By Rep. Mike Yantachka
As the Legislature prepared to recess for town meeting week, the focus continued to be on our number one priority: Vermonters and the coronavirus. The Vermont House passed and sent to the Senate an additional $79 million Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Aid bill. H.315 provides critical assistance to working families and businesses struggling due to the pandemic by addressing health disparities, increasing social equity, and stimulating economic recovery.
The work my committee has been doing has been focused on getting high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved areas of Vermont. We ended the week by voting the bill (H.360) out of committee on a 9 to 0 vote. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee that will consider whether to recommend the appropriation we asked for.
Besides telecommunications, my committee also has jurisdiction over energy policy and the IT systems of the state. Leading up to the recess, Governor Scott recommended a $200 million package of spending based on one-time money from unspent Coronavirus Relief Funds and better than expected state revenues. In the energy area, we concurred with the governor’s plan to use $10 million to assist low- and moderate-income consumers to share in community solar projects, including battery storage of energy. Folks who rent and homeowners who can’t install solar panels on their property will be able to purchase or lease shares of large solar arrays and receive credit on their electric bills for the energy generated.
We have also been working with the Agency of Digital Services to fund the upgrade of several of our 40-year-old computer systems, including the Labor Department’s unemployment insurance system that has had a lot of problems over the past year. We are concurring with the governor’s recommendation of spending $50 million to upgrade a dozen different systems.
The Vermont Legislature continues to operate remotely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to do so at least until May 15, 2021. Conducting business remotely is very different from meeting at the Statehouse because of the lack of personal interaction that often helps facilitate communication on important issues. Zooming is just not the same.
However, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. As a result of live streaming of floor sessions and committee proceedings, it is now possible for anyone anywhere to sit in on a proceeding. If you have an interest in a particular issue or would just like to see how legislative business is conducted, I invite you to drop in at your convenience. Here’s how.
Floor sessions take place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m. on Fridays. View a livestream of a session here. Scroll down to the bottom of the House or Senate sections where you will find a link to “Watch House/Senate Live Video.” If you want to watch a session after the fact at your leisure, click on the same link and you will find recordings of previous sessions.
Committee meetings are where most of the work takes place. This is where bills that have been assigned to the committee are discussed and testimony from witnesses is heard. To view a committee proceeding, again go here. In the sidebar at the right is a link to “Scheduled Committee Meetings.” Clicking on the link will take you to a page that contains links to the committee pages and the published agenda for the week. On the committee page there will be a link to “Livestream” where either a livestream of a hearing or recorded hearings can be viewed.
The Vermont Statehouse is truly The People’s House. As citizens of Vermont the work that goes on there is for the benefit of all and is transparent to all. At these times when democracy is under assault by lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories, we in Vermont have an opportunity to see the Legislature in action with our own eyes. Being engaged is a way we can all protect our democratic form of government.