By Becca Balint and Jill Krowinski
There’s an expression we have around the Vermont Statehouse that goes: “That’s too ‘inside-baseball’ for anyone outside Montpelier.” The term “inside-baseball” dates back to the 1890s when it referred to a style of baseball that relied on more nuanced and finessed aspects of the game—bunts, stolen bases, and singles—instead of power hits. It took on its modern meaning in the 1950s when it was used to describe the inner workings, minutiae, and details of politics that would only be interesting to political geeks, wonks, and those directly involved in the system. Since the end of the legislative session, it’s become clear to us that the majority of Vermonters aren’t particularly interested in ‘inside-baseball’. They want to know what we accomplished this session and what we’ll push for in the second year of the biennium.
By just about any measurement, this was an incredibly productive legislative session.
And while it’s true that the two chambers were not yet able to reach agreement on two issues that are important to so many Vermonters—a minimum wage increase and a paid family medical leave insurance program—House and Senate leadership are committed to passing these significant pieces of legislation. We’re in full agreement that we want a Vermont that works for all of us and not just the wealthy. We seek a Vermont in which our families and communities can truly thrive and not just survive.
A minimum wage increase is a critical part of our vision, as is a medical leave insurance program that enables family members to take leave from work in order to care for each other. When we put more money in people’s pockets and provide a critical benefit that supports families, we signal to Vermonters that we reject the Trumpian view of the world of “every man for himself.” Our constituents are hardworking and resourceful, and they want a more fair economy that benefits everyone. And they’ve told us again and again that they want us to work towards equality.
We acted on one critical, fundamental right that leads to equality—preserving reproductive rights for Vermonters. Access to reproductive health care is under attack across the country and there are 15 cases heading to the Supreme Court to chip away at Roe v Wade. The House and Senate passed significant legislation this year to protect everyone’s access to reproductive healthcare, including contraception and abortion. We are proud that Vermont stands in stark contrast to so many states in which women and families are not trusted to make their own healthcare decisions.
We also passed a waiting period for the purchase of handguns in order to reduce gun violence in our state. Governor Scott missed an important opportunity to lead and take a meaningful step on this public health and safety measure when he vetoed the bill. We will continue to work on this issue; we have to. We are extremely concerned the governor didn’t consider the other reasons why we passed a 24 hour waiting period. It’s not only about mental health, it’s about domestic violence; it’s about people trading guns for drugs; and it’s about human trafficking. We need to hear his proposed solutions to those problems.
Vermont also has an epidemic of suicide; we are an outlier nationally. And this horrible trend is greatly impacting men in Vermont. According to a Vermont Public Radio report, between 2011-2018, 568 people died from gunshots in Vermont. 88% of these deaths were males, and 88.6% of the deaths were suicides. Some researchers across the nation have called this the “Silent Epidemic.” It’s not acceptable for us to ignore the anguish of our citizens. That’s why we increased funding for community mental health agencies to retain staff and support crucial services.
There were also many other significant legislative accomplishments this session to support working families. We passed significant increases to financial support for low- and moderate-income families for childcare and early learning programs. We provided additional funding for new and existing centers, and we created financial incentives for childcare workers. We also increased financial support for single parents struggling to afford basic needs for their families through the Reach Up program. And we expanded financial assistance for dental services for low-income Vermonters for the first time in 30 years, including giving Medicaid recipients access to free cleanings and preventive care.
In our battle against climate change, we also made some important gains. We phased out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are highly potent greenhouse gases. We also expanded funding for home weatherization programs, provided funds to purchase land that is environmentally fragile, and ordered a study to recommend avenues for participation in forest carbon sequestration markets. And we set aside funds for the increased use of electric vehicles by state workers, expanded charging station infrastructure, and provided support for Vermonters with modest incomes to access low-emission vehicles.
The list of legislative accomplishments also includes: significant pollinator protections; a single-use plastic bag ban; strong smoking cessation efforts; mandatory lead testing for schools; protecting water systems from PFOA contamination; supporting our veterans through a “Burn Pit” registry bill; passing a significant expansion of broadband coverage; and providing a permanent, stable funding source for Vermont’s clean water work.
The conventional “inside baseball” version of events at the end of the session was that the two chambers couldn’t work together this session to get important work done for Vermonters. But when you truly look at all our many accomplishments this session, that narrow, simplistic narrative simply does not hold up. Yes, we have more important work to do during the next year of the biennium. But we will get it done. A minimum wage increase and a paid family medical leave insurance bill will reach the governor’s desk next year, and we will continue to fight for an economy that works for everyone.
Senator Becca Balint represents Windham County and is the Senate Majority Leader. Representative Jill Krowinski represents the Old North End & Downtown Burlington, she is the House Majority Leader.