By Sen. Alison Clarkson
The Legislature’s 2019 session is now in full swing. Each committee in the House and the Senate is getting updated by the agencies and departments in their areas of jurisdiction. The various reports and studies which have been requested are being presented and the executive branch is in the process of identifying their priorities for the session. All of this information will inform a good deal of our committees’ work over the next five months. In addition, the committees will address the proposed members’ bills which have been sent to them. If you want to read a report of particular interest to you – Reforming Vermont’s Mental Health System, its Basic Needs Budgets and Livable Wage, Data Privacy, Outdoor Recreation Friendly Communities Program, Right to Repair or Resources for the Futures.
Two of our top priorities in Senate Economic Development (SED) will be returning to the work left unfinished by Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes of our minimum wage and paid family leave bills. I am pleased that the governor, along with the governor of New Hampshire, has proposed a voluntary paid family leave bill. It acknowledges the need for this benefit, which is an important first step. While quite different from what I hope we’ll eventually enact into law, his proposal engages his office in our legislative discussion, which is positive. Affordability has two sides to it: cost and income. In both our proposals to raise the minimum wage, and to cover all employees with a paid family leave benefit, we are addressing how Vermonters can better afford life, work fewer jobs and enjoy greater peace of mind.
SED launched the session by listening to advocates on a variety of other important subjects – from housing and homelessness, data privacy, sexual harassment and workforce development to proposals from the executive branch on how to attract new residents to Vermont, improve rental housing rehabilitation and expand broadband. We got an update on how the merger of the Departments of Liquor and Lottery is going (so far, so good).
In the afternoon I move my focus to the Senate Government Operations Committee. There we have oversight over a very different universe: state and local government, election law, the Department of Public Safety and Police Academy, and constitutional amendments. We’ve been briefed by our state auditor, Doug Hoffer, about their most recent audits – from the Energy Plan to Vermont Health Connect; by our state treasurer on the various programs she oversees – from investments to pensions and a new savings program for our disabled, the ABLE program; by the Ethics Commission and their priorities for further implementation of our candidate financial disclosure forms and their hopes for more ethics oversight and more staff; and by the Department of Public Safety. We also heard from the Government Accountability Committee (GAC) which is working to improve how we analyze and measure Vermont’s outcomes. Its focus is on how Vermont state government can be more accountable to Vermonters. GAC urges both the legislative and executive branches to better use results based accountability as a tool to measure how effectively our state programs and policies are impacting the lives of Vermonters.
All indications are that this is going to be yet another busy and challenging legislative session. I encourage you to come to Montpelier and visit the Legislature. It’s a great day’s field trip. You can tour the State House – it is a living museum, and observe committees debating subjects you are interested in, have lunch with legislators and observe floor action in the House and/or Senate. If you plan on coming, please be in touch so we know to look for you.
I can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone at the Statehouse (Tues-Fri) 828-2228 or at home (Sat-Mon) 457-4627.
Alison Clarkson is a senator for Windsor County.