The State of the State: 2013 Legislative Season a Busy One

By Mike Goldin ’14

Vermont’s 2013 legislative season is in full-swing in Montpelier; the Bennington Free Press caught up with State Representative Brian Campion, who represents Bennington and North Bennington in VT House District 2-1. Representative Campion is also a Bennington College employee.

On Thursday, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a $173 million spending bill in what Representative Campion called an “overwhelming” roll-call vote. “Everyone that was actually in their seat and voted, voted for it— nobody voted against it,” Campion said. The bill contains $69 million in spending related to the ongoing recovery from Tropical Storm Irene and includes allocations to rebuild both the Waterbury State Office Complex and the Vermont State Hospital, both of which were effectively destroyed during the flooding which followed Hurricane Irene in 2011. The bill is a close match with Governor Shumlin’s budget proposal and is expected to pass the Senate with little difficulty. The State is still negotiating with FEMA on the exact compensation it will receive to fund some of the Irene-related projects; the State’s $69 million spending figure is technically a placeholder, but accounts for $56 million the State believes FEMA and insurance agencies owe for Irene-related damages.

On the revenue side, the House has also passed an $0.08 increase in gas taxes through the Transportation Committee, as well as a $0.50 tax increase on packs of cigarettes through the Ways and Means Committee. The gas tax was not passed without controversy, Campion noted, but said that Vermont’s roads “need a real infusion of cash and work.” Both the cigarette and gas tax bills are awaiting senate approval.

Representative Campion made waves in the House Education Committee recently by questioning the constitutionality of how Vermont pays for private pre-K education in school districts that do not offer it. The Vermont Department of Education does not track which private pre-K programs actually receive public funding, and the DoE has admitted it is possible that some of the money has been going to religious institutions.

“What’s happening is that [pre-K providers] are renting spaces from religious organizations, and that money is going towards messaging and clergy,” Campion says. He offered that the arrangement is problematic even if the money in question isn’t being funneled directly into religious programming. “It’s not unlike somebody who’s going to rent a classroom at Bennington College— all that money is going into different funds, it gets lost in the shuffle… Even if the money doesn’t go directly towards messaging, it’s going towards maintenance, and that frees up other funds for whatever else.” Campion asserts that the practice is “a clear violation of Church and State.”
Campion pushed to add language to the Committee’s pre-K education bill which would prevent the possibility of these kinds of things happening in the future, and the House Judiciary Committee bolstered those additions. “House Judiciary actually strengthened that piece of the bill by emphasizing that not only do people have to interpret the State constitution, they also have to take into consideration the US Constitution. The reason the [Judiciary] Committee pushed for that is because at one time or another, one of these constitutions could be weakened, and so the stronger one will prevail.”
The Education Committee is also working to pass its “miscellaneous education” bill, which has drawn scrutiny for its inclusion of language that would prevent independent schools from replacing public schools in Vermont; the bill is traditionally used to make minor corrections to existing legislation.

In regards to the bill’s implications for the Village School of North Bennington, Representative Campion is confident that the bill “is not going to effect North Bennington […] North Bennington is still going to be absolutely fine.”

The author of this article worked for Representative Campion during the 2012 election.

Malia Guyer-Stevens