Now that H.926, an act relating to changes to Act 250, has been vetoed by the governor, what should the Senate do next? What reform of Vermont’s land use laws and regulations, if any, is still needed?
“We should modernize the permitting process – make it more straightforward and efficient. We should make it clear what areas are priorities for development and the places where we want to better protect against development. What we all know as Act 250 is actually a collection of state permits, many through the Agency of Natural Resources. While all the attention is on Act 250, the ANR permitting process badly needs predictability and more transparency.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that access to the internet is now a near necessity for school and work. What can the Senate do to provide increased broadband access to rural and low-income Vermonters?
“We have been fighting to find funds for broadband expansion and must keep going. We have successfully encouraged regional partnerships that are starting to build networks in communities that have been left behind by Comcast and Consolidated Communications. Broadband is vital infrastructure, but it’s expensive to build-out, so we are forced to depend on federal grants and local communities.
“To effectively take advantage of these partnerships, the Senate has been pushing for a comprehensive Telecom plan from our Department of Public Service. That will help us use money efficiently and increase the likelihood we can connect everyone across the state.”
How can the state government make housing in Chittenden County, and across the state, more affordable?
“Housing is central to stable communities, healthy families and a vibrant economy. Building affordable housing is a great way to stimulate the local economy and help us entice families to Vermont. We have to be willing to commit resources since the market alone is not creating enough affordable options.
“In 2019, the state bonded for affordable housing development, and it immediately stimulated partnership investments from the Federal government and local developers. I will fight to see us replicate this successful strategy. It has to be part of our strategy for rebuilding the economy after the pandemic.”
S.54, an act that proposes a system for the regulation and sale of cannabis in Vermont, currently sits on the governor's desk awaiting approval. Did you vote, or would you have voted for the bill? Please explain.
“I was a sponsor of S.54 and voted for it. It’s important that we create a safe adult-use system for cannabis. Right now, it is too easy for young Vermonters to access cannabis. Other states that have created a regulated system have seen a decline in youth use. That’s because the tax revenue is there to fund prevention and education and because an effective tax and regulation system undermines the illicit market. We were able to pair S.54 with other racial justice bills and criminal justice reforms – taken together, these formed important steps forward for our state.”
Other than the four issues asked about here, what else do you think is a priority for the legislature to address and why?
“As the pandemic grinds on, we must ensure Vermonters aren’t going hungry. We must protect our small businesses and keep people working. We must boost the minimum wage so people working full-time aren’t stuck in poverty. We must make medicines more affordable and be sure higher-ed is within reach for Vermont students. We have to rebuild the economy in a way that reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. The pandemic has brought deep inequalities to light, and as we rebuild, we must break the perpetual system that has our wealthy getting richer while the rest of us are left behind.”