It is an honor to serve as your Representatives in Montpelier. We are now mid-way through the legislative session. Here are highlights of legislation that has passed or is being considered. We have worked hard to create a state where all Vermonters get a fair shot. We know that our government exists to serve the people by ensuring that Vermonters are safe, healthy and successful.
Keeping Vermont Workplaces Healthy
There are currently 60,000 Vermonters without access to paid sick time. These families are too often forced to choose between taking care of themselves or a sick family member and taking home a paycheck. This year, the legislature passed the healthy workplace bill, creating a minimum standard for paid sick days starting with the ability to earn up to three days off after one year of full-time employment.
Low-income workers, including food service and childcare workers, are the least likely to have paid sick days. When people are forced to go to work sick, everyone is put at risk. This issue touches so many Vermonters in so many ways as they struggle to stay healthy, support their families, and have economic security. Creating a minimum standard for paid sick days for all Vermonters is the right thing to do and makes Vermont a better place. The Governor is expected to sign this bill into law in the coming weeks.
Reducing the Impacts of Driver’s License Suspensions
In a rural state like Vermont, access to transportation is critical for economic prosperity, public safety, and healthy communities. Many Vermonters lack access to cars or public transportation, but a less obvious barrier exists in the form of driver’s license suspensions. Sixty percent of suspended Vermont driver’s licenses are suspended for failure to pay judgments on traffic violations. There are currently about 59,000 license suspensions, many of the suspensions due to failure to pay traffic tickets.
License suspension is a contributing factor to poverty in Vermont. As a 2014 Vermont Child Poverty Council Report stated, the lack of a driver’s license can cause “a crushing debt for a parent struggling to make ends meet.” It undermines one’s ability to access jobs, housing, and resources, particularly in rural areas. Recognizing this problem, two regional “Restoration Days” were organized, during which individuals could get their licenses back for a fraction of the amount they owed. These efforts helped highlight as well as alleviate the problem, as hundreds of individuals took advantage of the opportunity to regain their driving privileges. The huge participation in these programs makes it clear that a statewide legislative resolution is needed, which is what H. 571 does.
From 2005 to 2015, Vermont had one bicycle fatality on our roads. In the last year, four Vermonters were tragically killed in bicycle accidents. Of the four deaths in 2015, three included automobile drivers under the influence of alcohol, and the fourth included a driver under the influence of an illegal drug. The House Transportation Committee has been taking a hard look at this and started working on a bill to reduce the number of automobile-bicycle conflicts. Also, it will now be illegal for a motorist to be within 4 feet of a bicycle. In addition, a car cannot make a right hand turn if a bike is coming up on its right trying to go straight. In that situation: car making a right, bike on or coming up on its right, the bike has the right of way.
One of the primary provisions of the bill would expand the use of ignition interlock devices, which are breathalyzers for an individual’s vehicle. Since 2011, the use of interlock devices has prevented 6,000 incidents of impaired driving. Current law, however, makes it too hard to get offenders into the interlock program. This bill would ensure more sober driving by removing the barriers and giving individuals the opportunity to opt for a Restricted Driver’s License and use of an interlock device.
Coal and Exxon Mobil Divestment
The House passed a resolution that urges the State Treasurer and the State Employees Pension Board to divest the Vermont’s holdings in coal companies and Exxon-Mobil. With this behind us we are hopeful that we will pass legislation that reduces the state’s carbon footprint. The governor has proposed a reduced budget for the Low-income Weatherization Program. We are working on raising the revenues to fully fund this program. While it not only reduces the amount of energy we consume but also has the additional benefits of making some of our worse housing stock comfortable for low-income Vermonters. This reduces their heating bills and by employing Vermont skilled workers instead of importing fossil fuels.
Online Voter Registration
This year, the Secretary of State rolled out online voter registration. To change your address or register to vote, simply visit https://olvr.sec.state.vt.us/. Do not forget that you can also vote in the Primary election if you are seventeen years old and turning eighteen before the November 8th General Election. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Protecting Vermonters from Financial Fraud
Vermont’s elderly and disabled are increasingly at-risk of financial exploitation. Some of the testimony we’ve heard includes caregivers using their client’s credit card for unauthorized use and the family members responsible for paying bills misusing funds for their own personal use.
We want to promote and protect a high quality of life for these vulnerable Vermonters. To do this, we are working to give law enforcement and Adult Protection Services (APS) better access to financial records of the alleged victim when investigating alleged financial abuse. This legislation will strike an important balance between the investigator’s need for information in the financial records and the vulnerable adult’s right to privacy. By giving law enforcement and APS these tools, they can move more quickly to protect Vermonters
Supporting Child Protection Measures
A common value Vermonters share is a love for our children and the desire to keep them safe. Your Vermont Legislature has been taking significant steps and building on our work from last year to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect children. In our Budget Adjustment package, (the bill that makes mid-year corrections in spending to meet the needs of Vermonters), we made investments to protect children by backfilling the staffing cuts made during the Great Recession. These cuts stretched staffing to critically low levels and put children at risk when parents were in crisis- or as many are, dealing with the struggles of opiate addiction.
The drug epidemic is causing serious problems in our communities. 80% of new cases at the Department of Children and Families are from families with addiction issues. We are putting our state’s future at risk if we don’t protect our children and strengthen our families.
The Budget Adjustment package also includes key public health initiatives for our fellow Vermonters fighting opiate addiction. We did this while keeping within a 2.5% growth rate. As Democrats, we insist on fulfilling our commitment to Vermont families, many of whom are able to access high quality health care for the first time and support for foster parents because we believe that every child deserves the chance to be raised in a loving and safe home.
Ban the Box
Too often, one of our neighbors makes an unfortunate choice that has long lasting consequences and gives them a permanent criminal record. When that person is released after fulfilling their debt to society, they increasingly have a tough time finding their way back into their community due to the lack of housing, a lack of services and, sometimes, a lack of jobs for those that have been convicted of a crime. While the personal responsibility of the individual to rebuild bridges with their community is important, a conviction is a serious barrier to reintegration, as individuals must disclose their conviction on almost all job applications.
Checking off this box can doom the chances of an individual securing an interview at a time when they need normalcy, including a job and a place to live, most. A job is one of the best ways an individual can put their life back together. H.261 proposes to “ban the box,” that is, to disallow the use of the box to weed out applicants based solely on a prior conviction. This follows the lead of an executive order signed last year by Governor Shumlin, banning the box on applications for state jobs. Potential employers will still be allowed to ask if an applicant has been convicted at an appropriate time during the employment interview process, but banning the box gives these individuals a fighting chance and a foot in the door. It is a small but important thing we can do to help in the rehabilitation of our neighbors and help prevent them from reoffending.