Veto session less dramatic than expected

Before I share my legislative update this week: this link connects to a Vermont Community Broadband Board survey. I know there are still significant issues with broadband access in our area, and completing this will help.

And now the fun stuff. We had a veto session last week that was set up to be a very long, dramatic and stressful time, but instead ended up being fairly short and non-eventful, at least from a drama standpoint.

State Rep. Chea Waters Evans
State Rep. Chea Waters Evans

The House overrode a number of Governor Phil Scott’s vetoes. The biggest one was H.494, the fiscal year 2024 budget bill. This wasn’t a sure thing — the Progressive House members and a handful of Democrats held out on approving the budget during the regular session over concerns about the state’s motel housing program, which is being terminated for several reasons, the biggest of which is that covid-related federal funding for the program is no longer available.

I didn’t hold out on the budget; I voted for it both times. It wasn’t an easy decision. The benefits of this program were undeniable, and the crisis of unhoused Vermonters is very real and quite dire. I also see the strain the program puts on local resources, and I know, as do those who work on housing and homelessness every day, that the program itself has its drawbacks. But Vermont doesn’t have laws that keep the government running if there’s no budget, and the potential fallout from stopping funding for other programs felt like too much of a risk to take.

A compromise was reached between the legislature and the administration, and the program has been extended until April 2024 with a plan in place to keep track of everyone affected and their progress toward more permanent housing in the hopes that this is enough time.

I could really get going on the circular nature of our state’s challenges that contribute to the lack of affordable and available housing; I think our override of the governor’s veto on H.217, the child care bill, is one great place to start. Access to affordable childcare is not only essential to attract and keep families in Vermont, but it’s a good investment in the future and a great economic decision. Yes, there’s a cost up front, but I’m confident that helping families from the outset will avoid future costs that are both financial and societal.

We also overrode vetoes on a few other bills that I’ll touch base on later in the summer.

Here’s what I’m working on over the next six months before we go back to Montpelier:

Vermont doesn’t have a good animal welfare/animal control policy. As some in Charlotte became aware of earlier this year, the responsibility to enact whatever statutes exist is split between towns; the Vermont State Police; the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife; the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets; and in some counties the sheriff departments are involved. This makes it difficult for Vermonters to figure out who to call in an emergency and the lack of clarity often leads to these departments referring callers and complaints to other agencies.

Sheriffs and their possibly unethical behavior have been in the news a lot lately; I’m working on some legislation to loop them in to the current code of ethics that state employees and lawmakers adhere to when they’re on the job or in office.

I’m interested in media literacy — the state of Pennsylvania just passed a law adding it to school curriculum, and I think Vermont could benefit from the same education for our students.

Government transparency is important to me. I’m hoping to work on some legislation updating current open meeting laws to ensure that from local to state government, meetings are as available as possible.

I’ll be around town all summer and hope to see as many of you as possible while I’m out and about. If you need anything, email me and my phone is 917-887-8231.