Browning reassigned to agriculture committee

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ARLINGTON — State Rep. Cynthia Browning's quest for a new committee assignment has ended with an assignment to the Agriculture and Forestry Committee.

Browning, D-Arlington, was added to that committee in one of the last sessions before the state House of Representatives adjourned until August 25.

"As an economist and an environmentalist I know I can make a positive contribution to the deliberations of this committee. These are two of Vermont's important industries. So I am quite pleased," Browning said of the assignment.

Another Southern Vermont lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Bock, D-Chester, was reassigned from the Agriculture and Forestry committee to the Commerce committee to make room for Browning.

A veteran lawmaker and former economics professor at Williams College, Browning was a longtime member of the House Ways & Means committee. But she was stripped of her committee membership in March after a controversial episode in which she challenged the lack of a quorum for a vote on approving remote voting for the House, as the COVID-19 pandemic became a state emergency.

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There had been agreement that only party leadership would attend that day's session and would vote by proxy to set the stage for the House to vote by remote technology rather than in person. Browning's quorum call sent members of the House scurrying back to Montpelier so that a quorum could be reached and a vote taken.

Critics, including the leadership of the Vermont Democratic Party, questioned Browning's decision to use parliamentary procedure on that day, given that Gov. Phil Scott had just declared a state of emergency calling on residents to stay home. Others faulted House Speaker Mitzi Johnson for punishing Browning by taking her committee assignment, saying the speaker penalized Browning for pointing out that the House was voting on a remote voting plan without having such a system firmly in place.

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Browning went without a committee assignment until the legislative session was all but over.

"It is noteworthy that I had to force the Speaker to assign me to another committee some three months after she removed me from House Ways & Means," Browning said. "I had to point out that although she has the power to make committee assignments, she has no power not to assign a member to some committee, and that only the full House has any power to censure members. And of course she removed me from Ways & Means because I challenged her attempt to change House rules without following House rules."

The Agriculture and Forestry committee is chaired by another veteran Southern Vermont lawmaker, Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham.

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"Personally, I like Cynthia. She does her homework," Partridge said Monday of Browning joining the committee.

But Partridge called the quorum call incident "a terrible error in judgement."

"Was it her right to do it? Yes. Was it using good common sense given the fact that so many lawmakers are in that target age range for COVID susceptibility? It was pushing it," Partridge said. "It pushed everybody a little bit too far."

Browning, a Democrat, is running for re-election to the Bennington-4 district as an independent. The primary field includes three Democrats: fellow Bennington-4 incumbent Kathleen James, D-Manchester, business owner Jamie Dufour of Manchester, and former state legislature and Hildene president Seth Bongartz of Manchester. The primary is Tuesday, Aug. 11

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers.


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