Vt. House Speaker punishes Arlington lawmaker for quorum call

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont's House speaker says she is dropping an Arlington lawmaker from a key committee assignment following a disagreement that delayed a key vote Wednesday and put other lawmakers in harm's way.

In a letter Thursday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said she is removing Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, from the Committee on Ways and Means and appointing Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro.

It comes after dozens of legislators had to scramble to Montpelier from across the state to vote on a package of emergency bills Wednesday after Rep. Browning called for a quorum to be physically present. Seventy-six lawmakers from across the state hopped in their cars and made their way to the Statehouse to vote.

In her letter, Johnson says Wednesday's vote was designed to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. "One member unnecessarily required every other member to choose between their duty to Vermont and the health and safety of their communities, peers, and loved ones at home. Being a legislator requires that we know the rules. True public service requires the wisdom to know when to use them. Yesterday's quorum call was not wise," she said.

"While she has the power to do this, I think it is regrettable that she has chosen to do it to punish me for exercising that right," Browning said in a statement to WCAX. "Freedom of speech and the right of independent action, thought, or voting are always under pressure in the House, because the party leadership rewards loyalty above all else. So anyone who puts loyalty to their principles, their judgement, and their constituents above loyalty to party or person inevitably can have problems."

Browning, who has often butted heads with members of her party leadership, announced earlier this month she was running for the House speaker's post next year.

She added that she has not been reassigned to any committee yet.