UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME

Comprised of 150 Representatives from 108 Vermont districts, the statehouse in Montpelier is bustling with lobbyists, lawyers, and legislatures all meeting, talking, fighting and working for what they believe that you want. Starting at 8:30 a.m., meetings dominated this past Wednesday in Montpelier. Topics and tones ranged from serious issues like development of geothermal energy, to happy birthday wishes at the General Assembly floor meeting. Despite levity at the floor meetings and in interactions between colleagues in the hallways, it was evident that things are changing for Vermont and for the rest of the country.In his seventh term, Progressive party member and Chittenden 3-4 Representative David Zuckerman is, without a doubt, working. From his membership on the Ways & Means committee to pushing two bills sponsoring marriage equality and marijuana decriminalization, Zuckerman’s day is full of meetings and rallying supportive signatures from his fellow representatives.”David Zuckerman is a really significant law maker in Montpelier,” Adam R. Necrason, lobbyist and lawyer, said. “He has a lot of credibility, there is a lot of respect for him and he brings these conversations forward in a way that includes everyone.” Conversations are being pushed forward about two of Zuckerman’s most recent long-term projects: the Vermont Freedom to Marry bill and legislation involving the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.”As we speak, there is no bill, but there will be by the end of the week when David and a couple of other legislators will be announced as the lead sponsors on a bill that would bring marriage equality to Vermont,” Stephen Kimbell, lobbyist for the Vermont Freedom to Marry Action Committee, said. The proposed bill would change Vermont’s laws from civil unions to full marriage equality. Friday, Feb. 7, was public viewing day for the bill, where Vermont Governor Jim Douglas received LBGTQA advocates in his ceremonial office to show their support for the legislation.”I think it is very likely that this session of the General Assembly … will address marriage equality actively. It is taken up in committee and had votes … I try to avoid predicting results, but I think that it is going to get active consideration this year. I am cautiously optimistic,” Kimbell said.Zuckerman was similarly optimistic, but both Zuckerman and Kimbell acknowledged the opposition that is certain to be mounted.”The church will certainly be opposed and be fairly active, whether it is all churches or the Catholic Church or certain denominations … we don’t know yet,” Zuckerman said.”With civil unions and marriage, it is such a personal issue to some people. Politicians that want to stay in office tend to shy away from an issue like this, even if they are supportive, because they don’t like the confrontation. They don’t want to incite their political opponents to action,” Kimbell said.Decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana is another issue that Zuckerman is currently working on. The bill, according to a release from the Vermont Alliance for Intelligent Drug Laws, would replace criminal penalties for under an ounce of marijuana with a $100 fine.”What this bill does is say ‘okay, it is no longer a federal or criminal penalty’ but more making it a misdemeanor, decriminalizing it,” Zuckerman said. “You are not a criminal because you smoked, but it is illegal so you would have to pay a fine. You are not a criminal because you drove through a stop sign, but you get a ticket. So that is kind of the discussion. Do you get a criminal penalty or do you get a civil penalty?” Zuckerman said.If the bill passes, Vermont would be the 13th state to decriminalize marijuana, following Massachusetts’ recent lead with the passing of their very similar decriminalization referendum this past November.”On the marijuana policy reform conversation, Vermont is at this point not on the cutting edge but part of a pack of states that are making these reforms thoughtfully over time,” Necrason said. “Medical marijuana reform, that was a really important step and now the decriminalization conversation to adjust the penalties so they are more in keeping with a fair social policy,” he said.However, in comparison to the Freedom to Marry bill, the opposition has already been stated.”I think that the reason this bill has failed, the legalization bill has failed, is because people like the health department have made the argument that this is not something which is entirely safe, and if we have the ability to preclude its use from Vermonters then we should do so,” Edward Miller, lobbyist for the Vermont Police Association, said.”I don’t think we have a lot of cops that are focusing their time on busting people with small amounts of marijuana, but from the police perspective it is not a step in the right direction, they would oppose it,” Miller said.Zuckerman has anticipated the opposition and is weighing his chances on both pieces of legislature.”I think marriage is much more likely to happen, probably, than the drug bill. But I also think the marijuana bill has some legs. It’s moving, it’s got legs,” Zuckerman said.No matter the outcome, bills passing or not, it is just another day at work for David Zuckerman.