Symington outlines top priorities for Vermont House

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(Host) House Democratic leader Gaye Symington, who is likely to be the next speaker of the Vermont House, is developing an agenda for representatives to consider when they return to Montpelier in January.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The last remaining major obstacle to Symington’s election as speaker was overcome when former Democratic leader John Tracy announced that he would not challenge Symington within the Democratic caucus. Symington’s election as speaker is considered very likely because the Democrats took back 14 seats in the recent election and now enjoy an 83 to 60 margin over the Republicans. There are also six Progressives and one Independent in the House.

While Symington has identified several issues as top priorities for the 2005 session – including health care reform, the creation of good paying jobs and proposals to protect the environment – it’s clear that health care is her top issue. She’s named John Tracy to head a special House panel to look at this issue. Symington hopes to work with Governor Jim Douglas in developing a consensus approach to health care reform but she says House Democrats will move ahead with their own plans if talks with the administration are not successful:

(Symington) “This is one issue where we start from very different places and the only way we’re going to make headway is to be clear that we’re willing to work together and talk together and we make those efforts. But I can assure you that we’re not going to get bogged down if we don’t feel like progress is being made. We want to make progress on this issue.”

(Kinzel) Tracy says his committee will want to look at broad aspects of health care reform because he thinks Vermonters are ready for some major changes in the way health care is delivered:

(Tracy) “And I think people are willing to look at something different. And certain individuals, to include Governor Douglas, may have to move out of their comfort zone a little bit. And I think individuals who supported people to be in the Vermont House and Senate need to hold them accountable and say, look I don’t care what political party you are. Health care is not working. It occupies too much of our time fighting with insurance companies, finding who’s going to pay the bills. Everybody’s frustrated with it. They’re paralyzed because they don’t know what to do about it.”

(Kinzel) House Republicans say they haven’t given up on the possibility of running a candidate in the speaker’s race but they acknowledge that the Democrats’ large majority in the House makes it very unlikely that a Republican could be elected. The election of a new House Speaker will take place on the first day of the new session in January.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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