By Mike Yantachka, Rep.
Over the weekend, I was able to watch a Zoom broadcast of a “Bridging” ceremony for my grandson Guthrie and his Cub Scout den. The ceremony marks the passage of a Webelos Cub Scout to a Boy Scout troop (Scouts BSA). The scout salutes their den leader, removes their Cub Scout neckerchief, walks across a small bridge to where the troop leaders are standing, salutes them and receives their new Boy Scout neckerchief. It is a rite of passage marking a transition.
Bills in the Legislature can be said to follow a similar path, though not exactly. A bill originates in either the House or the Senate. To become law, it must pass in the other chamber as well with the exact same language. The other chamber will often propose amendments, which creates a back-and-forth journey for the bill. This requires time for each chamber to study and discuss the bills they receive, which means that waiting too long to send a bill over means the bill will not get passed. Therefore, the Legislature sets a deadline called “crossover” when bills must be voted out of committee to have any chance of passing during the current session. This crossover deadline occurred last Friday.
During the two weeks following the Town Meeting break, the House passed several bills touching on agriculture, health care, the justice system, and education. Raw milk producers are currently prohibited from selling their product away from their farm. H.218 will allow them to sell their product at farm stands and through CSAs other than their own. Services for mental health patients will be expanded by H.104, which allows certain licensed out-of-state mental health professionals to treat Vermont patients using telemedicine.
The House passed a trio of bills from the Judiciary Committee. H.128 prohibits a person from justifying an act of violence by claiming that they felt threatened by the crime victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. H.195 allows the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in cases related to sexual exploitation of children. Finally, while judges already have an inherent authority to order firearm relinquishment as part of an emergency relief from abuse order, H.133 creates a statutory basis to clarify this authority so that victims will have a clearer understanding that an order removing firearms is available to improve their safety.
The Education Committee brought three bills to the floor successfully. According to a 2019 national assessment, only 37 percent of Vermont’s 4th-graders were proficient in reading, a percentage that declined from 2017. H.101 will strengthen early literacy instruction for Vermont students in grades pre-K to 3. The bill taps into $3 million in federal stimulus funds to provide grants to supervisory unions to improve literacy teaching and outcomes and ensure that students who struggle receive instruction from highly skilled teachers.
Since the state suspended aid for school construction in 2007, H.426 addresses the needs and conditions of public school facilities throughout the state. This bill, funded by $2.5 million in federal stimulus money, takes a step forward by updating school facilities construction standards, conducting a statewide assessment of our school buildings and commissioning a report on state funding options. The long-term goal is to make sure that our school buildings are well-maintained, energy-efficient, safe, and healthy places that meet the needs of 21st century education and technology.
The third bill, H.106, invests $3.34 million in federal funds in a “community schools” pilot program. The bill targets public schools with a high percentage of low-income students and provides three years of funding to hire or designate a community schools coordinator who will work with students, families, teachers and staff, and community partners to transform schools into resource hubs that help both students and families overcome out-of-school barriers to learning like poverty, food and housing insecurity, substance misuse, or lack of access to physical and mental healthcare. Research shows these schools improve attendance, academic achievement, high-school graduation rates and more. As we emerge from the pandemic, H.106 uses federal money to see how Vermont can not only recover but reinvent our schools, while helping our neediest students and families to thrive.