Legislative Report: Senate works on ed, library, tuition bills

We ended our work early at the Statehouse on Feb. 7 due to the huge snowstorm, but otherwise we’re just about one month into the 2020 Legislative Session and it’s been nonstop action!
We’ve already sent several important bills to Gov. Scott for signature. Unfortunately, he vetoed a bill that would have provided universal paid family leave to enable Vermonters to take paid time off from work to care for a new baby or ailing family member. Although there was broad support in the legislature for this program, a vote to override the governor’s veto failed by one vote in the House. Similarly, a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $12.55 over the next two years was just vetoed last week by the governor.
The Senate Agriculture Committee is reviewing several studies we requested last year, including a report on supporting agricultural “ecosystem services” and building healthy soils and the Vermont Agriculture and Food System Plan: 2020, which outlines challenges and opportunities for various sectors of the agricultural economy. We’re also working on a number of bills regarding livestock management, pesticide regulation, hemp cultivation, and dairy processing, as well as S.273, a bill I sponsored on incentivizing Vermont schools to purchase more local foods from Vermont farmers and producers. Finally, Team Senate performed valiantly at the Vermont Farm Show Capital Cookoff a few weeks ago, preparing two very tasty maple-inspired dishes for an enthusiastic crowd.
The Senate Education Committee has approved a couple bills already, including my bill, S.281, that would create a status report on libraries in Vermont. I worked with librarians in Addison County and at the state level to craft a bill that would provide sound information on the work of libraries, how they serve our diverse communities, and what more our state could do to support the important mission of libraries in our towns, schools and colleges. Many thanks to all the librarians who inspired and contributed to this bill.
The Committee is also working on bills related to the role of the State Board of Education, special education, teacher health care bargaining and several miscellaneous items. Finally, we’re working on another of my bills, S.271, to provide free college tuition to students at the Community College of Vermont. Students attend CCV online and at 12 campuses throughout the state and many are modest-income, first-generation college students who work and care for families while also trying to finish a college degree or professional certificate. Vermont’s support for higher education ranks 49th among states and our state has one of the highest rates of public college tuition in the country. Investing in post-secondary opportunities for more Vermonters will provide expanded economic and professional options for young people in our state. The Addison Independent on Jan. 20 published a great Emerson Lynn op-ed about my proposed bill.
The Senate Judiciary and Health & Human Services Committees hosted two experts from Harvard University whose research explores the effect of handgun purchase waiting periods throughout the country over the past three decades. Their research shows definitively that waiting periods work to reduce homicides by 17% and suicides by up to 11%. My bill, S.268, would require a 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of a firearm. Read the researchers’ Case for Handgun Waiting Period Legislation — it’s clear that waiting periods save lives.
Finally, our Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus has been actively pursuing meaningful climate legislation in the areas of transportation, renewable energy use, building efficiency and workforce, and accountability. The Legislative Women’s Caucus and Senate Judiciary Committee have been working on criminal justice reform through recommendations outlined in Vermont Justice Reinvestment II focusing on reforms in the state’s furlough and prison systems.
Please reach out if you have questions, ideas, or would like to visit the Statehouse to testify or just say hello. Thank you for being engaged in our democracy!
Senator Ruth Hardy represents East Middlebury.

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