Some Lawmakers Want Special Session For Irene Relief

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(Host) Some lawmakers want Governor Peter Shumlin to call a special legislative session to deal with recovery from Tropical Storm Irene’s floods, even though he says it’s premature.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the Legislature doesn’t need the governor’s cooperation.

(Kinzel) Only a governor can call a special session of the Legislature.  Without that declaration, lawmakers don’t have a way to return to Montpelier between sessions.

But when they adjourned in May, legislative leaders thought they might be facing some severe federal budget cuts over the summer. So they set Tuesday, October 18th, as a date for lawmakers to come back to the Statehouse.

If they didn’t have to deal with major cuts, the session would probably last no more than five minutes and would attract only a handful of legislators.

Anthony Pollina is a Democrat and Progressive senator from Washington County. He thinks all lawmakers should come back on October 18th to help make decisions about Vermont’s flood recovery efforts.

(Pollina) "I was not elected to sit back and watch the governor do this kind of work. I think the governor is doing a good job. But I don’t think it means the Legislature should sit on the sidelines when we’re making major decisions about the future of the state of Vermont."   

(Kinzel) House Republican leader Don Turner agrees. And he thinks lawmakers should work for free.

(Turner) "Get everybody in one place talking about the issues that are there, understanding the magnitude of what’s happened and the costs that we’re going to be facing going forward."

(Kinzel) Senate President John Campbell thinks it’s a little early to make a decision to bring lawmakers back. He says the state’s Emergency Board has the authorization to spend as much as $25 million for flood-related programs.

But Campbell says he would support a special session if the recovery costs start to mount up.

(Campbell) "If it’s a significant number, $15 to $25 million, then I think it would be important to get more feedback from the individual legislators."

(Kinzel) And Campbell says he definitely wants all lawmakers to be part of any decision concerning the future of the state office complex in Waterbury, an area where many buildings suffered enormous damage from the flood:

(Campbell) "That is a major policy decision that I do not believe is one that should be made by just a committee of five people or just the administration itself."

(Kinzel) Fifteen-hundred state employees worked at the Waterbury complex. And the Shumlin administration is working to find temporary office space for these employees.  

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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