End of Session: Hope in the Darkness

The end of the session is difficult for all of us— constituents and legislators alike—it becomes clear which bills will stay on the wall, whose babies will drown, and the endless compromises seemingly necessary to bring everyone on board.

It is frantic, tense, and disheartening. And before you despair as well, please know that there is also humor, grace, and the promise of spring to carry us through.

Last night I attended a packed event at the library with Jill Lepore (author of These Truths and a zillion other books and articles). She spoke of the urgency, the ahistorical nature of our times, and took us back (remarkably quickly and joyfully) through the American experiment of Democracy. I remembered that the questions we are asking today are the same questions we’ve been asking for centuries— questions of belonging and responsibility, of allegiance to past or future.

This morning my hope was again affirmed by a piece in Brainpickings about Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. We don’t know what will make a difference, we are on a long arc, and we need to celebrate small victories, nourish our heart in the in-between, and keep showing up for the boring stuff of Democracy. Give it a read.

In other signs of hope: The minimum wage bill was voted out of committee and is making its way over to the appropriations committee (because the State of Vermont will also need to raise wages/reimbursements when this passes.) In addition to the $15 base wage, the committee added a study committee to examine the possibility of an increase in farming and tipped wages. We were honored to host national activist and economics professor, Saru Jayaraman, President and Co-Founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. She spoke about the impact of tipped wages on our communities: the power imbalance between worker and customer creates an atmosphere ripe for sexual abuse, restaurant workers tend to spend their earning directly in their communities, and the majority of tipped workers are women and often single mothers— further exacerbating wage disparities. AND Our own Robin McArthur gave a beautiful devotional on Friday in the Statehouse. Here is an old recording of the piece she read us. She shared her love for our ghosts and craggy rocks, and I related. Hope in the Darkness, again. Close your eyes and pretend you were there with me.

On the House Floor Indigenous People’s Day passed the house and proceeded to the governor’s office for signing. As I said on the floor, “Passing this bill, while a very simple act, asks us some very essential questions – What intention do we set with our attention? What stories do we tell our children? How do we make sense of our history and how does this changing knowledge affect how we build our future? By enacting Indigenous Peoples’ Day we have an opportunity to right historical damages and shift our attention to where it is most needed.” I was interested in some folks' reaction to the bill’s passage and so explored the meaning of identity politics with Olga Peters.

Charter Changes: We approved a charter change for the City of Montpelier that gives legal residents the right to vote in local elections. The conversation was emotional and far-reaching, as this issue cuts to the heart of citizenship and belonging. I anticipate a similar debate when Brattleboro’s Youth Vote Charter Change comes to the floor.

Tobacco 21 also passed the house and is headed to the governor’s desk. By raising the smoking age to 21 we should be able to lower the number of people who become addicted to an expensive and toxic substance, and that, on balance is a good thing. I worry though, about all the ways we make the individual choices people (and usually poor people) make more subject to shame and restriction. Thoughts?

The Commerce Committee got to take a look at the Cannabis Bill to see how we could support Vermont businesses through the transition from decriminalization to legalization to regulation. There are some exciting provisions that prioritizes technical assistance to historically marginalized folks and those who have been harmed by the war on drugs. Additionally, we tackled the complex issue of banking an industry that is still illegal federally (things-you-learn-in-the-legislature). If you want to take a look at the bill you can find it here.

If contract provisions seem unimaginably boring to you then I suggest you read this powerful (and lengthy piece) in the NYTimes. It’s a stunning, complex, and compassionate exploration of how mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts (among a few things) leads to a decades long culture of intense gender discrimination and sexual harassment at a national corporation.

We’re working on two bills with the Attorney General’s Office: Data Privacy, and Enforcement Actions for the Misclassification of Workers. If you’re curious about either, reach out, and I can go deep-geek with you.

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