By Rep. JESSICA BRUMSTED
The 14 legislative committees in the House are up and running and the 40 new members had their first chance this week to see what it is like to vote in roll calls on the House floor at the Vermont Statehouse.
The House voted 137- 0 in support of H.97, the FY 2019 Budget Adjustment bill. This bill makes mid-year adjustments to the budget passed last June. The adjustments continue to invest in Vermont families by increasing funds for the Child Care Subsidy Program, and allocates more money to address the increasing cost of winter highway maintenance. It also supports legislative work done with Treasurer Beth Pierce and the Administration to make significant investments in paying down the state’s long-term pension obligations. As with the original budget, priority was placed on important one-time investments, including lead testing in schools and strengthened cybersecurity and data infrastructure in the Agency of Digital Services.
The House also gave unanimous approval to H.3, the Ethnic Studies Bill. This bill creates an Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group that will review student performance to ensure representation of all ethnic and social groups in Vermont schools. Although our schools, administrators, teachers and education professionals do extraordinary work, recent evidence suggests students of historically marginalized ethnic and social groups face greater challenges and barriers to educational success. This working group will aid Vermont schools toward including all our citizens in textbooks and classrooms with a focus on addressing and reducing bias, harassment and disproportionate patterns of disciplining students from marginalized ethnic and social groups. Hartford Rep. Kevin Christie capsulized the intent of the bill best: “Here in Vermont, we have an opportunity to really be a leader in racial justice and the unanimous approval of this bill shows that our brave little state is an inclusive one.”
The House gave overwhelming support (134-6) to H.47, a bill that would impose a 92 percent tax on e-cigarettes, namely vaping and Juuling in an attempt to discourage underage use before it comes epidemic in the state. The 92 percent rate brings those products into line with the tax on other tobacco products sold. It is expected to pass the Senate, and Gov. Scott indicated he will sign it when he said, “Our kids must know the dangers of these behaviors, and we should stop it in its tracks.”
The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is focusing on workforce and economic development as well as unclaimed property. With Vermont’s population aging and retirements increasing, efforts are underway to help build a younger workforce. Housing, adequate broadband and cell service in both rural and urban areas continue to be unresolved issues. The Committee also heard reports on job training, regional economic development, captive insurance, Vermont’s retirement and savings plan, the Sustainable Jobs Fund and the Farm-to-Plate program among others.
Another issue of interest to Chittenden County is a bill being debated in the other chamber. The Senate is taking up S.11, a bill that would “limit senatorial districts to a maximum of three members beginning with the 2022 General Election” The Chittenden Senate District has six members, making it the largest Senate district in the country, and it would be the district most directly affected if this bill passes as introduced. The Senate Government Operations Committee plans to vote this bill out this week.
Representative Kate Webb and I are working on bills to address issues brought to our attention by community members. We will be at Village Wine and Coffee on Saturday, Feb. 9, 8- 9:30 a.m. for coffee and conversation.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to serve.