There are two important takeaways from this afternoon’s kerfuffle outside the office of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell. Most of the attention, including mine, is on his closed-door meeting with the entire Senate Natural Resources Committee and his confused rationalization for banning the media. Campbell actually blocked the doorway, twice, as Seven Days’ Paul Heintz and WCAX-TV’s Kyle Midura tried to gain entry.
The closed-meeting aspect certainly deserves more scrutiny, maybe even a court challenge; but we shouldn’t lose sight of the equally offensive substance of the meeting. That involved Campbell’s attempt to single-handedly amend — or possibly derail — a major piece of energy legislation known as the RESET bill.
The House had passed the thing. It had gotten through Senate committees with minor changes, and reached the final stage (third reading) on the Senate floor. And then, at the last minute, Campbell bigfoots the whole process. Legislative rules required that the bill pass the Senate today (Thursday) in order to be considered by the House on Saturday, when it’s scheduled to adjourn. If the Senate passes the bill Friday, which seemingly depends on Campbell’s good graces, the House would have to agree by a three-quarters majority to suspend its rules in order to vote on the bill.
So there’s a chance this very important bill won’t pass, and it’s all thanks to your Senate President Pro Tem.
At the very least, he’s injected a lot of unnecessary drama into the session’s final days. Makes me wonder, if he hated the bill so much, why he waited till the last possible moment.
The best account of the policy side comes from John Herrick of VTDigger. As for the closed-door shenanigans, there are two good reports: Paul Heintz’ account of Campbell getting angry with him (good on ya, Paul), and a story by the Burlington Free Press’ Paris Achen.
I won’t repeat their excellent accounts here (and risk exceeding the bounds of Fair Use), but I will say this: John Campbell did not cover himself with glory. His rationalizations for blocking access were flimsy and inconsistent, and his temper got the better of him as he lambasted Heintz for the dastardly offense of trying to enter a meeting of a full Legislative committee.
There are differing interpretations on the law. The Legislative Council, a band of lawyers who serve the Legislature, offered an opinion (produced very quickly following the kerfuffle) that the closed meeting was acceptable when “the welfare of the State may require them to be shut.”
Well, it’s a real stretch to think that Campbell’s last-minute arm-twisting was a matter affecting “the welfare of the State.” And a differing view came from Secretary of State (and former Senator) Jim Condos, who says that lawmakers are public servants and their activities should be subject to open-meetings law. Also, two of the five Senators on the committee reportedly expressed reservations of their own.
As I wrote earlier, I’m hoping that this issue will be tested in the courts. Campbell’s interpretation would seem to open the door — pun not intended — to unlimited closed-door meetings in the People’s House.
Also, he’s being a real jerk.