Report from Montpelier

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

By Representative Joan Lenes

In previous articles, I have mentioned a different level of collaboration and problem solving I am witnessing this session. It is not that this was not the case before, but I see a different approach, thinking differently about existing problems – the sometimes too widely used cliché of “thinking outside the box” is exactly what I see happening. The “box” is much broader and we are gathering information from different points of view – we are not working in committees/silos isolated from one another and then coming together. We are building together as we go.

A few examples of this are when my committee of Corrections and Institutions held a hearing on the replacement for the Agency of Agriculture and Agency of Natural Recourses labs that were destroyed in Waterbury by Tropical Storm Irene. House Committees of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Water joined us to listen to Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross and his team along with Commissioner of Buildings and General Services, Michael Obuchowski and his team, give us the information needed about the new combined lab to be build on the Vermont Technical College (VTC) campus in Randolph. VTC was at the table as well. This makes a lot of sense because these two agencies will work together in this facility. It is being designed with input from all in order to serve the wide range of services that will be conducted from this facility. We no longer have the luxury or can afford to have unique and separate agencies and departments working in isolation. We cannot and should not, when possible, duplicate lab, program, and office space.

Another example of this collaboration is how our current Education Committee is made up of legislators whose expertise from policy (Ed. Committee), taxes (Ways and Means Committee) and spending (Appropriations Committee) are all at the table deliberating the education policy and funding questions we know all too well. I am confident progress is being made. Their guiding principles are to ensure that any new approach will maintain a community-supported education system, assert our deep commitment to public education, and strive to realize greater return on our investment in Vermont and its children.

The House Human Services Committee is following suit. They are focusing on programs and policies ranging from child welfare, childcare, mental health, substance abuse, long-term care, and public health. Ways and Means has asked them to weigh in on the Fee Bill and how its decisions play out in public health and safety in the hotel and restaurant businesses. They have reviewed Public Record Exemptions, the jurisdiction of Government Operations Committee, and how they overlap with human services. They participated in a joint hearing with House General, Housing, and Military Affairs related to emergency housing and general assistance. They met with House Health Care to learn about adverse childhood events (ACE). Addressing and mitigating these environmental and social-emotional determinants of health can lead to better health outcomes. The Agency of Human Services makes up one of the largest components of the state budget. Members of the Human Service Committee are working collaboratively with House Appropriations in order to analyze and comment on any policy changes proposed in the budget and the implications from those financial decisions. I believe this joint committee approach will help in solving some of the complex issues that face us.

I appreciate your emails, calls, and visits at Bruegger’s Bagels on Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am. Sharing your ideas and concerns is essential to informing and framing my work.

Please reach me at jlenes@leg.state.vt.us, (802) 999-9363, or through the Sergeant at Arms who can be reached at (800) 322-5616.