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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Montpeculiar: Luckily, This Was Not an Actual Legislative Session

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 6:33 PM

Member of the Vermont House of Representatives practicing remote voting Tuesday - SCREENSHOT ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • Member of the Vermont House of Representatives practicing remote voting Tuesday
The new, mostly remote session of the Vermont legislature goes live Wednesday with the typical annual ceremonial and procedural oaths, speeches and votes by the House and the Senate. But lawmakers who logged on for a practice session Tuesday got a refresher course in just how frustrating remote legislating can make these otherwise routine tasks. 

House members on videoconference forgot to mute themselves, talked over one another, struggled to use voting software and endured a dull humming sound from someone’s faulty microphone.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing here!” Rep. Robert Helm (R-Fair Haven) declared in exasperation at one point. “Am I recorded as voting yes?”  
Rep. Robert Helm - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Rep. Robert Helm

The 1 p.m. practice session was staged precisely to help lawmakers and Statehouse staff work out any glitches in remote voting procedures and clear out any cobwebs that some acknowledged had gathered since the previous session ended in September.

Helm and his colleagues weren’t voting on real legislation. Rather, he was expressing befuddlement about whether his vote on a pretend bill — dubbed H.R. XYZ — was being properly registered.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Montpeculiar: Lawmakers Hear From America's 'Most Successful' Sex Worker

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2020 at 12:03 PM

  • YouTube screenshot
  • Alice Little
America’s self-described "most successful" sex worker says she’s willing to fly to the Green Mountain State and drop some knowledge on lawmakers as they consider a proposition that would relax Vermont's prostitution laws.

Alice Little — who has reportedly earned more than $1 million in a single year working at a legal brothel in Nevada, which she says makes her the state's highest-earning licensed sex worker — extended the offer in a YouTube video posted last Friday.

“You have a tremendous opportunity to be the first state to legalize sex work at the state level,” says Little, sitting on the foot of a bed. “As someone that’s been in this industry for the past four years, I want to help shape the future of sex work in America and ensure that we have a system that values everyone involved.”

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Montpeculiar: Hammer Time in the Vermont House

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 5:44 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) cleaned off her podium after accidentally smashing a glass lampshade with a gavel. - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) cleaned off her podium after accidentally smashing a glass lampshade with a gavel.
Updated March 28, 2019 at 12 p.m.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) learned an important lesson Wednesday when she picked up her gavel and smashed the glass top of an antique lamp that’s been in the Statehouse for more than a century.

She'd been aiming for a small piece of wood that serves as the target for the gavel (and protects the podium underneath).

“Note to self: Do not put the gavel square too close to the lamp,” Johnson said, after cleaning up shards of glass from around the speaker’s podium.

Johnson, the former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, quipped that she might have to propose an amendment to this year's capital bill, which pays for the maintenance of state government properties.

Johnson was using the gavel to open proceedings in the House chamber just before a vote on controversial weatherization legislation, which would double the tax for home heating fuels. Her right-handed swing brought the head of the gavel into contact with one of two lamps that stand on either side of the podium at the front of the House chamber.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Montpeculiar: Legislators Pour Over Vermont's Happy Hour Ban

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 8:28 PM

  • Zerbor/

A bill to lift Vermont’s prohibition on happy hour received a spirited response from legislators Tuesday.

The oft-debated idea of allowing restaurants, bars and breweries to sell discounted booze for up to two hours a day had some legislators downright tipsy with anticipation.

“How about a field trip to test it?” quipped Rep. John Killacky (D-South Burlington), a member of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, which heard the bill pitched for the first time this session.

“I’ve lived in three states and this is the only one that doesn’t have a happy hour,” Rep. Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton) said wistfully. “I think it’s a good idea.”

Committee chair Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) had a more sober response, reminding his fellow legislators that if the committee seriously considers the bill its members will undoubtedly hear from residents of Burlington — which has three colleges — concerned about young people overindulging.

Stevens noted there are already some “workarounds” of the law, including “appy hour,” for which appetizers are discounted to draw in hungry patrons. Specific beverages can also be discounted all day, which is why Positive Pie in Montpelier sells Heady Topper for $5 on Tuesdays, he noted.

That prompted Rep. Matt Birong (D-Vergennes) to fondly recall how Three Needs Taproom and Brewery in Burlington used this loophole during its “Duff Hour” specials.

“They would tap a keg of Saranac for $2 a pop, until the keg runs out, starting when the Simpsons started at 4:30 p.m.,” Birong said.

Rep. Matthew Trieber (D-Rockingham) said he sponsored the bill in recognition of the tourist trade connected to the state’s unique craft brewers and distillers.

“We thought this may be a way to help some of our restaurants and bar owners capitalize on that a little bit, and allow some of the local breweries to be tried out at a cheaper price,” Trieber said.

The legislator added that 42 other states in the nation allow happy hours, though he noted Massachusetts does not. He expressed openness to limiting the hours or types of drinks allowed to be sold at reduced prices if the committee had concerns. “Anything is better than nothing,” Trieber said.

Stevens said it’s not clear if his committee “has enough juice” to take on the issue this session, but if it did, “It'll be a lively conversation, especially if we start at 5 p.m.”

