Just when you thought it was over, it wasn’t after all. For months, House representatives have been working on a palatable redistricting plan for all three parties — Republicans, Progressives and Democrats. The original map, which was designed to align with existing boundaries as much as possible, sailed through the House before Town Meeting Day.
Last week, however, after House Government Operations had already passed out the new and Board of Civil Authority-approved map on a 8-3 vote and after the House voted overwhelmingly to support the plan on second reading (123-9) there was a last-minute move by Democrats to alter the configuration of several Burlington neighborhoods. That amendment proposal, which came to light on Thursday night after the floor vote and hours before the final vote on the bill, threw Progressives and Republicans into a tizzy. House Government Operations voted for the new plan on Friday morning on a 6-5 vote, with Democrats Larry Townshend and Michel Consejo joining the three GOP members in the dissent.
Though the bill was supposed to be taken up on the floor on Friday, a caucus was called as soon as the issue was brought up, and floor action was delayed until after the holiday weekend.
Rep. Willem Jewett, assistant majority leader and sponsor of the new map, has been making a lot of calls since then, trying to muster support for the proposal which he described as a compromise that settles a dispute with Progressives over the Roosevelt Park and part of the Lakeview Terrace neighborhoods in the North End of Burlington. The changes would strengthen districts for Democrats Jean O’Sullivan, Jason Lorber and Jill Krowinski.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been joining forces with Progressives to fight the proposal, which they say cedes too much power to the Democrats who already have eight out of the 10 representatives in Burlington.
Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, said in a statement that the amendment proposed on the House floor “is disrespectful of the work of the Burlington Board of Civil Authority and local control. While the process had been working well, it is disappointing to see hard ball politics played at the 11th hour.”
Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, made laudatory remarks about the plan on Thursday. (“This bill serves as a model of redistricting for the country. Members of all parties find areas to support and areas of disagreement. But local input was valued and neighborhoods respected if at all possible. I am proud to be part of today’s vote and the whole process.”)
The next day, in light of Jewett’s proposal, he had changed his tune and accused Democrats of ignoring the work of the Burlington Board of Civil Authority. Pearson went so far as to offer his own amendment that eliminates the role of the BCAs and the Legislative Apportionment Board from the redistricting process. Though he said he didn’t support the idea, he felt he had to offer the amendment in order to prove a point.
Republicans, in solidarity with the Progressives, also oppose the Jewett plan even though it doesn’t affect their stronghold in the northernmost ward of the city. Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, accused the Democrats, who have an overwhelming majority in the House of engaging in single party rule tactics.
“This isn’t about us gaining anything in Burlington,” Turner said. “It’s about what’s right.”
Turner is particularly perturbed that GOP and Progressive members weren’t made aware of the map until right before the third reading. He said the Democrats are undermining the committee process and he called the last-minute changes “a slap in the face of the process.”
“We have a problem with that,” Turner said. “If you look at the map it doesn’t affect him that much. It’s all about what they said were going to do and a few disgruntled Democrats have picked this fight and changed the map.”
Jewett says he couldn’t muster the votes in committee until Thursday because of absences, but lawmakers were in negotiations over the map right up until that night. “We were short-handed all week, but we knew we had issues there,” Jewett said.
The new map, Jewett said, was developed with Pearson’s input to satisfy some of his concerns, but by the next morning, “he wasn’t interested in a compromise.”
Jewett said the Burlington BCA, which was “hopelessly partisan in makeup,” presented a version of the map that he described “incredibly” partisan.
“I listened to Chris Pearson and what he talked about is respecting neighborhoods,” Jewett said. “What the BCA plan did was satisfy one neighborhood at the expense of another and it didn’t seem right. It seemed like questions needed to be asked and that’s why I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing.”
As for the outcome on the House floor on Tuesday? It could be food fight, Jewett said, or nothing at all could happen.
“It’s a little distressing that the map is this good and we have such a major dispute over some minor changes and everyone is running for the exits,” Jewett said. “It looks like the old Republican-Progressive alliance again from 10 years ago. We saw that in the Legislative Apportionment Board work.”
House to vote on immunization bill
The much watered-down version of a Senate bill that would eliminate philosophical exemptions for parents who don’t wish to have their children vaccinated for highly communicable diseases will be heard on the floor this week. As this issue appears to cross party lines, the debate will likely be interesting.
Senate bears down on bills
After a long period of testimony taking and deliberations, the Senate is expected to begin fast-tracking bills out of committee this week. Expect to see the health care exchange legislation, transportation budget and the capital adjustment budget (including the plans for the state office complex and state hospital replacement) come out of committee this week.
Teed up for Tuesday is the corporate personhood resolution sponsored by Sen. Ginny Lyons. The advisory legislation recommends that Congress limit campaign spending by corporations.
Conference committees will likely take shape next week as the House and Senate prepare to adjourn right on schedule, on April 27.
Hearing on utility merger one-sided?
Critics of the merger between Green Mountain Power and CVPS say a House hearing about the matter to be held on Tuesday could be one-sided.
The two-hour informational session at 9 a.m. held by House Commerce and House Natural Resources will include representatives from the business community, a former PSB official and utility executives.
AARP-Vermont, which has vocally insisted on a $21 million payout to ratepayers for a bailout of the utilities in the early 2000s, has not been invited to testify.
The title of the hearing, which was originally titled “CVPS windfall issues,” has been changed to “utility merger issues.”
Here’s the schedule for testimony:
Louise McCarren, former chair of the Public Service Board
Elizabeth Miller, commissioner, Department of Public Service (9:20 a.m.)
Larry Reilly, CEO, Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) (9:40 a.m.)
Mary Powell, president/CEO, Green Mountain Power (9:50 a.m.)
Janet Doyle, manager, International Business Machines (10:00 a.m.)
Jim Pratt, senior vice president of pperations, Cabot Creamery (10:00 a.m.)
Frank Cioffi, president, Greater Burlington Industrial Corp. (10:20 .m.)
Tom Torti, executive director, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce (10:20 a.m.)
Lisa Ventriss, president, Vermont Business Roundtable (10:30 a.m.)