A good session for our lawmakers

For all the recent talk about excessive partisanship and a breakdown in decorum in the Vermont Legislature, this session was arguably one of the most productive in years.

Lawmakers approved a $5 billion state budget, an honest spending plan that is balanced without huge cutbacks in social services, despite starting the fiscal year with a $65 million deficit.

They approved an overhaul of the state's mental health system, an overhaul that only became possible after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene ravaged the Vermont State Hospital and the state office complex in Waterbury.

They also approved a $600 million transportation budget - the largest ever - to help pay for rebuilding the roads and bridges damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

Most of all, lawmakers enacted the rules needed to put Vermont on the path to a single-payer health insurance system, with a new “exchange” for small businesses and the self-employed to buy insurance.

Yes, there were several significant bills - from unionizing child-care workers, to decriminalizing marijuana, to a “death with dignity” protocol for the terminally ill - that did not get enacted.

And yes, the foot dragging on some these bills left a lot of hard feelings.

The democratic process is always messy, and reaching a compromise can be difficult but, for the most part, lawmakers left Montpelier on May 5 relatively satisfied.

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The end of the session also means a farewell for some lawmakers. Our county delegation will be losing two good legislators in Sarah Edwards and Oliver Olsen.

Edwards, P/D-Brattleboro, is leaving after five terms in the House to spend more time running her family's conservation project on a small island off Belize. What the county loses is a lawmaker who was well-versed in energy issues and had a hand in much of the legislation in that area. Her shoes will be tough to fill.

Olsen, R-Jamaica, is leaving after three years in the House. He came as the late Rick Hube's successor and is leaving because of conflicts with his full-time job with Oracle, a software company. He told VTDigger.org last week that he achieved what he hoped to, even though he was in the minority party.

He said that the top lesson he learned in his short time in Montpelier was that “the people who come here to serve - everybody comes with the best intentions and interests of Vermont at heart. They have different ideas about how to get there.”

There certainly were different ideas on how to get there in the Senate, but due less to a breakdown in decorum than to having a chamber filled with strong personalities.

A legislative body is bound to see friction when it has as first-term Democrats a former ambassador and best-selling author (Peter Galbraith), a longtime Progressive Party firebrand (Anthony Pollina), and a fiercely intelligent author, blogger, and University of Vermont professor (Philip Baruth). Add to that two other Republican members running or considering runs for higher office, Randy Brock and Vincent Illuzzi, and you can see why there was bit more fussing and fighting than usual.

Even so, Vermont is still a model of efficiency and collegiality. In a difficult year for the state, our lawmakers did their jobs and adjourned on time with many accomplishments to their credit.

And that's more than you could say for some other legislative bodies in the rest of the nation.

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