We started the session last week being sworn in remotely— the Secretary of State calling each of our names and reciting the affirmation, “I am Emilie Kornheiser, and I am here.”
It was surprisingly moving, especially in the face of the terrorist attack in Washington. You can read the legislature’s joint resolution condemning the attack here. It is not enough, but it is one of many beginnings.
Thank you for the expressions of concern for my safety. We’re all legislating from home (via zoom/youtube) and the statehouse is mostly empty. I feel just as safe, and am just as safe, as I’ve ever been. That is not to say that I don’t fear white supremacists targeting me and my family, I just don’t fear it any more this week than I did last month. I also know that I’m not alone in my fear and I'm not alone in my work towards justice. If you’re interested in engaging with this further, you can view a recent briefing from our public safety commissioner, reports from the Southern Policy Law Center, and a recorded conversation I had with Rights and Democracy on the topic last year.
The first weeks of the session are a flurry of committee assignments and introductions to legislative staff and key stakeholders. The speaker appointed me Vice Chair of the Committee on Ways and Means and to the Joint Fiscal Committee. This is an exciting year to work on tax policy—- between our increased awareness of our economic divides, the revenue challenges we are facing, and the recent release of a report from our once-a-decade Tax Structure Commission. I’m looking forward to diving into my new leadership role and learning from all the incredible staff, colleagues, and constituents that engage in this democracy.
Beyond all the ceremony and orientation, each of our issue caucuses started back up, and bills are being circulated for sign on. I’m a member of the Climate Caucus, Women’s Legislative Caucus, Social Equity Caucus, the Rural Economic Development Working Group, and co-chair of the Working Vermonters’ Caucus. In future newsletters I’m hoping to give brief updates on the work of each caucus. You’re also welcome to attend any of these meetings via zoom— just send me an email and I can request that your name be added to the list.
Legislation is slowly being introduced and sent to committees of jurisdiction. You can find bills I'm sponsoring here, with many more coming in the next few weeks. Because we’re operating remotely, bill sign-on is even more haphazard than usual. Please don’t take my (or any other legislators’) absence from a list of sponsors to be a lack of support— so much happens between introduction and passage. As I finalize legislation, I'll try to highlight them in future newsletters.
We also passed our first bill last week and it is on the governor’s desk. This is much faster than we usually operate and a great showing of bipartisan and cross chamber collaboration in the face of COVID. The bill allows changes to town meeting procedures: either postponing town meetings or moving to an Australian ballot, without the need for a charter change. Importantly, this bill doesn’t change anything for Brattleboro and our unique Representative Town Meeting structure. You can read more about it here in the Brattleboro Reformer.
This is just the beginning, and it’s sure to be another wild session. The new federal funding package “CARES 2” is still being analyzed while we anticipate a CARES 3 in the first weeks of the Biden Administration. Vaccines are being rolled out as our case counts rise. Vermonters continue to struggle— financially and emotionally— with the greatest burden falling on single mothers and BIPOC Vermonters.
As always, feel free to connect with me through:
- My weekly conversations every Saturday at 10am, registration link here ;
- The Montpelier Happy Hour where I unpack legislation with Olga Peters each Friday; and
- My newsletters and social media feeds. You can find past newsletters on the “blog” tab of my website.
And please keep in mind, I’m still available for help navigating any services (or lack thereof) with you: unemployment insurance, housing challenges, health care. Now more than ever, I’m honored to do this work with all of you. Thank you, and please be in touch.
Yours in solidarity,