COVID-19 updates and resources

What You Should Know About Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

As we move into a week that is sure to be marked by further uncertainty and concern, while Vermont and the nation grapple with our responses to the COVID-19 virus, I want to provide some updates from the Vermont legislature and beyond.

A state of emergency

As you likely know, Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency in Vermont on Friday, March 13th and announced some immediate safety measures, while acknowledging the situation will continue to evolve. These include:

  • A ban on public gatherings or events of 250 or more people.
  • Restrictions on visitors to nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities, and hospitals.
  • Extension of unemployment benefits to cover wage replacement for COVID-19 related absences.
  • Extensions for Department of Motor Vehicles license renewals and registrations.
  • The suspension of non-essential travel for state employees.
  • Additional measures to assess impacts on the state and guide our response.

To date, state officials are not recommending the closure of Vermont’s public schools. I know this flies in the face of what a lot of us are reading and what many of my constituents are asking for and I’ll make that sentiment known to the Governor’s Office and Agency of Education and encourage you to do the same if you feel strongly about this. At the same time, I understand the balance officials are grappling with. Our public education system functions as one of the largest social service delivery models in the state and ensures that children and families facing food insecurity and unsafe living situations have a place to get their needs met during the day. My understanding is that the situation is evolving quickly and that they’re working to assess when they believe the most meaningful time to close our schools will be, in our efforts to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 spread. I suspect these guidelines will be changing rapidly in the coming days.

The Governor’s executive order says that, “no school superintendent or school board shall cause a student or parent to be penalized for student absences that are the result of following medical advice or the guidance of [the Vermont Department of Health] or arising from the concerns of parents or guardians relating to COVID-19.” This means that you can choose to keep your kids at home without penalties if you feel that is best for the safety of your family or your community.

You can read more about the Governor’s response to date here, including the full-text of his executive order: https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/infectious-disease/2019-novel-coronavirus.

The Vermont legislature adjourns

On Friday, March 13th, the legislature made the difficult decision to adjourn until Tuesday, March 23rd. During this time the statehouse will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. IT staff will be working to pilot remote working infrastructure and some committees will be continuing their work. You may have heard a lot about how many legislators are in high-risk categories, particularly given our median age (60+). My understanding is that while this is certainly a matter of concern, the decision to temporarily adjourn the statehouse is primarily related to the location’s role as a disease vector, with representatives working in a full and active building while necessarily coming and going from local communities in every corner of the state. Legislators will be working in their home communities over the coming week and monitoring the situation as we determine next steps. Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns, as I will be working in Burlington with a focus on constituent communications for the coming week.

This does not mean that the legislature has abandoned the needs of Vermonters impacted by COVID-19. This is an absolute focus of our work, whether we are in the statehouse or working remotely. Prior to adjournment, the House took some initial actions to respond. As described by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson:

“Highlights of our work today include:

  • Adapted unemployment insurance eligibility to make it clear that COVID-19 affected businesses & individuals are eligible to receive unemployment.
  • Ensured employers’ unemployment insurance experience rating is not affected by COVID-19 related claims.
  • Passed a resolution calling on the federal government to refrain from detaining or arresting undocumented immigrants in health care settings during this health care crisis.
  • Passed a health care workforce bill that will allow retired medical professionals with valid licenses from other states to join the workforce, streamlines the process for the Agency of Human Services to fund providers in the state to sustain them through the healthcare crisis, and prohibits coronavirus-related copayments. [SC: There are many additional measures in this bill to ensure access to healthcare and human services.]
  • Approved an amendment to expand our paid sick days law to businesses with five or more employees that work 30 hours a week or more.

Passing these bills was a preparatory step to ensure that as federal responses are clarified, the Senate has the ability to act quickly on a COVID-19 package when we reconvene. We await additional details from any forthcoming relief from the federal government, as well as clarity on the emergency powers the administration invoked today to ensure we are all working in harmony to put the very best package forward to help Vermonters weather this crisis.”

A progressive response

It’s been eye-opening to see growing support for an expansion of healthcare access, social services, and workers’ rights, at the local and national levels, as we navigate through this crisis. And it’s hard not to observe how quickly the situation is both exposing the fault lines in our current systems and encouraging us to think about swift and visionary changes. I found Farhad Manjoo’s recent New York Times editorial (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/opinion/coronavirus-socialism.html) to be particularly illuminating, if not exactly heartening.

Organizations such as the Vermont AFL-CIO, Rights and Democracy, the Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America, and the Burlington Tenant’s Union have started to articulate what a progressive response to the pandemic should look like. I’m grateful that the Burlington Progressive Party steering committee is also considering this and that members of the steering committee (including my district-mate Brian Cina) are at the table as discussions among like-minded groups move forward. Expect further announcements in the coming week.

