Windham County lawmakers reflect on months of compromise, celebration, concern, and chaos

Legislators review victories, defeats, and favorite moments after the 2023-24 session adjourns

BRATTLEBORO-It was a tough legislative session with lots of action, reaction, traction, and factions, and it made Gov. Phil Scott so uneasy he said it convinced him to run for a fifth term in office. Windham County's legislators were in the thick of it from start to finish.

The session isn't quite over yet, however.

Bills that passed through the House and Senate are now on Scott's desk, awaiting his signature. If or when he declines to sign them, a veto override session is scheduled for Monday, June 17.

Scott has already indicated that some bills are up for a veto.

"He has signaled that he is going to veto three important climate bills and possibly the Yield Bill, a must-pass bill which funds education," said Rep. Sara Coffey, D-Guilford.

The three climate bills, she continued, "include S.213, which would establish a new state permitting system for building in river corridors, S.259, which would require big oil companies to pay for damages from climate change in Vermont, and H.289, a bill that would update the state's renewable energy standard by requiring utilities to make a quicker transition to renewable energy."

Now is the time to lobby the governor and ask him to sign a particular bill, said Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, who is also chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

"Vermonters should know that this is a crucial time to call the governor if a bill has passed that you want him to sign," Kornheiser said.

Vetoes aside, now that the session is over and legislators have had a chance to catch their breath, The Commons asked them to reflect a bit about their experiences this year in Montpelier.

We wanted to hear some of their favorite memories of the season, some of the compromises they had to make, some of the things they wanted to do that didn't get done, and some of the things they did.

We also wanted to know what made them proudest.

"We started the session saying we could do hard things, that we could do two or even three things at once, and that Vermonters needed us to," said Kornheiser. "I think we delivered on that promise!"

Sen. Wendy Harrison, D-Windham, said she was proud that the Legislature did not bow to lobbyists.

"The lobbyists for big tech and other corporate interests came out in full force at the end of the session, and I am proud that our legislature stayed strong and chose to protect Vermonters," Harrison said.

And Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, was proud that he got three bills passed, including the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act.

"This is the bill that offers protections from harassment and bias for people of color because of how they might wear their natural hair," he said.

Scott signed the bill into law on April 25.

Mrowicki's other bills included one, awaiting the governor's decision, that designates Juneteenth as a state holiday and another that makes professional credentialing easier for immigrants. The governor signed that one on May 13.

Here are some of the other things we learned.

Favorite memories

It was an especially tough year for Kornheiser, with H.829, a bill that would tax the rich to pay for affordable housing, passing with strong support in the House only to get shot down in the Senate. But she experienced many blessings along the way.

"Driving back home late on a Friday, feeling satisfied that I did good work for our people and seeing the color of the grasses in the median change going south, and arriving home to all the trees starting to bloom," Kornheiser said, describing her favorite memory.

Another good memory came when folks from Mountain Home Trailer Park came to hear a resolution posthumously honoring Phyllis Gigante, an "amazing community member who organized the folks at Tri-Park when she was needed," Kornheiser said.

"We spent a moment together talking about what a difference it makes when we show up for our neighbors," she said.

"This year, we voted for an equal rights amendment to the Vermont Constitution," she said. "This is one of the issues that motivated me to run for office, and it was exciting to have that process move forward six years later."

Aside from her work as a legislator, Coffey, chair of the powerful House Committee on Transportation, spent her time organizing Farmers Night, a free concert series on Wednesday nights in the House chamber. It formed the basis for one of her favorite memories.

"This year the series featured a rich diversity of forms and culture of professional and amateur groups from all corners of our state," Coffey said.

"In addition to the annual concert by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, we had performances of traditional Tibetan music and dance, Bread and Puppet, African hip-hop, National Book Award finalist Kekla Magoon and a Moth-style storytelling event," she continued.

"Audiences packed the House chamber every week, bringing all sorts of folks into the 'People's House.'"

For Rep. Mollie Burke, D-Brattleboro, the VSO concert was one of several especially memorable statehouse moments.

