by Rep. Gina Galfetti
As I made my way into the State House Tuesday with some light sleet falling, I found my mood to be better than the previous week. I slid in the side door and returned to the now familiar coat room. One of the members of the Capital Police held the door for me and greeted me pleasantly; Dale is a wonderful man and has been a fixture at the State House for a number of years. His welcome seemed to set the tone for the day! The State House staff number among the most dedicated and friendly folks in the state.
I headed upstairs to my committee room and greeted Phil, our committee assistant, who was in early taking care of the numerous details, including scheduling and other tasks, that are required to make the committee function. I was in good spirits, because despite having landed in Corrections and Institutions (a committee I had not asked for), I have found it quite interesting. Corrections and Institutions deals with a variety of subject matter, from the brick and mortar of the buildings owned by the State to the State’s relationship with incarcerated individuals. It is also one of the three “money committees,” as it produces the capital budget, which controls the allocation of funds for a myriad of projects, from roof replacement to building new prisons. Not exactly a boring Committee!
I found that I had landed on a Committee with a well seasoned and highly capable Chair, Alice Emmons of Springfield, who also happens to be the “dean” of the House, having been first elected in 1982!. Alice quickly filled the schedule with a variety of presenters who brought the mostly new committee up to speed on the issues that we would be grappling with this session, and I was grateful to have her at the helm. She is no nonsense straight shooter.
I was also pleased that the Democratic leadership had reached out to new members and that I had received a number of inquiries and apologies from new members who had shunned me. It was a welcome change from the previous week and a signal that I might actually be heard and be able to get some work done despite wearing “the scarlet R.” I felt rather poorly that some of the new members who had always been friendly felt the last week’s Floor Report might be aimed at them, for as I said, it was the few not the many who had behaved badly
I turned my head back to more important matters and was filled with wonder as I considered the action that was coming on “the Bathroom Bill (H. 34).” Corrections and Institutions rarely sees such exciting legislation in the beginning of the session, but Conner Casey, a Montpelier representative with a voice that can be heard down the hall and around the corner when he speaks, and who sits to my left in Committee, had dropped a deuce. A former Montpelier city councilor, Casey had introduced a bill that proposed that the State conduct a survey as to whether or not putting up 24-7 restrooms on State owned land in the Capital Complex was feasible. On Wednesday we heard testimony from Casey regarding the bill. He postulated that the State was obligated to put up 24-7 restrooms, as the many homeless who populate the downtown area needed someplace to relieve themselves. As a side note, he added that many protests in Montpelier happen outside of 9-5 when the State house bathrooms are open and that public bathrooms are critical.
It was clear that the former councilor wanted all Vermont taxpayers to pick up the dime in providing facilities to Montpelier’s homeless population, no doubt at a significant cost. And since there is already an information center and a very expensive bus station that have restrooms, this proposal seems to me to be quite unnecessary.
Not knowing the full scope of Casey’s intentions, Rep. Emmons brought this bill forward as a way for a Committee with many new members to walk through the early stages of consideration of a bill, and Rep. Casey’s initial testimony was sparse. However, once the genie had been let out of the bottle and testimony was scheduled for the next day, it was clear that the push was on. One member added that the bathroom might even be considered as a place to have a safe injection site. Oh my!
Testimony the following day turned into a three ring circus. Montpelier city manager Bill Fraser used the venue to advocate in favor of the bathroom, and many people showed up to give testimony, undoubtedly having been rounded up and invited in by other proponents of the bill. And it was without a doubt an opportunity for Casey to “bring home the bacon” for Montpelier.
The saga of the Bathroom Bill will continue to unfold next week and will without a doubt continue to make a stink. But for this first-year legislator, it was a great example of the type of maneuvering that goes on as members jockey for position in the Legislature and “pork” for their districts. It looks like a rocky road ahead; I look forward to representing the interests of the people of Barre Town and Williamstown as I travel that road over the next several months!
Categories: Rep. Gina Galfetti's Floor Report