Our 2023 legislative session is off to a fast start. Only two and a half weeks into the session, we’ve already passed our first bill (H.42 which extends remote options for Town Meeting wwand the Open Meeting Law). Committees are meeting and being brought up to speed on the reports they have requested and the issues in their jurisdictions. New legislators are settling in and beginning to feel at home. All the committees are meeting with our executive branch partners, those running Vermont’s agencies and departments and who are responsible for turning our work into reality. And, after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, our first Farmer’s Night performance took place on Wednesday Jan. 18. The Statehouse is humming with productive energy.
It is always surprising to realize how short our legislative session is and always impressive to see how much we get accomplished in a relatively short time. We only meet for about four and a half months, January through mid-May. As a result, there is a huge amount of pressure to make the most of every moment.
We go into each session with a fairly clear notion of our priorities. This year the Senate Democrats identified climate change, housing, workforce, family care (childcare, paid family leave and further protection of reproductive rights), and health care (mental health and substance abuse) as our top priorities for new action. These priorities help guide us through our work and keep us on track. Inevitably, other priorities surface as committees address the challenges we face. House and Senate leadership work together to identify which chamber is taking the lead on an issue, as time is short and duplicating effort is unproductive. One of my jobs as majority leader is to help deliver on the priorities identified by our constituents and by our Senate Democratic caucus.
The first year of this biennium holds policy opportunities that the second year doesn’t. Any changes to election law must be made this year as they can’t be enacted in an election year. As a result, we’ll probably see several bills on election subjects ranging from rank choice voting to campaign finance to party related issues. Also, while a constitutional amendment can be introduced any time during this biennium, it is wise to get most of the work on it done in the first year. Once the Senate has passed an amendment, its wording cannot be changed in the House. So, it is important that anything the Senate passes has House support and that each chamber has time to consider something so consequential.
This session, the Senate will be taking the lead on housing. As a result, in one of my committees, Senate economic development, housing and general affairs, we are already at work on a housing bill. Having allocated about $400 million in the last biennium on a wide range of housing needs, this year we hope to continue our work reducing barriers to housing development in our downtowns and village centers. We want to continue to invest significant sums to incentivize bringing more housing units back into use through the VHIP/VT Housing Improvement Program. This program, along with the incentive to develop accessory dwelling units and to expand our home share options, are considered the low hanging fruit of housing. These are opportunities which are already getting more housing on the market faster and more easily than major new housing projects.
I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at the Statehouse (Tues-Fri) 802-828-2228 or at home (Sat-Mon) 802- 457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: legislature.vermont.gov