We’re heading back to in-person (hybrid) legislating this morning. I’m looking forward to all that I can learn being face-to-face or mask-to-mask with my colleagues. I’m looking forward to the focus that a changing context brings me. I’m looking forward to wearing fancy shoes again. I’m even looking forward to leaving my house and feeling the trepidation of working amidst mediocre public health policies so I can legislate with open eyes. It’s going to be a wild ride, and we’ve set up hybrid options so that anyone who needs to quarantine or isolate can still dial in and represent their constituents but it will be the first time that many committees have ever met in person. Our work will change as a result, and I’m curious about all of it.
Reflections on Dr King’s Legacy
I’ve appreciated the call from Dr King’s family for no “celebrations without legislation” and so in honor of his legacy, I’m going to share some of my favorite new bills that I’m supporting this year. *Ending qualified immunity *Reducing criminal penalties and decriminalizing drug use *Tracking medical data by race *Extending medicaid coverage through the first year post-partum *Eliminating mandatory work requirements for Reach Up (TANF or welfare) *Creating an office of Environmental Justice *Extending unemployment benefits and an Office of UI Advocate *Wage transparency bills to close the wage gap *Increased access to down payment assistance to close the wealth gap As we begin our third year of this pandemic, and the third century of American white supremacy, let us each love our neighbors by working for both systemic change, and small moments of understanding.
In the Committee on Ways and Means
We began work on H. 461 which exempts the household income of asylum seekers from property tax adjustments. This is a small step we can take to welcome new migrants into Vermont.
We discussed the Emergency Board Presentation Consensus Forecast. The consensus forecast happens twice a year and sets our expected revenues that we use for budgeting. We talked about the discrepancies between a booming economy and the folks that are still struggling. Interestingly, while last year we understood the spike in state revenues to be a “one-time” manna, it is looking as if there is enough money circulating that revenues will plateau at this much higher level for a few years. This changes how we think about how to budget (both on the raising and spending of revenues.)
On the floor:
We passed a trio of bills this week to enable municipalities to adapt public health measures for meetings and elections. S.172 gives towns flexibility to hold their Town Meeting as they best see fit, to protect the health and safety of voters and election officials— either in person, virtually, or via ballot measures. A bill that allows other meetings (such as selectboard or informational) to be remote, and a third bill that waives signature requirements for local elections. You can find the links here. It is now even easier to run for our school board or selectboard— you can talk to the town clerk for more information.
This week was a big one for climate action as the House Dems released our priorities for the year. You can watch the press conference here, or view the slideshow here. We also held our first meeting of the legislative climate caucus this session and discussed our “every committee” approach— so we can ensure that every bill that passes through the body, gets a climate justice lens on it— not just the headline bills. You can see regular updates and even watch our biweekly meetings on our website. And finally (and most exciting) I’ve been putting the finishing touches on plans for our community conversation this week:
- Please join us on Jan 19, 2022 at 7:00 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.
More opportunities to participate *Public hearings on redistricting planned in Windham county for Thursday January 27th. More information about sign-up coming soon. *Public hearing on Pension design taskforce. The legislature is hosting a public hearing to listen to teachers, state employees, taxpayers, and other interested parties about the issues faced by Vermont’s teacher and state employee pension systems. The Vermont Pension Benefits, Design and Funding Task Force, having just completed its work, has published its report, including recommended changes to the pension and retirees’ health systems. The report can be found here On Tuesday, January 18, 2022 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. the public is invited to register to speak at the hearing and/or submit written testimony. The Committee encourages the public to review the Task Force’s Final Report before testifying. Anyone interested in testifying must sign up in advance of the hearing through the following online form Instructions on how to access and participate in the hearing will be sent once you have signed up for the hearing. Testimony time will be limited to two minutes per person. To submit written testimony, please e-mail an MS Word file or PDF file to firstname.lastname@example.org. The public hearing will be available to watch live on YouTube at the following [link] (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1m7i4gqDGgM8PnVVjWc_jQ/featured) For more information about the format of these events, contact Mike Ferrant at email@example.com. *Public hearing about Proposition 2: removing references to slavery from the Vermont constitution. *Weekly office hours are restarting, Sundays at 4pm. You can register here. *The Montpelier Happy Hour continues in 2022. You can listen to WDEV at 2pm on Fridays, subscribe wherever you find podcasts or catch back episodes on our website. This last week we talked to Steph Yu from the Public Assets Institute about the State of Working Vermont report.
Resources available: *Testing: the state rolled out test to stay to early care and education centers and tests by mail. You can sign up to get a set of tests for your household here: https://sayyescovidhometest.org. They’re delivered by Amazon, which is weird and if we’re going to continue outsourcing basic government functions to the private sector we need to raise our corporate minimum taxes. *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. *I’ve been working with some interns to get all the Covid resources in one spot. Check it out?What’s missing, what should we add?
Thank you for staying connected, reading up, reaching out, and generally being here with me through all this change and struggle.