2018 Legislative Session Opening Remarks
When I stood before you a year ago and accepted your confidence as Speaker, I asked for your trust, your curiosity, and your commitment. And you delivered. While my title is Speaker of the House, I’ve learned that my main role is to be Listener of the House. I was reminded of that this morning when I woke up with ears that were working much better than my voice! In the past year of listening, you- and many people throughout the state - have reinforced that Vermont is a truly special place - there is a reason people come here, and there’s a reason people stay here. We will focus this session on policies that make the Vermont dream accessible to everyone and keep Vermont on the path to a strong, healthy future.
Healthy Vermont communities require continued investment in mental health and opiate treatment. It means following through on policies that grow our trained workforce, ensuring we have enough well-trained treatment providers and staff. It means investments in infrastructure so that Vermonters in need of treatment have somewhere to go.
Healthy, safe communities extends to the community in this building as well. In recent months national news was dominated by violations of workplace safety & respect.
Every one of us must do our best to ensure that the State House itself is healthy, safe working environment for all Vermonters. I will be working with the sexual harassment prevention panel and the house rules committee to create the gold standard of policies, reporting procedures and training in harassment prevention. People come to this very special environment in this statehouse to do their best for Vermont. We are all collectively responsible for ensuring that no one else - in whatever capacity they are serving our state- has a reason to walk away from our statehouse community and post “me too.”
A strong Vermont economy means that a person working full time can sustain their families, and that someone able to take a promotion or extra hours can do so without jeopardizing their security. The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral & economic issue of our time, and is a critical component of societal stability
For many Vermonters, a middle-class life—earning enough to cover costs, save a little, and invest in the next generation—is getting harder to achieve. Too many Vermonters are living paycheck to paycheck and are unable to get beyond their next rent payment, much less saving for their future.
When we address the inequalities of a decent wage, access to paid leave and ways for people to invest in their future, we boost the economy and build stronger, healthier communities. Working people and the middle class are the driving engines of the economy. Investing in them is how we build prosperity in Vermont. We will be prioritizing legislation that creates a strong economy that works for all of us, not just a few.
Education is key to our strong health future. To support our children’s education, our children’s teachers, and the well-rounded curriculum our children need to succeed, we will take a serious look at how we fund education and our investment in future generations.
To ensure a secure future for all of us, we will take prompt action to ensure that data security companies are no longer able to profit from exploiting Vermonters.
How we chose to move forward to protect our environment will have a profound impact on our economy for years to come. We are in a time of great uncertainty and great change, and that means we’re facing some of our greatest challenges, yet our greatest opportunities.
A strong economic future for Vermont means a Vermont where we our winter contributes to a robust tourism season, our foliage continues to draw people to the state, and we’re able to a diverse agricultural bounty including the apples, maple syrup, and famous cheeses for which we’re known.
We know that climate change is bad for our economy. Vermont stands to lose small businesses and jobs to unusual weather patterns and polluted lakes. Our foresters worry about invasive species like emerald ash borer. We have very real threats to public health and public safety with insect-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease, and with the displacement of people during catastrophic flooding and storms.
We know that climate change disproportionately affects lower-income Vermont families - families more likely to live closer to flood zones and rivers, and less able to invest in more secure housing or alternative fuels. These challenges are overwhelming, and there is no easy answer. How we chose to address these challenges will define our legacy for the future generations.
Climate change affects every area of Vermont life. We all need to be a part of the solution. With that in mind I am asking every committee in the House to work on legislation within their jurisdiction that lessens Vermont’s dependence on fossil fuels and sets us up for a stronger, more resilient future. These solutions will have to work for our economy, will have to recognize that Vermont is not an island, and will have to protect low-income and rural Vermonters, but we cannot be shy about the challenges or opportunities of climate change.
In addition to tackling climate change, we must take action on securing clean water. Not only for our ecology. But our drinking water, tourist economy, property values, and quality of life depend on it. We cannot afford to ignore this pressing issue and we will take action the session to find the solution that is right for Vermont.
We earned bragging rights this year as the best state to be born in and the state that gives her citizens the best shot at success. We also know that we have great public schools, the happiest, healthiest citizens, and the strongest communities. Let’s work to make sure every Vermonter feels this. Let’s work to give every Vermonter - not just the average Vermonter - a shot at success - a shot at that Vermont dream. And let’s put our heads down, work hard, and ensure that Vermont stays on the path to a strong, healthy future for years to come. Together, we will continue to build a stronger, more prosperous future for Vermont. Let’s get to work.