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Protesters disrupt Vt. Gov. Phil Scott's State of the State address

(WCAX)
Published: Jan. 9, 2020 at 8:27 AM EST
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Gov. Phil Scott shared his vision for Vermont in his State of State address on Thursday. The governor told Vermont lawmakers the state is strong and urged them to join him in making it stronger.

But the governor's message was interrupted by protesters. Our Cat Viglienzoni was there as it was happening.

The protesters inside the House chamber said they don't feel like Governor Scott is taking the issue of climate change seriously. And so they made sure on Thursday that they would be heard.

Just 55 seconds into the governor's State of the State address, protesters with Extinction Rebellion hijacked the speech, demanding action on a number of issues, chief among them climate change.

After several minutes, the governor and lieutenant governor conferred and ordered the sergeant-at-arms to restore order. Sixteen protesters were led out and detained by police, including Izabel Estrin, a member of Extinction Rebellion.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: So for you, do you think that was a productive way to get a conversation started?

Izabel Estrin: To get a conversation started, definitely. We maybe could have been more disruptive. But, yeah, I think that was a good way to at least get people talking about it.

Some of the two to three dozen protesters in the group told us they expected to wait until they were detained. Others left on their own.

Cat Viglienzoni: The governor repeatedly asked for you to listen to him and his speech. Why continue going after that?

Dan Batten/Extinction Rebellion: Well, the governor hasn't been listening to the cries of our youth here in Vermont forever since he's been governor. So, we felt if he's not going to listen to us, then we're going to just keep talking to him until he starts paying attention.

Capitol Police say they waited until they got the order to intervene.

"We are somewhat used to it. And quite frankly, the protesters are somewhat used to the process, as well," Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei said.

The protest inside followed a demonstration outside on the Statehouse steps at noon, where costumed figures warned of impending climate doom and said they will amp up the action until the governor meets their demands.

"We want to hear these things. And if we don't, there will be escalating actions to make sure that he hears our message," said Ward Ogden of Extinction Rebellion.

Governor Scott in his speech did mention climate goals, like getting more electric cars on the road. But the protesters we spoke with said those aren't enough. They want to see four things: more action on climate change, more education in schools on the climate crisis, they say they want lawmakers to tell what they believe is the truth about the climate emergency, and they want the voices of vulnerable people to be heard through that process.

REACTION TO PROTESTS DURING SPEECH

We asked House and Senate leaders what they thought of the disruption.

"They will be living with the effect of our actions and the actions of our predecessors long after we're here. I appreciate that what we're seeing is the result of fear and anxiety about the environmental affects coming at us," Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-Vt. House Speaker.

"I think that the governor knew there would be a protest in the chamber. And I don't know what kind of planning went into it. I wasn't clued into that. And it's always a challenge. People have the right to protest. They chose their manner and I'll let people judge for themselves whether it was effective," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-President Pro Tem.

SCOTT OUTLINES SUCCESSES, CHALLENGES

After the protests, Governor Scott continued on with his speech. That's where our Calvin Cutler picks up the story.

The governor did eventually address climate change in his speech. Scott says his administration has taken big steps to reduce emissions, like encouraging public transportation and offering incentives for electric vehicles. And he says he's going to offer more incentives going forward.

"We've shown protecting our environment can be done in ways that strengthen the economy without making Vermont less affordable for families and businesses," said Scott, R-Vermont.

The governor also points to the state's looming demographic problems, saying the state is at a crossroads compounded by people leaving the state.

"My friends, this is what a demographic crisis looks like," Scott said.

He says his biggest concern is that there are 55,000 Vermonters under the age of 45 and 44,000 more over the age of 65 than two decades ago. This, he says, is leading to a disparity in income, housing and employment.

"Because of all of this, across the state, we're feeling the negative impacts of everything from our homes, schools, colleges, to our hospitals and nursing homes," Scott said.

But the governor says the state is making progress, touting the remote worker incentive program and targeted tax cuts, saying it's bringing people to Vermont and widening the tax base.

To address the demographic problem at its root, Scott is looking at rolling out a universal after-school program for kids so they can gain early educational skills and support their parents at the same time.

Top Democratic lawmakers applauded the initiative but questioned where the funding in an already tight budget would come from.

"There weren't a lot of details. As I understand, the rollout may be as long as five years for that, but we'll work with the administration and see if there's a way to move that up." Ashe said.

"The House is going to keep doing our work. We look forward to the governor's proposals in the budget, which is really where the rubber meets the road, and we'll go from there," Johnson said.

Democratic leaders say they are eagerly awaiting details of the governor's plans later this month in his budget address.

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