COVID-19, Issues, Legislation/Bills

Two Years of COVID + Crossover

It’s been two years since the Governor declared a state of emergency and Vermont shutdown in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. It’s been a long two years, and I’ve tried to be with you, ever step of the way. On this day in 2020 and 2021, I wrote to you with updates about the pandemic. Fortunately, this March we are seeing progress and a sense that we, as a society, can live with COVID.

Today, the statewide mask recommendation for schools and most indoor spaces was lifted, and masks have become optional in most places. The Vermont Department of Health recommends that you get vaccinated and boosted, get tested when needed, make the decision about masking depending on your risk factors, and stay home if you’re sick. Getting yourself and your children ages 5 and over vaccinated remains the most effective prevention that most people can take to avoid serious illness or death.

I know that for many people, the transition to going out without masks feels risky, especially in crowded or small spaces. In particular, as masks have become optional at schools, students are navigating a complex situation ripe with peer pressure and political dynamics that have been foisted upon them by adults. I know schools are trying to foster an atmosphere of respect, safety, and personal choice. For example, watch this video featuring Addison Central School District students and this presentation by the Shelburne Community School. I hope everyone can be respectful of individual decisions about masking and social interactions as we make this next COVID transition together.

State House News
This past week, the Senate returned to the State House in person for the first time in exactly two years. It was both great to be back, and a little bumpy too, as we all got used to working together again in our committee rooms rather than our zoom rooms. While most of us are in the State House in person, you can still follow our work remotely via our livestream links for committees and the full senate.

Last week was also the legislative crossover deadline, meaning the date by which most Senate and House bills must be voted out of committees in order to crossover to the other body. So both of my committees – Senate Health & Welfare and Senate Finance – were busy passing bills last week and many of them will be up for a full Senate vote on the floor this week or next before they crossover for work in the House of Representatives.

Last week, the Finance Committee passed bills on school finance, corporate & personal taxes, property valuation, energy programs, insurance regulation, and cannabis regulation & fees. The Health & Welfare Committee passed bills on health care finances, Medicare, birth centers, mental health services, and ALS research. In addition, other Senate committees advanced bills on housing, criminal justice, ethics reform, environmental justice, hunting & trapping, economic development, teacher pensions, and more!  I’ll try to get more information out as these bills come to the full senate for a vote.

March is Women’s History Month and to mark the occasion, the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance commissioned a painting to hang in the State House, entitled “The Light of Truth Upon Them,” that “tells the story of women’s fight to gain equal participation in American democracy.” The painting features six historical and current women leaders, including my friend Stacey Abrams, a voting rights advocate, who is running for Governor of Georgia. I have long advocated to diversify the artwork in the State House, so I’m thrilled to see this temporary addition!

Finally, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for spring (I’m out of both birdseed and firewood!), but before you bid winter a fond farewell, check out these stunning aerial photos from local photographer, Caleb Kenna, featured in the New York Times. Most are images of the gorgeous Addison District covered with beautiful snow.