Climate protesters disrupt Vermont House session; 3 arrested

Published: May. 16, 2019 at 12:09 PM EDT
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Protesters disrupted proceedings at the Statehouse Thursday, demanding action on climate change from lawmakers.

It was business as usual in the House Thursday morning until about 15 protesters entered the House balcony and began speaking over the debate among lawmakers.

As they shouted out some demands House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, banged the gavel to declare order. When they continued, she ordered a recess and directed lawmakers to leave the chamber. But the protesters remained, tossing hundreds of index cards onto the floor and speaking to a near-empty room.

"It is clear there is a huge gulf between what we should be doing and what we're doing now. And Vermont could really become a clearinghouse for that. And indeed, we have to," said one protestor.

Statehouse police asked the group to leave, and all but three did when threatened with arrest. The three who remained were cuffed and led out.

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei asked the half dozen reporters to leave, too, to help them bring the protest to an end. "It's complicated by your presence. The first step of mitigating this is to take away their audience," he said.

Reporters refused and were threatened with removal. "If you refuse to clear the chamber that's kind of on you, alright?" Romei

Speaker Johnson eventually spoke with police, telling them the media was allowed to stay and record the event. Johnson also had sharp words for at least two Progressive members of the House who stayed on the floor and seemed to be encouraging the protest. "I'm disappointed. I'm very disappointed that there are members that refused to leave the chamber to allow Statehouse police to do their job," she said.

Johnson says Rep. Brian Cina, P-Burlington and Zachariah Ralph, P-Hartland will face no consequences but should respect the rules of the House in the future. "There's not any sort of backstabbing retribution or anything like that. But, I was very clear with the representatives that I was disappointed in them," she said.

Statehouse police arrested Alex Fleisher of New York City and Asa Skinder of Montpelier, both 18. A juvenile was also arrested and released to a parent.