LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: JUNE 2021
We held a very short veto session today in the House to consider two charter change items from Montpelier (H.177) and Winooski (H.227). I am proud to report both bills received enough votes to override the Governor's vetoes and now these communities can extend local voting rights to all residents regardless of citizenship status. I proudly voted yes to override these vetoes to strengthen our democracy. This is a great step forward in Vermont as these two communities become the first in the state to extend local voting rights to all eligible residents.
I offer this brief summary to highlight some of the work in the final weeks of the legislative session in May. I often found myself wishing the legislature would do more to protect and and support workers or move faster on making child care truly affordable for families, but even within these moderate policy changes, there are small wins that move us towards becoming a more equitable state.
After a tumultuous process, the unemployment insurance (UI) bill is now law. The bill became part of S.62 at the end of the session - a bill that also formalized Vermont’s new worker incentive program and boosted technical education efforts. The unemployment provision maintained COVID-19 unemployment insurance protections until the state of emergency ended and provides tax relief to employers as we begin to rebuild the unemployment trust fund. This bill also prevents the decrease of weekly UI benefits if average wages decline in the state and boosts all unemployment claims by $25/week after the federal pandemic unemployment benefits end around Labor Day. This bill will go into effect on July 1, 2021. I am proud we included provisions for unemployed workers in this bill as our economy cannot work without workers. We have much more to do to modernize our system and better support workers, but this is a start. CHILD CARE
As a mother of two small children, I am excited H.171 passed the legislature to put us on the path of making child care affordable for all families. This new law expands income eligibility for families to access the state’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP). Changes to financial eligibility will go into effect on October 1, 2021. The bill also includes new funds for scholarships and student loan relief for early educators to begin to help these hard working Vermonters better meet their basic needs. Soon we will be moving into policy discussions that expand the affordability conversation to all families, including those who do not qualify for the CCFAP program.
S.13 creates a task force to implement the Pupil Weighting Factors Report. Pupil weighting is a factor within the state education funding formula used to determine how much each school district receives based on the student population and their needs. The Pupil Weighting Factors Report studied Vermont’s current formula for pupil weighting and found it to be heavily flawed. The task force created by S.13 will work on implementing suggestions proposed by the report to make sure that all students receive equitable access to education. This is a policy area where communities like Burlington share common cause with rural communities in that we will benefit from a more equitable weighting system that accounts for the higher costs of educating students in poverty and multilingual students learning English.
The Vermont Legislature successfully passed a near $7.2 billion-dollar budget for FY2022 (H.439). While the full budget and many supporting documents can be found on the Joint Fiscal Office’s website, including this short two-page summary, I’d like to highlight a few key points.
BIPOC Business Development: The budget sets aside $150,000 to support BIPOC-owned businesses and business development in Vermont! The state will also study and create recommendations on how to best support BIPOC business development, and use the appropriated funds to carry out these recommendations. This is a first time earmark strategic BIPOC business development guided by BIPOC Vermonters.
Housing: The budget incorporates $99,000,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) towards programs on housing and homelessness. The vast majority of it ($94,000,000) will be directed toward the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for the purpose of increasing housing and shelter capacity. The remaining $5,000,000 is given to the Vermont Housing Incentive Program. The budget also allocates $51,000,000 (including $15,000,000 from ARPA awards) to the Department for Children and Families in order to help with emergency housing and rental assistance programs.
BURLINGTON CITY CHARTER CHANGES:
On Town Meeting Day, Burlington residents voted in favor of four changes to the city’s charter. As a quick reminder, here are those changes once again:
To create a system of ranked choice voting for city council elections.
To allow the City Council to adopt an ordinance that prohibits evictions of tenants without a just cause.
To allow the City Council to adopt an ordinance that regulates thermal heating systems in residential and commercial buildings.
To add a Winooski resident to the Airport Commission, as well as another Burlington resident.
The next step of the charter change process requires approval from the legislature. H.448 was introduced and referred to the House Committee on Government Operations. The complexities of most of these items required more time than the legislature had after the bill was introduced in April. We attempted to advance the airport item in a separate bill to allow Winooski residents a voice on the Airport Commission as soon as possible (H.454), but this bill did not make it through the Senate before the session ended. I am hopeful the will of a sizable majority of Burlington voters will be heard by the legislature and that these items are passed early next session.
RACISM AS A PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vermont Legislature took a stand by adopting J.R.H.6. This resolution addresses the health disparities based on race that can be found within the state of Vermont and the rest of the country, and that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and declares racism as a public health emergency. The legislature commits to the work of eradicating systemic racism in Vermont. The House voted 135 to 8 which expresses a resounding acknowledgment of the problem. The next step is to pass meaningful legislation that leads to systemic change.
I am proud to have worked with the Progressive House Caucus this session, and of all the work we have accomplished. There is still much to do, and I am excited for what the future will hold. We will tentatively reconvene again in October 2021 to handle any matters related to further federal action to address pandemic recovery efforts and/or federal funding to the state. Please be in touch with any questions or concerns or ideas this summer.
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, State Representative Chittenden 6-2 (Old North End/New North End) firstname.lastname@example.org 802-448-0838 Social Media @staterepemma P.S. Gratitude to my summer legislative assistant and constituent, Zoe Koeninger, for their assistance in compiling this update and with legislative policy research this summer.
Picture: Sustainability Academy in Burlington with quote "Sustainability is another word for justice, for what is just is sustainable, and what is unjust is not." - Matthew Fox