Issues, Legislation/Bills

My Top Ten Bill List of 2023

Last Friday the Legislature adjourned the regular 2023 legislative session. Check out my top ten list of bills dear to my heart that made it over the finish line. For each of these bills I either sponsored it and took the lead, worked to improve and advance it in committee, and/or spoke up and actively advocated for it. It’s a great list of important legislation!

1. Childcare and Early Childhood Education (S.56/H.217)
Improving Vermont’s childcare system was my #1 priority and this session’s highest profile issue — I heard from more constituents about it than any other issue. This historic legislation will invest significant funding in the Vermont’s childcare financial assistance program for families, childcare program quality & stability, and compensation of childcare teachers & staff. The bill also requires work to expand our universal public prekindergarten system and raise the status of early childhood education in state government, public school districts, and community programs. This legislation makes Vermont a national leader in the care and education of young children!

2. Protecting Abortion Care and Gender-Affirming Health Care (S.37/Act 15 and H.89/Act 14)
As attacks on abortion and transgender healthcare continue across the country, we acted decisively to protect patients and healthcare professionals in Vermont. These bills ensure that medical providers and patients will not be punished for providing or receiving this legally protected health care in Vermont. They also require health insurance coverage, protections against deceptive medical information, and plans for public colleges to assist students in accessing this care. As a life-long reproductive justice advocate and mother of three teens/young adults, this legislation is both personal and imperative, especially now.

3. Opioid Overdose Prevention and Harm Reduction (H.222)
As the opioid epidemic deepens, nearly every Vermonter is connected to someone who died of an overdose. We passed legislation that focuses on harm reduction and improving access to treatment to save lives. It enacts the recommendations of the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee, appropriating funds to support increased distribution of the overdose medication Narcan, new frontline outreach workers, drug testing sites and supplies, and additional care and treatment resources, including a treatment site in Addison County. As a member of the Advisory Committee, I know this public health epidemic has touched every corner of our state, so this legislation is a priority.

4. Reducing Suicide & Promoting Gun Safety (H.230)
Vermont has one of the highest suicide rates in the country and domestic violence is one of our state’s the most prevalent crimes. Access to firearms make these tragedies more frequent and lethal. For the first time in five years, we passed comprehensive gun safety legislation, expanding existing red flag laws, instituting a 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of a firearm, and requiring safe storage of firearms in households where children live or visit. As gun violence has increased nationwide in recent years, I am proud that Vermont is taking decisive action to make our homes and communities safer.

5. Sheriff Reforms (S.17)
Over the past few years, many Vermont sheriffs have been behaving badly. Incidents and allegations include sexual assault, financial mismanagement, inappropriate use of force, and dereliction of duties. This legislation begins to reform sheriff departments by adding specific duties and requirements, limiting the bonuses they can pay themselves, including them in the state code of ethics, improving auditing procedures, and establishing a state-level oversight position. Next session, we will pass the first phase of a constitutional amendment enabling better oversight of all county offices. Law enforcement officials at all levels must be accountable and professional.

6. Universal School Meals (H.165)
During the pandemic, federal funding helped provide free school meals to all students, which reduced food insecurity for families and improved equity in school lunchrooms across Vermont. This legislation makes this pandemic-era program permanent so all kids can be fed at school regardless of circumstance. The program will also increase purchases of local foods and draw down more federal funding to support school meals. It’s a win for parents who are often stretched too thin to pack good lunches or send in lunch money. It’s a win for students and teachers because kids can’t learn if they’re hungry!

7. Bottle Bill Modernization (H.158)
Nearly all Vermonters support the current bottle bill, but it hasn’t been updated since it passed over 50 years ago! The law is long past due for a 21st-century modernization effort, which is what this bill finally does. It increases the types of bottles and cans that are returnable to include wine, sports drink, and plastic water bottles. It also implements an extended producer responsibility program so that beverage companies support improvements to the state’s beverage container redemption system. Every day will be Green Up Day if we can recycle more stuff!

8. Law Enforcement Training on Domestic Violence (H.476)
Domestic violence is all too common in Vermont, and law enforcement officers increasingly must respond to these complex and dangerous situations. This bill requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a model policy for handling domestic violence including procedures for officer training, survivor support, and dealing with officers who are victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. It also expands the list of law enforcement offenses for which the Vermont Criminal Justice Council can take immediate action to include domestic violence and sexual harassment violations.

9. Property Valuation & Reappraisals (H.480)
As property values have skyrocketed over the past few years, towns have had a hard time keeping up and many have reached the level where town-wide reappraisals are required. This bill removes the current trigger for reappraisals and instead requires a statewide property reappraisal schedule. It also requires the VT Department of Taxes to conduct an extensive study to improve the property reappraisal system, collect more data on property types and characteristics, and update training for listers and assessors. I know this one is really niche and nerdy, but it’s important for municipalities and property owners, and future tax and housing policy.

10. The FY24 State Budget – The Big Bill (H.494)
The Vermont Legislature has always passed a balanced budget, and this one’s no different, ensuring that our state government functions and that every agency and program has funding to do its work for Vermonters. It’s called the Big Bill because it’s really long (over 300 pages!) and includes lines for every appropriation in state government. It’s also the bill where many miscellaneous items find a home, including provisions that are the seeds of future legislation. Nearly all legislators, especially committee chairs like me, have a hand in crafting the Big Bill. It’s the most important, must-pass bill every session!

That’s my Top Ten Bill List! I’ll be working on a more comprehensive policy summary over the next few weeks, including a breakdown of the state budget and details of more bills not on this list. I’ll also be watching to see which bills the Governor signs or vetoes (so far he’s only signed #2 on my list)—we will return to the statehouse in June to override his vetoes. Stay tuned for more information and thanks for reading!