I introduced H.163 to increase equitable learning environments for public school students in Vermont, as well as to ensure a safe and affirming environment for students and staff with historically underserved identities. The impact of inequities within schools plays a significant role in the social-emotional development of all students. Educators, staff, school administrators, and school board members are a key component of shifting culture and practices that reinforce inequities in our schools. Many individuals in those positions have taken it upon themselves to address equity on their own. However, equity work within Vermont schools is inconsistent and siloed. The state can better resource and support all districts in this work with grant funding and technical support.
In order to improve the Vermont education system and its promotion of an equitable, inclusive, and responsive environment, H.163 proposes the creation of mandatory annual anti-bias professional development for all individuals working with the school district or supervisory union as well as all school board members. The professional development will be responsive and individualized to the equity work currently underway within the district. The Agency of Education will seek equity facilitators who have past experience in anti-bias settings, experience in adult learning styles, are familiar with the Vermont education system, and have an understanding of system and institutional racism. Individuals who are BIPOC or LGBTQ are encouraged to apply to be considered on the state’s vetted educator/facilitator list.
The anti-bias professional development program will cover; definitions of implicit and explicit bias and oppression, address those most impacted by oppression, ability to practice application of new knowledge into real-time situations, increase individuals’ ability to identify bias in schools, and adapt to participants' needs based on prior knowledge and experience of these topics. Every year the session will build off of previous years. This work will be reported by the Agency of Education in the Vermont Annual Snapshot report. To stay up-to-date with this bill and read the full text, click here.
I am sponsoring H.239, a bill that proposes the establishment of employment standards and protections. This will be accomplished by requiring employers to provide employees with reliable work schedules, reimbursement of expenses accumulated while working, and the formation of a good cause standard for termination.
In order to protect employees and establish standards, we need to implement the requirement of reliable work schedules. Traditionally, low-wage and service workers have minimal job protections and scheduling that is out of their control. This can pose many challenges in their job, and these challenges have only been aggravated by the pandemic. These workers are more likely to experience schedules that are irregular or are expected to be on-call. Studies have proven that individuals who have jobs with unreliable schedules experience more discord between their work life and family life.
Reliable schedules improve the overall wellbeing of employees and their families. Additionally, many low-wage and service workers are BIPOC and women. Taking this step to protect workers will help further dismantle systemic barriers that these groups have long experienced and feed the gender and racial wage gaps.
Another component of this bill requires a good cause standard for termination of employment. While Vermont workers represented by unions often have “just cause” rights if they are terminated from their job, most non-unionized workers do not have these protections. They are considered “at-will” employees. The establishment of good cause termination will offer additional job security and will provide additional incentive for workers and their families to move to Vermont.
Finally, H.239 includes the requirement that employers reimburse remote employees for work-related expenses. As a result of COVID-19, many workers have had to adapt to working remotely. While remote working offered some employee wellbeing improvements such as cutting out commute time and/or allowing more schedule flexibility, it has created new expenses that did not exist before. These include but are not limited to costs of internet access, technology, and office furniture. Although some employers offer reimbursements, many do not.
To read the full text of the bill and see the status of the bill click here.
I introduced H.359 in an effort to create a worker-centric unemployment system in Vermont through expanding access to UI benefits. In this bill, I propose a variety of avenues in order to do so. That includes; requiring the DOL to use state employees in handling UI claims, increasing the amount of weekly UI benefits, establishing additional occasions where an employee who voluntarily leaves employment is eligible for UI benefits, creating a committee in hopes to create a portable benefits system for contingent workers in Vermont, and requiring the DOL to report to the General Assembly in breaking down language barriers to access UI system.
People are struggling to make ends meet, and this issue has only been worsened by the pandemic. Increasing the weekly amount of UI benefits that Vermonter’s receive can help to alleviate the immense stress this brings on. I’m proposing that the maximum weekly benefit amount be raised to $580 for eligible individuals.
I also proposed that disqualification requirements be amended so individuals are not being unreasonably denied from UI benefits. Folks will not be disqualified if they left employment to go with a spouse who is on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and is required to relocate or holds a job in the U.S. Foreign Service and is assigned overseas. Individuals cannot be disqualified if their place of work changed locations and requires a commute greater than 35 miles or more than 1.5 hours. In addition, individuals cannot be disqualified if their working conditions risk their health and safety, if they experience unreliable work schedules, are caring for an ill family member, or caring for a child due to childcare expenses.
In an effort to create a portable benefits system for contingent workers in Vermont, I propose that a Contingent Work and Portable Employee Benefits Study Committee be created. This committee will be responsible for studying contingent workers in Vermont, which includes freelance workers in e-commerce, self-employed workers, and workers in the on-demand economy. The committee will also be responsible for navigating the creation of insurance, retirement, and other benefits that are portable and easily accessible for these types of workers.
Another step forward I hope to take is with the Domestic and Sexual Violence Survivor’s Transitional Employment program by having the Commissioner of Labor submit reports on improvements that can be made to the program. This may include recommendations for legislative action and any necessary funding to follow through with identified improvements.
