Lawmakers wrap 2008 session

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(Host) Lawmakers in Montpelier finished their work over the weekend, ending a session dominated by energy issues, housing initiatives, and the state’s worsening economy.

The House also said good-bye to Democratic Speaker Gaye Symington, who is leaving her post and is considering a run for governor.

VPR’s John Dillon has this report:

(sounds of drumming)

(Dillon) In Montpelier, during the first weekend of May, there’s a celebration called All Species Day. People dress up in animal costumes and parade through town.

On the Statehouse lawn, a man wearing a deer costume pounded a drum, while dancers twirled in the cold rain.

Several hours later, under the capitol’s golden dome, there was another kind of ceremony, dominated by species of the political kind.

(Symington) "Are you ready for the question? If so, all those in favor please indicate by saying aye. Aye! All the nays, say nay!. Ready? The ayes appear to have it, the ayes do have it. And the House stands in adjournment." (Gavel falls, applause)

(Dillon) House Speaker Gaye Symington got some help with the gavel from six year old Eli Smith, the son of Morrisville Representative Shap Smith.

Symington focused her farewell remarks on family as well. She said despite political differences, the House has become an extended family, who grieved together when two members died this winter, and helped each other when loved ones were injured or sick.

(Symington) "That is the kind of friendship that crosses any ideological boundaries, and that Vermonters don’t have any sense of outside of here, and it’s what I’ll keep with me for a very long time. Thank-you."

(Dillon) The close of the 2008 session marks the end of Symington’s tenure as Speaker. She announced she’s not running again for her seat from Jericho. She’s seriously considering a run for governor, but she didn’t make any announcements to reporters this weekend.

The early-May adjournment marked the shortest session in a decade. And politicians congratulated themselves on doing their work in record time.

Governor Jim Douglas, in a brief address to lawmakers, praised their progress on crafting a budget without raising taxes, and for quickly approving a plan to stimulate the economy.

(Douglas) "Your support for these efforts is appreciated, not just by me, but for all the people in Vermont, who expect Montpelier to take all responsible steps to strengthen the economy, provide relief from rising costs, and encourage job creation."

(Dillon) The economy and energy dominated debate in the 2008 session. Lawmakers passed bills designed to promote conservation of heating fuels and to expand renewable energy sources.

They also required the owners of Vermont Yankee to guarantee that there’s enough money to dismantle the plant when its license expires in 2012. Symington said the legislation is an attempt to protect the public.

(Symington) "I think that bill represents an effort to make sure that Vermont taxpayers are not burdened with a liability of having to step in if that decommissioning fund is not fully funded. I would hope the governor look long and hard at that."

(Dillon) Douglas may veto the Yankee bill. But the legislature – in a surprise move – canceled a session it had scheduled for late June to consider any veto.

Senate President Peter Shumlin sees the issue as a political liability for the governor.

(Shumlin) "It would puzzle us that the governor not join us in signing legislation. But if he does choose to veto legislation, we think the veto session should be held on Election Day, the first week in November."

(Dillon) But a veto session may have been a wasted effort for lawmkers. It’s very unlikely that House Democrats could find the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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