Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury) announced this week he will run for House speaker if he wins reelection to his House seat in November.
Conquest, a 54-year-old farmer and carpenter who has never served in House leadership, said lawmakers could do a better job of listening to and including disparate points of view.
“We haven’t done enough to build public support for big policy changes,” he said, citing Act 46, the state’s new school district consolidation law as one example. “Some of the resistance to Act 46 is a result of that.”
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With dozens of bills still in play Thursday and the deadline for a Saturday adjournment looming, talks on some priority legislation turned testy, as lawmakers abandoned pleasantries and pressed their positions.
In morning talks on the transportation project bill, negotiators went back and forth over the new restrictions that the House wanted to add to improve safety for bicycle riders. “That is a huge issue for the House side,” Rep. Tim Corcoran (D-Bennington) told the senators across the table.
Senators countered that bikers and motorists need to share the road. “I’m reluctant to put all the responsibility on the motorists,” said Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland).
Neither side was ready to budge at this stage in their talks.
The morning meeting of negotiators on the bill reforming the rules governing suspension of drivers’ licenses also showcased more differences than agreement. It began with the two sides staking out conflicting positions on one of the most significant provisions in the bill — the proposed license restoration program.
The exchange between chief Senate negotiator Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and House lead Chip Conquest (D-Newbury) quickly turned prickly, with Sears proposing to jettison the entire license restoration section.
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What had been less clear until Tuesday’s vote was whether the House would support a scaled-back measure to remove criminal penalties for cultivation and possession of two pot plants. That went down by a 77-70 vote as Tuesday afternoon turned to evening.
Vermont has already decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Supporters said removing criminal penalties for home-growing would allow users to avoid buying from drug dealers.
“I think it’s time we recognize the present system does put people into contact with some kind of criminal element,” said Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), lead sponsor of the decriminalization measure.
House members peppered Conquest with questions. If lawmakers decriminalize two plants and a person harvests 16 ounces, is he or she in violation of the law, asked Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington).
Not as long as the marijuana is kept in a secure place, Conquest said.
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