"The Vermont Symphony orchestra and chorus playing and singing the Vermont state song at Farmers Night, and having all the audience joining in, was such a beautiful and moving event in the House Chamber," Burke said.

"Another wonderful memory was a wedding that took place just outside the main door of the State House. The bride, a Representative, came down one of the curved main staircases while people watched in the lobby and a colleague played the violin. It was a magical moment."

Burke also enjoyed rehearsing for the legislative cabaret.

"This definitely provided bipartisan cohesion and friendship and enhanced good relations among the committee members, leading to consensus on our main committee bills," Burke said.

"And lest anyone think that we just have these special moments, I want to emphasize that most of what we do is hard work - sitting for hours at times, reading reams of bills, hashing out differences in legislation, etc."

But, she added, "those are good memories as well, when we do the work of trying to improve the lives of Vermonters."

For Harrison, one of her favorite memories came on the last night of the session.

"It went until 1:30 a.m. for the Senate," she said. "We had several breaks while we waited for the House to pass bills and send them to us. They were doing the same thing on their side."

At about 11 p.m., word spread that the aurora borealis was visible outside.

"Looking through the northern windows at a solid wall of earth, I was skeptical, but going outside sounded good," she said.

"I saw a long, wide green tail of light from the horizon that led to a geometric, bright pink, pop-art flower-like arrangement of massive triangles that covered the sky," Harrison continued. "It was directly above the State House."

She described it as "a moment of awe shared by legislators of all three parties and dedicated staff near the end of a grueling process to help shape Vermont's future, exhausted from doing our best work and ready to appreciate an impressive natural phenomenon larger than all of us."

Windham County's other senator, Sen. Nader Hashim, saved his favorite memories for the legislation he worked on.

"One of my favorites was passing S.191, which will help many refugees in Windham County get training and enter the workforce more easily," Hashim said.

"This took a lot of collaboration with the School for International Training and other stakeholders, and I know it will benefit both refugees and our local economy," he said.

Also: "passing multiple bills that provide more regulation and accountability of insurance companies, and passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Vermont Constitution with a unanimous 'yes' vote in the Senate."

Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun, D-Westminster, accomplished something quite lasting this year, when she succeeded in giving Vermont its official state mushroom - the bear's head tooth. It was her favorite thing this session.

"I worked closely with six students aged 7 to 14 as they prepared for their Vermont state mushroom testimony this session," Bos-Lun said.

Among her favorite memories: "watching 7-year-old brothers Charles and George Pelton testify in person in the House Committee on Agriculture, Food Resiliency, and Forestry. Listening to the fifth-to-eighth-grade students answer questions from the committee members was amazing, too."

Bos-Lun said that she has run a number of mock legislative sessions with students in the State House, "but I loved getting to observe students giving real testimony - and seeing how much more they knew about mushrooms and state symbols."

"The students knew their topic inside and out," she continued. "It was very satisfying, as a teacher and a legislator, to see the students shine as they shared what they knew to impact the legislative process."

Bos-Lun also found it gratifying to stand in the governor's office with dozens of students watching on Zoom as the bear's head tooth officially became the state mushroom.

"The governor handed me the pen he signed with," Bos-Lun said. "It made me very happy to support the students and others as we chose into a new symbol for Vermont."

She also loved "that some Republican lawmakers became my mushroom buddies through my work."

"I like to build connections with new people, and the state mushroom bill brought together people from all political and geographic regions of the state," Bos-Lun said.

Students also brought deep satisfaction to Mrowicki.

"The Putney Central School eighth-graders visited," he said. "I always enjoy it greatly when we have local school groups visit the State House. They get to experience Vermont democracy in action."

Mrowicki recounted showing the students around and talking about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Battle of Cedar Creek. They then watched both the House and Senate in session.

"Then, as we were in the balcony watching the Senate debate a bill that creates 'Community Schools' (full service schools), one of the students turned to his teacher and said, 'This is awesome,'" he said. "Indeed!"

