by Kesha Ram, February 22nd, 2021.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are heading into our last week of the legislative session before a week off for the time-honored tradition of Town Meeting. While it will look different in most of our communities this year, I hope you will remember to request your ballot and vote, which our Secretary of State's Office has made exceptionally convenient at mvp.vermont.gov. Ballots must be received by your town clerk by March 2 - not just postmarked - so please don't delay in requesting and filling out your ballot.
Once we return on March 8, we begin the legislative process known as "crossover" when bills that have been under consideration in our committees must go from the House to the Senate and vice versa so the other body can do their due diligence. Most bills that are passing this legislative session are critical to pandemic recovery and hopefully, in some ways, help us learn from what wasn't working prior to this crisis so we can build back better.
Some of these major supports and reforms are before my committees, Economic Development and Government Operations, now. They include elections reforms to rebuild our democracy, unemployment insurance changes that benefit both employees and employers, greater certainty and additional support for small businesses on the path to resuming operations, and keeping our promise on the pensions of our state employees and educators.
Two bills I introduced outside of the work of my committees appear to be moving on the early side. S.16, co-sponsored with Sen. Dick Sears, would encourage our schools to implement alternatives to suspension and expulsion for our young people. S.27 honors the critical and life-saving role our multilingual liaisons play for our newest neighbors and allows municipalities and school districts to share the cost so these liaisons can deliver vital information about emergencies, town issues, and educational supports to those with limited English proficiency. I am also proud to join Sen. Lyons as a leading voice on S.24, which is a bill that eliminates the sale of flavored tobacco and e-liquid products. We have seen the disastrous effects of vaping and menthol cigarettes on lung function exacerbated by the pandemic, and these lethal products are disproportionately marketed to youth and BIPOC Vermonters.
I am proudly sponsoring a number of bills and initiatives that may or may not advance by crossover in their current form, but I have learned from my time in the House that there are many ways to change the conversation, advance the issue, and influence government action besides having a bill passed. Here are some of the other issues I am prioritizing this biennium: advancing an environmental health and justice framework, creating a climate corps centering our mobile home and affordable housing communities, piloting mobile vaccine delivery and substance abuse treatment units, ensuring independent investigation into police use of force, creating access to paid family leave, ending cash bail for expungeable crimes, ending life without parole, allowing for a universal local option tax, creating a State Planning Office, using cannabis tax revenue for community-led conversations about public safety and policing, and creating a Language Access Plan that begins with emergency communications to limited English proficient households.
Those are just some of the many balls we're juggling as your legislative branch in the first year of the biennium. I will say that, while we pride ourselves in keeping so many balls in the air during the pandemic, some are rubber and some are glass. I am here to listen to all of your thoughts and concerns, and this year particularly, my duty is to keep the glass balls up in the air with the greatest of care.
All the best,