As we enter into the last month of the session, the majority of my committee work in General, Housing, and Military Affairs has been on advancing three Senate bills for discussion and debate on the House Floor.
S.111 seeks to encourage Vermont’s 10,000 veterans who were deployed in various “theaters of operations” since 1990 to sign up to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Pit Registry. Those stationed were exposed to toxic waste as garbage of all kinds was burned in football field-sized open-air pits. Many rare forms of cancers and respiratory issues are now manifesting in those who served. The Burn Pit Registry is the first step for further analysis of these presumptive illness as to whether they are associative or causative due the exposure to airborne hazards. Heart-breaking testimony was heard from a widow and a mother who lost her son, as well as a 31-year old veteran with fourth stage colon cancer who proudly served two deployments, but never thought “my county would poison me.”
The committee also heard testimony on S.23 which raises the minimum wage bill to $15 per hour by 2024. Advocates and practitioners on all sides on this topic spoke to us: unionized labor, health care providers, women’s commission, restaurant owners and individuals that received tipped wages, among many other voices. Some advocated for letting the market adjust working wages, others spoke about the gap for those earning the current minimum wage and the obstacles they face with housing, childcare, food, healthcare and transportation. The Joint Fiscal Office provided an extremely helpful fiscal note, and an analysis of how to mitigate the unintended consequences of a benefits cliff by adjusting the Child Care Financial Assistance Program. Approximately 87,000 Vermonters will benefit from increasing the minimum wage.
I reported on the floor of the House, S.68, which changes the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. After much debate, this was passed by the House. By renaming this legal holiday, indigenous contributions will be highlighted, and historical wrongs redressed. Renaming the holiday, does not erase Columbus, but promises a more robust history for both indigenous and non-native Vermonters, celebrating the cultures, histories, and present-day lived experiences of Abenaki people and other original inhabitants of the Americas.
On behalf of South Burlington, I testified, along with City Attorney Andrew Bolduc, before the House Ways and Means Committee, to support our city charter amendment proposing a one-half of one percent (0.5 percent) tax on rental cars within South Burlington. The revenue would be directed to support highway maintenance and emergency fire and ambulance services. City Manager Kevin Dorn and City Council Chair Helen Riehle also testified. Unfortunately, the committee did not support our charter amendment and is not expected to take action on it.
I also had a lovely visit with principal Mark Trifilio at South Burlington’s Orchard School and had lunch with the kindergarteners. As I had been a pre-school teacher early in my career, it was truly joyous to spend time with these wonderful children and see our great school in action.
Thank you to those who attended last week’s lively Legislative Forum at the South Burlington Public Library. I look forward to these each month. Hope you can join your elected officials at the next forum Monday, May 20, 6:30 p.m., at the library. We should be able to provide a recap of the legislative session.