MONTPELIER — The city’s non-citizen voting charter change request has been sidelined this legislative session by Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden.
Montpelier requested a charter change to enact an ordinance to allow legal residents who are not citizens to vote in municipal elections after voters overwhelmingly approved the proposal by a two-to-one majority, 2,857-1,488, in the November elections.
If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, non-citizens would be allowed to vote for the municipal budget, mayor, city council candidates and other municipal issues, but not for the school budget because the Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools District is a unified entity, according to Montpelier City Clerk John Odum.
The request fell to the House Government Operations Committee to consider the request after Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, introduced H.207 with co-sponsor Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, the ranking member of the committee. The committee voted along party lines to approve the request, 11-3. Last month, the House voted 95-46 during the second reading of the bill to approve the request and approved the third reading on a voice vote, forwarding it to the Senate Government Operations Committee for consideration.
But in an email Monday, Ashe said the request would not be considered this year.
“All five members of our rules committee agreed we can’t add yet another complex issue to the Senate’s plate in the closing week,” Ashe wrote.
The decision left supporters of the charter change disappointed.
“If Montpelier voters say these folks are part of our community, they’re citizens of the city, even if they’re not citizens of the country, then Montpelier should have the right to do that. So, it’s a shame that whatever political forces are involved are inhibiting that process to carry the day,” Odum said on Monday.
Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, who is on the Senate Government Operations Committee, was also unhappy with the decision.
“To say that there’s no time to do it is a little ironic because if they had let it come to our committee when we first got it from the House, there would have been plenty of time,” Pollina said. “Our Government Operations Committee is more than willing and able to take it up and listen to testimony on the issue. It doesn’t mean that the ordinance is dead. It means that it’s not going to come up this year but there’s a very good chance that it will come up next year. I think, if the committee would support it, I think it would gain support on the Senate floor as well, so it doesn’t mean it’s dead forever.”
Pollina said he thought it was important when local voters support a request by a 2-1 margin that the Legislature do due diligence to consider the request.
“Otherwise, they’re sort of disrespecting the votes of the local folks, which I think is unfortunate,” Pollina said.