ST. ALBANS — There are five candidates running for Franklin County’s two seats in the Vermont Senate. Incumbent Republicans Randy Brock and Corey Parent are being challenged by Progressives Chloe Viner Collins and Luke Richter, as well as independent Wayne Billado.
The Messenger sent each candidate a list of questions. Below are the answers we received from Chloe Collins.
COVID-19 exposed the cracks in Vermont’s social safety net. What else, if anything, should the legislature be doing to address the impact of the pandemic on low-income Vermonters?
It’s been a hard time for Vermonters. I know this first hand as my husband lost his job in March and I lost mine in July, both due to Covid. I think Vermont has done a great job creating grants for mortgage payers, past-due electric bills, and continuing to have free food drops. Vermont should continue to make sure there are expanded meal programs available and it’s vital that children continue to have access to free meals through their local schools. I think it’s important that with budget cuts we make sure that we are not cutting the programs that are keeping low-income families afloat during this unprecedented time.
What should the state do to address the need for affordable, quality childcare?
When my husband and I found out we were expecting twins, we soon discovered there were no affordable childcare options within 35 miles of our home that had two infant openings. The lack of accessible and affordable childcare was an eye opener for us. I’ve worked hard in my role as the vice president of the Alburgh Clubhouse Board, a non-profit working to build an affordable childcare center in Alburgh. So far we’ve secured over $700,000 in funds. It is essential that we continue to create more options for childcare including availability of second and third shift coverage so parents aren’t forced to turn down job offers due to lack of childcare. One of the reasons Vermont has such a hard time keeping people in the state is due to a lack of affordable childcare. Affordable childcare is a key pillar of my platform and I will continue to advocate for and seek grant opportunities to expand our childcare options.
A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?
I got my law degree from Vermont Law School. I spent the last five years working with the courts as a restorative justice case manager and I saw first hand how our systems have criminalized mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse. We need to stop spending $55,000 to $85,000 a year on inmates who are nonviolent and who would be better served by social services and programs. It’s been proven that throwing people in jail does not reduce crime. In fact as we have less crime in both America and Vermont, we have continued to incarcerate more people. Many are there for technical violations or lack of housing. We need to invest in programs that give offenders the support they need to avoid reoffending rather than throw them in jail on the taxpayer’s dime. While in jail, they are further traumatized and often learn more criminal skills. They come out with a criminal record, often unable to find employment, and are put in a position where reoffending seems like the only option. Rather than investing in systems that are proven to not reduce crime, we need to invest in helping people get the skills they need to not reoffend. I’ve helped hundreds of low-level offenders make amends for their crimes and to come up with plans to avoid reoffending. Every study that has been done shows the rates of reoffending when participating in a restorative justice program are far lower than the rates of those reoffending after incarceration. If we truly want a safer society than we have to help people learn from their mistakes rather than punish them. Saint Albans Police department has one of the largest local budgets. I believe that by reallocating funds from police and incarceration to essential social service programs we can address shortfalls and make our communities safer for everyone.
What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?
I think that instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to put police officers in schools, we should be spending a fraction of the money to put more restorative justice specialists and therapists in schools. I have coached teachers in both Bakersfield Elementary School and Richford Elementary School. I’ve seen the support that these students need and know how important it is to continue to provide them. I have taught at CCV and tutored students at VTC, I know how important our education system is. I also realize that Vermont has some of the highest real estate taxes in the country because they are used primarily to fund our education. We can’t raise taxes on already strained Vermonters. Instead, we can divert money from criminal justice to education. Locally I have seen people go through the entire criminal justice system for a stolen item worth $1.00. This is not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Instead of spending money to incarcerate nonviolent offenders we should be investing in social programs that help our youth excel in school and get the supports they need.
The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?
More can always be done. Vermont has one of the highest disparities with black folks being arrested at a rate of 8-9 times higher than white Vermonters. The lack of diversity in Vermont leads to a lack of awareness of the racism within systems and how they are perpetuated. Just recently, Vermont State Police made a social media post (which they later deleted) that was seen as a threat by most of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. As a local anti-racist artist and the founder of a race and equity committee in Swanton, I am passionate about reform that makes sure we are not targeting BIPOC. We need to make a bigger effort to make sure that diversity is represented in all departments and that voices are not only brought to the table, but feel safe coming to the table.
Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. Vermont is also starting to see the impacts of a changing climate firsthand, with shorter winters, harsher storms and so-called “climigration.” What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?
I received my Masters in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School and have worked as an Environmental Analyst for the state of Vermont. I understand how vital our environment is and I see how much our little state is struggling. Even this summer, I wasn’t able to bring my sons to swim in the lake on many occasions because of toxic algae blooms. If we want our children and our grandchildren to be able to enjoy Vermont’s mountains and lakes, the time to act is now. I also don’t want to put undue hardship on our farmers by hamstringing them with regulations. I believe we need to incentivize farmers and businesses to continue to reduce their emissions, and to invest in green infrastructure. Under Scott, we have lost 500 renewable jobs. I believe we should be investing more, not less, in addressing climate change. The wildfires going on right now on the West Coast are a prime example of why.
How can the state help create a secure future for its agricultural sector?
Vermont dairy makes up seventy percent of our agricultural industry. Vermont farmers are struggling and we need to do more to support them. Now is the time to be innovative, to research what other states and countries have done to support their farmers. I was very disappointed to see the food distribution program taken from local farms and producers and given to an out-of-state distributor. These are the places we need to prioritize. Vermont should look to other states and countries that have successfully revived their farming industry and be innovative in coming up with solutions that work for Vermont Farms. When I am elected, I will make it my priority to speak with farmers about their challenges and ideas for supporting local farms.