Issues, Legislation/Bills

Legislative Committees Get to Work

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost February! With so many new faces at the State House and our first in-person start since 2020, it’s taken longer than usual for legislators to introduce bills this session. But, things are beginning to speed up as more bills are introduced and pinned to committee room walls.

We’ve passed just one bill which extends some of the COVID flexibilities for public meetings and town budget votes. While most towns have or will return to in-person town meetings, just like last year Act 1 will permit the option of ballot votes and remote public meetings for the time being. You can read the report I gave to the Senate when we voted on the bill two weeks ago. There will be more to come on this topic as we debate permanent provisions.

Childcare Crisis
Throughout the off-session, I have been working with legislative colleagues, advocates, and childcare providers to craft legislation to address the childcare crisis in Vermont. We need solutions to make childcare more affordable for families, provide better compensation to childcare providers, increase the availability of high-quality care, and ensure more effective statewide oversight and leadership. It’s an extremely tall order and one that has been well-documented by families, employers, policy makers, childcare providers, and the press. Seven Days ran a cover story on the childcare crisis a few weeks ago.

It’s also an expensive proposition for our small state, but without action, families and children will suffer and our workforce shortage will deepen. Two weeks ago, the Vermont Early Care and Education Financing Study, an in-depth study about the costs, financing options, and economic impacts of providing more funding for child care was released. This week, legislators will introduce a bill, spearheaded by me and three other legislative leaders on childcare, that will be the vehicle for legislative action on childcare this session. Stay tuned as we work to comprehensively address this crisis.

Sheriff Reforms
Over the past year, there have been an increasing number of sheriffs or sheriff deputies in the news for behavior incompatible, to say the least, with public office or law enforcement. Sheriffs have engaged in or been accused of financial mismanagement, excessive use of force, abandonment of duties, and sexual assault and misuse of power. Unfortunately, under current law, it’s difficult to hold a sheriff accountable for such behavior. Here in Addison County, the sheriff was arrested on charges of sexual assault last June and has still remained sheriff.

To start to address the problem, I introduced a bill, S.17, related to sheriff reforms. Unfortunately, the Legislature is limited in what we can do to reform the office of sheriffs because the Vermont Constitution gives the Legislature limited power to oversee other elected officials. Even if convicted of a felony, the only way a sheriff can be removed from office is through the lengthy and complex impeachment process. Therefore, I have also introduced a constitutional amendment which would enable the Legislature to “establish by law qualifications for the election to and holding of such office.” You can learn more about these proposals and the issues with sheriffs in VTDigger, WCAX, and the Addison Independent. Over the next several weeks, the Senate Government Operations Committee will to hone both the bill and amendment in order to ensure Vermonters have the benefit of fair, ethical, and effective sheriffs with sufficient oversight and professionalism.

Opioid Use & Overdose Crisis
The opioid crisis has devastated Vermont, and while we were making progress in reducing overdose deaths before COVID hit, the pandemic helped spur a surge in opioid overdose deaths throughout Vermont. A record 217 people died from opioid overdoses in 2021 and the 2022 numbers will certainly surpass that. Nearly every Vermonter knows someone who’s been impacted by this crisis. Over the next two decades, Vermont is set to receive over $100 million in settlement funds from lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies that spurred the opioid crisis. I am a member of the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee that is tasked with advising policy makers on how to best use this funding to save Vermonters’ lives. The Committee will make its initial recommendations next month and I will be introducing two bills to advance the recommendations and related initiatives. While there’s a debate about how best to use these funds, I believe we must act quickly with a focus on harm reduction, empathy, and innovative strategies that have been proven to save lives now.

In addition to these issues, I have introduced bills on protecting patients and medical providers involved with abortion or gender affirming health care, legislative compensation, criminal justice reform, rank choice voting, gun safety, creating an international sister state program, and more. You can see the complete list of bills for which I am a lead sponsor or co-sponsor on my legislative webpage. Additional bills related to health care, professional regulation, K-12 education, and more will be forthcoming, and I’ll try to highlight more bills in future posts.

For now, I’ll leave you with some great news about a beloved local restaurant. Haymaker Bun on Bakery Lane in Middlebury has been nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award in the newly created Outstanding Bakery category. Stop by to congratulate owner Caroline Corrente and her team, and definitely enjoy a delicious bun while you’re there. Thanks for reading and be well.

Photo Note: My colleagues on the Senate Government Operations Committee pose for a photo after hearing testimony from our Legislative Council attorney on a newly introduced bill.