Making sausages in Montpelier

Have you heard people say that making laws is like making sausages? Well, my grandfather, John McKenzie, made sausages, and he served in city government, which gave him some credibility in both areas. He taught me how to make sausages, and he took great pride in making good sausages. He taught me that relationships are the key to both lawmaking and sausage-making. Its been nearly two years since the day a Sugarbush Ski Patroller came to my office with his impassioned plea. I think it was his first visit to the State House. He asked us if we knew that the 9,000-plus emergency caregivers in Vermont including thousands of volunteers like him had no way to learn if they had been exposed to disease through contact with blood or other bodily fluids of a person they had treated. I said wed help. We learned that Rep. Harry Chen of Mendon had authored a bill that addressed the problem, but the bill was at a standstill, a victim of conflicting State House interests. Yet in the closing days of the 2008 legislative session, following months of patient guidance, that bill finally passed, and the Governor will sign it into law in a matter of days. Overcoming legislative friction and inertia can be a Herculean feat. But in this case, I believe it was the passion and humanity of the Sugarbush Ski Patroller that made the difference. This legislative session will not be remembered for passage of that bill. But it provided an object lesson in who we, as public servants, work for, and how we best can serve. I look at the recently adjourned legislative session as a success in most respects. We passed a balanced, compassionate budget. We met our obligations to those we serve without raising taxes on Vermonts already-overburdened taxpayers. And its not going to get any easier. Fiscal forecasts for coming years are unequivocal. Money will only get tighter. Together, all of us in state government must figure out how to deliver the services Vermonters need cheaper, faster, and better. This year we reversed a trend of years some say decades to put Vermonts roads and bridges in our first tier of priorities as a state, investing $418 million not just in infrastructure, but in your safety. We passed a landmark bill promoting energy efficiency and another that begins to remedy the housing shortage in our state. Neither came easily. Both required hard work, multiple tries, and finally compromise among advocates in the State House. We passed a health care bill that makes more Vermonters eligible for affordable health insurance under Catamount Health. Some say we went too far on all of these. Others say we didnt go far enough. Thats a good indication that we probably acted in most peoples best interest. The House and Senate worked with the Governor in the closing days of the session to pass the Governors Economic Growth Initiative of 2008 a package of economic stimulus measures swiftly put forth by the Governor in response to Aprils news about our states economic slowdown. We enacted bold legislation to reorganize our prison system and to preventing domestic and sexual violence. I am gratified that the House didnt take up a bill passed by the Senate that would have removed jail time as a penalty in some marijuana possession cases. I am also pleased that both chambers agreed to lower the quantities of heroin and cocaine that incur charges of drug dealing. We passed a bill that will help curtail drunk driving, in memory of 18-year-old Nick Fournier of Swanton, who was killed by a drunk driver with three previous convictions. It was also nearly two years ago that the wife of a Vermont police officer emailed my office asking why, if there are special penalties for other assaults, there wasnt a special penalty for assaulting her husband while he is on the job and in danger. I invited her to my office and we met with the Commissioner of Public Safety, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Sears and Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin. Thanks to her concern for her husband, this year we passed S.301, a law protecting on-duty police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel against simple or aggravated assault. But all was not consensus and civility this year. Legislation about Vermont Yankee was the most controversial of the session. The subject is the fund established to decommission Vermont Yankee when it eventually closes, a case currently before the states Public Service Board. Never in the history of the Public Service Board has a case in an open docket -- a quasi-judicial process that is deliberative, fact-based, and inclusive -- been circumvented by the legislature. At a press conference that took place before we adjourned, hot tempers got in the way of facts. This will no doubt spill over into the upcoming campaign season, and beyond that into the next legislative session. I support the Governors veto of that bill. And I call on all Vermonters to let reason and facts not fear and misinformation govern this discussion going forward. My grandfather told me how at the end of a city board meeting the members would always go out for a Coke or a coffee together. He impressed on me how important it is to invest in relationships, so that when heated disagreements arise, as they always do, you can work through them on the strength of those relationships. In Montpelier this year, despite the drama and disagreement, good relationships held up for the most part, and we have a budget, economic stimulus package and more that I believe reflects Vermonters values. Brian Dubie is Vermonts Lieutenant Governor. E-mail his office a martha.hanson@state.vt.us, or visit www.ltgov.state.vt.us

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