Legislative review: Chris Bray, Senate tackles ethics, speech

On behalf of Sen. Ayer and myself, I want to share news on recent work in the Vermont Senate. As this is my first report, it’s a bit long. Future reports will provide briefer updates.
Here are some of the bills we’ve passed and issues we’re addressing:
S.10 provides for the extension of municipal water systems to homes whose drinking systems (wells and springs) have been poisoned with the potentially cancer-causing chemical PFOA. While many people know that this happened in Bennington, there are 14 towns in Vermont where PFOA has been found.
The committee I chair, Senate Natural Resources and Energy, will continue to work on increasing the safety of Vermonters proactively against toxins of all kinds in the weeks ahead.
S.33 increases the connection between Vermont agriculture and our schools. According to Ellen Kahler, director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, “Vermont’s Rozo McLaughlin Farm to School Program will be the most ambitious and comprehensive in the country, setting two important goals: engaging 75 percent of Vermont schools in an integrated food system education program that incorporates community-based learning and purchasing 50 percent of food from local or regional food sources by 2025. This is a true win-win-win for our schools, kids, and economy.”
S.8 is an ethics bill that creates important safeguards against the influence of money in politics, mandates that candidates for statewide office disclose their previous year’s tax form, prevents legislators and top state officials from lobbying for a year after they leave office, and creates an Ethics Commission act as a clearinghouse for citizen complaints.
S.12 addresses deliberate acts of animal cruelty — such as the killing of a horse by bow and arrow in 2016. This bill increases the maximum prison sentences for first and subsequent offenses of aggravated animal cruelty.
S.18 provides for increased clarity and protection of the rights of free speech for public school students.
The Senate continues to work to provide timely confirmations of Scott Administration appointees, including Katherine Buckley as Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, Michael Schirling as the Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and Lindsay Kurrle as the Commissioner of the Department of Labor.
This week, the Senate will vote on S.79, legislation supported by the Governor and Attorney General to prevent the federal government from using Vermont information to create a database of Muslims in the United States.
Previously, the Senate also unanimously passed Senate Resolution 5 stating that the Senate “will oppose the weakening of federal laws that ensure and protect the rights of all Vermonters, regardless of a person’s ethnicity, legal residency status, place of birth, race, religion, or sexual orientation” and
As a result of prior legislative work regarding effective workplace policies and health insurance, Vermont employers are receiving some good news in worker’s compensation — the annual readjustment of workers compensation claims has lowered premiums 8 percent, resulting in a $15.5 million savings statewide. This is real money back in the accounts of Vermont employers in 2017 to reinvest in our economy.
Overall, Senate committees continue to work hard and take testimony from Vermonters of all walks of life on important initiatives such as economic development, affordable housing, renewable energy, improving delivery of mental health, and other issues.
In closing, thank you for your role as “citizen legislators,” helping to make Vermont an event better place to work, to play, and to raise a family. If you have any concerns or questions about these or any other issues, please get in touch.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do get in touch; it helps us serve you better when we know what’s on your mind. You can reach me at [email protected], or call in a message to 800-322-5616.

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