By REP. MARYBETH REDMOND
Before the legislative session adjourns, I want to reflect upon something that has inspired me during my first year as a legislator – and THANK YOU for your part in it!
Last December before the session began, the Essex delegation decided to co-host monthly “Community Conversations” at various cafes in Essex Center and Essex Junction as a way to bring together constituents to explore diverse issues.
Each 90-minute get-together, at The Nest Coffee & Bakery in the Village or at Sweet Alchemy Cafe in the Town outside the Village (thank you, generous hosts!), has featured 20-35 folks per meeting sharing questions and ideas about numerous subjects, including: property taxes, the itemization of health care bills, screenings for children with learning disabilities, weatherization, climate change solutions, racism, reproductive freedom, abortion, the vaping epidemic in schools, worker shortages, attracting new businesses, and the list goes on.
It’s been a delight to field questions alongside my fellow legislators, each of whom participates on a unique House Committee (Linda Myers on Appropriations; Lori Houghton on Health Care; Dylan Giambatista on Education; Bob Bancroft on Commerce & Economic Development; and myself on Human Services). Our broad representation adds to the influence we can have as a delegation, as well as providing us with a plethora of information to bring back to constituents.
What has inspired me at these monthly events are the thoughtful discussions that have unfolded. Multi-generational Vermonters across the political spectrum – from high schoolers to new veterans to retirees – have circled up to hear one another’s perspectives, debating points of view in civil, respectful ways.
The banter back and forth has generated strong emotions at times. Naturally, people identify intensely with their deepest held beliefs and values. Other folks insist they know the answers for resolving the state’s most intractable problems.
But after each gathering, I have left with a profound appreciation for the members of our community, whether they are struggling to make ends meet or wrestling with the polarized discourse of our times. Vermonters are engaging in their locales more than ever. They are taking courageous steps to meet face-to-face to understand unfamiliar perspectives beyond the safety of their social media threads.
Author, educator and activist Parker J. Palmer explains why our direct engagements with one another are essential when he writes: “The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.” He goes on to say: “The civility we need will not come from watching our tongues. It will come from valuing our differences.”
I thank those of you who have attended our Community Coffees over the months. Our last one – providing a full legislative recap – is Saturday, June 1, 8:30-10 am at The Nest in the Five Corners. May our openness to hear and understand one another continue to strengthen the fabric of our Essex community.
By REP. BOB BANCROFT
The grand finale has begun! It will be an intense week with daily sessions going well in to the evenings. Many believe this will be the last week with a likely adjournment on Saturday, but there are many others who think we will have to go in to the next week.
Activity in both the House and Senate picked up last week. Conference committees were established for several bills where there is disagreement between the House and Senate versions. Additionally, the House voted on 9 Senate bills, most of which contained amendments added by the House. The House also voted to amend and send back one of its bills (H.143), which had been amended by the Senate. For the week, 11 bills made it through both the House and Senate and now await the Governor’s approval.
The most significant bills dealt with last week were S.58, S.96, S.112 and H.57. S.58 deals with the regulation of hemp growers (voted for). Hemp is a distant cousin of marijuana, but contains only a minuscule amount of THC, which causes the high. The principal product derived from hemp grown in Vermont is CBD oil.
S.96 is the clean water funding bill. The controversy around the bill dealt with taking a portion of the rooms and meal tax from the education fund to pay for clean water. This taking was filled by imposing a new sales tax on cloud software, veterinary supplies and third-party sellers on Amazon, eBay, etc. I ended up voting for the bill.
S.112 bans single use plastic bags, plastic straws and stirrers, and food containers made from expanded polystyrene. Stores can continue to offer paper bans with at least 40% recycled material. They can give them away free, but if they do charge, they must charge at least 10 cents. Customers can still get straws, but they must ask for them.
H.57 prohibits governmental entities from interfering with access to abortion (voted no). This bill now goes to the Governor. Along the same line was the House vote to concur with the Senate’s Proposition 5, which starts the 3.5 year process of amending Vermont’s Constitution to enshrine personal reproductive rights (allow for unrestricted abortions).
In addition to the must pass bills (budget, tax revenue, transportation & capital), the House will likely be dealing with some controversial bills. They are: the growing, processing and retail sale of cannabis; increasing the minimum wage, and a waiting period for gun purchases. The House will likely get the paid family leave bill back from the Senate which is contemplating some significant changes to the bill.
It should be an interesting week and hopefully the last.