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Protesters Interrupt Proceedings At Vermont Statehouse

WAMC/Pat Bradley

The Vermont Workers Center is coordinating Vermont’s ‘Health Care is A Human Right Campaign’. The group organized a protest at the statehouse in Montpelier Thursday that repeatedly interrupted inaugural ceremonies and speeches.

Single payer advocates first gathered at the entrance to the House chamber, chanting as legislators gathered for a joint session to hear Governor Peter Shumlin’s inaugural address.

The protesters are upset that the governor last month backed off his pursuit of a universal health care system after a financing report showed the state could not deal with the costs.
Most demonstrators were escorted into the foyer, but some remained within the chamber and tried to unfurl a banner. They too were asked to leave as one pleaded with legislators to uphold Act 48 - single-payer’s enabling legislation. “Please keep fighting for Act 48.”

Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley
Protesters inside Vermont House Chamber January 8, 2015

Chanting continued to be heard from the surrounding anterooms and hallways throughout the proceedings.  As the governor ended his speech, but before the end of formal proceedings, protestors reentered the chamber to demand action and their outcry was allowed for a few moments as the benediction was about to begin. “We demand that Speaker of the House Shap Smith schedule a public hearing” Presiding officer Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott gaveled attention “I please ask you to respect the decorum of the chamber. I’m going to ask that Reverend Robert Potter from Peacham to give the benediction.” Protesters could still be heard as the pastor spoke.  “As we leave this hallowed hall, let’s just be reminded.....Don’t worry I’ve got the mic, I can outshout them!”

The Vermont Workers Center organized the Statehouse rally and protest according to Communications Coordinator Keith Brunner to call on the legislature to move forward with a single payer financing plan.  “A lot of us were really disappointed in the Governor for throwing in the towel back in December. But we’d like to see the Legislature pick it up and move forward. The time is now. The health care crisis and the economic crisis exists for many people in Vermont and we need to move forward with Act 48. This is law in Vermont.”

Chittenden County Republican Representative Kurt Wright was not impressed by the tactics of interruption.  “They’re entitled to protest and I understand thier disheartening feeling about the Governor pulling the plug on single-payer in the way that he did. I agree with it. But I think the way he did it was, I’m sure, upsetting to a lot of people. However I think that they actually hurt their own cause. When you are disruptive, when you interrupt prayer service, I think that is a huge mistake. I told some of the protesters that they actually had hurt their own cause.  Vermonters get totally turned off to that type of behavior.”

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group is an advocate for single-payer but was not involved in the protests. Executive Director Paul Burns.  “The real work on health care is going to be done in committees and on the floor and in private meetings with legislators and the administration throughout the year. There’s a lot more to be done but the people in this building I think are committed to doing more on health case, so we’re not done with that issue.”

A group of the protesters staged a sit-in following the close of business in the empty House chamber . They were told that they would be subject to arrest if they did not leave when the building closed at 8 p.m. Twenty-nine people stayed and were arrested for unlawful trespass. Ten  were cited for resisting arrest.

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