I am pleased to be back in Montpelier representing Essex constituents. I serve on the House Human Services Committee considering legislation related to poverty, child protection, disabilities, older Vermonters, and public health.
This session, our committee is studying policy related to the closure of Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility and effective ways to support delinquent youth in less restrictive settings; as well as H.611, the Older Vermonters Act, which details a system of services, supports, and protections for residents 60 years of age or older. This bill would also establish annual inflationary increases to Medicaid reimbursement rates for home- and community-based service providers.
Last week, I voted in strong support of H.107, Paid Family and Medical Leave; and S.23, an increase to the state’s minimum wage, long-negotiated compromises between the House and Senate. The minimum wage, now set at $10.96 per hour, would increase to $11.75 in 2021; and $12.55 in 2022. Here’s an interesting fact I learned: had the minimum wage been raised methodically according to the Consumer Price Index, it would be at $22/hour today. These approved bills will head to the Governor’s desk next.
In response to the demographic crisis and workforce shortages across the state, I believe we must invest in affordable policy solutions that will attract and keep young people in our state. Millennials reside in a different world than most of us grew up in. Due to the changing nature of work, rising housing costs and college debt, they need livable wages and family-friendly policies to succeed in careers while raising children. I also believe vulnerable working Vermonters deserve a pay raise.
Another bill that is likely to come to the House floor this session is S.54, a bill to tax-and-regulate marijuana for adults (age 21 and older). This legislation has been researched, studied and tweaked hundreds of times by legislators over the past several years. There have been robust opportunities for community input. Vermont has consulted with other states to learn from their mistakes.
If you ask this mother of a 17-year-old if I am happy about the legalization of cannabis, the answer is no, I am not. I don’t use the substance myself and don’t judge people who do. I talk regularly with my son about avoiding pot and the impacts of it to his still-forming brain. I have read the book “Tell Your Children” by author Alex Berenson, given to me by constituent Ron Coppola who referenced me in last week’s letter-to-the-editor section. The book makes the case for the long-term effects of marijuana use and possible links to mental illness.
Here’s my reality as a policymaker though. Small quantities of cannabis were made legal in Vermont two years ago before I was elected to the State House. I didn’t have input to this decision, but now I am responsible for resolving the impacts.
Because the substance is not regulated in any way, a prolific black market thrives with untested products that contain blockbuster amounts of THC, more potent than the pot produced when I was 17. The situation is concerning enough that I believe the Legislature must move this illegal cannabis market into a tightly regulated market to ensure consumer protection and public safety.
S.54 is a 100-page plus bill that seeks to establish a state regulatory agency to require product testing and THC limits, warning labels, strict limits on advertising; and a tightly controlled licensing system with priority to small cultivators and local farmers, so we don’t end up with mass production in the state.
Importantly, there is a provision for local control. Municipalities have the right to ban cannabis retail establishments in their communities unless residents vote by Australian ballot in the affirmative.
I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can. This past summer and fall, I visited a medical marijuana dispensary in Milton, a cannabinoid processing plant in Brattleboro, spoke to local farmers and school administrators, and consulted medical doctors and prevention experts.
Additionally, there is sizable funding in the bill – up to $6 million – for education and youth prevention initiatives in our schools and communities. We must continue to dialogue regularly with our children about avoiding addictive substances, as no one has influence like a parent or trusted adult. I will continue to wrestle with this issue, but am leaning towards supporting it. Total prohibitions do not work in my experience.
In addition to committee and floor time, I am participating in the Women’s Legislative Caucus (working on criminal justice reform); the Climate Solutions Caucus (reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation); the Older Vermonters Caucus; and the newly formed Social Equity Caucus (removing barriers for vulnerable, marginalized Vermonters).
If you would like to connect, please attend our next Community Coffee, Sat., Feb. 15, 9-10:30 am at Sweet Alchemy Café (Barns at Lang Farm). Or please reach out at any time: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the privilege of serving as your representative.