Report from Montpelier: Jan. 16, 2014

Joan Lenes

Joan Lenes

By Rep. Joan Lenes

I want to start by saying thank you to my friend and colleague, Senator Sally Fox. I will miss her wisdom, knowledge, heart, and tireless spirit. We have all lost so much with the passing of the Senator. What I want to hold on to is what we have all gained by having had her in our lives.

We got off to a quick start this 2014 legislative session. We passed S.82, the campaign finance bill that has been a long time coming. Both the House and Senate passed it last biennium, but the Committee of Conference could not come to an agreement. They met several times in the off session, resolved the differences between the two versions, and signed the bill on the first day of this session. The House voted 124-15 in favor. Although this does not accomplish all that I would have liked, I did support it. It is a compromise, as good legislation always is. In 1997, Vermont’s campaign finance law was struck down as unconstitutional and not adjusted for inflation. In 2010, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision changed the political landscape, allowing unlimited contributions to PACs.

S.82 addresses this by establishing contribution limits that will take effect Jan. 1, 2015.  The bill increases transparency and provides new requirements regarding reporting disclosures, including an electronic finance reporting system to be in place by 2015.

My House Committee on Corrections and Institutions is working with the second year of a two-year Capital Bill. Being in the second year allows us considerable time to devote to other areas in our jurisdiction. The Committee considered its priorities for the year and will continue with what we have been working on over the past several years. We have been working toward reducing recidivism rates of offenders by providing services, including addiction treatment and transition back into the community. We will continue in this direction and are very pleased to see that our proposals align with the Governor’s initiative on fighting substance abuse. Much more will be coming forward as the session progresses.

During the Speaker Smith’s opening comments, he reminded us of the inherent tension in our work as we are guided by Vermont’s motto: Freedom and Unity. He stated, “Freedom: the individualism that is the bedrock of the citizens of this state of Vermont.  And Unity: the idea that we can’t have a successful community without those individuals coming together.”

I truly believe this, and I have always encouraged you to come visit the State House and observe the Legislative process. We do strive to be open and welcoming. Each committee has an information or home page; it is a great tool for the public to follow our work. To find a committee page, visit www.leg.state.vt.us. Under Committee Information Pages, click on Standing Committee Information Pages. You can choose the committee of your interest to obtain the weekly agenda, documents, handouts, and links to other information. These pages are updated regularly, although the schedules can change at any point in the day.

Rep. Kate Webb and I will be at Bruegger’s on Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30 am for the months of January, March, and May. We will be at Next Door Bakery and Café (next to The Flying Pig) during February and April. You can always reach me at jlenes197@gmail.com; my cell number is 999-9363.

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