Happy Earth Day! It is peek daffodil time and the recent rain has made everything lush and green. This weather also means that we’re nearing the end of the legislative session, with only a few more weeks until we adjourn. Below is an update on a few issues I’ve been working on.
Childcare and Parental Leave
The major childcare bill I sponsored, S.56, continues to move through the Legislature after passing in the Senate last month. The House Committee on Human Services just passed the bill, so now it will go through the money committees before passing in the House. There will certainly be differences between the House and Senate version of the bill, so it will likely require a conference committee to finalize the bill before it’s passed. Childcare advocates hosted the Courage to Care rally at the State House. I had the honor of addressing the crowd of about 500 people, including a large contingent of Addison County childcare professionals. I was especially excited to see several of my kids’ early teachers, who are now local childcare leaders. It’s exciting to be on the brink of passing this historic legislation that will benefit thousands of Vermont families and children.
Opioid Use Harm Reduction
The opioid epidemic in Vermont has continued to worsen, with a record 237 overdose deaths in 2022. Last year, the Legislature established the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee, charged with making recommendations about the allocation of the funds Vermont will receive from multiple legal settlements with pharmaceutical companies for the role they played proliferating the opioid epidemic. I am a member of the Committee, which released its first recommendations last month to spend $7.3 million on harm reduction measures, including greater distribution of the overdose reversal medicine naloxone (Narcan), support for 26 new frontline outreach workers, drug testing supplies, and additional care and treatment support. The Committee also recommended funding for four additional satellite locations in the Vermont’s Hub and Spoke treatment program to provide medication for opioid use disorder, including one in Addison County.
On Tuesday, the Senate will pass H.222 which now includes the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, as well as additional funding and law changes to improve access to treatment, recovery, and vital harm reduction measures. This has not been an easy bill to reach consensus on and move quickly through the Legislature. I have been a persistent voice in the State House, reminding my colleagues that we must act swiftly to bring more resources and a focus on harm reduction measures to address this crisis because Vermonters are dying. As a reminder of what’s at stake as well as the good work being done to save lives, the Health and Welfare Committee visited Jenna’s Promise, a comprehensive opioid use recovery program in Johnson, Vermont. Their work, and the efforts of hundreds of others on the front lines of this crisis will be supported by this crucial legislation.
Last year, over 30% of legislators, across all three major parties, decided not to run for reelection. While the pandemic created a wave of retirements or job changes across various employment sectors, many legislators saw the job as unsustainable to support themselves or a family. Legislators earn only about $14,000 per year and receive no health benefits, making it a job most Vermonters can’t afford to take. However, voting to raise legislative pay is difficult for legislators around the country, even though it’s rarely a partisan issue (read my Republican colleague’s excellent op-ed on it). Last week, however, the Senate passed S.39, which would gradually increase the salary earned by legislators, beginning after the next election, to the equivalent of the average salary in Vermont. Read the op-ed my Democratic colleague and I wrote laying out what S.39 does and why it’s important for legislators to be fairly compensated in order to create a more diverse and productive legislature. Vermont prides itself on its “citizen legislature,” but while serving in the Legislature is not supposed to be a career, it’s also not supposed to be a job that only the wealthy and retired can afford to do.
Protecting Abortion and Gender-Affirming Health Care
With the continued attacks on abortion and transgender healthcare across the country, the VT Legislature has acted definitively to protect patients seeking these vital services and the healthcare professionals providing them in Vermont. We have passed both S.37 and H.89, known as “shield bills,” that would ensure that medical providers and patients could not be punished for providing or receiving this legally protected health care in Vermont. Before passing the bills, we added provisions to ensure that doctors in Vermont could continue to prescribe mifepristone, one of two medications commonly used for medication abortions even though recent court cases around the country have left the legal status of this safe and effective medication in question. We have also worked with the Administration and healthcare providers to ensure a supply of mifepristone is available in Vermont. I have long been an advocate for reproductive and gender justice and will do all I can to ensure that abortion and gender affirming care remain accessible and legally protected in Vermont.
Middlebury High School and College Students
I know students at both Middlebury Union High School and Middlebury College have been shaken by recent events. The disappearance and death of MUHS senior Becca Ball was a tragedy. My heart goes out to her father, foster family, friends, teachers, and school and church community. Thank you to everyone who helped investigate and search for her, including Middlebury and State Police, fire and rescue first responders, and dozens of community volunteers. The swatting event at Middlebury College last week after a hoax call warned of an active shooter in the College Library led to armed police storming the library to confront and evacuate students. While everyone was safe, the lack of communication and heavy police response created confusion and fear among students throughout the campus. Earlier this week I met with the Middlebury Police Department and the Vermont State Police for a briefing of the investigation and search for Becca Ball. I also talked with them about the College event after reaching out to College officials about the situation, and encouraged them to ensure that students were included in post-event conversations about improving communication and trust moving forward.
Finally, on this Earth Day, check out this report on Vermont Public about the innovative micro-grid in Panton that provides renewable energy and electricity for the town. It’s a great story about environmental sustainability and climate resiliency. Go Panton! That’s all for now – take care and enjoy spring in Vermont.