Legislative Update – January 2021

As this is my first column since I won re-election in November, I want to begin by saying thank you. Thank you for honoring me with your continued support. It is an incredible privilege to be your State Representative and bring your voice to Montpelier and I will continue to work hard to repay your trust and confidence.

The 2021-2022 Legislative Biennium began this Wednesday and clearly the overarching legislative priority this year is to continue leading a recovery for Vermont that focuses on the health of our communities and an economic recovery that leaves no one behind.

Because of the pandemic, as we did during the last session starting in March, the House is conducting its policymaking virtually over Zoom during the months of January and February, so as not to have 150 members gathered in one space from all corners of the state. This is to protect the health and safety of staff, legislators, and Vermonters at large. Throughout this time, all ceremonies, debates, and individual committee meetings will be streamed publicly on YouTube. The links to each are available on the legislative web page: legislature.vermont.gov

Prior to starting our policy work, the House had to get organized. Amongst other things, a Speaker must be elected, legislators sworn in, oaths of office taken, and House committees appointed. This happened on the first day.

Representative Jill Krowinsky of Burlington was elected as Speaker of the House. The Speaker is the principle leader and spokesperson for the House as a whole. She is responsible for presiding over the chamber (even over Zoom), managing priority legislation, being the chief negotiator for the House in major discussions with the Scott administration and with the Senate, and for appointing House committee leadership and members.

I am honored that Speaker Krowinsky reappointed me as Chair of the House Human Services Committee because, unlike Congress, committee leadership positions are not prescribed by length of service, seniority, or party affiliation. The ten other members of the committee represent the geographic and rural/urban diversity of the state as well as our different political affiliations. The policy jurisdiction of the Human Services Committee includes supporting vulnerable Vermonters and mitigating or removing barriers to individuals’ participation in the economic and social life of Vermont. I anticipate that addressing program proposals and funding decisions related to child care, older Vermonters and nursing homes and long-term care, public health (as contrasted with health insurance and individual health care), foster care, and substance abuse will comprise much of the work of the Human Services Committee as unmet needs in these areas have been underscored during this pandemic.https://0a54f49f33193cda5c87a4ccf228b0f0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Over the past couple of months I’ve met (over Zoom or through email) I’ve met with community members, representatives of advocacy organizations, trade groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations, school districts, and municipalities are eager to share their legislative priorities for the coming session.

In early December I attended briefings by the state’s economist and staff of the non-partisan Joint Fiscal Office who gave an overview of Vermont’s economy; highlighted the impacts of the $1.25 billion CARES Act investment in the state; and pointed out emerging trouble-spots on the horizon around food security, women departing the workforce due to childcare unavailability and the immense pressures that small businesses and the hospitality industry are under in order to survive let alone thrive. Additionally, I’ve communicated (over Zoom, phone or through email) with constituents, the South Burlington city manager, representatives of various businesses, the school board, area nonprofit organizations and, advocacy organizations in order to learn about their legislative priorities.

While the pandemic has revealed the inequities and gaps, over the past nine months, I have seen how by coming together we can creatively problem-solve to support our communities, our schools, local businesses and the most vulnerable Vermonters. This gives me great hope and inspires me for my work ahead in the Legislature.

I hope to “see” you at our next monthly South Burlington delegation community legislative forum on Monday, Jan. 25, at 6:30 p.m. Information about the Zoom link will be available on the SB Library webpage under events. You can reach me at apugh@leg.state.vt.us or 863-6705.

Please know that I am available as a resource if you need assistance or have ideas on how the state can better support Vermont and Vermonters. In addition to these monthly columns, you can follow my Facebook page, Ann Pugh, State Representative 7-2.