“Opening Day at the Legislature for the Rest of Us”

This is a reflection by Chamber President Betsy Bishop.

Last week marked the opening day of the legislature as they convened for the new biennium. Legislators were sworn in along with statewide office holders, speeches were given, and families attended to see their loved ones take their seats for the first time. It’s a special day for all of those that worked hard to get elected. Then, there’s the rest of us that have been working to advance policy that’s good for Vermont for many years. While not elected, the staff, journalists, and advocates are part of the State House ecosystem, serving Vermont in a different way.  

As I walked into the State House, I reflected that I’ve been advancing policy that is good for Vermont and her people for decades. I’ve served in government and advocacy roles and understand the history of so many laws, regulations, and processes that allow me to provide valuable information to create the next steps forward. I am not alone. So many non-elected people aid in the legislative process, we feel part of it, too. 

So, I was taken aback when the room capacity numbers were posted, each seemed to allow for only the committee members, a few legislative staffers, and a witness. If the capacity is reached, the rest of us will be relegated to watch online, elsewhere. Sure, we can see it all unfold passively on YouTube, but the collective knowledge of advocates won’t be as readily accessible as the committee work progresses. Interns trying to gain their foothold in the policy world will instead be watching from their dorm rooms. Advocates for housing, childcare, the economy, and the environment will be listening and watching from their devices in the hallways, the coat room, and yes, in the lobby.  

After the last several years of COVID restrictions and the fear of spreading infection in a close environment, I understand the inclination to restrict access in this way, but as we move more into the digital space, our team will continue to seek face-to-face interactions with our elected officials, encouraging them to expand the sources of information beyond their peers and staff, to gain a broad perspective of knowledge as we all work together to create new policies for the state we love.