Notes from Seat 26: February 2021 Legislative Update
Since I last shared an update, the Vermont House approved a mid-year technical adjustment to keep the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget in balance. H.138 passed with strong support and included investments to support the Legislature’s continuing response to the pandemic, including:
Coronavirus Relief Funds for emergency food, hotel-housing for the homeless, and rental assistance
Support to the Vermont State Colleges for additional expenses related to COVID-19
Continuation of the Everyone Eats program through June 2021, providing healthy meals prepared by restaurants to food-insecure Vermonters
Funding for technical assistance to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020
Completion of broadband extension projects
Partial relocation costs for Burlington High School, which has remained closed due to chemical contamination
The Legislature continues to focus on our pandemic response, including investment in testing, vaccines, personal protective equipment, telehealth, and providing relief and recovery to Vermonters most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing continues to be an important priority as 2,200 adults and 400 children are still being housed in over 70 hotels across the state.
I am often asked, “what is a day like in the Legislature?” While everyday is different, there is a rhythm to the legislative weeks, even during the pandemic. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the full House of Representatives convenes remotely using Zoom and then we break into our committees (also remotely) for meetings and work. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, we start the day in our committees, convene with the full House in the early afternoon and then go back to committees to continue working. In the early morning, over the lunch hour and almost every night of the week there are any number of meetings that a legislator must attend, including issue caucuses, political caucuses, advocacy organization meetings and informational sessions.
At this point in the session, we are on the “floor” with the full House for fairly brief periods and the vast majority of our time is spent in committee meetings. Committees spend the first few weeks of the session hearing from a broad range of interests related to that committee’s work about their priorities, concerns and receiving updates on existing programs. Committees also take time to review the proposed budgets for state agencies and initiatives in order to prepare the budget bill. As committees begin to pass bills out and send them to the full body for passage, our “floor” sessions will become longer and more complex.
The biggest issues before the Education Committee, of which I am a member, include the impact of COVID on our schools, increased support for best practices in literacy instruction, the huge backlog of deferred maintenance in Vermont’s schools, the future of the Vermont State Colleges, school funding formulas and the recommendations of the Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group. I am pleased to report that our committee will not take up a proposed bill that would ban any flag other than the U.S. flag from flying at school buildings. My experience as a classroom teacher, an adjunct instructor at Saint Michael’s College, a school board member and a parent in Williston has allowed me to bring a voice of experience to the committee.
When I met with some of the 5th and 6th grade classes at WCS after the election they asked about what traits I thought would be important to my success. I told them being a lifelong learner would be critical and that is certainly proving to be true. The amount of complex information coming before me on a daily basis is enormous. I spend many hours each week reading research and background briefings. I am finding several legislatively-commissioned reports to be particularly provoking: the Tax Structure Commission final report and the reports from the Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont (the final report is due in April). For those interested in learning more, these reports, supporting documents, and recorded meetings can be found on the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office website. If I can help direct anyone to particular documents or meetings on particular issues of interest or concern, please just contact me.
I also want to take this opportunity to remind our community of important health updates this week. Vermonters who are aged 70 and up are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. To make an appointment, go to https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine. Let’s help our community members navigate the registration so they can be vaccinated. As of this past Tuesday, the State of Vermont will offer a COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period for Vermonters to enroll in a qualified health plan and receive premium and cost-sharing assistance, if eligible. (Apply by CALLING the State’s Customer Support Center at 855-899-9600). Vermonters declared ineligible in the past are welcome to apply again.
I am honored to represent Williston during these challenging times and I strive to be accessible and responsive. Please email me at email@example.com with your questions, concerns or ideas anytime.