Events, Issues, Legislation/Bills

First Day of Fall Update

Today is the Autumn Equinox. The recent weather has brought some much needed rain and cooler temperatures, so it’s really starting to feel like fall in Vermont. We might even get our first frost tomorrow night, so be sure to cover your garden! Kids are back at school and students back at college for what, we all hope, will be a much better school year than the past three years have been. And the leaves are just starting to turn…here’s more of what’s going on in Vermont.

Early Voting Begins Saturday
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. This is a huge election year in Vermont, so voting is more important than ever! More than one-third of legislative and most statewide offices have open seats. This includes the race for Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House, where we finally have the opportunity to elect a woman to represent us in Washington (Vermont is the only state that hasn’t done so yet!). We’ll also vote on two amendments to the Vermont Constitution — Article 22 on Reproductive Liberty and clarifications to Article 1 which outlaws slavery and indentured servitude. I will write more about these important amendments soon, so stay tuned!

You can register to vote, even on Election Day, and check your own personal My Voter Page to make sure your voter information is current. Ballots will be mailed starting this Saturday to all active voters who were registered by September 9. If you don’t receive a ballot by mail, you can request a mail-in ballot to vote early or vote in person on Tuesday, November 8. You can find the polling place in your town on this interactive map. Your vote is your voice, so make a plan to vote this election season.

Important Update about Local Ballot Initiatives: Most local ballot initiatives are not included on the state election ballots that will be automatically mailed to all active voters. If your town or school district has a local ballot initiative vote scheduled for the November General Election, you can request a ballot by mail from your town clerk, vote early in person at your clerk’s office, or vote in person on November 8th. Town clerks will maintain two separate voter lists for state and local elections, so voters who have already voted by mail for state elections will not be turned away if they chose to vote on the local initiative in person. While I do not have a complete list of all local ballot initiatives in the Addison District, I do know that all of the towns in the Mount Abe and Addison Northwest school districts have a local school ballot question, Addison has a local bond vote, and Huntington has local solid waste district vote. There may be other local ballot questions; check with town or school district officials for more details. You can find a list of all local town clerks in the Guide to Vermont’s Town Clerks compiled by the Secretary of State. Thanks for voting!

Non-profit and Business Loans & Grants
This past legislative session we appropriated significant funds to help businesses and non-profit organizations continue to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. The Vermont Economic Development Authority is offering short term forgivable loans of up to $350,000 for entities that continue to experience economic harm due to the pandemic. Loans will be forgiven if used to pay for eligible operating expenses, with priority given to the hardest hit sectors including travel & tourism, food service, lodging, childcare, and agriculture, as well as BIPOC-owned businesses in all industry sectors. The Vermont Small Business Development Center is offering technical assistance to applicants, so be sure to get help if you need it!

The Vermont Arts Council is offering Creative Futures Grants to businesses and non-profits working in the arts, culture, and creative economy sectors. The grants can be used for any regular operating expenses, including payroll and benefits, utilities, rent, and insurance. Applications will be evaluated based on the severity of pandemic harm, and community, cultural & economic impact. Check out the program FAQs for more details.

Vermont Housing Improvement Program
This past session, we invested over $100 million in housing programs, including $20 million in the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP) that provides rental property owners up to $50,000 per unit to cover the costs of bringing vacant and non-code compliant rental units back online. The program is designed to address the declining quality of rental units and the homeless assistance programs that often struggle to find suitable housing for their clients. If you own a rental property that could be put back into use with some renovations and upgrades, please check out this program and help solve the housing crisis in Vermont.

Mount Abe School Renovations
Speaking of renovations, the folks at the Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School in Bristol have been doing some fantastic and much needed building upgrades recently. After several attempts to pass bond votes to fully renovate the mid-20th century building, school leaders took an incremental approach to chip away at the very long list of necessary facilities projects. They have renovated the locker rooms, bathrooms, auditorium, several classrooms, and redesigned the lobby. More upgrades are planned for other areas of the building. All of this work is meant to improve student and staff safety and comfort, and to improve the academic and social culture in the school. You can read about these upgrades in the Addy Indy, which features some good photos of the work.

The facilities staff at Mount Abe have also upgraded several internal building systems with the help of state funding and guidance. The School District replaced all of its water faucets that contaminated school water with toxic lead under a state program jointly administered by the Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation. This program was created by 2019 Act 66 during my first session in the Senate, and as a member of the Senate Education Committee I was directly involved in its creation. I was thrilled to read that the program ran so smoothly and that the Mount Abe School District, as well as many other schools and childcare programs across the state, was able to replace defective faucets to improve the health of kids.

Vermont’s State Youth Council
This past session, we passed Act 109, championed by Rep. Diane Lanpher of Vergennes, which created the Vermont State Youth Council. The Council will advise the Governor and Legislature on issues affecting young people in Vermont. It’s an opportunity for youth to directly participate in Vermont’s democracy and guide its future. If you are between the ages of 11 and 18 and would like to be involved with making the voices of young people heard, I encourage you to apply for a seat on the Council. Applications are due October 18; you can apply online here. Go for it!

Finally, check out this lovely homage to local Vermont journalism by Ripton-based writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben. I link to reporting by the most of the news outlets Bill highlights, including the Addison Independent. He’s right, you can’t overstate the importance of vibrant and serious local journalism that covers politics and community for helping to keep our democracy and our small state together. Subscribe to your local paper today, and happy reading! Stay safe and enjoy the riches of Fall in Vermont.