- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - One of the leaders of a Statehouse protest by health care activists said Friday it was “unfortunate” that demonstrators disrupted a prayer during Gov. Peter Shumlin’s inauguration, but contends the protests let lawmakers know establishing a universal, publicly funded health care system is still a vital issue.

James Haslam of the Vermont Workers Center said some of the protesters moved into the House chamber Thursday after Shumlin completed his inaugural address, not realizing a benediction was being given.

He said no one disrupted the governor’s inaugural speech because they didn’t want to be disrespectful. When some of the protesters heard applause after the speech they moved into the chamber, not realizing there was a minister giving a benediction.

“There were a lot of us who were participating in the event who agreed that that was unfortunate,” Haslam said.

Some long-time supporters of single-payer health care agreed.

Deb Richter, Montpelier physician, long-time single-payer advocate and former president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said she felt the protest would have been more effective if they had not disrupted a prayer.

“I think it’s good to put pressure on the Legislature, but I think the way this was so disruptive and disrespectful, I think if anything it’s going to work against them and against our issue,” Richter said.

After the inauguration, a number of the protesters staged a sit-in in the House chamber, refusing the leave after the building closed at 8 p.m. Police say 29 people were arrested and charged with unlawful trespass. Of those 10 were also charged with resisting arrest.

They are all due in court next month.

Haslam, who left the Statehouse before the arrests began, said many of the people at the protest have been failed by the health care system. The protesters included doctors, nurses and others “on the front line of a health care system that is out of whack.”

“This is a democratic process and people are very serious,” Haslam said. “Vermont has come a long ways toward moving toward universal health care and we will not be derailed on that.”

While Shumlin announced last month he was abandoning single-payer he said during his speech that he would continue his work to control health care costs and he is open to suggestions from lawmakers about how to finance a publicly funded, universal health care system.


Associated Press writer Dave Gram contributed to this report.

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