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Montpeculiar: Rep. Dylan Giambatista Spiffs Up Vermont's State Song

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Rep. Dylan Giambatista - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Dylan Giambatista
Politics has long been a cornerstone of punk rock, from the Sex Pistols to Anti-Flag, the Clash to Minor Threat, Propagandhi to NOFX. Since practically the dawn of the genre, punk bands driven by idealism and power chords have raged against the machine. Rare, however, is to see a punk rocker rage within the machine. Enter Vermont State Rep. Dylan Giambatista (D-Essex).

Prior to becoming a politician, Giambatista was best known as an original member of the Vermont punk band Rough Francis. He was the group's lead guitarist from its 2008 formation until 2013. He was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 2016.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Montpeculiar: Legislator Preps for Session — With a Plea for a Toaster

Posted By on Tue, Jan 8, 2019 at 4:47 PM

  • Photo Illustration: Bryan Parmelee
Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington) has seen her fair share of sausage being made in Montpelier, but this legislative session she’d like a little toast to go with it.

As the Queen City pol was looking to outfit her new capital digs for the winter, she issued an unusual request of her constituents. Did anyone, she inquired recently on the neighborhood listserv Front Porch Forum, have a toaster they could lend her for the upcoming session?

Sullivan and two other reps, seeking to sidestep the daily drudgery of a commute to the capital, scored a sweet short-term rental near the Statehouse. “Going back and forth in the winter is really difficult, especially since some of the committee meetings can go late,” she said.

The lawmaker recalled buying crampons a couple years back to help her scale the slippery slopes to her previous attic apartment in the capital. This year's pad, on Bailey Avenue, couldn’t be better — just steps from the Statehouse — but it lacked some basic creature comforts.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Montpeculiar: Reception Honors Statehouse Sculptor and Gardeners

Posted By on Thu, May 10, 2018 at 2:59 PM

Paul Calter, right, with his sculpture "Trillium" as  state curator David Schütz looks on. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Paul Calter, right, with his sculpture "Trillium" as state curator David Schütz looks on.
A group of gardeners and art aficionados gathered Wednesday afternoon to celebrate one of Montpelier's hidden gems — a garden of native Vermont plants behind the Statehouse, and a recently installed sculpture that serves as its focal point.

The garden takes advantage of the dramatic topography provided by the base of Hubbard Hill, which rises directly behind the Statehouse. "This garden really, really helps make good policy in Vermont," said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), whose office windows look out on the garden. "It’s a huge gift, to have this right in our backyard."

The sculpture,"Trillium," was created by Randolph artist and mathematician Paul Calter, who wielded three wooden hoops to explain how the design came to be.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Montpeculiar: A Message of 'Anal Sex' in Front of the Statehouse

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2018 at 12:50 PM

Alia MacKenzie - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Alia MacKenzie
Alia MacKenzie stood outside the Vermont Statehouse in a bright red sun hat Wednesday morning holding a sign that read “Anal Sex” in large lettering. She posed for photos snapped by passing lobbyists and didn’t seem to mind questions about the poster.

“It’s a celebration of the First Amendment, which covers freedom of speech,” she said.

MacKenzie was in Concord, N.H., Tuesday and Albany, N.Y. before that. Her one-woman journey through state capitals follows days of picketing outside of the White House in Washington, D.C., in April.

“I’m going to go on a little tour,” she said. “A free speech party.”

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Montpeculiar: Retiring Rep Hawks Neckties at the Statehouse

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 12:22 PM

Rep. Dave Sharpe's Statehouse tie sale - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Rep. Dave Sharpe's Statehouse tie sale
The Vermont Statehouse doesn't have a formal gift shop, but visitors this week have a chance to pony up for a unique souvenir: one of the many ties of Rep. Dave Sharpe (D-Bristol).

The former auto mechanic and voc-ed instructor, who announced his retirement in March, said he's spent his entire adult life collecting neckties, but he won't need them anymore once he finishes his work at the Statehouse this spring.

As a student at Michigan's Kalamazoo College in the mid-1960s, Sharpe said he started buying up funky ties as an act of rebellion. The cafeteria staff was instructed not to feed students on Sundays unless they wore a coat and tie to dinner.

“So my attitude at the time was: You want a coat and tie? I’ll show you a coat and tie. So I had some crazy coats, which have gone by the wayside, but it started a tie collection," Sharpe recalled Tuesday morning during a brief break from hawking his wares. "So there’s somewhere between 100 and 200 ties that I’ve collected over time — some of them pretty crazy, some of them pretty conservative."

More than 100 of them are now on sale, at a makeshift stand just outside the Statehouse cafeteria, for the competitive price of $8 apiece. Proceeds will go to the Friends of the Vermont Statehouse, a nonprofit devoted to historic education and preservation of the building.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Montpeculiar: Selleck and Souce and Rally Monkey, Oh My

Posted By on Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 5:40 PM

Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham) - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham)
What happens when you stick five Vermont senators in a small room every day for weeks and months on end? Well, they form bonds, find ways to work together, and, once in a while, they get a little slaphappy.

Take, for example, the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, members of which have given each other nicknames. And although she doesn't come right out and say so, it's pretty clear that the instigator is Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham), a.k.a. Rally Monkey.

"This is one of my goals in my work here, is to keep it joyful," she said. "There's a lot of doom and gloom. But I have to keep it fun."

So here's the rundown:

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) is Grammar Man. "He's an English professor and published author," said Balint. "And oftentimes in committee, when we're at loggerheads over a particular passage, he'll swoop in with a flourish and say 'This is how we make it work,' and we'll say, 'Grammar Man to the rescue!'"

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