Notes from Seat 26: March 2022 Legislative Update
March in Vermont may be maple season and mud season but it's also the season for marathon sessions in the legislature! The Vermont General Assembly has been working under an important deadline this month: crossover. By last Friday, any House bills had to be sent to the Senate in order to be considered this year, which is also the end of the biennium. After many moonlit nights under the golden dome, I am pleased to report the House has passed several important bills that invest in our future, act on climate change and continue our work on racial equity.
Every year, we pass a balanced budget that reflects our values. One example of those values is our commitment to providing high quality human services to those in need. A highlight of this budget season for me was the opportunity to connect with families in Williston who educated me about our unmet need for supported housing options for adults with significant developmental disabilities. It is so important to me to be able to connect our policy work and decisions to the Vermonters who will be impacted and I truly appreciate their advocacy and time. The House-passed budget (H.740) represents months of intensive work, input and testimony from state agencies and community partners, fiscal experts, and many Vermonters who attended public forums, testified and submitted letters. From here, the “Big Bill” moves to the Senate. Detailed information on the budget can be found by following the links posted on my website (www.erinbradyforwilliston.com)
I was pleased to vote for another important investment in our future, a broad workforce development bill (H. 703) that aims to address some of Vermont’s most critical workforce needs and help the state’s workforce recover from the pandemic. This omnibus bill makes significant investments to increase the capacity of Vermont’s nursing programs, increases opportunities for career and technical education, helps Vermonters pay for education, and helps employers connect with and retain employees. As a high school teacher who works primarily with high school seniors, I am keenly aware of the challenges many young adults face in accessing and affording post-secondary education or training.
We are also taking significant action on climate change this year. The House recently passed the Clean Heat Standard (H. 715), the most significant emissions reduction policy recommended in the Climate Action Plan. Greenhouse gasses from heating homes and businesses account for one-third of Vermont's carbon pollution. The Clean Heat Standard (CHS) sets out a planned, progressive process to provide Vermonters with heating options that are more affordable, more efficient, less polluting and less price-volatile than fuel oil or propane. It is designed to especially help low-income Vermonters, who pay the highest percentage of their household income on heating bills, transition to clean heat. Fossil fuel sellers will be required to obtain "clean heat credits" by working with homeowners and businesses to weatherize or switch to more efficient fuels. Our recent annual transportation bill (H. 736) also includes important investments in climate solutions. It funds programs to help lower- and moderate-income Vermonters buy electric or highly efficient cars and invests in EV charging equipment, safer walking and biking infrastructure, and zero-fare transit.
A more equitable Vermont is a better Vermont. To that end, we passed a bill (H. 546) to establish the Division of Racial Justice Statistics. This will allow for the collection and analysis of data to help the legislature better understand the challenges faced by marginalized Vermonters. More importantly, we have created a process to better understand and redress harm through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (H. 74). The Commission’s charge is to examine institutional, structural and systemic discrimination caused or permitted by State laws and policies, and to identify potential programs and activities to create and improve opportunities for impacted populations and communities.
Despite all of this, there is much work left to do before the session ends in May. I am especially excited to be working on legislation to make universal school meals a permanent program in our K-12 schools. Due to the strain of the pandemic, the federal government has reduced food insecurity by funding free breakfast and lunch in our schools for two years but that will end this June. Offering free meals to all students has gotten cash registers out of our schools, allowed our dedicated school nutrition staff to focus on quality food instead of chasing unpaid balances and most importantly, eliminated the stigma of who gets which lunch and at what cost.
I was recently helping a student with a homework assignment about government. When she asked how I knew all of this, I laughed and reminded her that I am significantly older than her, studied it in college and I am passionate about politics and government. I went on to tell her that I know most people do not share that passion which is perfectly fine, but I worry that people often see government as an abstract, distant entity. Government is us - it is the people we elect (at all levels) to make decisions on our behalf as best they can. I am honored to represent Williston and I strive to be accessible and responsive. Please email me at email@example.com with your questions, concerns or ideas anytime.
Finally, I want to thank Madelyn Morris for her outstanding service as a legislative page! Being a page is a wonderful opportunity for eighth graders and I hope to see more Williston students wearing the iconic green jacket.
H.740 (Budget) Summary
H.740 (Budget) One-Time General Fund and ARPA State Fiscal Recovery
Vermont Climate Action Plan