Rep. Tristan Roberts, D-Halifax, shared a moment tied to his service on the House Corrections and Institutions Committee.

"With correctional staff stretched thin, our correctional system relies on volunteers to provide classes and other opportunities for learning and growth," Roberts said.

"After learning in committee about how badly volunteer programming in our six Vermont correctional facilities was interrupted by Covid, I did the paperwork and training to become a volunteer and offer an hour-long free writing class at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF), Vermont's sole women's prison," he continued.

"I love writing, and I love teaching and my partner remarked that no matter how stressed out I was about the Legislature, I seemed refreshed and to have a new perspective on life whenever I returned from sharing writing exercises with 10 to 20 incarcerated women," Roberts recounted.

Learning more about the lives of these women was helpful to him as a policymaker, he said.

"It influenced my continued support this session for legislation to move ahead with site selection and early design for a replacement for a women's correctional and reentry facility," Roberts said.

"And, on May 3, I read a selection of writing from individuals incarcerated in South Burlington during the daily House Devotional," he added.

Roberts developed a deep respect for the corrections officers who work in the prison system.

"Despite the challenges and even abuses in our correctional system, Vermont is lucky to have about 700 hard-working and dedicated correctional staff who keep our system operational 365/24/7," Roberts said.

"The injustices of our criminal justice system aren't their fault," he stated. "For most of these individuals, being a correctional officer is a reliable job that supports their family."

Roberts said he was proud to sponsor - with the committee - a bill that recently recognized May 5-11 as National Correctional Officers and Employees Week in Vermont.

"On May 9, over a dozen correctional officers and staff visited the State House and were given a standing ovation on the House floor for their work," he says. "I was glad to see this because most of the time, the work of these individuals is out of sight, out of mind for Vermonters."

During the ceremony, Roberts and a legislative page sang an impromptu version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"It was the first time any of us had sung the national anthem in public," Roberts said. "While I don't think it was concert quality, the correctional officers said they were honored by the spirit, and the Legislature's recognition was well-deserved and well-appreciated."

Rep. Leslie Goldman, D-Rockingham, also offered a happy musical memory.

"I had the opportunity to sing with eight of my House colleagues under the chandelier at the House's 'sweet spot' for the Devotional two days before the end of session," Goldman said. "We sang 'Hope Lingers On,' written by Brattleboro's Lissa Schneckenburger. It offered a beautiful and affirming message to us all in the last week of the biennium."

Legislation that makes them happy

Windham County lawmakers had many successes. Rep. Emily Long, D-Newfane, as majority leader in the House this year, spent the majority of her term recruiting people to run for the next Legislature.

"Part of my job as majority leader is to recruit candidates to run for the House," Long said. "Like most election years, we have several retirements across the state this year." [See sidebar.]

"While the second half of the biennium is always busier, this year things were particularly intense," Long said. "The floods starting in July and continuing throughout 2023 certainly played a role. Flood recovery hung over all our work and it made our work on climate resiliency feel even more urgent."

Long said that she is grateful to "our colleagues in the House, regardless of party, who have been hard at work on behalf of Vermonters."

"The fact is, the work we do is all about compromise, so every piece of legislation that makes it through our long and rigorous process reflects compromise, which is as it should be," she added.

Legislation that made Long happy this year had broad and cross-party support.

"Legislation like H.121, our consumer data privacy bill," Long said. "S.213, our flood resiliency bill. And a bill of particular interest to me, H.706, which bans neonicotinoid pesticides, providing protections for our songbirds and pollinators."

For Bos-Lun, besides mushrooms, it was the Miscellaneous Corrections Bill, H.876.

"The bill pulled together important issues that my committee determined after hearing testimony for the past two years about what was and was not working in the Department of Corrections," Bos-Lun said.

She said she is "especially happy about the portion of the bill that is setting up a committee to work toward a family-friendly visitation policy to build healthy connections between incarcerated individuals and their children."

Bos-Lun, who has worked with previously incarcerated individuals, explained that "relationships with children were the single biggest factor that motivated them. The bill also moved forward important changes in re-entry preparations and planning for future re-entry facilities as part of the DOC system."

