everyone in the room. When a reporter asks a committee member an important-but-unanswered question after the meeting, the two at least have a shared understanding of what’s already been said. 

Of course, press can watch on Zoom like everyone else. All it takes is an internet connection to see and hear all of today’s Judiciary hearing, and (on laptops) even read the transcript, on the committee’s website. Zoom is an invaluable asset. But to reporters and their editors, it’s not a replacement. 

Judiciary isn’t the only committee expelling reporters due to capacity limits. Senate Natural Resources and Energy recently asked a reporter to leave, prior to discussion of a climate bill, due to full capacity. This committee already has no Republican senators, likely sources for another view of the climate legislation story. Getting kicked out of the admittedly small committee room makes the job of fully covering a complex, important story like the Affordable Heat Act / aka Clean Heat Standard more difficult. 

The capacity limit creates another thorny problem: who decides who stays and goes? And what are the criteria? Reporters say it’s at the discretion of the committee chairs, who may delegate the job to their committee staff assistants. 

Unless and until the Legislature resolves the room capacity problem, the more interesting and important the bill, the more likely the press will be unable to cover it in person.

Categories: Legislation

28 replies »

  1. So much for constitutionally required open doors in our general assembly. It is no longer the people’s house.

  2. What could go wrong with a small number of like minded intellectuals deciding how to spend our money and control our lives. I would bet no one in the room will suggest a way to reduce the cost of energy for the people of Vermont.

  3. Our State House is the oldest State House in the country still being used for day to day business. I learned that from one of the tour guards there. Maybe it’s time, for the sake of transparency, to move some of the business elsewhere, if there is an issue with proper oversight due to the antiquity of the building. Who says the committees have to meet in the State House ?

    • From an organizational effectiveness standpoint, none exists here. It is time for a vision and strategic plan which allows for an infrastructure which allows for better governance in our little state.

  4. Transparency is of utmost importance, of all the things the government spends money in this is one I would agree to.

  5. The pandemic will never end. The left has learned that they can use it to control and manipulate at will.

  6. In the city of Oz, where deals are made behind the curtain to follow the yellow brick road to tyranny and the socialist Utopia.

  7. government loves any reason to make it more difficult for taxpayers to follow their actions

  8. My apologies, CCPing much isn’t an adequate response. I’ve had access to said conference rooms. There’s more than adequate room for seating in any of the rooms for legislators and/or press. The American people are Guaranteed access to their legislators. Furthermore e-mail access is less than adequate because some of our legislators choose not to reply. You all can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  9. Infuriating. We pay for that doorknob, and the horrid door knob hang-tag, the door, the room, the building, the property, the road to get a car there too. There is plenty of space in those rooms for the very few actual reporters there are in our state. Thank you for trying Guy.

  10. Infuriating. We pay for the existence of this door, knob, hang tag with vile message, room, building, salary of said humans who are in that room and the roads to get to that building. We should know what is going on inside that room. I betting that meeting isn’t televised.

  11. WHAT ARE trying to hide from the VOTERS of the State by going behind CLOSED DOORS???

  12. Perhaps bills written in such settings should be more heavily scrutinized. Perhaps a MANDATORY public hearing without the perfunctory two minute limit per speaker.

    It seems that the Dem-Prog Groupthink is st it again! The more they put arcane restrictions on the press and the public, the closer they come to litigating their way through the session.

  13. A Progressive / Democratic view of transparency in the People’s House. This is what the Vermonters voted into Montpelier. Too many of the people that voted for them in office (apparently) are too stupid to realize no citizen in Vermont is being represented. You can’t represent the people if they are left in the dark.

  14. Seems to be room to me via the picture above – I see empty chairs?! Why don’t they just leave the door open for people to hear what is being talked about? They can keep their feet in the hallway and lean in through the door. Yes, thanks for trying Guy and letting us know the hurdles that our legislators are making for you and other reporters to jump over, or not in this case.

  15. Shame on the elite, privileged, Leftist, majority for their contempt for Vermonters!

  16. Nothing in VT will change, and will actually continue to worsen, until the voters in this state wake up! (And, I haven’t seen any recent evidence of that happening.)

  17. Making matters worse in this charade, is the fact that party leadership in both parties would rather see it this way than being open and above board. So with the road twisting and winding, our next stop will be at Comrade so and so’s place, and from there we have lost it. We are that close folks, better wake up and get a good whiff of that coffee, because the next inhalent might well be chloroform.