Notes from Seat 26: March 2021 Legislative Update
The volume and intensity of work in the Legislature since my update last month has changed almost as dramatically as our sudden spring weather! Last week marked “crossover,” the internal deadline by which the House and Senate must get bills out of committee in order to be sent to the other chamber. Although there are sometimes exceptions, this generally signals what legislation is going to move forward this year.
My committee, the Education Committee, was busy getting three of our bills passed through the full House last week and I delivered my first floor speech with nervous excitement. The House passed H. 101, which provides grant funding to build systems-driven, sustainable literacy instruction and supports for students. As our schools focus on learning recovery and re-engagement as part of their COVID recovery planning, it is clear that literacy must be a top priority. This bill also calls for the creation of an Advisory Council on Literacy and the hiring of a statewide literacy coordinator which Vermont currently lacks.
The House also passed H. 426 to address the state of Vermont’s aging school buildings and significant deferred maintenance needs. There is urgency around this work due to the pandemic and our increased understanding of the importance of indoor air quality as well as the long standing backlog in construction projects. While we were fortunate to pass a bond to make substantial improvements to Williston Central School just a couple years ago, many districts around the state have not been able to do so, resulting in unsafe and unhealthy learning environments in many buildings across the state.
Finally, the House passed H. 106, which establishes a demonstration grant program for up to ten eligible school districts to develop a community schools model. These are schools that help kids and families access critical services like health care, mental health counseling, food or housing support right in the school building. We heard testimony from two inspiring schools that provide a comprehensive network of support to families, Molly Stark Elementary in Bennington and the Winooski School District.
Beyond education and the work of my committee, I am pleased to report the House’s impending action on several large bills. I look forward to supporting these major policy initiatives that will help us leverage the influx of federal funds in order to support an equitable recovery plan that leaves no Vermonter behind.
I am thrilled that H. 171, which I cosponsored, passed unanimously out of the House Human Service Committee and will come to the full House this week. Pre-pandemic, we knew, and now we have confirmed how integral accessible, affordable, high-quality child care is for the social, emotional and physical development of Vermont’s youngest citizens, its families, and ultimately its workers and employers. H.171 includes investments for the following policy changes:
Implementation of the redesign of the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) eligibility levels in order to expand those who receive support.
Establishment of the legislature’s intent regarding family out-of-pocket expenses: By October 1, 2021, no family receiving CCFAP benefits would pay more than 10 percent of their annual gross income on child care.
Strategic investments in the early childhood education workforce through scholarship programs for current and prospective early childhood providers, and a student loan repayment program.
Creation of a study by the Joint Fiscal Office and an economist or independent consultant to examine the economic impacts of and long-term funding mechanisms to adjust Vermont’s existing child care system so that no family spends more than 10 percent of its gross annual income on child care and child care providers receive compensation commensurate with peers in other fields, such as primary education.
The full House will also take action on broadband and transportation legislation this week. After a year of remote schooling, online medical appointments, and family Zoom calls, the need for high-speed internet for all Vermonters is even more clear. I look forward to supporting H. 360, to use $150 million of new federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support the construction of broadband assets in the most underserved parts of the state. This year’s annual transportation bill, H. 433 (“the Tbill”), represents a significant investment in Vermont’s roads, railways, and bridges. The infusion of new federal dollars has allowed us to increase much-needed funding to Vermont cities and towns. This bill also uses one-time funding to expand our efforts to address climate change and provide more affordable, lower carbon transportation options. This includes: addressing bike safety; significantly increasing incentives for electric vehicles and e-bicycles; supporting smarter, denser planning through the Complete Streets program; improving access to charging stations for those who don’t live in single-family homes; and ongoing support for those using public transit by continuing zero-fare through 2022.
By this time next month, I will be able to provide an update on the “big bill” (the budget) and more information on how our significant federal funds for recovery are being prioritized. More importantly, in less than a month (as of April 19) ALL Vermonters aged 16+ will be eligible to schedule their vaccine appointment! I am honored to represent Williston during these challenging times and I strive to be accessible and responsive. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns or ideas anytime.