On March 9, 2022

Legislative update: Virtual meetings have enabled more civic engagement, but I’m grateful for a return to in-person session

By Sen. Alison Clarkson

Town Meeting 2022 reminded me how resourceful and nimble Vermonters are. This was our second Town Meeting season conducted during the Covid pandemic. Most of us are now comfortable operating in the virtual universe and have grown quite adept at managing meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. So, this year, there were options.

Of the 10 Windsor District Town Meetings or Informational Meetings I was able to attend, most were hybrid with people attending in person and virtually. Several were entirely virtual and only one was conducted fully in-person. A number of informational meetings were held well in advance of the Australian ballot voting, which was held on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 1. And, at least seven towns, Cavendish, Ludlow, Rochester, Baltimore, Londonderry, Stockbridge and Weston, have rescheduled their Town Meetings to later in March, April or June.

While I was honoured to be asked to speak at all 10 meetings I was able to attend, it was a real treat to once again be able to meet in person at some of the hybrid meetings and to catch-up with so many. And for those virtual meetings, I was afforded the rare opportunity to sample more of our Windsor District municipal life without having to drive an hour or 45 minutes between meetings. I really appreciated getting a flavor of the issues our towns are addressing and seeing municipal government successfully adapting to new forms of civic engagement.

Only 40 towns (out of 251 towns and cities in Vermont) had a fully ‘in-person’ town meeting. And, in Windsor County, Barnard held that distinction. I was glad to be able to join Barnard’s meeting. It was great to visit with so many, despite the fact that no delicious lunch was served. It began with an in-person vote for the Select Board.

As a state senator, I represent about 55,000 people in 26 towns. With 977 square miles, Windsor County is physically the largest county in Vermont. The District also includes Mount Holly in Rutland County and Londonderry (Windham County). It is often hard to get to know people and towns you don’t live in and that are so far apart. So, a silver lining to this brutal Covid pandemic has been the ability to attend meetings I couldn’t have otherwise, simply because of the constraints of schedules and travel time. Meetings on virtual platforms have meant that, in addition to town information sessions, legislators have been able to attend more chamber, supervisory unions, regional development, regional planning, selectboard, human service meetings and special forums than ever before.

Our virtual world has also enabled more civic engagement at the state level as well. All of our legislative committee meetings are accessible on YouTube via a link on each committee’s webpage on our legislative website listed below. If you are interested in following a bill or an issue, explore which committee it is been assigned to and find out when it is being taken up by checking out the agendas posted for the week.

After our Town Meeting break, the Senate will be returning in person to the Statehouse. With the rapid decline ofomicron’s impact, many aspects of normal life are returning. For two years, we have been legislating almost entirely on Zoom. It will be wonderful to work together, face-to-face, again. Upon our return, the Legislature begins a fairly intense week or two of cross over. To become law, bills need to be considered and passed by both the House and the Senate. Cross over is that period in which all of the bills we hope to enact into law need to be voted out of our committees, and get passed by whichever body it originated in — the House or the Senate. Once passed by one body or the other, the bills cross over to the other body for consideration. Cross over is assumed to be roughly the half way point in the legislative session.

Sen. Alison Clarkson represents 26 towns Contact her at aclarkson@leg.state.vt.us.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Gov. Scott vetoes bill that would’ve restricted bee-killing pesticide

May 22, 2024
Staff report On Monday, May 20, World Bee Day, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation meant to protect bees and other pollinators from a widely-used neuorotoxic pesticide. The bill (H.706) would  eliminate most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) in Vermont, which have been associated with alarming losses of managed and wild bee populations. Neonic insecticides are used on…

Health premium increases of 16%-19% projected for 2025

May 22, 2024
Vermonters are again facing steep upward premium growth for 2025 due to the cumulative impact of hospital costs, drug prices and state health care policy choices. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont projects that these trends will continue and will require rate increases of 16.3% for individual health plans and 19.1% for the small group…

Sanders: weight loss drugs could bankrupt U.S. health care

May 22, 2024
As part of his investigation into the outrageously high price of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a stunning new report May 15 exposing the potential of weight loss drugs to bankrupt American health care. In the report, HELP…

The future of fertilizer? Pee, says this Brattleboro institute

May 22, 2024
By Kate Kampner, Community News Service Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost. When Peter Stickney walks along his cow paddocks in the morning, he notes the scattered patches of greener grass across the…