Coffey said she is very happy about the transportation bill and that she and Burke co-sponsored H.693, the Transportation Infrastructure and Resiliency Act.

"I am so pleased to share that we were able to incorporate so much of H.693 into this year's Transportation Bill (aka the T-Bill)," she said.

The bill "increases funding to help municipalities adapt and prepare for climate change by investing in resiliency planning and infrastructure," Coffey said. "It also accelerates the adoption of electric vehicles and ensures equitable access to affordable and reliable electric vehicle (EV) charging."

In addition, the bill expands public transit service and supports more walkable and bikeable communities.

"The major win was requiring the Climate Action Office to pursue additional strategies for meeting carbon reduction targets and develop dedicated funding for that work," Coffey said.

And, she says, she is "super excited about the provision to potentially increase passenger rail service by working with Massachusetts to bring the Valley Flyer north."

Burke said she was also happy about the transportation bill, which contained most of the provisions that she and Coffey had introduced with a number of climate-related measures.

These measures "included a revision of the Vermont state standards; an emphasis on 'complete streets' - meaning [that] transportation projects need to take into account pedestrians, bicyclists, and disabled persons in planning and construction; a continuation of our electric vehicle incentives for low- and moderate-income residents; allocation of carbon reduction funding for the popular Mobility and Transportation Innovation grant program; and a number of other initiatives."

One of the most exciting things in the bill for Burke was a provision for an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions by the Agency of Natural Resources in conjunction with the Agency of Transportation and the state treasurer.

"They will investigate possibilities for carbon reduction programs, and Vermont's possible participation in programs like the Western Climate Initiative, a New York State-designed carbon reduction program, or a clean transportation fuel standard," Burke said.

"Vermont's Climate Action Plan had determined that only some kind of regional emissions reduction program would be able to meet the goals outlined in the plan," she said. "The fact that this is going to be investigated holds great hope."

The bill also allocates federal money to innovative transit projects, Burke said.

"One example of these types of projects is the new on-demand after-hours transit service that just started up in Brattleboro," Burke said. "This funding is part of a carbon reduction program in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of the Biden Administration."

She called it "the most significant legislation to combat climate change ever passed in the United States, and it is bringing millions of dollars to Vermont for various programs to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector."

"And a co-benefit of our carbon reduction programs, like vehicle electrification and increased public transit, is that they lower transportation costs for low- and moderate-income Vermonters while also improving air quality and public health."

Hashim said, looking back, he is happy that the House passed multiple public safety bills.

"But the most important one among them is the creation of a statewide drug docket," Hashim said. "I worked closely with the judiciary branch to see this through to the finish line."

Hashim thinks the docket "will allow for a common-sense approach to addressing the intersection of some crimes and drug addiction."

"Also, the docket provides significantly more supervision and accountability, while also providing therapy and job training," he said.

For Goldman, whose House Committee on Health Care worked hard on many health issues, she was particularly pleased about passing H.233, an effort to start regulating pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).

PBMs are middlemen in the pharmaceutical industry, and critics say that they introduce predatory drug pricing into the marketplace, with the effect that many small Vermont pharmacies, including Brattleboro's Hotel Pharmacy, have gone out of business.

The issue was extremely complex, Goldman said.

"Its difficult-to-understand details required the representative from the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) to testify to our committee with a whiteboard to explain the complicated pathways that our health care system uses to pay for our medicines," Goldman said.

"We made great progress," she noted.

H.233, which is awaiting a decision from the governor, allows DFR to establish standards and criteria for regulating pharmacy benefit managers.

Goldman is also happy that her committee presented two bills that can help prevent cancer. Scott signed both bills into law on April 25.

"We aligned the Vermont colon cancer screening statute with the recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force, who determines screening recommendations based on evidence," Goldman said.

"Early detection of colon cancer greatly reduces death from this preventable disease. I reported this bill and challenged all listening to be sure they and their loved ones were up to date on colon cancer screening. And I challenge all those reading this to do so as well."