As many of you know, many organizations and legislators (including the Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus) have been working around the state to push for bold climate action and put Vermont on a track to meet our emissions reductions goals. Watch climate caucus co-chairs Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Sen. Chris Pearson discuss their initial thoughts on what the state’s COVID-19 response means for our climate agenda: https://www.facebook.com/VTClimateCaucus/videos/195232965137348/

Finally, it has been inspiring to see so many Vermonters mobilize to coordinate mutual aid tools. Here are some of the Burlington-based efforts that I am aware of:

A sign-up form for Burlington-based volunteers:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSftjWoj2SptOV8-gQ0Vyzx5aBCYxRqd7z5kt87ivDKajviHFQ/viewform?fbclid=IwAR0ZeUqbbYPX94o0x4pwbDMQy7EIe6xixkOIDu4u-FvqUCQ9JE3xjoUlGes

A Quarantine Delivery Request form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdic_eBjoA-4_yqDEDoAqvsn3YGgQQK-InOVI8lRyOg3zimBw/viewform?fbclid=IwAR3OxY1mtv2E2eIlhcpIptAg7EtLjUL3oMKXp_8C5lVIMYtbOEp0liH9l_Y

A UVM mutual aid coordination spreadsheet:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdic_eBjoA-4_yqDEDoAqvsn3YGgQQK-InOVI8lRyOg3zimBw/viewform?fbclid=IwAR3OxY1mtv2E2eIlhcpIptAg7EtLjUL3oMKXp_8C5lVIMYtbOEp0liH9l_Y

A form for college-aged babysitting volunteers:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1AZ_anq0HQfqrdgoY-LKjiLD-x7dGtXFZxL0covVhaXY/viewform?fbclid=IwAR1miKub-DGkz1EnpZGCdB91L1ulfYk_T3VEv40Ff2krYtWarAxukCIllxI&edit_requested=true

A Facebook group to discuss Burlington mutual aid efforts:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/618241819020229/

It’s unclear to me how these volunteer-led services will coalesce over the coming weeks, but it is wonderful to see the many efforts people are making to support each other at this time.

Misc.

Here are some songs to wash your hands to, if you need help counting to 20 (I do!) and are tired of Happy Birthday (for the record, I always choose When Doves Cry by Prince):

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2020-03-03/coronavirus-hand-washing-20-seconds-happy-birthday-10-songs

Broadway performer Laura Benanti recently tweeted her recognition that many high schools are cancelling their musical productions and invited young performers to share some of their performances. The results are phenomenal! If you want to entertain yourself while practicing social distancing and throw some love to disheartened theater kids all around the country, this is the thread for you:

https://twitter.com/LauraBenanti/status/1238540113795309569

If all this has you wanting to change our world, while still experiencing hope, joy, and pleasure, I strongly recommend the work of adrienne maree brown, the author of Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism, whose recent posts on COVID-19 provide helpful perspectives:

http://adriennemareebrown.net/tag/emergent-strategy/

Town Meeting legislative update 2020

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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]

Thank you!

thank you

Thank you so much to Chittenden 6-4 voters for sending me back to Montpelier to represent you for another two years! And to everyone who supported my campaign. Even with a bare bones, unopposed campaign, there is so much to do and the amount of people who pitched in is humbling. This was the only photo I managed to take all day, because the polls were so busy, which was exhilarating. I’m so excited that we have an even stronger collective voice in the VT House to move issues like raising the wage and enacting paid family leave, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with so many of you. The day after I was re-elected, someone called me to talk to me about a decade-old criminal justice system interaction that is preventing them from employment and housing opportunities. Later that night I met with a group of students who are working to end campus sexual assaults. There is so much to do to bend that arc toward justice and I’m so grateful and honored to be in a position to work for change. THANK YOU!

Re-elect Selene Colburn & Brian Cina

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I’m asking for your support for my re-election to the Vermont House of Representatives, for Burlington’s Chittenden 6-4 District, with my district mate Brian Cina.

Together we’ve worked for a strong public education system, livable wages and working conditions, criminal justice reform, healthcare access, an end to systematic racism, and compassionate relief for the opioid and mental health crises.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to represent my neighbors, first on Burlington’s city council and now in the Vermont state legislature. I’m continually impressed by the thoughtfulness, compassion, and advocacy of my constituents. I promise to work for you and all Vermonters, to create a state where all are truly welcome and able to thrive.

 

Take Action! Week of 2/4/2017

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Sunday, 2/5/2017

  • Take the Fair Housing survey to help the City of Burlington, the Burlington Housing Authority, and the Winooski Housing Authority understand more about housing and neighborhood issues.
  • Join the Ceremony of Solidarity and Protection at Geprags Park in Hinesburg from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. as part of the Week of Action VT to protest the final construction of the Vermont Gas Pipeline. No new fossil fuel infrastructure!

Monday, 2/6/2017

  • Come to Burlington City Council at 7 p.m. at Contois Auditorium. Share your feedback on continued negotiations for the Burlington Town Center development project.
  • You can also speak out in a support of a resolution I’ve co-sponsored with Progressive colleagues, thanks to the leadership of Councilor Giannoni. The resolution would form a task force on community oversight of police with representatives from the “ACLU, LGBTQ, communities of color, mental health community, Police Commission, Police Department,survivors of domestic and sexual violence, youth, homeless community, and refugee and immigrant communities.” I’m hearing the administration prefers to bring forward a set of recommendations without the engagement this resolution calls for and will likely oppose it, so please come speak up for COMMUNITY INPUT ON COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT OF POLICING if that’s important to you.

Tuesday, 2/7/2017

Wednesday, 2/8/2017

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Thursday, 2/9/2017

Friday, 2/10/2017

Saturday, 2/11/2017

  • Demand that TD Bank divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline, as part of the Week of Action VT.  The group’s Facebook page says that protestors will gather at the Burlington Waterfront at 8:30 a.m. for an action at 10:30am at TD Bank at 111 Main St, Burlington.
  • Many of us are concerned about Governor Scott’s proposals to level fund local school spending and interfere with collective bargaining.  Join legislators and the Burlington School District for a Community Discussion on Education Funding in VT, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., at the Edmunds Middle School cafeteria.

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