Just before midnight on Friday, May 12, the Vermont House of Representatives adjourned for the 2023 session. We are grateful to the Williston community for trusting us to represent you in Montpelier. We look forward to hosting another community conversation in the next couple of weeks (details to come) and appreciate this opportunity to share some of the highlights of the session.
Of course, there is much more nuance than we can fit in this column and are happy to answer questions and talk further.
When we knocked on hundreds of doors last fall, one of the most common issues people voiced support for was making Universal School Meals permanent (H.165). The pandemic put extraordinary strain on our schools that continues to this day. One “bright spot” is that free breakfast and lunch have been available to all students for three years now, reducing hunger and accelerating a much-needed culture change.
Universal meals in schools remove stigma for low-income students but ultimately support all families. Nourishing school meals are as essential as instructional materials, transportation and extracurricular activities. Food is not just nutrition, it is also about community, identity and belonging.
We strongly support the commitment to children and families we made through robust childcare legislation (H.217). This investment — the first in a multi-year system transformation — will make childcare more affordable for families, raise rates to provide financial stability for childcare providers, and boost pay for our valued early childhood workforce. The early years are essential for children’s well-being, and access to affordable, high-quality child care has positive ripple effects throughout our state. In the coming years, we look forward to expanding access to full-day public pre-kindergarten.
Another issue we heard most passionately about from people when we knocked on doors was protection for reproductive healthcare. We were proud to support measures protecting abortion care and gender-affirming healthcare (H.89/Act 14 and S.37/Act 15). These bills ensure that medical providers and patients will not be prosecuted by other states for providing or receiving legally protected health care in Vermont. They also require health insurance coverage, protections against deceptive medical information, and plans for public colleges to assist students in accessing care.
Gun violence, including suicide, shatters families and communities. After heart-wrenching testimony, we passed suicide and community violence prevention (H.230). The legislation includes three main components that build upon the common sense gun safety regulations enacted in 2018. It expands access to existing red flag laws and institutes a 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of a firearm.
Because suicide is an impulsive act, a waiting period puts critical time and space between the intention and the act, which can make a life-saving difference. The final component of the bill establishes a path to accountability for gun owners when children gain access to a gun and use it to hurt someone (including, possibly, themselves). It is our hope that future legislation will make it the law in Vermont that guns are to be stored securely, separate from ammunition.
Investing in Our Future
The complex work we face as a society on climate change is not just about reducing emissions and repairing harm, but also making our communities more climate-resilient and prepared for changes in energy markets that are already happening. The goal of the Affordable Heat Act (S.5) is to help Vermonters save money and reduce pollution by transitioning away from fossil fuels to cleaner, more sustainable heat.
We’d accomplish this not by taxes or mandates, but by requiring fossil-fuel dealers to earn credits. Dealers would earn these credits by helping interested Vermonters — and especially those with fixed, low or moderate incomes — do things like weatherize, install heat pumps or switch to cleaner fuels at a lower price.
In May, the Legislature gave final approval to S.5 by overriding Gov. Phil Scott’s veto. The Public Utilities Commission will now spend the next two years researching and designing the proposed Clean Heat Standard. This public process will include reports that analyze the cost of the program (including any impact on fuel prices), the estimated savings for Vermonters and much more.
In 2025, this information will be presented to the Legislature in the form of a new bill, for testimony, any necessary revision and votes in both the House and Senate. If it passes the Legislature in 2025, the Clean Heat Standard would begin its gradual rollout in 2026.
The most essential and challenging work of government is how we invest our public dollars. Good tax governance requires regularly and predictably adjusting fees to track with inflation, developing a progressive, equitable tax system, and ensuring we have a solid mix of revenue sources.
While federal Covid funds are winding down, they have bolstered the economy so much that Vermont is in a healthier financial state than before the pandemic. The state budget (H. 494) is a values-based budget that invests in our state’s most critical needs and our collective future. Highlights include:
Housing ($211 million) — $109 million to expand affordable housing and $102 million for emergency shelter and support services for unhoused Vermonters, recovery housing, transitional housing for Vermonters exiting prison, and housing for young people exiting the foster care system.
Raising Provider Rates ($99.7 million) — Major updates to rates (underfunded for years) that support our medical and human services programs. These essential workers do the critical work of caring for the sick, Vermonters with disabilities, the elderly and those fighting addiction. Increasing these rates will help us attract and retain this workforce, meet demand for services and free up hospital emergency rooms.
Workforce and Higher Education ($74 million) — $47 million package to attract and retain workers in fields with severe shortages, including nursing, dental hygiene, teachers, psychiatric care and the skilled trades. This budget also funds successful scholarship programs like 802 Opportunity and adult education, and allocates funds to help small business, rural industry and working lands enterprises.
Human Services, Prevention and Recovery — $20 million to expand the “hub and spoke” treatment system for opioid use disorder; funds a statewide expansion of mobile crisis units and invests in recovery center and housing; invests in prevention through after-school, youth mentoring and substance misuse prevention programs.
Many of these bills still await the governor’s signature before their positive impacts can be felt by Vermonters. The Legislature is prepared to return for a veto session in late June, if needed, to complete this important work.
We continue to learn and grow as members of our citizen Legislature. The people we encounter in the legislative process – fellow legislators, state government employees, advocates, statehouse staff, legislative counsel, and so many more — are incredibly thoughtful and hardworking. We are grateful for the unflappable leadership of Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) and Minority Leader Patty McCoy (R-Poultney) who model respect and empathy even amidst the most challenging conflicts.
We will each publish a more detailed end-of-session report on our respective websites, www.erinbradyforwilliston.com and www.angelaforwilliston.com, and welcome questions and conversation anytime.
Erin Brady and Angela Arsenault represent Williston’s Chittenden 2 District in the Vermont House of Representatives.