COVID-19, Events, Issues, Legislation/Bills

January 2022 Legislative Update

With so many urgent issues on our plate, the Legislative session has been busier than usual during our first several weeks. I know it’s been a stressful month for nearly everyone due to this recent COVID surge; I’m hoping we’re seeing the light at the end of the Omicron Tunnel, so hang in there and stay safe. Read more about legislative action, community updates, and COVID assistance below.

Medical Aid in Dying Update – A Tribute to Rep. Willem Jewett
Last week, I had the honor of reporting a bill on the floor of the Senate to update landmark legislation permitting the use of medical aid in dying for terminally-ill Vermonters near the end of life. The original legislation, 2013 Act 39, was championed by my predecessor, Senator Claire Ayer, and has enabled 116 Vermonters suffering the painful end-stages of cancer or other terminal illnesses to peacefully hasten their own death with medical assistance. The bill, S.74, makes modest changes to the strict process laid out in Act 39 to make end-of-life choices less burdensome to navigate for people suffering the end-stages of a terminal illness.

My work on S.74 took on extra meaning when I learned that my friend, former State Representative Willem Jewett of Ripton, had used medical aid in dying to hasten his own death after a long battle with cancer, on the very day the Legislature began work on the bill. During his final days, Willem, who was a key legislative leader for the passage of Act 39, spoke up in support of S.74 and I asked my senate colleagues to vote for the bill in his memory. You can listen to me report the bill on the virtual Senate floor via the Vermont Senate live-stream – my report begins at about the 9:30 minute mark, and after some technical difficulties, finishes at about the 26:00 minute mark. I also encourage you to read about Willem’s choice to use medical aid in dying, as well as his obituary. Willem was an incredible human being (see the photo above of him doing one of the things he loved best – leading the pack). May his memory be a blessing.

More Legislative Work
This week the Senate began work on the mid-year budget adjustment bill, which will include significant new funding to support struggling workers and organizations. Stay tuned for more details when it’s finalized. Meanwhile, the House started work on the FY23 State Budget. If you’d like to comment on the proposed state budget, you can sign up to testify at one of two upcoming public hearings or watch them live on YouTube on February 8th or 9th.

The legislative reapportionment process of redrawing state legislative districts continues, and this week the Senate passed the first of two bills the House must pass as part of the required process for updating their districts. I encourage you to watch my colleague Senator Collamore explain the bill and process on the Senate floor. You can check out the bill to see where your town lands in this initial legislation, but it won’t be the final plan as the House will now get feedback from local boards of civil authority and take significant testimony before finalizing a second bill for consideration. The Senate has begun its work to redraw our districts and I’ll provide updates as maps are considered or approved.

During the off-session, House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint held a series of community conversations throughout the state to hear from Vermonters about their priorities and ideas for investing the unprecedented federal pandemic relief and recovery funding. I encourage you to read the report, Investing in Vermont’s Future,” which includes some pretty cool graphics illustrating responses from Vermonters across the state.

Last week in the Senate Finance Committee we got an annual update from the captive insurance industry. Until I was senator, I had no idea what a captive insurance company was or that Vermont is a world-leading, award-winning place for captive insurance companies. Captive insurance is a regulated form of self-insurance that is created, owned, and controlled by its insureds. So it’s a company that’s created by a company to insure that company. It sounds strange, maybe even sketchy, but the Vermont Legislature and Department of Financial Regulation have created an extremely well-regulated and successful environment for these companies. I encourage you to read more on the Vermont Captive Insurance website, and watch this actually compelling video about captive insurance in Vermont. Who knew?

The Committee also got an update about the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCCB). The Legislature created VCCB last year to use federal relief funds to expand broadband to under-served areas of Vermont. In November, VCCB awarded seven preconstruction grants, including $2.4 million to Maple Broadband which represents 20 Addison County communities. VCCB recently announced a request for proposals for construction grants. If you’re struggling to pay for your own internet service now, be sure to apply for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program which provides a monthly discount for many people.

COVID Update
Recently, Vermont recorded its 500th COVID death, and counting. It’s been a sad and stressful two years. I hope the Omicron surge is waning, but please do everything you can to prevent more deaths and keep everyone safe by getting yourself and your kids age five and over fully vaccinated, and boosted for ages 12 and over. You can find lots of information about the safe and free COVID vaccine, including where to sign up for a shot, on the VT Department of Health website. If you have questions or concerns about getting the COVID vaccine for you or your child, please speak with your physician. Getting tested is also really important if you’ve been exposed, are feeling ill, or are attending a gathering. You can get tested at a testing site or order at-home rapid tests. Some local retailers have rapid test kits and some employers are providing them as well. Schools currently have a limited number of rapid tests, mostly available for unvaccinated or symptomatic students.

Final Thoughts
As we try to enjoy these really cold but sunny January days, it’s nice to looking ahead to the spring planting season by signing up for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont NOFA-VT Winter Conference — Dream Into Being. The schedule looks great with lots of online and some in-person events. And, as we continue the long haul toward both spring and the end of the pandemic, check out this video of a long (and really giant) haul that took place recently in New Haven — moving the historic New Haven train depot from Route 7 to downtown New Haven. Thanks to Megan and Steve James at the Addison Independent for documenting this incredible feat and congratulations to everyone who worked to make it happen. I can’t wait to see the building renovated and used by the community.

Let’s all help each other make it through our collective long haul! Stay safe and warm.