Wednesday marked the opening of Vermont’s 2023 legislative session, with a swath of excitement and eagerness from lawmakers taking over the State House.
The start of the new biennium was largely ceremonial for new and returning lawmakers. The first order of business was the oath of office for House Speaker Jill Krowinski, a Democrat who preached bipartisanship in her remarks.
“The only way we will get legislation passed is if we all focus on the goal of supporting Vermonters,” Krowinski said.
Democrat Phillip Baruth was sworn in as Senate President Pro-Tem by Lt. Governor Molly Gray.
Krowinski was elected on a single ballot, rather than each representative submitting their own vote. Like previous sessions, and unlike the US House debacle in Washington, the race for speaker was uncontested.
However, her appointment didn’t go without complaint. Republican Rep. Anne Donahue projected the lone ‘nay’ to Krowinski’s nomination, saying Vermonters need to know her and her colleagues are going through the process the right way.
“The constitution requires that it be by ballot so if we voted individually, it would be by ballot,” she said. “We don’t really elect people by acclaim here, we elect them by vote.”
November’s midterm election brought changes in Montpelier. A third of the members of both Senate and the House are new, and a 104-member supermajority for Democrats could spark legislation in the party’s favor.
Democratic Representative Lori Houghton says it will take time to see cohesion.
“I kind of want to set the pace that we’re going to work slow, but that we’re going to do the hard work that Vermonters want us to do,” she said.
While Houghton is confident that freshman lawmakers will be able to acclimate quickly, Donahue says changes to the committee structures has her worried for her fellow lawmakers.
“It does require some moving of people,” Donahue said. “Names of committees, numbers of committees, how many numbers are on it. That has to be done by changing our rules.”
House members were eventually assigned to their respective committees Wednesday, and despite institutional structure, both Houghton and Donahue agree that the focus needs to be on the pressing needs of Vermonters.
“Housing and the workforce are the two most important because we need both,” Houghton said.
The second day of the session will feature Governor Phil Scott’s inauguration for his fourth term as governor.