It’s good to have a staff of tame lawyers on call

The Legislature continues to careen toward adjournment, the desire to skip town augmented by the looming specter of Norm McAllister, who officially refused to resign today.

One event worth noting from today’s action: the Senate Natural Resources Committee held a closed-door meeting in the office of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell. Reporters were refused admittance. Later, the Legislative Council duly produced a memo validating the unusual move:

It is the opinion of the Office of Legislative Council that the General Assembly is not subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Law.

If true, this is quite shameful, and ought to be rectified by… ahem… the General Assembly ASAP. But I have a feeling it’s a convenient fiction. For one thing, if Legislative committees could go into closed-door session whenever they wanted to, they’d do it all the damn time.

For another, this is a substantially broader claim than was made last year, when Seven Days’ Paul Heintz was denied access to a meeting of the Committee on Committees.

From Heintz’s account:

“The General Assembly does not come under the open meetings laws that have been established,” Campbell explained.

OK, but what about Senate Rule 96, which provides that committees may go into executive session only to discuss gubernatorial appointments, legal issues and “matters constituting a clear and imminent peril to the public safety?”

Said [Senate Secretary John] Bloomer, “This, in my opinion, doesn’t apply because these are standing committees. The Committee on Committees has no function to take evidence.”

Added Campbell, “The Committee on Committees is totally different. It’s kind of a misnomer using that name, ‘committee.’”

So, uh, hmmm. First, Campbell claimed exemption from the Open Meetings Law. And when faced with Senate Rule 96, Campbell drew a distinction between the CoC and the “standing committees.” Like, say, Natural Resources.

Something doesn’t add up. These differing opinions have the distinct odor of expediency about them. I wonder whether they would stand up under legal challenge.

And even if they did pass legal muster, is it right? As Heintz concluded:

Makes you wonder what the framers of the Vermont Constitution would think about that. You know, the ones who wrote, “The doors of the House in which the General Assembly of this Commonwealth shall sit, shall be open for the admission of all persons who behave decently, except only when the welfare of the State may require them to be shut.”

John Campbell seems to have an expansive, and flexible, view of the latter clause.

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