By Mike Yantachka, Rep.
On Tuesday, Jan. 4, the Legislature returned to Montpelier in person for the second half of the biennium. In a floor session that lasted about 45 minutes, resolutions were passed to allow the House and Senate to meet and conduct business remotely until Jan. 18 because of the rising number of COVID cases due to the much more contagious omicron variant. The intent of the Legislature is to re-evaluate the situation mid-month to determine whether it will be okay to return in person. As we begin the third year of the COVID pandemic, we will have to remain vigilant to prevent its spread as much as possible
But legislative work must be done. On Wednesday Governor Scott delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature. He laid out his priorities to increase housing, develop Vermont’s workforce and use the federal assistance that the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Act. His priorities match well with the priorities of the Democratic-led Legislature, which is to help families, businesses and our economy thrive. Building on the work we accomplished in 2021, we’re ready to hammer out detailed proposals—and make significant investments—that make a real difference for Vermonters.
This will include taking smart, strategic action on climate. The Vermont Climate Council, created by the Global Warming Solutions Act passed last year, has delivered its report with recommendations on steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon through agricultural and forestry land management practices, and adapt our infrastructure to the effects of climate change, and to accomplish these tasks with an eye toward racial and social equity.
We plan to resolve our pension crisis in a way that is fair to teachers, state employees and taxpayers; create greater equity in the way we fund our schools; increase access to healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatment; and address many other critical issues as the session moves into high gear.
While unemployment has again fallen to pre-pandemic levels, there are thousands of jobs still waiting to be filled. This workforce problem affects all areas of the economy, including restaurants, retail, nursing, education, broadband and transportation, among others. While we try to grow our workforce from within the state, our future also depends on attracting new workers to Vermont. A lack of affordable housing and available childcare opportunities are major stumbling blocks to young families who would like to become part of the Vermont community. The investments in housing and childcare we made in last year’s budget will get more attention this year.
After two strenuous years of the pandemic, we must continue to do all we can to end it. Vaccines are the primary weapon in our arsenal. Wearing masks in indoor public places helps prevent the spread. Being cautious in our interactions with others protects us and them. We’re all in this together and have to take care of each other. As always, I welcome your emails or phone calls (802-233-5238). This article and others can be found on my website.