Opening Remarks for the 2020 Legislative Session
Good Morning and Happy New Year. It’s good to be back.
First, please join me in extending a warm welcome to our newest members, Representative Kristi Morris of Springfield and Representative Peter Reed of Braintree.
We owe an enormous thanks to our incredible State House staff for their hard work in ensuring the chamber was spiffed up and ready for business, our bill proposals are drafted and proofread, our economy is thoroughly analyzed, and our committees ready to roll. Did any of you see the scaffolding in the center of the chamber last month? It was quite something! The members in the first few rows will be particularly relieved to know that ceiling is anticipated to stay put for the foreseeable future. No guarantees, but the structural engineer TELLS me it’s going to be ok.
Working with people across the state this summer and fall, I’ve listened to the stories of what makes Vermont special, why folks stay here in our dear state, and why they come here to make this their home. The recurring themes are the vibrant communities, how deeply we value education for our children, and the high quality of life offered here.
We all recognize that we need to what we can to encourage more Vermonters to stay, and persuade more people to make Vermont their adopted home. Last year to do this, we made strong investments in childcare and broadband. People are now moving into the additional housing units that are the direct product of the 2017 housing bond.
News of the economy is mixed. We have historically low unemployment, record stock market levels, and the country’s longest-ever period of economic growth. We’re thrilled to hear about the expansion of Vermont businesses, like Cabot Hosiery.
For most Vermonters, the economy isn’t all that robust. More businesses are eager to expand but struggle to find the workforce. Healthcare providers at all levels are in increasingly short supply. The gains made since the recession have not been spread evenly or equitably to Vermonters at all income levels. A solid middle class is the way to build a strong economy, thriving communities, and opportunities for young people.
It’s why we’ve got to improve the incomes of working families. Access to education and training, livable wage jobs, and increasing the minimum wage are critical steps to helping Vermonters invest in their own futures. A robust paid family and medical leave plan will help the young families- the very ones we are trying to retain and attract- adjust to after adding a child and care for aging parents.
Too many can’t afford the pressures of childcare, health care and housing costs, not to mention the damage caused to homes and property by storms like the one we saw on Halloween – storms that can be devastating to homes and businesses, and threatening Vermonters’ health and livelihoods.
We cannot turn a blind eye to the dangerous side effects of climate change. We have done excellent work in this area. Beginning years ago, we led the way in cleaning up our energy grid. We have one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the country.
But our emissions have been moving in the wrong direction. We must do our part to curb emissions in order to slow the pace of global warming and reduce impacts on Vermont. We do not have time to wait. When I think of the world I want to leave for my nieces and nephew - when I look out in this chamber and think of the children and grandchildren, and in some cases great grandchildren that we represent, I am compelled to act.
That’s why we will be taking a strong look at how Vermont can participate in a regional approach to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI. We have a lot to gain from the investments our state can receive back from this regional partnership, and a lot to lose if we opt-out of participation and still find ourselves subject to the terms of the agreement. Additionally, our committees will be examining ways to hold us accountable to our emissions reductions targets and continue investment in electric efficiency improving our transportation system to save Vermonters money, spur our economy, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
As I look at the weighty issues before us this session, I have a few critical asks to make of each of you.
The first is for civility and respect- for each other, for the many people that work throughout this building, for the many Vermonters that come to us to weigh in on the issues affecting their lives. And yes, Senators. The rhetoric at the national level is unprecedented. It is dangerous. It threatens our ability to engage in the productive discussion and debate that is foundational to our work. And I see signs of it creeping into our beloved human-scaled, community-based democracy here. That disregard of civility and respect will NOT happen here on my watch. I expect you to hold me accountable to that standard as well.
This leads to my second ask. It’s one that each of us- myself included- will probably find challenging at some point over the next few months. I’d like to you trust that every person you interact with here in this building is honoring Vermont’s past and caring about its future. Honoring Vermont’s past and caring about its future. Today marks the beginning of my 18th session. In all these years, I cannot think of a single person whose entire purpose was to be angry & obstinate or to ruin Vermont in whatever your version of disaster looks like. Every person you meet here is working to protect something to which they feel loyal or is trying change a situation to reduce harm or improve hope. You may not agree with their goals or their methods, but if you start with the premise that they are attempting- as you are- to create an even better future for Vermont, it may lead to a more productive discussion of what is important to each of you, and a better understanding of how to get there together.
My last ask is hopefully a little more fun. Get to know a few more colleagues. Break bread with someone outside your committee or party, or age group, or county. One of my favorite evenings of the session is an annual dinner at the home of colleagues- my friends- who are across both the aisle and the state. Ask someone who thinks differently than you do, “Which worries for our future keep you up at night?”, and “What inspires you?” This is a team sport, and it’s up to us to make our teams as inclusive as our state. We’ll do this work better if we understand each other.
Our different experiences, cultures, ideas, and backgrounds, weave stable communities and a healthier future for Vermont. And I look forward to continuing that work with each of you.