MONTPELIER — Lawmakers return to the State House next week for the new biennium facing a number of ongoing issues as well as some matters of personal importance.
Past issues that are likely to reappear this session include efforts to regulate the sale and tax of marijuana; address affordable health care; and renewed efforts to increase the minimum wage and pass a paid family leave bill.
The Democratic super-majority in the House may allow the party to override vetoes by Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican.
The following are responses from several Senate and House members from Washington County about their priorities for the new session:
“I think the biggest challenge facing Vermont is the national decline in the rural economy. While Chittenden County continues to prosper, the rest of the state, including many of our small cities see their economies stagnating or declining. It’s a national issue, one that is contributing to addiction, anger and social unrest. I don’t know the solution, but I do know we have to work together to find one. After that or probably before that, we will need to continue to work on the rising cost of education and health care.”
“Knowing that Vermont median family income actually went down last year, my priorities include efforts to support middle class and lower income families,” Pollina said. That includes: raising the minimum wage and establishing paid family medical leave; changing how we fund education because the current system is unfair, making low-and moderate-income families pay more of their income than higher income families, so the funding must be made more fair, and based more on income and ability to pay.
“We must make our state colleges tuition free and make housing and child care affordable. These policies will also encourage young people to come to and stay in Vermont,” he added.
The newly elected Democrat said his first priority was “simply doing a good job representing Washington County.”
“Also, I acknowledge that depending on what committees I’m on and what the leadership (of the Senate and of the committees I’m on) decides is a priority, what I get to work is a bit out of my control,” Perchlik said. “That’s why I do say that a priority is to do a good job. I should find the best way to help the communities of Washington County and staying in communication with folks across the county, regardless of what issues I’m working on.”
Perchlik said his top three priorities would be: Economic viability of families (paid family leave, minimum wage increase, increased public support to child care and other services for pre-K children in need, and other family and child services); increased housing, especially affordable housing county-wide.
“I also put public transportation in this category, and local, renewable heating energy infrastructure and heating affordability specifically focused on local economic development with advanced wood heating,” he added.
Perchlik said he also wanted increased funding for low-income weatherization, support for low-income utility customers, and getting Vermont on the right course for a sustainable low-carbon transportation future.
Washington-1: Ken Goslant
Affordability was the number one priority for Republican Ken Goslant.
“The big thing is affordability, keeping existing Vermonters here and making it more affordable,” Goslant said. “I’m really in line with the governor about the affordability.
“I’m really concerned about the opiate crisis,” he continued. “Also, people don’t talk much about the elderly. I’d really like to keep the elderly staying in Vermont instead of getting a Florida address.
“I know they’re coming out with the carbon tax but I’m not in favor of the carbon tax,” he added.
Anne Donahue could not be reached for comment.
Washington-2: Francis ‘Topper’ McFaun
McFaun’s priorities include protecting children while in school, eliminating social security taxes for more Vermonters and increasing the availability of affordable day care.
McFaun would also like to provide appropriate and timely services to individuals with mental health problems, keep property taxes down, reduce the benefits cliff for Reach Up participants so they have an incentive to work, and provide more incentives to businesses so they can expand and attract new businesses to Vermont to create good paying jobs.
I’ve had a lot of folks reach out to me in person or via email or phone calls, concerned about the carbon tax and I’ve not really had anybody say that they support it,” LaClair said. “The affordability issue in Vermont is still near-and-dear to a lot of folks’ hearts. It’s kind of an expensive state to live in and anything we can do to address that issue would be fantastic.
“The Lake Champlain cleanup is something we certainly have to take a hard look at as something we need to do, whether we need to attack it with new revenue or other revenues. I know there’s a lot of stuff coming our way, from marijuana, to minimum wage and paid family leave, and like anything the devil is in the details, so we’ll have to see what that looks like,” he added.
