Elections, abortion rights, and climate change

The work of our House Committee on Government Operations can touch any part of state government

PUTNEY — Women's Reproductive Freedom. Ethnic studies. Fair and impartial policing. Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Firearm waiting periods. Checks and balances of government.

These are just a few of the headline issues from the wide array of work from 2019, the first year of this biennium of the Vermont Legislature.

Each House member serves on one committee; each Senate member, on two. Our work also entails staying on top of what all 26 House and Senate committees are up to. Our committee work is both the best part and the hardest part of representing you in the Legislature.

I serve on the House Committee on Government Operations, which, thanks to its breadth, can touch any part of state government, though much of it is basic nuts-and-bolts work.

Elections, however, are also a big part of what we look at.

Limiting senatorial districts to three members: As we get closer to 2020, we're starting to look down the road at the Decennial Census, whose population figures will inform the next legislative redistricting.

An aspect of redistricting for which there seems to be consensus is changing how Chittenden County elects its six senators. To comply with this law, signed by the governor in April, the proposal is to create two Senatorial districts and spread the Senators over a wider geographic area.

Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections: There was not consensus, though, even from students. Some were totally ready to start voting, and others said, “We're not ready.” So we'll add that bill to the list of complex bills that need more time, and we'll finish in the second year of this biennium.

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Unfortunately, this session has also had us spending a lot of energy trying to buffer our state from the chaos coming from the White House.

We've pushed back from the Trump chaos in many areas. Nowhere is the contrast between Vermont and some other states more sharp than the legislation that we passed regarding women's reproductive freedom.

The efforts of legislatures in states like Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia are not really about stopping abortion, because wealthy women will always have access to abortion. Their state laws collectively make another attack on the poor and on the concept that women be allowed to make choices about themselves by themselves.

And it's important that, as a man, I stand up as an ally to women who want to continue having this right.

That's why I was proud to vote for our two-track plan: two bills that put the protections of the federal Roe v. Wade precedent in both state statute and the Vermont Constitution.

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Lastly: While weather is not climate, it creates the headlines. Over time, we see the trends in our weather as evidence of global warming, and the Legislature has been taking this seriously for years.

Since Gov. Peter Shumlin made climate action a priority in his administration, starting with bringing climate-change scholar Bill McKibben to address the whole Legislature, we have taken action - on our own and with other states - even as the federal government, now led by the climate denier-in-chief, has curtailed or reversed actions previously undertaken.

Here's a brief sketch of some of the domains we have - and will - continue to work within, to reduce our carbon footprint.

• RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative).

• Carbon sequestration in agriculture and forestry.

• Thermal efficiency and conservation.

• Alternative/renewable energy.

• Transportation.

We're taking action, allocating $120 million in this budget year alone. (The list of expenditures is available on my website, along with a more comprehensive list of all bills, at windham4.net.)

Compared to measures from legislatures in most other states, these actions are indeed bold, even for little old Vermont. Please know that we are pedaling as hard as we can on all the issues we undertake.

We look forward to working together with all Vermonters and doing even more in January, when your part-time citizen Legislature resumes work in the next session.

Rest assured, we're working hard to help create a strong healthy Vermont that works for all - not just a select few.

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