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Local senators Sears, Hartwell win plum committee assignments

January 9, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Posted: 01/07/2011 11:04:26 PM EST

Friday January 7, 2011
BENNINGTON — Bennington County Democratic Sen. Dick Sears will retain his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as expected, in the new legislative biennium, while fellow county Democratic Sen. Robert Hartwell assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Institutions Committee.

Senate committee assignments were announced Friday by new Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican. Committees are assembled by the lieutenant governor, the Senate majority leader and a member of the Senate, chosen by its members.

Sears, who has served as head of the Judiciary Committee for several years, will also serve as vice chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I’m very happy with it,” Sears said. “It’s kind of nice to be recognized for my service.”

The Judiciary Committee is set to renew its work on justice reinvestment, an effort aimed at saving money in the Corrections budget by keeping nonviolent offenders out of jail. New Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin made a campaign promise to transition offenders from prison and back into the community with better support services and education.

Sears said his Judiciary Committee will get to work on the issue quickly after dealing with some technical corrections needed on legislation passed last session.

As vice chairman of Appropriations, Sears will play a significant role in shaping the state budget, which because of poor revenues, could have a deficit as high as $150 that must be closed.
Hartwell, meanwhile, will oversee the state’s capital plan and its buildings as head of the Institutions Committee during his third term. He served on the committee during his first term in the senate.

“I’m very gratified to have the chairmanship. It’s a very good committee,” Hartwell said.

The Institutions Committee will oversee several issues of interest to Bennington, including reconstruction of the Bennington state office complex, the planned replacement of the National Guard armory in downtown Bennington, and a new welcome center in the middle of the Bennington Bypass interchange system.

Hartwell said the committee briefly broached the armory topic on Friday.

“We met for the first time, informally, to get organized, and that topic came up,” he said. “We’ll just look at what they’re doing, and the land acquisition.”

Hartwell also retains his spot on the Transportation Committee. He said he will push for a return of passenger rail service through Bennington County, and continued funding for completion of the Bennington Bypass.

Sears praised Hartwell’s work in the Senate Friday, saying it has been noticed by members on both sides of the aisle.

“Bob’s really shown himself to be a good senator and he’s earned the respect of people in both parties. It’s a real compliment to him to become a chair in his third term. There’s a lot of people there more senior that didn’t get chairmanships,” Sears said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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