For the second day in a row, the Senate was embroiled in fierce debate over legislation that would allow child care workers to form a union and bargain with the state.
Tempers always get a little frayed when time is short in the Legislature. The 2012 session is supposed to end this weekend, so the clock is running out for supporters of the child care union effort.
Windsor Democrat Dick McCormack is the lead sponsor. And he asked if Senate President John Campbell would allow a vote on amendments that had been on the agenda in various forms for weeks.
"Is it his intention to essentially run the clock and not take them up?" Campbell asked. "Or is it his intention to take them up, and if so when?"
McCormack said he asked the question in the spirit of "collegiality." That’s not how Campbell heard it.
"I believe that last remark was not considered to be cordial at all, or collegial," he said.
The Senate then debated whether the union amendment was "germane," or related closely enough to the bill at hand. That’s been a common theme in the Senate this year. For example, several weeks ago, senators in favor of a physician assisted suicide bill tried to put the measure on legislation dealing with teenagers and tanning beds. It was ruled not germane.
Rutland Republican Peg Flory said supporters of the union bill need to accept that some measures don’t make it out of committee. The process needs to be respected, she said.
"What’s happening here in this body is when we have a bill in a committee that isn’t taken up, we try slapping it on to yet one more bill," she said. "And we’re doing it in this body over and over and over again."
But Orange Democrat Mark MacDonald said senators needed to respect the hundreds of childcare workers – mainly women – who have come to the Statehouse to ask for state support.
"When folks like myself, Mr. President, would be inclined to give a harsh word because that’s my nature, they are infallibly patient and follow the rules, and don’t get upset, and keep coming back day after day," MacDonald said. "And they wonder why this Senate, or this Legislature is not simply giving them an up or down vote.
Senate President Campbell countered that the Senate has already voted on a similar amendment.
But that provision got added to the main budget bill, and will get removed before the Legislature adjourns. So that left it for McCormack and other supporters to buck their leadership and try to tack the child care union measure to whatever vehicle they could find. McCormack indicated that he’d keep trying.
"If this issue were to be given an open debate and an up and down vote on the merits, and were my side to lose, I would drop it," he said. "The problem is right now we’re not arguing actually the merits. We’re arguing whether or not to argue the merits."
And that argument failed.
Supporters, with the backing of Governor Peter Shumlin, have two or three more days to keep trying.