MONTPELIER, Vt. - With 20,000 citizens now out of a job, and unemployment at its highest level in 17 years, Vermont's Republican Gov. Jim Douglas urged state lawmakers to focus exclusively on job creation and economic growth in the final weeks of their session. Douglas said there is no time for "divisive issues" like same-sex marriage this spring.
Statehouse Democrats appear committed to a wide-ranging list of bills in the final eight weeks of the session, scheduled to end May 8. House and Senate leaders last week promised: - a significant "economic development and jobs" bill - legislation encouraging green energy development - new rules governing the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant de-commissioning fund - election and campaign finance reform - full access to civil marriage for gay couples
The Legislature returns Monday to Montpelier with same-sex marriage expected to dominate the week, but House Speaker Shap Smith said representatives are fully capable of multitasking.
Again Thursday, Douglas expressed his opposition to a marriage bill, saying Vermont's civil union law is sufficient. Pressed by reporters to explain his position, Douglas said "I believe marriage, as our statute says, is a union of a man and a woman."
The governor's office has been swamped with phone calls -- mostly from within the state - urging Douglas stand firm on the marriage issue. Others express support for same-sex marriage, one aide said, "And no one is neutral."
Still, the governor wants to keep as much of the focus as he can deliver on the pain felt by Vermonters pinched by the recession. "I want to be sure every Vermonter, regardless of sexual orientation, has a decent job," Douglas said Thursday at a news conference. "That has to be our top priority now."