report from montpelier

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

By Rep. Joan Lenes

I am writing this on the evening the legislature voted to elect the governor. This may seem like old news as you read it one week later when it comes out in the Shelburne News. Regardless, I wanted to let you know how I voted and why. I cast my ballot for Peter Shumlin. This was not a political vote but one that followed the candidate, who, in November, received the most votes throughout the state, the plurality vote. This happened to be the case, as well, for Chittenden 5-2, the District I represent. I followed what the constitution laid out and what has been the past practice. If there is a need to make changes in this process, I imagine legislation will be drafted and go through the law-making process. For now, current law was followed. If there is a silver lining, perhaps it is that more citizens will participate and vote.

From this point, I believe we need to move on and do important work for Vermonters. We need to focus on providing a quality education, how it is funded, and how it affects property tax. There is a big change in the composition and direction of the House Education Committee. Rep. Dave Sharpe from Bristol, whose background is from Ways and Means, the tax committee, is the new chair. Other members bring expertise from the Appropriations Committee, as well as those whose background is in education policy. I believe this multifaceted approach will offer a new perspective. It will help eliminate the silo approach when policy and funding are in two separate committees. Perhaps no new magical ideas will come and fix the issue, but we are in a different place with more pressing concerns, perhaps more ready to make change. My hope is we are able to fund the quality, equitable education we owe our children, at a price that does overburden property owners.

House leadership is offering another collaborative approach to our work in Montpelier. We are calling this the Vermonters’ Caucus and it will be held weekly on Friday as an information session to all legislatures. Topics will cover overarching issues that are of concern to us all. This will help to assist in our committee work. The first topic will be education and we will hear from Secretary Rebecca Holcolme. Other topics we expect to cover are the results based accountability and government accountability report (RBA), health care, the economy, jobs, and Lake Champlain and other waters of the state.

The beginning of a biennium is when committee assignments may change. In my case, I have been asked to stay on Corrections and Institutions. I am quite pleased with this assignment. I know there is work to be done improving the lives of our offenders whether it is through education, job training, or addiction treatment. We are expecting to look at ways we could bring our out-of-state population home to Vermont, closer to their families and communities where they will re-enter.

It is also the beginning of a two-year Capital Bill. After the governor’s budget address, we will get the Capital Bill and dive right in. We will hear from the Treasurer, Beth Pearce, about the dollar amount we will be able to bond for. Certainly there is more information to come!

Rep. Kate Webb and I will be at Bruegger’s Bagels on Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am. Please stop by and share ideas or concerns you may have. You can always reach me at jlenes@leg.state.vt.us or on my cell phone (802) 999-9363.