The second bill, she said, removed copays and deductibles for breast cancer screening.

Mrowicki pointed out that in the first year of the biennium, the Legislature passed a landmark child care reform bill that he says is now being championed around the country as a model.

"Another big-picture perspective is trying to address real affordability," Mrowicki said. "It's something the governor talks about a lot, but he only talks about taxes as the problem, ignoring the cost drivers of high fossil-fuel costs, high medical costs, high housing costs, etc."

The climate bill "can reduce the cost of home heating and transportation," he said. And "our health care reforms can address high costs, and our housing bill will help build needed housing."

Compromises and disappointments

Not every day brought Northern Lights, the VSO, and happy students to the State House. There were many hard struggles and compromises in the Legislature.

For example, take that $879 million Transportation Bill.

"Legislation is always about compromise," Burke said. "And it is hard to have to give up things you really care about."

She said that a "couple of things […] got left behind."

The House put $140,000 into e-bike incentives, which have offered cash subsidies to Vermonters whose household income qualified to get a new bike.

Current funds for the program were depleted in April, after 228 vouchers were approved for the program, according to the statewide public-private partnership Drive Electric Vermont, which administered the program.

Burke said her committee also allocated $50,000 "to get us through this fiscal year."

"The program is extremely popular," she said. "Unfortunately, the Senate transportation committee members are not fans of e-bikes. The $50,000 got cut and they only allocated $70,000 for the incentives."

The compromise resulted from the normal resolution process of the House and Senate versions of the Transportation Bill. Coffey was one of three members appointed to negotiate for the House.

That was where EV charging came into play.

"The Senate had agreed with our proposal to direct $1.7 million in new funding for the Agency of [Commerce and] Community Development's community charging program directed specifically to help build more EV charging for people who do not own their homes," Coffey said.

"Our differences were how we would fund it," she continued. "The House had proposed to convert federal carbon reduction funds to fund it, and the Senate had proposed a new EV infrastructure fee."

As a result, the EV fee will start only after January 2025, when adoption of the vehicles would align with targets set in the carbon reduction plan, and for grant funding to be available for lower income Vermonters to cover the fee.

"The EV infrastructure fee will go away for EV drivers as soon as the state adopts a mileage-based user fee - which we anticipate will happen July 1, 2026," Coffey said.

For Hashim, compromise came with the car trespass bill, designed to close a loophole in state law where it is not illegal for someone to enter a vehicle.

"The House wanted to add additional offenses to operating without the owner's consent when we reached a conference committee," Hashim said. "I know the trespass bill has been important to many constituents, so I compromised with the House members regarding the creation of a lesser offense for operating without the owner's consent."

The compromise has led to the passage of the car trespass bill, and it now awaits the governor's signature, he said.

The demise of H.829

Kornheiser had a particularly impactful year, among other things spearheading a form of the national "tax the rich" movement through the Vermont House, before seeing H.829 crash and burn in the Senate.

"As chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, my job is to find fair ways to fund our priorities, and that was tough this year - in the aftermath of the pandemic - as more of us are struggling and as federal support has dried up," Kornheiser said.

"We know that we are all better off when Vermonters have access to the resources, services, and support they need," she continued. "Making that happen can be difficult. This session we grappled with immediate needs."

H.829 would have provided approximately $900 million for affordable housing over a period of years.

"The tax policy we worked on lowered costs for regular Vermonters and asked wealthy Vermonters to pay more of their fair share," Kornheiser said.

The lawmakers, she continued, "also fought hard - and often succeeded - in grappling with longer term, complex issues like protecting the environment and decreasing income inequality."

Many of Windham County's representatives supported H.829. Mrowicki, Coffey, Burke, and Bos-Lun, specifically, all found it sad that H.829 was not acceptable to the Senate. Bos-Lun called it "heartbreaking."

"This bill would have raised $900 million to support varied housing needs over the next 10 years through taxes and fees only on the wealthiest Vermonters and Vermont property owners," Bos-Lun said.

