COVID-19, Issues

Town Meeting Day Update

I hope this finds you safe and well. March teased us into thinking it was coming in like a lamb, but then quickly turned into a lion with that big wind storm and snow squall last night!  My wood pile is quickly disappearing, so I hope sweet maple syrup, mud season, and warm spring days will be here soon.

It’s Town Meeting Day!
The vast majority of towns have opted to have all elections by paper ballot this year, rather than through town meeting floor votes, and while many voters have voted early with mail-in ballots, there is still in-person voting today in every town. There are many important elections happening in towns throughout the area, including ballot questions on school district configurations and retail cannabis sales, contested elections for school board and select board positions, and town and school budget questions. So, if you haven’t voted yet, be sure to get out and vote!

COVID Vaccinations
If you are aged 65 or older, you are now eligible to sign up to get your vaccination! In addition, frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and residents at a long-term care facilities who have not yet received a vaccination are still eligible. Veterans over age 55 who are enrolled in VA Healthcare are also eligible to receive a vaccination and can get a shot this Friday at a Veterans Affairs vaccination clinic in at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex Junction. Next week Vermonters with certain high-risk health conditions and apparently also childcare providers, teachers, and additional public safety employees will be able to sign up for a vaccination. Details should be announced by the Governor today. As the state continues to receive greater numbers of vaccine doses, it’s likely that vaccination opportunities will continue to expand, so stay tuned.

If you need motivation to get a COVID vaccine, travel restrictions have been eased for anyone who’s fully vaccinated. Fourteen days after receiving your final vaccine dose, you many now travel into or back to Vermont without a quarantine. If music inspires you, listen to Vermont-based Afro-jazz artist KeruBo’s song “Chanjo,” which is the Swahili word for “vaccine,” and read about her music and public health efforts to help ensure New Americans in Vermont have culturally-accessible information about COVID protocols, testing, and vaccinations.

Legislative Work
Last week, the Senate unanimously approved a bill I co-sponsored, S.53, that would exempt menstrual products, like tampons and pads, from the Vermont sales tax. While it’s a relatively small step, I think it’s an important measure to use our taxation system to promote gender equity. On average women still make less money than men, are more likely to live in poverty, and have been more adversely impacted by the pandemic, so any step we can take to improve the economic well-being of women is important.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair, has been working on several bills recently, including a bill to join 34 other states in the Nurse Licensure Compact, which would give nurses more professional flexibility and hopefully entice additional people into the field of nursing, where we have a severe shortage of workers. We’re also finalizing a bill that would extend many of the flexibilities we provided to health care organizations during the pandemic which have enabled them to more fully focus on COVID response. Finally, next week we’ll provide our recommendations on a bill that just passed the House, H.315, that provides emergency pandemic assistance for housing, certain businesses, mental health services, and other areas.

The Judicial Retention Committee, where I’m again a member, is reviewing the files of two Superior Court Judges and three Family Court Magistrates to determine whether or not we’ll recommend to the full General Assembly their reappointment to the bench. The Vermont Constitution requires this unique process every six years for every state judge, underscoring the system of checks and balances between the three branches of state government. We’re holding a public hearing on March 10th, if you’d like to testify about any of the judges up for retention.

The full General Assembly recently voted, as we do every two years, to elect a Sergeant-at-Arms, three University of Vermont Trustees, and a Vermont National Guard Adjutant General. I had the honor of again seconding the nomination of my constituent from Huntington, Greg Knight, to be the Adjutant General. You can read my comments about General Knight and listen to his video thanking members of the Legislature for our support. Vermont is the only state in the country where the Legislature selects the leader of the state’s national guard, so has been great to be an integral part of this unique process.

Finally, although I no longer serve on the Agriculture Committee, when I was a member we passed Act 83 of 2019 which required a plan for the future of agriculture in Vermont. Recently, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Farm-to-Plate Network and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture released the Vermont Agriculture and Food System Strategic Plan and presented it to the Agriculture Committee. It’s a comprehensive plan covering nearly every aspect of and connection within Vermont’s farm and food sectors, outlining challenges and opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, and a potential roadmap for making our farms and food businesses more sustainable and resilient as we emerge from the pandemic. If you’re a farmer and/or a foodie, I highly recommend you give the report a read.

That’s all for now.  Stay safe and stay warm.