Democrats firmly control the Vermont Senate, but one-party rule doesn't mean it's been a smooth ride this session. Tuesday, a bill on the permitting process caused unexpected debate and then delay.
And it's not just how work is getting done; some say there's also a shift in tone.
Last week, senators met in caucus to question the Shumlin administration about the proposed merger of GMP and CVPS. The main issue-- how to pay customers back $21 million. Senators on both sides say the questioning of Public Service Commissioner Liz Miller was rude and felt more like Washington, D.C., politics than how Vermont normally operates.
Reporter Kristin Carlson: What do you think about what happened last week?
Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden County: I wish I had stopped it because it was not appropriate.
"It certainly was inappropriate," said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle. "We don't expect that to happen again."
Carlson: What about someone at home who says this is a commissioner on an important issue-- they should be grilled?
Snelling: Grilled is one thing-- to ask tough questions is one thing. I hope someone can make a distinction between someone who starts with an opinion and asks questions that confirm you opinion and someone asking for actual information.
Carlson: Do you think senators were grandstanding?
Snelling: I think a number of them were.
Snelling is a Republican who often votes with Democrats. She says the debate points to a bigger problem in the Senate-- decorum is declining and that can mean less work gets done.
Snelling: If there is guidance it's very hard to know where you are supposed to be. Then people start inventing other ways to do things.
Carlson: You are being diplomatic, but you don't feel like there is enough guidance from leadership?
Snelling: I wish there was more.
The issue got so bad that Mazza says Democrats met two weeks ago to go over procedures and rules with the hopes of bills moving forward more smoothly.
Mazza: But at the end of the day all we can hope for is that it's done in an orderly fashion and people are respecting each other.
Carlson: Is it being done in an orderly fashion and are people respecting each other?
Mazza: We can do better, I'll say that.
Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, is the Senate leader and President Pro Tem.
Carlson: Do you think you've been a strong enough and clear enough leader?
Campbell: Yeah, I feel confident.
Campbell says criticism is expected when you are a leader, but that the Senate dynamic has not led to stalemate. Instead, many bills have passed, including an overhaul of the health care system. Lawmakers also wrapped up work early last year and are on track to do so again this year.
"The fact is you have 30 people, all of them who have-- or as I said very opinionated-- you are going to have different positions," Campbell said. "If there is constructive criticism, I believe I take it and I go with it and I still feel I've done a good job-- the proof will be in the pudding."
And to the decorum question-- Campbell says in the meeting with Liz Miller most of the questions were fair-- senators have serious concerns about returning the $21 million to customers. But he did say he wished he'd talked with some senators before the meeting and certainly spoke with them afterward.
Miller said Tuesday it's not for her to characterize it as inappropriate or appropriate, saying it's "the Senate's prerogative to conduct its business as it wishes to do so."
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