By Rep. Erin Brady
The 2022 legislative session has officially begun and, like everything these days, it is requiring constant adaptability to the continuing pandemic. We will be operating remotely until at least Jan. 18 given the extraordinarily high case count in our communities and transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
While I am anxious for life to return to normal and for the Legislature to be able to return safely to Montpelier, I am thankful for vaccines, increased access to testing and the individual and collective actions so many of us have taken to protect one another.
In my announcement to run for this seat during the lockdown of 2020, I said “we are at a pivotal moment and the Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to rethink so many things about our society as we experience such upheaval, strain and loss. I’m hopeful that we’ll rebuild something better and more equitable.” That optimism admittedly feels more distant as the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives and cause collective loss almost two years later. Yet I remain deeply committed to that ambition and am anxious to get to work.
This session our work will include investing Vermont’s remaining federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and building a budget that will boost recovery in all 14 counties and set the stage for a strong future. My highest priorities this year are:
Tackling and funding the interconnected challenges of housing, childcare and workforce issues
Implementing recommendations from the Climate Council to reduce Vermonters’ contributions to climate change
Supporting Prop 5, an amendment to the Vermont Constitution that would guarantee personal reproductive liberty to all Vermonters
Continuing work to dismantle systemic and institutional racism and reduce barriers across state systems and our communities
The Legislature will also be dealing with reapportionment, education finance and the weighting study, rural broadband buildout and increasing access to mental healthcare.
Of course, our work must also include protecting public health and safety during the ongoing pandemic through evidence-driven strategies, sound data and the advice of medical experts. As a high school teacher, parent to school-aged children and a member of the House Education Committee, I am acutely aware just how challenging conditions are in our schools right now. The strain on faculty and staff, as well as on students, cannot be overstated. We are in the midst of some very difficult weeks.
When the pandemic first started and parents were commiserating about the immense challenges of schools being shut down and navigating “remote learning,” I was optimistic that a silver lining of this awful pandemic would be a new level of commitment to our schools. I am extremely concerned that the opposite may be true.
Schools are one of the few community institutions almost all families are still connected to during this pandemic and they have often become the object of criticism and second guessing. When administrators have to close classrooms due to Covid cases, or keep them closed because tests are not available and contact tracing is cumbersome, it is often the schools that are scrutinized rather than our infrastructure for responding to the pandemic or our community measures to suppress it. As we navigate the challenge of Omicron, I see this tension continuing to build.
My work on the Education Committee will be focused on supporting schools as they bear the weight of another pandemic turn and, when appropriate, looking for opportunities to support recovery.
Despite the challenges of our remote start to the session, we’ve sent our first bill to the Governor — S.172, which will give our local election officials the flexibility they need to plan for safe Town Meetings across the state.
I am honored to represent Williston during these challenging times and I strive to be accessible and responsive. I look forward to providing monthly updates on our legislative session. Please email me at email@example.com with your questions, concerns or ideas anytime.
Erin Brady represents Williston in the Vermont House of Representatives.