Talking about Abortions in the Final Days of February

What. A. Week.

We spent the bulk of our time in debate on the floor. H57: A bill to protect rights to abortion. After so many hours, much was still left unsaid. Perhaps it is not germane to comment on the proceedings themselves-- to the shame and regret that were taken for granted (and shouldn’t be,) or for the complete absence of sperm from the conversation, or the fear of young women’s sexuality, but it was all in the room with us, as we offered technicalities and testimony. (Be warned the rest of this text box is about H57.)

It’s an interesting bill, because it actually just protects the status quo: Vermont currently has no laws limiting a woman’s access to abortion services and this bill seeks to codify existing practice. We’re not doing this only to stir up a hornet’s nest (though we have) but as a way of protecting Vermonters given the situation on the national stage. No, state law will not “trump” federal law, but in the case of Roe vs Wade being overturned the power to decide these issues will return to the states.

The House Republicans and the Right to Life lobby took this opportunity to push thirteen amendments on the house floor, each with a roll-call vote. The amendments ranged from mandatory sonograms to waiting periods to declaring the rights of a fetus. Many of the amendments might have seemed reasonable on first glance. Much of the rhetoric assumed reckless women and wanton medical care and I’m proud of my colleagues for standing together. You can see the voting record here. Taken as a suite, these amendments, which are law in many others states, serve to do one thing: restrict access.

What happens when we restrict access? Well, I’ve spent the last six weeks in committee hearing about our workforce shortage. Women participate in our workforce at a rate that is almost 20% less than men. Right now in Vermont, this is mostly due to access to childcare. Reproductive access, abortion access enables women to control their fertility and therefore their participation in public life, including the workforce.

When we limit medical procedures, when we limit access to a full range of reproductive care, we limit access. Most of us have either had or been close to an abortion, and an abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy is a very minor medical procedure. What these amendments would accomplish is less access for specific people in our community: women. Our hourly workers, folks with childcare challenges, people without cars. We in fact make it EVER HARDER for these members of our community to participate in the economy. Wealthy women will always be able to access abortions and the more we limit access the more we push poor women into bathtubs and back-alleys.

Even in the midst of this drama and passion, other work goes on.

We elected a new Adjutant General for the Vermont National Guard: Colonel Greg Knight. This election was particularly fraught given the recent VT Digger coverage of sexual assault and harassment in the guard. Representative Sibilia from Dover gave an incredibly moving nomination speech reminding us not just who Col Knight is (a man who worked his way up through the ranks), and what he brings to the table (listening skills and a get-it-done attitude), but reminding us what we should be focusing on during this important decision (the health of our enlisted members and returning veterans). It was a standard bearer of a speech.

My committee heard testimony from the administration on their proposal to shift some of their significant tourism marketing resources to workforce marketing resources. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the incentives for telecommuters that was released last year, and this would extend that program to anyone who wants to move to Vermont. The Agency of Commerce plans to work with the Department of Labor and a few other partners to connect newcomers to jobs, housing, childcare, and social opportunities. I have many questions about this strategy, ranging from what happens to all of the deeply underemployed folks who are here already, to our housing and childcare crises, to the quite practical questions of the agency’s capacity to carry out their own plan at scale. I agree that we need to think about strategies to attract a new generation of Vermonters but most of us are here because of community, quality of life, and educational opportunities. What if we continued to invest in what makes this place beautiful-- by fixing our housing stock, creating true social supports and wages for families, and lowering the cost of education?

One of the things that’s especially lovely about this job is all of the corners of government that I never thought I would learn about. It’s really fun when someone reaches out with a question about a bill that hasn’t yet crossed my field of view:

I’ve heard from a few beekeepers about a proposed law requiring you to be certified. Hives are already registered so the state can track their location and notify people of relevant information. The bill will likely be heard in committee this week and, I assume, revised significantly given the push back from the Vermont Society of Beekeepers.

Fish hatcheries update: The Administration’s recommended budget did not include funding for the continued operation of the Salisbury Fish Hatchery. Fishing is an important part of Vermont’s recreational economy, generating $36 million annually, so the closure at Salisbury would have an impact of 25% fewer fish and take roughly 3-7 years to recover. The State of Vermont owns and operates five fish hatcheries which produce 1 million fish to stock our rivers and lakes each year. The Salisbury hatchery has been the broodstock hatchery where the eggs are produced and then later transported to the other facilities to be raised. The facility at Salisbury is old and the wastewater discharges into a small river and soon will not meet clean water standards. The committee hopes to find a way to stave off an immediate closure of Salisbury, while we build some capacity at another facility.

Let me know if something is keeping you up at night. I can either answer it as my weekly bonus question with Olga Peters, or just write back directly. The choice is yours!

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