Taking stock of the session

At our best, we build bridges — not walls

PUTNEY — Town Meeting week is about the midpoint of Vermont's Legislative session, and a week away from what we call “crossover.” That's when bills from the House need to be voted out and readied to move over to the Senate - and vice versa - if they have any chance of passage into law.

It's also a good midpoint from which to look back at what we've done and to look ahead toward what we hope for.

And, personally, it's just as important to look at how we've done our work as it is to look at what we've done. With the way things have been in Washington D.C., it's vital to keep things civil in Vermont and not let that chaos creep onto the landscape here.

I hope that even when we disagree, we remember that we're all Vermonters and, at our best, we're better at building bridges than walls.

It's one of the main points I've taken from volunteer work I've done with the National Institute for Civil Discourse. After training, I've helped facilitate workshops for other state legislators in Idaho and Delaware.

The starting point for all of our conversations is the love for our home state(s) and from there, building bridges from sharing our stories. It's amazing what happens when we open up to hear one another's stories.

It can help us to be mindful of the quote that's been attributed to Philo of Alexandria, “Be kind, as everyone is fighting a battle inside you know nothing about.”

With that guidance, we begin the second half of the session.

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It's especially heartening to have first seen the hard work in drafting the Global Warming Solutions Act and then witnessed the bill pass the House. It now goes to the Senate.

When the current president walked away from the Paris Climate Accord, making the U.S. the only industrial nation to turn its back on collaborative climate action, states stepped up.

In Vermont, both the Legislature and the governor committed to adhere to the Paris agreement, and at long last we're putting words to action, with a concerted plan to reduce carbon. This includes benchmarks for measuring progress and a “cause for action” option to hold us to meeting those goals.

Becoming a grandparent in the last year amplifies my realization that we need work like this. Having watched my granddaughter grow through her first year, I believe that leaving the legacy of a cleaner planet becomes all the more important.

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While more than 1,000 bills are drafted at the request of the 180 legislators in Vermont, only about 200 will become law.

Most are really what we call “basic nuts-and-bolts bills” that keep the state running. From roads and bridges, to schools and hospitals, there's work we do to help things along. At times, some get higher priority, such as efforts to extend broadband, conserve precious lands, build more housing for people in the work force, and make sure health care is accessible and affordable.

With health care costs continuing to rise, it's time to act and not wait for Washington - especially regarding prescription drug costs, which account for an estimated 30 percent of the rise in insurance premiums.

The Legislature is looking at various ways we can act, including limiting the cost of some essential drugs, like insulin, as well as exploring drug importation from Canada. One of the barriers is that Canada isn't yet clear it is ready for this, and we'd need federal approval.

A great deal more is happening in the 25 standing committees of the House and Senate, and a more comprehensive accounting of that work can be found at legislature.vermont.gov and windham4.net.

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Some of what we do is not directly tied to writing laws but helping where we can. Such was the case before the Legislature earlier this year when the Brattleboro Retreat shared the challenges with its cash flow and state payments not covering the costs of services.

While the whole situation has many more layers and complexities, the county delegation stepped in to advocate for the Retreat because of its essential role in the state system of mental health care - and its role as the largest employer in Windham County.

Your county delegation works well together and, in this instance, we showed we're ready to back up local citizens and groups in a time of need.

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Lastly, we always want to hear from you, whether it's a suggestion, question, or request for help because health insurance isn't working or a stop sign got knocked over in a snow storm.

We're here to work for you, and it all adds up to trying to make a strong, healthy Vermont - today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.

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