"We really needed a comprehensive housing policy and a way to fund it," she said. "This not passing was a huge loss for Vermont."

In a time when Vermonters are suffering from a severe housing shortage, however, there was some small progress, Kornheiser said.

"This lack of housing puts pressure on our state economy, our general fund, and Vermont families," Kornheiser said. "Something had to change, and in fact, many things need to change. And we did much of that this year, but not enough."

This year, she continued, "we were able to increase our commitment to new housing development by changes in our transfer tax. Folks who buy second homes will pay more, simultaneously lowering the tax on purchases of primary homes and raising additional revenue to build new homes for Vermonters."

Education reform

Kornheiser's most complex work had to do with school funding. She likened the debate to "a perfect storm."

As chair of the House Ways and Means committee, she said, "I worked to lower property taxes significantly below projections, but it wasn't enough," Kornheiser said.

"We know that the way we currently fund education isn't sustainable or fair and solving the problem will take everyone coming to the table," she said. "School spending in Vermont is made up of local budget decisions - from local voters - for all of our kids and teachers."

And yet, she said, "it is the responsibility of the Legislature to cover the full costs of those budgets through a statewide property tax."

"These challenges are at least 20 years in the making, and this year we encountered a perfect storm," Kornheiser said.

"This storm, I hope, will provide the political will to bring all the parties - both local and statewide - together to do the hard, creative thinking on how to transform and pay for public education in a way that is based on fairness, equity, and sustainability."

Burke said that for her, education funding is also a significant concern.

"For various reasons, the total of all the school budgets in the state went up significantly this year," Burke said.

"This was not because the legislature raised taxes," she said. "Causes include the loss of pandemic funding, increased teacher health insurance, the post-pandemic mental health needs of students requiring more teachers, and other factors."

"The Legislature had to figure out a way to cover the increased costs with taxes," Burke said. "We were able to use one-time money to buy down the increase, but it did involve raising property taxes significantly."

Legislation set up a commission on the future of public education in Vermont, made up of various stakeholders, with a preliminary report due by December.

The commission will address cost containment, recommendations for policy changes, and the funding system to figure out ways to maintain the public education system while keeping costs affordable for the future.

Roberts said he was also concerned about education.

"Everything from the health and success of our students to the quality of our school buildings is relying on us to craft forward-looking policy," he said.

"However, the House and the Senate Education committees have very different approaches on education policy," he added. "The bills that the two bodies could agree on and pass turned out to be fairly incremental compared to the scale of the problem, and the scale of the taxpayer burden.

"I'm happy that H.887, the bill that sets tax rates based on voted school budgets from around the state, includes a study of our education system, but myself and many of my colleagues would have liked to see more action on education policy and to set a clearer course for cost containment."

Education was also an issue for Goldman.

"I am extremely concerned about our education system, the demands being placed on it, the funding of it, the lack of leadership at the Agency of Education, and the rise in property taxes," Goldman said.

"I believe that we have to do an in-depth examination of the current state of the system, as well as an exploration of options for the future," she added.

"I believe that H.887, the Yield Bill (an act relating to homestead property tax yields, non-homestead rates, and policy changes to education finance and taxation), asks the right questions for that exploration," she said.

Goldman supports the commission that is established in the bill.

"There have been a number of factors which have impacted education property taxes, and we need to meet this head on," she said.

She hopes that the governor will sign the bill "so that the conversation can begin."

Reforming Act 250

Mrowicki, along with many legislators, had to compromise on thereform of Act 250, the state's notoriously stringent land-use law. It, too, awaits a decision from the governor.

He credits Rep. Seth Bongartz, D-Manchester, for bringing to the table "various advocates for the environment, housing, and government to reform Act 250 so as to allow for more housing in some areas, while mandating environmental protections in especially sensitive areas."

"There was significant back and forth and compromises for this bill to get to its final form," Mrowicki said.

Harrison, who participated in work on the bill in between legislative sessions, also brought up revisions to the Act 250 bill.

