By Rep. Jessica Brumsted
and Kate Webb
We head back to Montpelier this week for the second half of the legislative session. Things will be busy as we finish up all we can in our committees, pass bills to the House floor, debate them, and possibly vote to send them over to the Senate. March 17, “cross-over day”, is the final day we can send bills to the other legislative chamber.
As promised last week, we are continuing to bring you information on bills that are likely to come up in the House of Representatives before this “cross-over” day occurs.
Boosting Career and Technical Education: It’s an exciting time for Vermont’s career and technical education centers. CTE provides courses tailored for in-demand, high-paying jobs like computer hardware and application development, website design, plumbing and electrical work, welding, automotive technology, and health care. These are fields that offer successful careers for Vermonters and help to strengthen our economy. The House Education Committee is exploring how to expand opportunities for technical and high-tech education to middle school students, as well as reviewing how we fund CTE programs, so more students can access them. Helping students find their passion, and giving schools the right tools to help them, is a clear focus of our work this session.
Achieving the Goals of Universal Pre-Kindergarten: Research shows safe, nurturing environments in the critical years between birth and five have long-lasting impacts on health, development, and learning. Since 2014, Vermont has offered universal pre-kindergarten to all of Vermont’s three- to five-year-olds not enrolled in kindergarten, allowing access to high-quality, affordable learning. While enrollments have increased and more children are receiving the care they need to learn and grow, to ensure the continued success of universal pre-K, several changes need to be made to strengthen access. In the House, we are looking at ways to increase the number of Vermont families who utilize the state’s universal pre-K system and are evaluating the pre-K structure to determine whether efficiencies and reduced bureaucracy can be achieved.
Strengthening our Mental Health System: Integrating mental health benefits into our health care system is of utmost importance to the House Health Care Committee. The committee has heard testimony identifying concerns regarding mental health patients who are being kept for long periods of time in emergency rooms while they are awaiting appropriate inpatient placement. The committee also heard from police officers and mental health workers who advocated for increasing access to crisis response services and described the difficult work conditions, low pay, and high stress all resulting in high turnover of mental health workers. The committee is working to address these issues.
Marijuana Update: Current Vermont law uses civil fines to penalize individuals who are cited by law enforcement for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This year’s bill, H.170, focuses on legalization of limited adult personal possession, with the ability to grow your own modest supply while not allowing sales except for medical uses. The challenge for Vermont is that Canada and neighboring states are legalizing marijuana use. This past November, both Massachusetts and Maine passed ballot initiatives to legalize and Canada will implement legalization later this year. The House Human Services Committee is also working on another marijuana bill that would expand the current medical marijuana program, allowing the inclusion of new diagnoses such as traumatic stress syndrome. Whether either of these bills will move forward is unknown at the time of this writing.
As your representatives, it is our job to make decisions that are informed, balanced, and thoughtful. As we listen to testimony, your feedback is critical to our decision-making, and we appreciate hearing from you. Remember that we hold office hours at the Shelburne Library on the second and fourth Tuesdays from 6 to 7pm, and can always be reached by phone or e-mail: Kate at Kwebb@leg.state.vt.us or 802-233-7798, or Jessica at email@example.com or 802-233-2120.
As always, thank you very much for the opportunity to serve.