2019-2020 Issues Focus

In the 9 years I have served as the State Representative for Charlotte 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 result of ignoring the problem because of denial that climate change is not happening or that it is a result of human activity has turned the problem into a crisis that we must address immediately. While Vermont is a small state both geographically and demographically, we still must do our part in this effort. In fact, we are working with our neighboring states and many other states across the country to develop energy sources other than fossil fuels. As a strong advocate for renewable energy and energy conservation, I have been able to contribute to Vermont's policy goals of reducing Vermont’s reliance on fossil fuels and associated greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. I am continuing to work on these issues as a member of the Energy & Technology Committee.

These are my top priorities for the 2019 - 2020 session.

1. 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, which account for 24% and 47% of GHG emissions respectively. Our objective now should be to increase our heating efficiency in our homes and to replace our sources of heat and transportation energy by cleaner electricity.  The most obvious ways to achieve energy transformation are with heat pumps and electric vehicles (EVs), both of which use more electricity but displace fuel oil and gasoline. The legislature has directed that $18.7M in VW emissions fraud settlement money should be used for EV infrastructure and EV buses. The best way to reduce energy costs is to avoid energy use.  By making our homes tighter, we will burn less fuel for heating.  The 2019 budget increased funding for low income weatherization projects and extended the program to assist moderate income families as well.  I am working with a group of legislators during this summer of 2019 to study the best way to encourage highly energy efficient new construction. 
2. Ensure the integrity of Vermont's IT systems.
Cybersecurity is critical to the integrity of Vermont's computer systems and needs to be maintained at the highest level. State systems receive more than 4 million cyber attacks per year. Protecting the personal data of Vermont citizens, the integrity of our elections, and the reliability of the operations and services provided by Vermont government must be one of the highest priorities of the newly-created Agency of Digital Services.  The 2019 budget includes funding for continuous monitoring of system threats. As a member of the Energy & Technology Committee, I continue to work with ADS to support and monitor the status of our IT security. 

3. Reduce education costs through efficiencies in the Vermont school system.
A strong public education system that provides a high quality education to all Vermont students is essential for our democracy, economy and the future of our country. Although the cost of our public education system is still rising, the rate of increase has decreased. Act 46 of the 2016 session, which encouraged school district consolidation, has already generated savings for many school districts. This trend should continue as school districts continue to implement efficiencies. As student population changes, our educational infrastructure - buildings, personnel, resources - have to adapt in order to efficiently use our education dollars. The 2019 budget includes funding for eliminating lead in school drinking water and improving the security of our children and school staff with resource officers and updated phone systems. I support efforts to provide a safe, high quality education at an affordable cost.

4. Invest in Working Families
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. In 2019, the House and Senate passed different versions of two bills to help working Vermonters: a minimum wage bill that would improve the economy and put more money in the pockets of our lowest paid workers, and a paid family leave bill that would guarantee paid time off for a worker to take care of a sick family member, an elderly parent, or a newborn child. The house and Senate failed to resolve the differences in their bills, but I expect both to pass early in the 2020 session. 
One of the biggest constraints on economic development in Vermont is a shortage of skilled workers to fill existing job openings.  One of the complaints we hear from employers is that they have trouble attracting younger workers with families to Vermont. Between a shortage of affordable housing and the high cost of child care, young families find it difficult to move to Vermont. I agree with the non-profit Let's Grow Kids that making child care more affordable will help grow our economy. We need to recognize that investing in child care will provide more jobs at higher wages and make Vermont a better place for everyone, young and old. The 2019 budget increased child care funding by $8M, not enough to solve the problem completely, but enough to significantly help working families.