Friends and neighbors,
The 2021 session began virtually (and the 2020 session officially ended) on Wednesday January 6th. Shortly after Vermont’s Legislators took our oaths of office virtually, texts from our district, friends and fellow legislators started coming in about what was happening at the U.S. Capitol. Over the next 24 hours, I lead work with legislators representing all parties and in both the House and Senate to join Governor Scott and Legislative leaders in condemning the storming of the U.S. Capitol and calling for the resignation or removal of the President. Rep. Liz Cheney (R- Wyoming) said of the attack, “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” The President’s incitement of violence has had ramifications in Vermont. Our public safety officials and National Guard have been deployed for the shocking task of defending our nation’s capitol and also Vermont’s capitol from further attack by Americans who subscribe to QAnon conspiracies and American white supremacists. There will be no quick fix to the issues that brought America to January 6th. Please keep doing your part to double check facts, ask questions, and report criminal or suspicious activity.
Vaccinations are on the way
Thank you to all who are reaching out regarding coronavirus vaccinations and how to sign up. The Vermont Health Department is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other partners to prepare for and distribute vaccines as they become available. Here is the information currently on the DOH vaccination page:
Who can get a COVID-19 vaccine now?
- Now: Health care personnel and residents at long term care facilities can be vaccinated.
- On January 25: People of Vermont who are 75 years or older can register for appointments.
NEW: Who will be eligible next?
Registration for people in Vermont who are 75 years and older will begin on January 25. Vaccine clinics will start on January 27. People will register online. If they are not able to register online, they can call a phone number. The website and phone number will be posted on or before January 25.
You will not be able to make an appointment by calling any other Health Department phone number. Please do not call your health care provider or hospital for vaccine appointments. People will register online.
After people 75 and older, the next age grouping will be 70 years and older, then 65 and older, as vaccine supply allows. These phases will overlap. Based on what we know now about how much vaccine Vermont will get from the federal government, it will probably take until spring to finish these groups. This is an estimated plan and timeframe that could shift based on how much vaccine Vermont receives and how many people choose to get vaccinated when they are eligible.
Legislation passed, debated or introduced
The first actions of the legislature were passing the aforementioned resolution condemning the attacking on the capitol and calling for the resignation or removal from office of President Trump.
|J.R.H.1||1/8/2021||Joint resolution condemning the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 as an attack on democracy|
And legislation has passed the House and Senate to ensure all municipalities have the flexibility to move the date of Town Meeting (where items are debated and voted on in person at a meeting) or move all voting to Australian Ballot (items are voted on without debate using a ballot). Governor Scott is expected to sign H.48 into law or allow to pass without his signature. This bill also waives the requirements for voter signature collection for candidates in local elections and permits voting by mail.
|H.48||1/12/2021||An act relating to authorizing alternative procedures for 2021 annual municipal meetings in response to COVID-19|
It’s easy to monitor the bills I have introduced. One way to monitor is to go to the Vermont state legislature’s website and search for my name – this will take you to a page which has links to my committees, my biography, and below that are two tabs – one showing the bills I have sponsored and one showing how I voted on roll call votes. Sponsoring a bill means that you want the Vermont legislature to consider taking the issue up for discussion and vote. A lead sponsor is one that has worked with a legislative attorney to write the proposed bill. Other legislators may sign on to a bill to show their support for the discussion. Here are the two bills I have sponsored so far in 2021:
|H.54||An act relating to adjusting the existing weighting factors, and adding new weighting factors, used to calculate equalized pupils|
|H.71||An act relating to exempting U.S. military retirement pay from income tax|
I led the drafting of H.54 , working over the Summer and Fall with legislators, attorneys, the report authors and our Joint Fiscal Office to create a framework for implementation of the recommended weights. This bill would implement the recommended weights for different types of Vermont students which the legislature has been advised is needed in to address inequitable access to education. Addressing this 20 year old injustice may also be able to lower taxes in high need underweighted districts who have been penalized for excess per pupil spending. Here is a blog post I wrote last year on this issue which walks through how it is that two decades of students and taxpayers in rural and poor Vermont have been harmed.
Districts from around the state and educational associations are advocating for action and watching how this bill is received in the House. I fully expect that if the legislature does not act, we will see more lawsuits emerge. This bill will be one on my major focuses this year and remains a district and personal priority.
Education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery.Horace Mann (1848, as cited in Education and Social Inequity, n.d.)
