MONTPELIER – Vermont lawmakers, who passed the first state resolution calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq last year, are now pushing a bill disputing federal authority to continue using Vermont National Guard soldiers in the war.
The federal use of Vermont guard soldiers in Iraq was allowed under the 2002 authorization of the use of force in Iraq. But the justification for that permission – the threat from the state of Iraq and the need to enforce United Nations resolutions – has since expired, said Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln.
"The president no longer has the authority to command the Vermont National Guard in Iraq," Fisher said.
The bill Fisher will introduce today would begin the process of ending the involvement of Vermont National Guard members in Iraq, and has nearly 30 co-sponsors in the House, he said. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, also supports the measure and said he will do what he can to move a version of the bill in the Senate.
Jason Gibbs, a spokesman for Gov. James Douglas, called the bill a waste of time for the Legislature. It should instead be a resolution asking members of Congress to deal with the issue, Gibbs said.
"This is a federal issue," Gibbs said. "There is no legal basis for stopping the federalization of the National Guard while the Congress has authorized and continues to fund the war," he said. "It is a matter of federal law."
But Shumlin said when Washington has failed to act it is up to states to protect the members of their militias, even if they can't end the war.
"The question was not should Vermont guard members be mediating a civil war in Iraq," Shumlin said. "We can make cases for mediating civil wars all over the world. Let's have the debate."
"Vermont has led in the past. When we lead others follow," Shumlin said.
Indeed a handful of other state Legislatures are already considering or moving on similar legislation in a national effort, Fisher said.
Fisher and other supporters of the bill said they don't disagree that the federal government had the authority to use guardsmen in Iraq. Their argument is that the Congressional authority for that war has expired.
Douglas may consider the bill a waste of legislative time, but Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, does not. That may be significant, and not only because she has some control over what moves in the House and how fast. Symington angered some in her own party last year by declining to take up a resolution calling for the impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, saying it was too far from the Legislature's mission.
Fisher's bill is not, she said, in part because the money and other resources the war is diverting from the states, including Vermont, means it is the business of lawmakers.
"To keep the focus on the Iraq war is consistent with what we did last year," she said. "The diversion of resources to the Iraq war is very much affecting Vermont."
There are now only about two dozen members of the Vermont guard in Iraq, Fisher said. But it is possible there will be more deployments in the future, increasing that number, he said.
Vermont National Guard officials said they would not comment on the bill until they had seen the language in it.
The bill does not please some members of the Legislature, however. Rep. Pat O'Donnell, R-Vernon and a mother of service members, said the move seemed politically motivated.
"I wonder how many times Peter Shumlin has sent a package to any of his constituents who have been over there, or talked to family members before he plays politics," she said.MORE IN Central VermontThe following is a sampling of calls to Montpelier police in recent days. Full Story
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