This week at the Statehouse, Chittenden County Senator Philip Baruth backed off his support for a bill that sought to prohibit the manufacture or sale of high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic assault weapons in Vermont. Baruth’s decision to withdraw the bill set in motion a little-used rule in the Legislature.
As the Senate secretary, John Bloomer keeps track of nearly everything. But above all he’s the keeper of documents. He receives bills on the Senate floor and then he reads them into the record.
"S. 48, an act relating to decriminalization of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana," Bloomer announced to a full Senate chamber Wednesday afternoon.
Bloomer also puts together the Senate calendar each day, and he maintains an official journal of what happened the previous day.
"We’re in the publishing business," he said, sitting at his desk near the front of the chamber. "We publish at least two documents a day."
And as in the publishing business, his office occasionally needs to make a retraction.
Senator Baruth’s decision to withdraw his contentious gun-control bill earlier this week was rare. Bloomer researched Senate protocols and found guidance in Rule 50.
"There won’t actually be a vote," Bloomer explained shortly before the Senate convened. "The way the rule is written, unless a senator objects, it’s automatically withdrawn at the end of the legislative day."
With no objection, the Senate on Wednesday adjourned. And with that, Baruth’s gun-control bill was dead.
"It’s not a frequent occurrence," Bloomer said. "The last time this particular procedure was used, at least as far as we can find, was probably ’95, but there was another bill withdrawn in 1997." That bill was far less controversial. It dealt with environmental concerns surrounding septic tanks.
One question many people are asking this week is why Baruth didn’t just let his bill die in committee. And Bloomer doesn’t have an answer. "That’s a question you’d have to ask the senator," said Bloomer, remaining apolitical is his role as secretary. "If you look through the number of bills that have been introduced in any two-year cycle there are more bills that don’t pass and die than there are that bills that pass."
Hundreds of bills cross his desk each session, so Bloomer must be meticulous. It’s late in the afternoon and the Senate chamber is empty as yellow sunlight streams across the green carpet. Bloomer picks up one of the 40 rubber stamps sitting on his desk. Each one marks a separate event in the life of a bill: when it’s introduced, referred to committee, read for the second or third time, and then – if it’s successful – passed.
"With this particular bill – on withdraw – we don’t have a unique stamp. So we’ll use one of the standard ones, which is going to have just a couple lines with the date," he explains. "What was done I’ll write out and sign it with my name."
And with the stroke of his pen, John Bloomer, the Secretary of the Senate, withdraws the gun-control bill.
Related story: Baruth Withdraws Support For Gun Control Bill