House committee assignments announced

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(Host) When House committee assignments were announced Friday, Democrats were both pleased and disappointed. Democratic leaders say because no party has a majority in the house, they should have been assigned more key positions. House Speaker Walter Freed says his choices reflect the more politically balanced chamber.

PR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Two years ago, Democrats fumed over the House Speaker’s committee assignments. Democratic leader Gaye Symington says her party got a better deal this time than it did last session:

(Symington) “I think we’ve moved from the back seat to the front seat driver’s side window.”

(Zind) But Symington says she thinks a more evenly divided House means the Democrats should get to share more of the driving. Freed chose to appoint Republicans as committee heads and non-Republicans as vice chairs. It’s a move he says will insure that everyone works together.

(Symington) “This is the first time the speaker has put as many members of the opposing party in his leadership team in the committee chairs-vice chairs mix.”

(Zind) Freed says out of fourteen house committees, the Republicans have a majority on only five. Symington says Democrats are most upset over the makeup of the important House Ways and Means Committee. The committee will be responsible for crafting any changes to the education funding law, Act 60. Symington says the committee is stacked with members who oppose Act 60.

(Symington) “No member of the Democratic party that I advocated to be on that committee was assigned to the committee. So I think my biggest disappointment is in the Ways and Means Committee. Improving Act 60 really matters to Vermonters and it leaves me with a lot of concern to see that imbalance continue.”

(Zind) Freed says that last session an evenly divided Ways and Means Committee ended up in a stalemate over Act 60. He says he’s playing by rules established by the Democrats. And Freed says there are Democrats who oppose Act 60.

(Freed) “When they wrote Act 60, it was stacked [with] eleven pro-Act 60 people. What’s the difference? What’s the complaint? I just followed their lead on that. What I point out in the House is that the majority of anti-Act 60 gold town representatives – the majority of them are Democrats.”

(Zind) Freed says his committee assignments should pave the way for more cooperative session.

Gaye Symington says while the makeup of committees is more balanced this session, she’s concerned that a philosophically lopsided Ways and Means Committee will make it hard to make progress on Act 60.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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