Week Two in the Legislature found us mostly in Committee, learning about some of the dozens of new bills assigned to each of our areas of jurisdiction. My committee, House General, participated in a joint hearing on Wednesday with the Human Services Committee, hearing testimony on Homelessness in Vermont and participating in a vigil on the Statehouse steps for Homelessness Awareness Day. We also listened to the Department of Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz report on a $1.95 million shortfall in the motel voucher program for emergency and adverse weather conditions housing. This program continues to serve an important need but not always in a cost-effective manner. The Department assures us that it will be rolling out a plan in the near future to better serve individual community’s needs and to give those communities more autonomy to allocate their funds.
Wednesday was also “Tourism Day at the Capital” with a press conference, guests and speakers from throughout the tourism industry, all across the state – agritourism hosts, bed and breakfast owners, Chamber of Commerce folks, snowmobile club members, and ski industry officials, including Steve Wright from Jay Peak.
We also received an award-winning report, and heard testimony from, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Liquor and Lottery about the upgrades and stream-lining of warehouse and retail operations and the new 802 market branding initiative.
We learned some basics about online sports betting from a committee member who attended a nationwide conference on this issue, and started a discussion about the merits and pitfalls of legalizing this type of betting in Vermont.
We heard from the sponsor of a bill that would allocate a very small fee ($5) on burials and cremations to pay for vandalism damage, particularly in historic cemeteries; currently, those damages are repaired by trained volunteers who travel throughout the state under the auspices of the Old Cemetery Association. We also re-visited a bill from last year on the change to year-round Daylight Savings Time, or permanent Atlantic Standard Time, which would only be feasible if a compact of northeastern states were to sign on their intent. The rationale behind this change is evidence of lower traffic and industrial accidents. This shift is favored by public safety officials, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, parents of small children and teenagers, and pet owners. We took up a bill concerned with the definition, distribution, and retail sale of the new, popular low-alcohol spirits mixed with seltzers and other “mixers”. An engaging discussion on racial equity and diversity with the Administration’s Executive Director of Racial Equity and Diversity followed. (As I’ve said before, House General deals with many varied topics!).
On Friday, we were given a tour of the new Montpelier Transit Station and Taylor Street Apartments, an affordable housing project that serves folks below 60% of the Washington County Average Median Income (AMI) and 80-100% of AMI. By this time, I had developed what our Capitol Chief of Police describes as “kennel cough” and was anxious to return home to Berkshire. As I drove home and could see the snow-covered beauty of Jay Peak in the distance, I was once again struck by how good it is to be home in Franklin County. I remain grateful for the honor of representing your interests at our Statehouse. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Lisa A Hango