A necessary improvement to accessing UI benefits that must be made is dismantling language barriers for individuals with limited English proficiency. I propose that the Commissioner of Labor submit a report that identifies improvements that can be made for accessing the UI system. This report will hopefully include; current measures the DOL uses to provide access to UI for individuals with language barriers, identify the five most commonly spoken languages in Vermont aside from English, identify costs associated with providing UI information in most commonly spoken languages, provide a plan for how the DOL will improve access, and identify legislative action and funding necessary to make improvements.
If you’re interested in more detailed information about the bill or to track its movement, please visit this link.
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I co-sponsored H.210, a bill that intends to address disparities and promote equity in our healthcare systems. The importance of equitable healthcare has been highlighted throughout this pandemic, as BIPOC communities have been disproportionately impacted. The pandemic is not an anomaly, as research has shown that individuals living in Vermont are subject to barriers to healthcare based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. In the 2018 Vermont Department of Health Risk Factor Surveillance report, it was found that BIPOC Vermonters were:
Less likely to have a personal doctor,
More likely to report poor mental health,
More likely to report not receiving emotional support,
More likely to have depression,
More likely to be worried about having enough food,
Less likely to report physical activity during one’s free time.
These health inequities are a consequence of disparities in social determinants of health (SDOH). SDOH are factors that impact one’s health and they include health care, neighborhood and the surrounding environment, education, economic stability, and the social and community environment. These factors influence an individual’s health outcomes and quality of life.
Having the highest attainable standard of health is a human right that everyone should be able to enjoy. This bill attempts to get rid of disparities in our healthcare system based on race, ethnicity, LGBTQ status, and disability by:
Establishing the Office of Health Equity and Health Equity Advisory Commission
Establishing higher quality and consistency of collection and access to relevant data,
Increasing the range of available and accessible culturally appropriate health care services,
Ensuring individuals who have experienced inequities based on race, ethnicity, LGBTQ status, and disability are included in the Office of Health Equity and Health Equity Advisory Commission,
Requiring two hours of medical education on cultural competency in medical practices.
In order to see this through, this bill proposes the establishment of the Office of Health Equity and the Health Equity Advisory Commission. The Health Equity Advisory Commission will be responsible for overseeing the promotion of health equity and eradication of health disparities primarily for individuals that belong to the BIPOC and LGBTQ community, as well as those who have disabilities. This will be done by promoting these community’s voices in response to decisions made by the state that have an impact on their health equity. The Commission will also be responsible for overseeing the creation of the Office of Health Equity.
State entities that collect data related to health will be required to include in its collection data that is separated by race, gender, ethnicity, gender identity, age, primary language, socioeconomic status, disability, and sexual orientation. This data would then be analyzed by the Department of Health to detect the presence of disparities, and consequently, the results will be used to gauge the impact of decisions the state makes to reduce health disparities.
To read the full text of the bill and see the status of the bill click here.
The Senate advanced a bill late last week that originated in my committee - an omnibus economic development bill (H.159). This bill was created with the purpose of increasing the development of communities and their economies as well as revitalizing the workplace. As a result of the ongoing pandemic and initial state-wide shutdown in 2020, Vermont businesses and working people have greatly suffered.
Last year the state advanced a dedicated business grant program for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) owned businesses to help these businesses manage revenue losses due to the pandemic. The State struggled to locate BIPOC businesses to notify them of such a grant program due to a lack of data on business owner demographics and limited established relationships with BIPOC businesses and networks.
More importantly, Vermont is not immune to the historic and ongoing impacts of systemic racism and economic exclusion of BIPOC community members. Historic inequities contributed to today’s racial wealth disparities and the barriers that exist for BIPOC people having access to income and resources to start and sustain a business.
As part of this larger bill, I led the effort to include a BIPOC business development component to move state resources to support the BIPOC business community, identify ways the state can better support the BIPOC business community, and also mandate the collection of demographic data to inform economic development policy work. This bill proposes an appropriation of funds to support BIPOC businesses, organizations, and community leaders to gather in partnership with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to create recommendations on how to best support BIPOC business development.
Additionally, data will be collected by the Secretary of State on race, ethnicity, and gender for anyone registering a business in the state. This data will be made available to relevant state entities to help make decisions and strategies surrounding economic development policy related to BIPOC-owned businesses.
The bill also includes an allocation of funds for technology-based economic development, as well as postsecondary career and the technical education system. Funds will also be provided to the University of Vermont for research services and data capabilities. In an effort to improve the low unemployment rate and the employer demand for skilled employees, it is proposed that the DOL, along with other state entities, will design and implement an integrated postsecondary career and technical education system.
The microbusiness grant component aims to provide individuals with assistance to lift them out of poverty through providing technical support as well as financial assistance to ensure business development. Additionally, there will be a focus on workplace development and education, which looks to provide opportunities for Vermonters to receive an education at Vermont State Colleges. This section hopes to support those individuals with educational assistance and other support needed that may have been a consequence of the pandemic.