By Rep. MIKE YANTACHKA
There are quite a number of museums in Vermont, including the State House itself in Montpelier. For 12 months of the year, it is open to the public free of charge and includes guided tours. However, from January through the middle of May it functions as an active workplace as well. Besides the 180 members of the House and Senate, there is a full-time staff of lawyers and clerks who assist the members in researching and drafting bills, the Sergeant at Arms and her staff, the Capitol Police, and 30 young people (eighth graders), divided into three groups, who serve as pages for six weeks at a time.
Visitors to the State House during the legislative session will also find dozens of professional lobbyists who are paid to represent the interests of the companies and organizations they represent. They serve a purpose in bringing essential information to the legislative committees during hearings. This information is balanced by agency and department representatives and private citizens who have an active interest in issues under consideration. Most days there are one or more organizations that set up informational displays in the cafeteria or in the Card Room adjacent to the House chamber or in the Cedar Creek Room, named after the Civil War battle depicted in the mural that occupies an entire wall.
Most legislative work is done in the 14 standing committees of the House and the 11 standing committees of the Senate. This work takes place generally in the committee rooms. Visitors to the statehouse are welcome to sit in on the committees at any time, no invitation necessary. Many non-legislators take advantage of these open meetings, and it can get pretty crowded in the committee rooms, especially when there is a topic of great interest.
I especially like when young people visit. Many of the high school championship teams come to hear a resolution read in their honor on the floor of the House. Not too long ago, the Champlain Valley Union High School Boys Volleyball Team celebrated their third consecutive championship with a resolution sponsored by the six representatives from the towns in the Champlain Valley School District. Although they may not yet be old enough to vote, students have also been making themselves heard on many important issues of the day, like gun safety, climate change, and equal rights. Last week a group of elementary school students from Shelburne and Richmond visited the State House to advocate for a ban on the sale of animal parts like ivory and rhino horns in the United States and in Vermont. They are to be commended for their participation in our democracy even without the right to vote. In fact, they have the most to lose if we adults in the legislature fail to do our jobs well, because they are the future. As Abraham Lincoln said, we “cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
I am delighted whenever someone from Charlotte visits the State House, your House, in session Tuesday through Friday. If you decide to visit, have one of the Pages, the youngsters in the green jackets, let me know you’re there. I’ll be happy to meet with you. And, if you can’t make it to Montpelier, I will again hold “office hours” for anyone who wants to talk to me in person here in Charlotte this Saturday, March 30, from 10 a.m. until noon, at the Charlotte Library. Of course, I welcome your emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone calls (802-233-5238) as well. This article and others can be found at my website (www.MikeYantachka.com).