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It is hard to believe we have just entered the 2022 session of the biennium. Unfortunately, we are still doing it on Zoom but hoping to soon be back in person. As you all know, it is harder to have really meaningful conversations when not in person. But for the safety of all, that is where we are.

In the Senate we are on two committees. In the morning I serve on Judiciary and in the afternoon I chair Government Operations. In Judiciary, we are working hard on issues related to probation, definition of juveniles and other issues. Those are the ones we have addressed this first week.

In Government Operations we passed our three bills. The first allows municipalities to hold their annual meetings by Australian ballot or move the date for this one year. It has passed the House and is on its way to the Governor for signature. The second would allow public entities to hold meetings remotely without having to have a physical location where the public can gather. There have been issues of safety — having one person in a dark, empty building all alone and staffing. This is also only related to COVID. It is currently in the House. The third bill was voted by the Senate on Tuesday Jan. 11 and then goes to the House. It removes the requirement for local candidates to collect signatures on their petitions and eliminated the requirement for school district ballots to be co-mingled. These are both in recognition of the latest COVID outbreaks.

Over the summer I have been co-chairing the Pension Task Force that is looking to save our pension system for teachers and state employees. As of Monday, Jan. 10, we all came to an agreement that has both the state and the employees making additional payments but preserves the pension system and guarantees retirees their health care benefits without additional cost to the state. Details will be forthcoming.

Our committee will continue to work on issues of democracy, law enforcement, state employees, municipal self governance, a code of ethics for state employees and officers and more. There are many bills in our committee and we have limited time — from now until early May — to address those issues. It is important that we hear from you. The General Assembly website is pretty user-friendly. If you go to the Senate Government Operations Committee page you will find our agendas for the upcoming week. In the meantime, if you have issues or concerns feel free to contact me. 802-387-4379 or jwhite@leg.state.vt.us.

A word on the state of our democracy: I believe we are at an important crossroads. The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol was way more than that. It was an assault on our democracy, on our elections, on the importance of civility and a respect for all. We can either just bemoan that, or we can do something about it. And believe me, this is not a partisan issue. I am a Democrat but I have Republican colleagues who are just as concerned. So we can wring our hands and bemoan, or we can do something. That means that each of us has to be vigilant in working to save our democracy. This is a grand experiment and we cannot let it die.

State Sen. Jeanette White, a Democrat, represents the Windham District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.