It’s getting a little scarier out there and also, somehow, more normal and that is somehow even scarier. [This is a hard time to be a parent](https://www.romper.com/parenting/here-we-go-again-omicron-edition), or to know a parent, or to work with kids, or to be a kid. It’s a hard time to be a teacher. Vermont schools are facing unprecedented challenges. As the Omicron variant surges, our state is experiencing the highest caseloads of the pandemic and this has significant impacts for our schools. At least half a dozen schools across the state closed one or more days last week and the Secretary of Education ended the week by announcing all existing testing/quarantine guidance would be thrown out the window.
We want to know what to expect, and have the tools to meet those expectations. We need quality masks, testing capacity, credit for distance learning days, vaccines that are easy to find. We want clear information that is delivered in time to act on it. We absolutely can not further privatize our responses to this pandemic– we need community solutions, not families going-at-it alone and scared. We want to trust the people with resources and power— maybe not out there in the great big world, but at least here in our communities. I’ll do everything I can to support the NEA teachers, families, and our kids to be safe in the weeks and months ahead. Please reach out with any specific policy ideas.
Below you'll find:
- In Committee
- On the Floor
- Bill Introductions
- Covid Connections
- Opportunities to Participate
Feel free to hop around!
In the Committee on Ways and Means
In our first week back, Ways and Means received federal tax updates, heard about budget adjustment recommendations, discussed the education fund surplus, and reviewed parts of the Cannabis Control Board fee structure (I’ll tell you more about cannabis fees next week once we’ve had a chance to dive a little deeper.) Two issues that will likely take up much of our time in the coming months, that I’m really excited about are a Vermont Child Tax Credit and a reworking of our Education Finance System:
H.510 Vermont Child Tax Credit: I’m one of the sponsors of this bill that would provide a $1,200 credit or refund yearly for each child aged six and under in Vermont. The bill would invest in families with young children and would make our tax system significantly more progressive and would be the largest state level child tax credit in the country . Families with children under the age of 6 are significantly more likely to live in poverty and this refundable credit would eliminate any tax liability for the majority of these families..
Weighting Study Task Force Presentation:
Senator Ruth Hardy and I presented on the recommendations of our summer work to both the Senate and House Committees this last week. Presented clearly in the report are two options for systemic updates to our education finance system to achieve greater equity. For students living in poverty, for middle and high-school students, for small schools, and for schools in sparsely populated areas either: a) Adopt the updated weights as calculated by the UVM weighting study report authors and delivered to the task force in an October 28, 2021 memo; or b) adopt a “cost equity payment” approach that provides “equity payments” directly to each district, with amounts calculated by the UVM team using the same cost equivalency data used to create the weights. Further recommendations include: ensuring equitable education for English Language Learners (ELL) through the creation of a targeted categorical aid program; change the way we count students living in poverty; ease the impacts of change on school district budgets and tax rates; and create a unified system where all Vermonters pay education taxes based on income.
There will be more updates as we sift through the decisions on this complex issue. To learn how our education finance system works, click here and here. To learn more about its history and evolution, click here. To read the UVM study, that led to the creation of the Taskforce click here. To read the final report, click here. To view the overview of the task force's work, click here.
On the floor:
Local voting provisions, S.172 passed the House and Senate last week and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.
Do you remember when Brattleboro had the marketing slogan: "Brattleboro the One and Only"? It was many years ago but I think of it every time the House Government Operations Committee takes up a municipal governance bill. Did you know that Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting structure is unique in the state? Every time we take up an issue of municipal governance, our House Gov Ops committee kindly carves out a special little section of the bill for our needs, and they just did it again! I'm sorry to say that it's needed but so glad that it's possible; if the governor signs S172, Representative Town Meeting can be held virtually. Local election officials can now move forward in planning for 2022 Town Meetings with allowances for the ongoing pandemic.
With COVID surging again, the health and safety of voters and municipal staff is a top priority. This bill gives towns the flexibility to choose what works best for them: hold Town Meeting as usual; move the date later into the spring (when it will be warmer and the meeting could be held outdoors); or hold informational meetings online, and then vote by Australian ballot.
This session is the second half of the biennium so any bills submitted last year are still “on the wall” and in circulation. All new bills must be approved and submitted by next week. Once submitted no new sponsors can be added and changes can only be made once they’re picked up in committee.
