Opinion: Busy first months in the Vt. Senate
My first two months as a state senator have been jam-packed as I’ve learned the ropes and met so many new people in Montpelier. Most of the work of the legislature is done in committee, where small groups of legislators research issues, take testimony from a broad array of interested parties, discuss and amend bills line by line, and craft legislation that committee members can support. I was assigned to serve on the Agriculture and Education Committees. I spend my mornings learning as much as I can about farming, forestry, rural economics, and agricultural and environmental sciences. I spend my afternoons more confidently using my knowledge of education policy and finance.
The Agriculture Committee’s first work was on S.58, a bill related to the state’s hemp program, bringing it into compliance with the 2018 Federal Farm Bill. The bill establishes a fee and rulemaking framework to support small growers and high-quality hemp products. We’re now working on a rural economic development bill that includes a package of provisions to assist the agricultural and forestry sectors, including a pilot program to pay farmers for ecosystem services. We’re also working on a bill to clarify regulations about activity in wetlands on agriculture land. Finally, we’re working on a bill to support and expand Vermont’s Farm-to-School program.
The Education Committee began its work on a bill to require all school districts and childcare facilities to test water taps for lead, following a pilot program that revealed lead levels higher than acceptable in each of the 16 schools tested. S.40 sets strict standards for testing, lead levels, and remediation, and provides school districts with funding to meet the requirements. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is now being considered by the House.
Next, we passed H.3, which creates a social and ethnic studies working group to examine Vermont’s education standards and policies to ensure they are inclusive of all ethnic and social groups. The bill passed unanimously in both Houses. Finally, we’re working on several higher education issues, including creating a task force on campus sexual assault, and a Vermont Promise Scholarship program so more students can afford to attend college in Vermont.
The full Senate has passed a number of other important pieces of legislation, including bills to increase the minimum wage for most Vermont workers to $15 per hour by 2024; increase the legal age to purchase cigarettes to 21 years of age; prohibit direct contributions to political candidates from corporations; and tax and regulate the production and sale of cannabis in Vermont. Many other important issues are pending passage in both Houses, including the FY2020 State Budget, and major legislation on childcare, paid family leave, reproductive healthcare, clean water, toxics, and climate change.
In addition to policy committees, I serve on the Judicial Retention Committee, which reviews most Vermont judges every six years to determine if they should be retained as a judge. This year nine judges are under review. We’ll make recommendations on whether to retain each judge and vote in a Joint Assembly in late March.
I was pleased to second the nomination Colonel Greg Knight of Huntington for the position of Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard. Col. Knight won a heavily contested campaign for the position and will be installed as the new leader of the Guard this week.
I also enjoy working with the Addison County delegation to honor people of note with concurrent resolutions, including the long-time proprietors of the Ripton General Store, Susan and Richard Collitt; the Mt. Abe 2018 Division II Championship Field Hockey Team; and the Foster Brothers Farm, the 2019 Innovative Dairy Farm of the Year.
Finally, it was fun to be joined for my first six weeks as a legislator by my East Middlebury neighbor, Megan Gemignani, who was serving as a Legislative Page. I hope to see more 8th graders from the Addison District working at the Statehouse over the next several years.
It is an incredible honor to represent the people of the Addison District in Montpelier. Please feel free to reach out any time. I work hard every day for the people of our district. Thank you for putting your trust in me.
Sen. Ruth Hardy (D) represents Addison County in the Vermont Senate.
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