Five Weeks in and the Bills are Flowing

We’re entering our sixth week of the session.

The deadline for submitting bills for drafting has passed and the final filing deadline is coming soon. More than 600 bills will hit the house floor before April and be sent to committee. Many of those bills will make headlines and many more will quietly make their way through the halls of the people's house. I'm going to share a few that are top of mind for me this week.

Despite the clickbait headline in the New York Times, we are deep into a conversation on childcare and the Green Mountain State. We took testimony this week on both the profound need for higher wages in this industry, and the need to lower costs and increase access for families. Keep an eye on H194 a comprehensive bill that pulls a few key levers to improve the childcare system. It’s fun to work on a piece of legislation so connected to my recent professional work— lots of personal reunions and opportunities for key questions.

Wednesday night the House committees on Human Services and Judiciary held a joint hearing on H57. Folks lined up to register for the hearing hours in advance and the first 100 witnesses alternated testimony— for or against. We were all asked (legislators and audience alike) to stay quiet— we would hear many things that we would agree or disagree with, but we must not hoot or holler. The photo above is the broken glass from the table where the gavel was struck to keep order in the chamber. How often do you just listen? That’s what I did, that’s what everyone in the room was forced to do. Listen— through discomfort and pain. I listened while men said my womb was gods’, while I heard of blood pouring down on the golden dome of the statehouse, while truth got garbled. I listened so I hard I became a witness. It seems like all this pomp and circumstance might have a higher purpose. H57 codifies a landscape of reproductive rights that have been medical practice in our state for decades, and I’m proud that we’re taking this courageous step to protect Vermonters from the national political landscape.

What else happened this week? Schools: A bill to postpone the district merger deadline under Act 46 was defeated in a floor vote by a tiny margin, and a very amended version will now head over to the senate ed committee. WSESU was not one of the districts awarded a delay under the revised bill.

Hearings on hemp: In committee we heard from an entrepreneur who wants to set up a processing facility in the old Windsor Jail, and a recreational marijuana bill was introduced and referred to the committee of jurisdiction. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one, as I want to ensure small farmers have ready access to this emerging market.

A Green New Deal: Senate Democrats (AOC!) made headlines calling for radical work to combat climate change. In our little state we’re calling for a package of solutions ranging from transportation infrastructure to a renewed investment in weatherization. A recent study commissioned by the Joint Fiscal Office shows that carbon pricing won’t do anything to mitigate climate change on its own: Vermont’s CO2 emissions come almost entirely from transportation and home heating, two sources that are relatively inelastic (meaning the price doesn’t significantly alter folk’s purchasing habits). Mollie Burke and I are planning a community forum specific to Climate Solutions in the coming weeks to discuss all this and more, stay tuned.

In the midst of the whirl wind of bills, I remind myself of the powerful opportunities for change we can find in the details. In a conversation about workforce training for incarcerated folks, I seized on an opportunity to get a question answered that has been haunting me-- did you know that folks incarcerated in Vermont make 50 cents an hour? What a shocking number given all the momentum for a $15 minimum wage.

I want our government to work for us, to serve all of us. So please remember that while my emails are filled with policy, I'm available for the practical as well. We call it constituent service, and it means that I'm here to help you unwind the mazes of our deeply underfunded government.

Yours in solidarity, Emilie

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