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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Single Payer Advocates Protest At Shumlin's Inaugural

Angela Evancie
Protesters in favor of single payer crowded the hallway outside the House Chamber ahead of Gov. Peter Shumlin's inaugural address on Thursday afternoon.

Dozens of single-payer health care advocates wearing red shirts stood behind Gov. Peter Shumlin and applauded when he signed Act 48 into law three years ago, putting Vermont on the path to a single-payer health care system.

Today, those red shirts were back, but they weren’t supporting Shumlin.

Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
Protesters organized by the Health Care is a Human Right campaign repeatedly interrupted the afternoon's proceedings with songs, chants and banners held up in the back of the House chamber.

A number of protesters interrupted official proceedings, shouting chants and holding up banners inside the House chamber. The protestors inside the ceremonial room were a few of many – others were sitting outside, chanting and holding signs.

Lawmakers like Barbara Murphy of Fairfax, though, were unimpressed.

“For those of you who stayed respectfully outside and respected the system, please pass on my thanks,” she said to a demonstrator after the speech. “And please let the others know they’ve done irreparable damage to Vermont freedom.”

Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn, left, and Capitol Police officer Chris Quesnel attempt to keep the floor of the House clear for passage while protesters sat and sang.

Protesters took to the House floor after lawmakers filed out. Ellen Schwartz was one of them. She said they felt they had little choice if they wanted to keep the single-payer dream alive.

“I think that the reason people felt the need to come in here and are in here right now is because we were counting on moving forward on getting universal health care,” she said. “We have been working on this – our committee has been working on it, the Health Care is a Human Right Committee – since 2008, and people are feeling very frustrated that it seems like [the Legislature] might drop the ball.”

Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
A protester and an officer shared a tense moment after law enforcement prevented the group from holding up a banner in the middle of the House floor after most lawmakers and observers had left.

But some lawmakers – even ones like AvramPatt of Worcester, who generally supports single payer – thought the disruptions in the Statehouse worked against the protesters.

“My gut feeling is it didn’t help the cause,” he said.

Despite the disruption, police handled protesters without any major incidents. Patt said he was impressed with the response.

“It was clear to me that a decision was made not to confront that and start dragging people out of the Statehouse or anything like that,” he said. “We don’t do that in Vermont.”

Update 11:32 a.m. Jan. 9, 2015 Twenty-nine of the demonstrators who staged a sit-in on the House floor Thursday evening were arrested after the building closed.

Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
Protesters took to the House floor after lawmakers filed out.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
The protesters in the House were a few of many. Others were sitting outside the house chamber, chanting and holding signs.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
Protesters remained throughout the afternoon and evening; police eventually arrested 29 people who refused to leave when the building closed.

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