Washington-3: Tommy Walz
“My overall priority is to create a cleaner, safer, healthier and more prosperous Vermont,” Walz said. “My specific priorities are, in no ranked order, to: create more affordable housing; address the opioid crisis; raise the minimum wage; reduce our greenhouse gas output; enact paid family leave; and reduce the state’s debt.”
“My priorities are to increase available and diverse housing stock by means of rehabilitation, weatherization and new starts,” Anthony said. “I would also like to incentivize the occupancy of now vacant space in designated downtowns like Barre; re-think/invent the models and state support for workforce training and participation; continue the push to convert addicted persons into productive citizens; and redouble efforts to re-establish sustainable ecosystems that are land-, sky- and water-based.”
Washington-4: Mary Hooper
Hooper said the most important issue for her was to improve the economy, noting that stagnant wages are not keeping up the cost of living.
Hooper said she did not believe that the solution to improving the economy was austerity. Instead, she said the state needs to think about which services people need that actually help them advance economically.
“My priority is to deal with the issues that come before my committee (Government Operations),” Kitzmiller said. “I do not have any personal agenda items that I’m pushing for.”
“In the background, there is always Berlin Pond, but I don’t know that that will come to the front this year. I’m afraid that Berlin Pond actually needs to be harmed before anybody is going to listen and unfortunately, that may happen actually fairly soon, and it will cost Montpelier over $1 million to correct,” he added.
Washington-5: Kimberly Jessup
“My top priorities for the coming session fall into two broad categories: economic security and environmental stewardship,” Jessup said. “To promote greater economic security, we need to get a handle on health care costs, expand access to child care, raise the minimum wage and establish paid family leave.
“As environmental stewards, I believe our responsibilities need to include addressing climate change and identifying clean water funding. Finally, I believe that change at the federal level means we must take measures to protect reproductive choice for Vermonters,” she added.
Washington-6: Janet Ancel
“If I’m back on Ways and Means Committee, issues that I anticipate dealing with are funding for clean waters, something we have been working on for some years now and need to come to a decision on,” Ancel said. “I expect that we will be asked to act on tax and regulate for marijuana. The Senate plans to act on that first.”
“In terms of personal priorities, some changes to Act 46 are important to me. One is to facilitate implementation of the forced mergers for at least a year, and another is to set up an evaluation of Act 46 with respect to the goals that were set out initially, and whether we’re actually making progress toward those goals,” Ancel continued.
“One issue on the sales tax I think we will act on is, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that allowed us to collect from online retailers. We had statues in place that made it possible to do that, but we have not yet addressed what’s called the ‘marketplace,’ which would be the Etsys and eBays where they’re direct sellers and I think we need to make a change to bring the marketplaces under our jurisdiction so that we can also collect Vermont sales tax,” she added.
Washington-7: Maxine Grad
“As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I hope to build on my work of community safety and justice reform,” Grad said. “Priority issues are: protecting women’s reproductive rights; fair and impartial policing; racial justice; protection of crime victims; prevention of domestic violence homicide; prevention of sexual violence; expanding current law on expungement as part of my workforce development work; school safety; suicide prevention; providing statewide access to treatment courts; alleviating charging and sentencing disparities; and ensuring Vermonters’ constitutional right to access to the courts by understanding the status of our court system and possible responses.
“I hope we will see the progress on clean-water funding and water quality. Depending upon what is being discussed, there may be issues of jurisdiction for my committee. The same goes for regulation of cannabis,” she added.
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to represent the interests, passions, and values of the communities that make up the Washington 7 District – Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren,” Dolan said. “My top priority is to be available and listen to community members, town leaders and businesses in order to best represent their interests at the Statehouse. More specific priorities include affordability and livability, economic issues and opportunities for our rural communities, healthy environment and actions to combat racism and other injustices.”
Washington-Chittenden: Theresa Wood
“There is not a sufficient number of people paying attention to services for older Vermonters, elder-care services,” Wood said. “So, particularly in light of the residential care home closings and the state taking over receivership of residential care homes, I’m going to be paying particular attention to elder-care issues.”
Thomas Stevens could not be reached for comment