Jeanette White: Diving back into the issues as legislative session begins
Last week in the Statehouse felt like we never left. Except that there were even more issues that popped up over the summer. As a reminder, this is the second year of the 2019/20 biennium so it really is a continuation of everything that happened last year. I serve on Senate Judiciary in the morning and chair Senate Government Operations in the afternoon. Each committee has a lot facing it. In addition there are always other ad hoc groups formed around specific issues, and the entire Windham County Delegation meets together every other week to focus on issues that particularly effect Windham County. An aside here: while we don't always all agree, we respect each other; in my opinion every single one is a valuable member of the General Assembly and has much to contribute.
As you know one of those issues is the Brattleboro Retreat. As an entire delegation we are working very hard to make sure that we understand what the real issues are, how we can contribute to solutions and making sure that we quash the rumor mill when it gets going. There are many "facts" floating around but most need to be looked at in context and with an understanding of how our mental health system in the state is organized, how services are delivered and what our role is. I am not going to go into detail here because as you can well imagine it is a very complex issue and we are working closely with both the Retreat and the Administration to do our part to arrive at solutions.
In Judiciary we are tackling Justice Reinvestment Two. We are working with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to help guide us. Over the past 10 years we have made a lot of progress in our justice/corrections systems due to the help of CSG. One little example is that 10 years ago we had one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and if we had kept on that trajectory it was predicted that we would now have 2,700 people in prison. Because of initiatives we took we now have about 1,700 incarcerated — still too high but we are making progress. We will also look at spousal maintenance statutes, medical monitoring for victims of industrial pollution, and a host of other issues.
In Government Operations we have a number of bills to address: non-citizen voting; workforce challenges in the Department of Corrections; overuse of temporary employees; binding arbitration for state employees; constitutional amendments and more. However, three issues we will be spending a fair amount of time on are the challenges surrounding law enforcement, the crisis facing our EMS providers, and public records. Law enforcement and EMS face some of the same challenges: funding, who is covering what and where, dispatch issues, training and certification, etc.
A Vermont Supreme Court case this summer makes it necessary for us to clarify our public records laws: who has access and when, when it is reasonable to charge, what are the exemptions to access? We will be looking at all the public records statutes.
In our role with the Office of Professional Regulation we are also reviewing how our professions can move us toward climate crisis solutions.
As always, contact us with suggestions, concerns, etc. I read my emails every day but often do not have time to answer them all given the huge amount I get; just in the time I have been writing this I have received 25. If you want to get a message to me — and others — call the Sgt. at Arms at 800-322-5616 and leave a message; a page will deliver. And use the legislative website to follow what is happening. It is easy to use, lists agendas for all committees, all information presented to committees, where to find a legislator, and more. It is legislature.vermont.gov.
State Sen. Jeanette White, a Democrat, represents the Windham District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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