H.71 regarding exempting U.S. military retirement pay from Vermont income tax is one of several bills I will introduce in support of our Vermont Guard this year. Our normally part time Vermont Guard have been a key full time resource for Vermonters this year, supporting multiple missions related to the healthcare emergency and now ensuring a peaceful transition of power. This has been happening while the Guard has been taking a hard look at its past practices and putting into place key reforms related to how sexual assault and harassment are addressed and reported, receiving a new F-35 mission and preparing for an overseas deployment this Spring.
Vermont legislators have created a National Guard Caucus to provide extra support and linkages to the legislature for Guard members, their families, communities and employers. I’m proud to be part of that foundational effort and to co-lead this bipartisan bicameral caucus.
Three priorities have emerged for legislative action in the coming session – childcare, housing and broadband. This year I am pleased to once again serve on the House Energy and Technology Committee as Vice Chair. We will be leading work on broadband. In 2019 our committee, working with the Governor’s administration, led the passage of Act 79 – a bill which incentivized the creation of municipal communications union districts (CUDS), allocated planning funding for CUDS to engineer how to et to the last mile with service, a staff person to assist CUDS, and new lending at the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). The pandemic emergency has further highlighted the urgency in connecting all Vermonters and last year we were able to direct federal resources to the 8 new CUDS to accelerate their planning. There are now several hundred Vermonters engaged in this public effort to create and engineer last mile planning. The next step is to ensure the financing and construction capacity exist to get these regional CUD plans built. This will be the priority work our committee takes up this year. There is not yet a bill, but our committee will likely have a first working draft released in the next two weeks.
A reminder after our heavy snow storm – check in on your elderly neighbors to make sure they have a working phone line, and that maintenance requests are made promptly. If you have trouble getting service repaired, please see this step by step blog post I wrote two years ago.
Reorganizing Department of Public Safety and Natural Resources
Governor Scott issued two Executive Orders making changes to the Department of Public Safety and the Natural Resources Board, last week. Vermont’s governors have 10 days from the start of a new two year term to reorganize parts of government through an Executive Order rather then legislation. Lawmakers have 90 days to reject or revise these types of executive orders or they will go into effect.
- EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 01-21 would turn the Department of Public Safety into the Agency of Public Safety. The new agency would consist of a Department of Fire Safety & Emergency Management and a Department of Law Enforcement. This would bring the Vermont State Police and Motor Vehicle Enforcement together in one agency. The E911 Board, the Fire Service Training Council and the Criminal Justice Council will also being placed within the new agency if it is allowed to come into effect.
- EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 02-21 alters the Natural Resources Board which oversees Vermont’s Act 250 implementation. The current five member board will be reconfigured with a chair and two full time professional members. Determining whether major development projects should receive an Act 250 permit would be the job of the new Natural Resources Board. Two District Commissioners from the District where the project is being proposed would become voting members of the Board for the purposes of the particular case. This would be a major change in the process and consistency of implementation of Act 250.
Dover Free Library has snowshoes
Did you know…? Dover Free Library has snowshoes available for check out? For a week! All you need is a library card* and your refundable deposit! We also have trail maps and books to loan, and we can help you find the perfect trail. Contact us at 348-7488 or through our Dover Free FB page.
*Library cards are free to VT residents with valid driver’s license or ID
Good Citizen at Home Challenge
Looking for a way to get engaged this winter? VPR is working with Seven Days and Kids VT to provide content for the Good Citizen At-Home Challenge.
The challenge gives Vermont residents a way to stay busy, stay safe and help their communities. Developed with a coalition of statewide partners, it’s filled with activities in four subject areas essential to a responsible citizenry: history, government, news literacy and community service.
Sign up and you can get history and government credit for listening to episodes of Brave Little State and But Why, and earn news literacy credit by tuning in to one of the state’s bi-weekly COVID-19 press conferences.
In all, you can choose from more than 40 civics-related activities. They’re geared toward Vermont K-12 students, with activities appropriate for all ages, but young people and adults are encouraged to form teams and do activities together.
My hope is that you all are taking good care of yourself as we have begun this New Year 2021. With the pandemic raging we are living pretty solitary lives during the darkest days of the year. Like you, the attack on our country has left me further shaken and thinking deeply about what more I can do as a mom, wife, friend and legislator to fight back at the darkness and fear these attackers represent. My hope is all are able to take time to get outside, take up new hobbies and to connect with friends. TJ and I are stress busting during this time by adding to our culinary skills and increasing our outdoor winter activities.
Take care of your emotional and mental health. If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs emotional support, help is available 24/7: Read more from the Vermont Department of Health on coping with stress
As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss them.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham