The bill would permit students from Halifax to attend tech centers in Massachusetts with appropriate Vermont financing following them. This small bill should have been a no-brainer as other Vermont border towns have similar arrangements for their students. In other words, no new policy ground was being proposed. That it was a small, narrow bill I fear is what almost caused its undoing.
Here’s the story. I introduced H.108, An act relating to technical school attendance in another state, in January and presented it to the House Education Committee to which it had been referred for processing. Over the next couple of months I checked in with the chair of the committee to get a date for a hearing and was assured it would be “soon, soon.” Eventually, the dates for legislation to be finalized in order to pass the House and move to the Senate had passed, but I was assured by the chair that she would find a suitable bill to attach it to (a common occurrence in the legislative world). Time, as is its wont, moved on toward spring, so finally I was told to “take it to the Senate,” which I did by meeting with the Senate Education Committee in early May. Although that committee had in its possession (legislative-speak, which identifies which committee has control of a bill) H.521, the Miscellaneous Education Bill on which H.108 could be attached, that did not happen for reasons that likely had to do with time.
But to the rescue came Senators White, Hartwell, and Sears who took up the cause for Halifax and introduced it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to H.521, the Miscellaneous Education Bill. H.521 did pass in the Senate, but because it changed a House bill, it had to come back to the House to accept the Senate changes. We are now in the last couple of days of the session when the atmosphere of the Wild West takes over at the Statehouse. Bills often are sliced and diced, sections put on other bills, however tangentially germane, that have a chance of passage when the main issue is likely to be defeated. Just keeping track of where the language of what started out as H.108 in January ended up was a challenge.
So H.521 did come back to the House on the last day with Halifax still included, and the House Education Committee accepted all the Senate changes. Good for Halifax so far. But, the House further amended it, which meant it had to go back to the Senate with the adjournment clock running down fast. At that point, I thought all was lost because there had been an agreement between the Speaker and the minority leader regarding the list of bills that the minority was willing to suspend the rules to take up, and H.521 was not one of them. (House rules require 24 hours from introduction of a bill before debate.)
The last days of the session are characterized by hurry up and wait, so during a recess in the action on other matters a little later, I happened to be near other legislators who said the Senate had accepted the last House change on H.521, and that the bill had passed the Senate in concurrence. YES! With a little fist pump, said I to myself. But how do I verify, I thought, since none of the back and forth had anything to do with Halifax. H.108 was just along for the ride. So I went to the House clerk, and there in his pile of bills waiting to go to the governor for his signature was H.521.
So, with the governor’s signature certainly expected, Halifax taxpayers will have the same education funding for their high school students to attend the tech centers most convenient for them, just like all other Vermont tech students do.
The session adjourned last Tuesday night. Next week, I’ll have a wrap-up of other legislation. Thanks to all of you who stayed in touch during the session.