"Last summer, the group recommended unanimously that Act 250 change from a size-of-development threshold to a location-based system," Harrison said.

"For example, almost any development of 10 or more homes has been required to get an Act 250 permit, whether it's in a town like Brattleboro with zoning regulations and review processes or a town like Athens with minimal regulation and minimal staff."

The new framework, she said, "would make the development review of projects dependent on their location rather than the size and type of what's proposed to be built."

When Act 250 was first implemented in 1970, very few towns had zoning and development review, so the state took on that responsibility, Harrison said.

Since then, between 20 and 30 cities and towns are able and eager to independently handle the development review process.

"The regional commissions such as Windham Regional Commission would work with the towns to map the state into three tiers of development regulation," Harrison said. "Tier 1 would be in towns and cities with robust zoning, staffing, and water and sewer services. Tier 3 would be environmentally important places where Act 250 would apply for any development."

Tier 2 would be everything in between, she said.

"There are still many details to iron out, which would be done through a rule-making process headed by a new Land Use and Review Board that would replace the current Natural Resources Board," Harrison said.

The bill that passed was a compromise hammered out among the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and the Senate Economic Development, and the Housing and General Affairs Committee.

"The overall goal was to encourage development in clustered areas and protect natural areas," Harrison said.

"There are still many details to be determined, such as how to replace the funding for affordable housing and transportation that is required by some larger Act 250 permits, and how to define a water or sewer system needed for a development that is in process," she noted.

"The mapping and rule-making process will take two to three years to complete," Harrison said. "To stimulate housing development immediately, we included interim exemptions that would take effect this summer."

Health compromise

Goldman was disappointed with what happened to H.721, a bill intended to expand access to Medicaid and Dr. Dynasaur, the state's program to provide health care to children.

"Our efforts on H.721 were largely curtailed in the Senate," Goldman said. "The House had passed a reduced expansion to include up to 19- and 20-year-olds, but the Senate removed this provision entirely."

That body "also greatly reduced the subsidy for low-income individuals transitioning from Medicaid to Medicare," she said, noting that the Senate "embedded it in the $8.5 billion state budget."

"Since the budget passed, I am grateful that this population of Vermonters will get at least some help in this transition," Goldman said. "Although the governor could still veto the budget, he has signaled that he will not."

Looking ahead

Mrowicki said he sees some national issues that he hopes will not reach Vermont.

"I'm especially concerned with - and will be vigilant against - those people in Vermont who want to turn back the clock on reproductive freedom, on equality for women, on racial equality," Mrowicki said. "Those who deny the need for climate action and want to blame our schools and educators for why we have high taxes."

He praised educators as "essential to helping our children step into their role as the future of Vermont."

"Our teachers deserve to be well paid with good benefits," Mrowicki said. "If we want to know why taxes are high, we just have to look at the Trump tax cuts, which created a cohort of millionaires and corporations who pay little or no tax. So we pay more."

Mrowicki pointed out that even billionaire investor Warren Buffett insists on paying his fair share of taxes.

"His company, Berkshire Hathaway, paid its full tax bill last year of $5 billion," Mrowicki said. "He said if the 800 other larger companies in the U.S. paid their tax, no other person in the U.S. would have to pay a federal tax."

Mrowicki said he would "continue to work for tax reform and address income inequality, but I'm not going to blame our kids or schools or teachers because taxes have gone up."

"Our kids are our future and deserve the best education we can provide," he said. "The kids of today will be taking our blood pressure tomorrow, and don't we want them to be well-educated so they can do it properly?"

And on a hyperlocal note, Burke is working on securing funding to repair the Melrose Bridge on Western Avenue in West Brattleboro.

"I have been working with VTrans and the Brattleboro town manager, town planner, and town attorney about ways to address the increased local match that Brattleboro must pay by statute for the reconstruction," Burke said.

"The match has tripled since the project received preliminary approval, and it is quite a heavy burden for our town to match," she added. "There are some possibilities in the works."

This News item by Joyce Marcel was written for The Commons.

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