Town Meeting legislative update 2020

Brian and Selene 1

As we head back to Montpelier this week after the Town Meeting break, Representative Cina and I have an update from the statehouse.

We’re so grateful to continue representing Burlington’s Chittenden 6-4 district in Montpelier. We want to share our thinking on a few of the big developments in the legislature this session:

We’ve long supported not just an increase in the minimum wage, but a livable wage for all Vermonters. The legislature made incremental progress toward this goal with the recent passage of a bill to raise the minimum wage from $10.96 an hour to $11.75 in 2021 and to $12.55 in 2022. Governor Scott vetoed this much-needed raise, but the legislature managed to override his veto and the bill will become law! This is the first time that the legislature has successfully overturned a veto from the Governor since 2009, when the House and Senate overrode then-Gov. Jim Douglas’ vetoes of both a state budget and Vermont’s landmark same-sex marriage bill.

The Global Warming Solutions Act turns Vermont’s Paris Accord and comprehensive energy plan goals for carbon emission reductions into requirements. It requires the state to create a plan for meeting these targets, utilizing a climate council. It also gives individuals a cause-of-action tool for court intervention if Vermont fails to develop or effectively enact its plan. It’s past time for Vermont to keep its promises to address the climate emergency. This bill, which passed the House on a strong vote of 105-37 creates a framework for meaningful climate action moving forward. We have much more work to do.

A bill to create a legal, taxed and regulated market for recreational cannabis passed the Vermont House on a vote of 90-54 and is on its way back to the Senate. The two bodies will likely seek to resolve differences in their approach in a conference committee. We support the call to expunge previous marijuana possession convictions for Vermonters harmed by past policy.

We believe a paid family leave program is an important assurance that Vermonters can care for a new child, a loved one, or themselves. The privatized paid family leave program put forward by the Vermont House and Senate raised serious concerns for us. It had a challenging eligibility threshold and many gaps in coverage, including lost mandatory personal leave benefits. It would have been paid for entirely by employees, with no employer contributions. For these reasons, we voted (unsuccessfully) to send it back to a conference committee for more work. The bill moved to the Governor’s desk, where it was vetoed. We voted to override the Governor’s veto, because we believe a paid family leave program — even a deeply compromised one —  is too important to wait for. Unfortunately, this effort failed by a single vote.

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Economic Justice

  • We continue to work with the Legislative Workers’ Caucus and AFL-CIO to fight for H.428: an act relating to collective bargaining, which would allow public employees to organize more easily into a union.
  • S.108: An act relating to employee misclassification passed and was signed by the Governor. This new law permits the Attorney General to enforce complaints of employee misclassification under the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance laws.
  • The House Progressive Caucus is working on an amendment to the state revenue bill that will seek to recapture revenue from Trump-era federal tax cuts for the wealthiest Vermonters for investments in climate action, environmental protection, and the development of a regenerative economy.

Environmental Justice

  • We continue our work with the Climate Solutions Caucus to improve renewable electrification standards, expand the role of Efficiency Vermont to help Vermonters transition more broadly away from fossil fuels, improve building efficiency codes, and develop an informed workforce in the building trades who are capable of advising Vermonters on efficiency issues.
  • We believe the state should move forward with participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) a proposed regional, twelve-state cap-and-invest program with the goal of reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector. Equity is a major tenant of TCI. We must direct the millions of dollars TCI will bring to assist low- and moderate-income and rural Vermonters with access to sustainable and cost-saving transportation solutions. Any climate policy solution needs to be a just transition for our most vulnerable Vermonters.
  • We support a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state of Vermont.
  • We will advocate for a just transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy, using a public process that builds a state-wide roadmap developed through Peoples’ Assemblies in every region of the state.

Racial Justice

  • Following the creation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2019, the Vermont General Assembly is poised to take further bold action regarding the rights of Abenaki and other Indigenous Peoples. In order to heal the trauma of colonization, we must acknowledge the truth and come together in a process of reconciliation. We are moving forward with an apology from the State of Vermont for its part in the eugenics movement, which included the abduction, sterilization, and institutionalization of Abenaki people, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and immigrants. We plan to grant free hunting and fishing licenses to Abenaki people. We will add Abenaki place names to State park signs. We will create a Truth and Reconciliation Task Force to explore the best restorative process for engaging the community in the development of a plan for moving forward in a meaningful way.
  • We support a task force to explore a possible apology and reparations by the State of Vermont for the institution of slavery. We have faced much resistance despite community support for this restorative work. Until we acknowledge the roots of current systemic racism in the legacy of slavery, we will perpetuate injustice.
  • We support the No Más Polimigra campaign for fair and impartial policing policies to end collaboration between local police forces and federal immigration authorities.
  • We will continue to collaborate with the Social Equity Caucus to seek ways to protect Vermonters from racist harassment, threats, and hate speech.

Criminal Justice

  • We’re seeking improvements to use-of-force policies, through statutory requirements, data collection, training, and citizen oversight.
  • We continue to introduce bold proposals to decriminalize substances and activities that don’t warrant criminal justice involvement. Together we’ve introduced bills to decriminalize sex work, safe consumption facilities, plant medicines such as kratom, psilocybe mushrooms, ayahuasca, and peyote, and small amounts of non-prescribed buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder. We also support the de-felonization of all drug possession charges. The House recently voted to provide some criminal immunity for sex workers who are victims of crimes.
  • A major overhaul of Vermont’s criminal sentencing structure, starting with property crimes, will result in a net reduction in sentence length. The legislature is also working to simplify community supervision categories and prevent Vermonters from returning to corrections settings as a result of technical violations. Together, these reforms have the potential to reduce prison sentences and save money for Vermonters.
  • We’re working with our colleagues in the Women’s Caucus to push for innovative reforms and immediate protections in the women’s correctional facility in South Burlington. We believe a transformative, restorative approach to rehabilitation will better serve women whose incarceration is a direct result of past traumas and substance use disorder. We call for the immediate implementation of an independent reporting tool for women who may be continuing to experience significant harassment and abuse inside Vermont’s corrections system.

Please be in touch with questions or concerns!

Brian Cina and Selene Colburn

Brian and Selene town meeting 2020 [PDF]

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