Town Meeting Day Update 2020

Happy Town Meeting Day! First, and most important, please remember to vote! Not only is today a crucial presidential primary, it is also an ever-important local election day. Voters across the Addison District will be electing school and town officials and determining the fate of local initiatives including school building renovations, town hall and library projects, community forests, and municipal infrastructure upgrades, as well as town and school budgets. Your vote really matters, so exercise your right and help determine the fate of our towns, state, and nation.

Second, the town meeting week break from the legislature affords me an opportunity to provide an update on the work of the Vermont Senate and see many of you at town meetings throughout the district. I kicked off the week by attending the town meetings in Starksboro, Ferrisburgh, and Salisbury on Saturday. Last night I visited Waltham, Panton, and Vergennes. Today I hope to see folks in Hancock, Huntington, and Whiting. It’s good to be back in the district, hearing your concerns, ideas, and questions. Thank you for showing up for your town!

Meanwhile, legislative activity has heated up as we approach Crossover on March 13th, which is the date by which bills must move from one house to the other. Below is a brief overview of the work of my two committees and the Senate in general.

Agriculture Committee

The Agriculture Committee passed a bill, S.336, that establishes standards for hemp seeds sold in Vermont, protecting hemp farmers from purchasing expensive seeds that cannot germinate or produce a viable crop. We also passed a bill that would better enable small farmers to use a limited amount of food residuals to create compost on their farms, clarifying that such practices would be included in the definition of farming under certain circumstances. The bill, S.265, was inspired by a group of poultry farmers who have successfully incorporated the practice into their farming operations, both building healthy soils and producing delicious eggs!

We are also working on a bill to improve the Pesticide Advisory Council’s oversight of pesticide use, better positioning the Council to consider the health and environmental impact of pesticide use, reduce the overall use of pesticides, and encourage the practice of integrated pest management. The Committee is also close to finishing a bill, S.273, that would provide financial incentives for schools to purchase more local foods from Vermont farmers, creating healthier meals for kids and a better markets for our farmers. Finally, we’ve been discussing how to integrate recommendations from a variety of reports into legislation to improve the farm economy overall, particularly for Vermont Dairy. The most recent report we received was the Vermont Dairy Marketing Assessment.

Education Committee

The Education Committee and full Senate have passed one of my bills, S.281, which would create a report on the status of libraries in Vermont. Libraries are crucial resources in many of our small towns, providing a huge variety of programming, materials, and services for Vermonters of all ages. This bill would help determine how our libraries are faring and how we could better support their efforts throughout the state. (Check out this great Seven Days article on libraries that features profiles of three Addison County libraries.) We’ve also passed a bill, S.335, that would create a working group to lay the groundwork for implementing a universal afterschool program in Vermont.

The Committee passed a bill, S.326, that would restructure the State Advisory Panel on Special Education to include more people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. We’re also working on bills to clarify provisions in the state’s teacher healthcare bargaining process, as well as the duties of the State Board of Education. Finally, we’re working on a bill that would outline a timeline and process for implementing changes to the state’s school funding formula as recommended in the comprehensive Pupil Weighting Factors Report to provide more funding to school districts with high rates of students living in poverty and/or students who are English language learners, as well as remote rural districts.

Senate Work Overall

The Senate and House together successfully overrode Governor Scott’s veto of a bill, S.23, that will increase the minimum wage to $12.55 per hour in 2022. The bill, which was the result of a tremendous collaborative effort in the legislature, will provide much needed wage increases for thousands of Vermonters, many of them women and parents with young children. The Senate Judiciary Committee has spearheaded work to pass major criminal justice reforms, including revisions in the state’s complex furlough program that currently results in many Vermonters being returned to prison due to minor technical violations. The bill, S.338, would result in nearly $2 million in savings and fewer inmates in Vermont’s correctional system. Plans would reinvest that funding into supportive transitional housing and domestic violence prevention and education programs.

Several Senate Committees are working on legislation to address climate change, including S.337 which works toward reducing emissions in the thermal energy and transportation sectors and S.220 which creates avenues for front-line workers to help homeowners meet climate goals. I expect these bills, along with the Global Warming Solutions Act that passed in the House last week, will be up for action soon. The Senate has also passed bills limiting the price of insulin prescriptions, providing stricter oversight of student loan administrators, and banning many of those annoying robocalls. Finally, the Senate Institutions Committee recently unanimously passed one of my bills which would create a process to diversify the portraits in the State House. Listen to this wonderful piece on VPR about the initiative to make the “People’s House” more reflective of the people of Vermont.

The U.S. Census

Finally, you should be receiving a survey from the United State Census in the mail very soon. I urge you to fill it out and return it promptly. It is crucial for Vermont that everyone residing in our state be counted. Vermont relies heavily on federal funding to support public programs of all kinds –education, social service, transportation, environmental, economic – and most federal funding is distributed based on population. Census data is also used to draw legislative district boundaries to determine representation in the state legislature. Addison County has traditionally been under-counted, which means we draw down less state and federal funding than we should. Please, stand up and be counted. Send in your Census surveys, complete them online, or answer the questions of the Census canvasser on the phone or at your door – it is really important for the vitality of our county and state! For more information visit www.2020census.gov. Thank you!