2023 Priority Issues

 In the 12 years I have served as the State Representative for Charlotte and southwest Hinesburg  it has been a privilege to serve on House committees dealing with energy policy and conservation. The threat of global climate change has emerged as one of the salient issues of the 21st century. As a strong advocate for renewable energy and energy conservation, I have been able to contribute to Vermont's policy goals of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and associated greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. This will continue to be the primary - but not the only - focus of my work in the legislature.

These are my top priorities for the 2023 - 2024 session.

Reduce dependence on fossil fuels for heating and transportation.

As a member of the Energy & Technology Committee, I am very concerned about climate change and its effect on Vermont both from environmental, health and economic perspectives.  As a result of our renewable energy policies developed over the past decade, our electricity generation is the cleanest energy source in Vermont.  However, we have been lagging in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in the heating and transportation segments of our energy economy. Our objective now should be to replace our sources of heat and transportation energy by cleaner electricity.  The most obvious ways to do this are with heat pumps and electric vehicles, both of which use more electricity but less fuel oil and gasoline. In the last biennium we were able to use the large infusion of federal money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to allocate $215M for climate initiatives including weatherization, municipal energy resilience, advanced electrical metering, and EV incentives. Weatherizing Vermont's aging housing stock as well as encourage highly energy efficient new construction will save low- and moderate-income Vermonters money while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  But we can't rest on our past accomplishments. The Clean heat Standard passed by both the House and Senate this year, and vetoed by the governor, would have helped Vermonters transition from fossil fuel heat to cleaner alternatives. We have to revisit and improve this bill in the coming biennium so that we can continue the work we started this year.

2. Invest in Working Families, including a livable minimum wage, affordable childcare, and affordable housing.

Affordability is an ongoing concern for Vermont citizens.  Those hardest hit by affordability are lower and middle income families who are working hard to make ends meet. The current worker shortage has increased wages at the bottom of the pay scale to around $15/hour, the target of previous livable wage bills. But inflation, driven by consumer demand, skyrocketing oil prices, and shortages caused by Russia's attack on Ukraine have resulted in record inflation. The extremely low vacancy rate in housing has also driven rents and housing costs higher. It is necessary to re-evaluate the livable wage criteria and ease the Vermont minimum wage toward that figure.

The pandemic also impacted the availability and cost of childcare. The ARPA funds allowed Vermont to invest $27M in childcare stabilization and another $2.5M in childcare worker education.  This will help make childcare more affordable.  I agree with the non-profit Let's Grow Kids that making child care more affordable will help grow our economy. H.171/Act 45 of 2022 and investments made during the 2021-2022 legislative biennium have laid the foundation to realize our vision for a transformed child care system. We need to continue investing in child care to make Vermont a better place for everyone, young and old. 

Between a shortage of affordable housing and the high cost of child care, young families find it difficult to move to Vermont. Over the past three years, the General Assembly has committed about $375 million to housing, including $42M in the budget passed in 2022. These appropriations have been used to enhance shelter capacity and support services for those who are homeless, to build more than 1,000 units of housing that will be affordable to low- and middle-income families, to repair rental properties that are currently off-line because they are not up to code, and to provide incentives to develop Accessory Dwelling Unit and down-payment grants for first-generation homebuyers. We need to continue this investment as well as make permitting easier for housing projects.

3. Foster racial justice and equity.

America still is a long way toward achieving racial and ethnic justice. Many communities suffer disproportionately from environmental harm, including low-income Vermonters, people with disabilities or limited English proficiency, and Vermonters who are Black, indigenous and people of color. The work supported by the Environmental Justice Policy bill passed in 2022 will help the state to plan for and target our investments and restoration activities to ensure that no community is left behind. Roughly two dozen states already have environmental justice policies in place. We must follow up on implementing the plan.