I presented to the House General Committee this week on two worker protection bills that I sponsored last year. You can watch my testimony here (min 7.30) and view my slideshow here . Both bills contained provisions to ensure workers have reliable work schedules, are reimbursed for work related expenses, and employers have just cause for releasing people from employment. These were all needed before the pandemic, but as the cracks widened in the last year it became clearer— workers need consistency and security if they are going to make it through and employers need to offer these protections if they want to retain employees.
New bills are coming to the House floor for introduction and referral to committee at a brisk pace (we call this process “first reading”). Signing on to cosponsor bills is haphazard in the best of times but even more so during virtual legislating. Please don’t take my absence from a bill for lack of interest. You can see bills just before they’re introduced here. I’m particularly excited about new bills this year to expand Reach Up and Medicaid, expand access to resources and opportunities for opioid users, and a bill to create an advocate position for unemployment filers.
- Testing: soon the governor will roll out testing at early care and education centers and through the mail. The president is also apparently planning to send tests through the mail. The hospital has expanded its testing hours and appointments. I know it is still almost impossible to find a test. Please stay home if you think you’ve been exposed and are able, please wear a mask as if we’re all breathing fire. Please take care.
- There is still significant funding to help pay the bills: housing, rent, utilities, internet, and heat. Even if you don’t have back bills yet, please be in touch with SEVCA to learn if you’re eligible.
- Boosters are now approved for ages 12+! Did you get your booster yet? Vaccine access is super confusing, difficult to navigate, yet widely available. Vaccines and boosters are available from most primary care providers, through Walgreens, through the DoH portal, through pop-ups at the VFW and Rescue Inc., and the hospital vaccine clinics accept walk-ins.
- C Healthcare Open Enrollment ends January 15, 2022! To sign up or change your plan, you must call 1-855-899-9600. Want to see plan options and costs? Check out the 2022 Plan Comparison Tool . Know someone who doesn't have health insurance? Invite them to a Town Hall on January 5! If you have problems, talk to the Office of the Health Care Advocate.
I’ve been working with some interns to get all the Covid resources in one spot. Check it out?
Opportunities to participate * Vermont passed the global warming solutions act last year which asked all Vermonters to make significant changes towards a greener future. The first step was creating a non partisan climate council tasked to create a Climate Action Plan, which was just released in December. Communities most impacted by climate change and an energy transition must be prioritized. I’m hosting a community conversation on Jan 19, 2022 07:00 PM with Climate Council members Abbie Corse and Chris Campany and 350 Brattleboro to talk about the council’s recommendations and the work ahead for a just transition. Please register in advance for this meeting. * Weekly office hours are restarting, Sundays at 4pm. You can register here. * Do you want to run for office? Petitions to get on the ballot for town meeting member, selectboard, and school board, are available from the town clerk. We need your voice and your energy right now! * The Montpelier Happy Hour continues in 2022. Olga and I are about to begin our fourth year of weekly radio shows together and some weeks it feels that we’re just getting started! You can subscribe wherever you find podcasts or catch back episodes here.
If you were to make a drink recipe modeled after Scott’s speech, it might look something like this: • 2 oz. workforce development talk • ¾ oz. inspirational quotes on how well the state is doing, despite it all • ¾ oz. All The Other Issues • Garnish with a tease of a potential tax cut and serve over ice
You can listen to The Montpelier Happy Hour on WDEV at 2pm on Fridays, subscribe wherever you find podcasts or catch back episodes on our website.
Meet the Team
This is Carly’s first semester interning with me and I’m really looking forward to all we’ll learn together. Carly transferred to UVM this year as a sophomore. She is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies. She is originally from Connecticut and enjoys hiking, crocheting, and recently took up snowboarding. Carly is passionate about politics and especially about economic equality.
Jake Wiener is a senior at the University of Vermont and is excited to begin his third semester working with me. Originally from Long Island, NY, he is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Business Administration. In his free time, Jake captains the club roller hockey team at UVM and likes to ski.
While I’m happy that we’re finally seeing some snow for the intern team, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding.
I do hope you’ll take care in the coming weeks and be in touch with any ideas for our team to help Vermont be a place that works for all of us.