For the second year in a row, Vermont legislators began the legislative session remotely last week. The House passed a resolution to work remotely for the first two weeks of the session. The intention is to return to the State House next week. The Valley Reporter reached out to the two legislators who represent Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston, Moretown and Duxbury for their thoughts on the opening of the session.
“I have mixed feelings about going back remote,” representative Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, said. “I enjoy in-person and having the State House be open to the public to engage with the Legislature and see democracy in action. It’s a wonderful experience. I think it’s safe for us to be remote. We’re supposed to return next week. I’m not sure what will happen.”
Kari Dolan, D-Waitsfield, said, There’s a “general frustration not being back in-person,” though called the move to start remotely “a public health compromise. The intent is to get back to in-person, but also not spread COVID. We’re trying to be thoughtful of our vulnerable colleagues.”
Both representatives said that one positive thing that has come from the pandemic is the increased accessibility to committee meetings online. “One benefit is the capacity we now have to record meetings or participate via live stream,” Dolan said. “It’s a tremendous leap forward in making sure we continue to be accessible.”
Dolan is in her fourth year as a legislator and serves on the Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife committee. “I’ve dedicated 30 years of my career to the protection of the environment and water resource management,” she said. “I will continue to promote clean water for the public. I’ve identified gaps in natural resources and toxics in the environment as a priority. Another priority is looking at downward trends in data showing biodiversity effects, habitat loss, climate change and pollution.” She said other major priorities for her this session include economic vitality and her work in an economic development working group on the tourism caucus. “Livability is also important,” she said, citing “healthy, livable, walkable downtown areas and pedestrian safety” as a necessity to Vermont. She also said “housing continues to be a major need for our region – affordable, livable housing is a major priority.”
Grad, Moretown, has been a member of the House since 2001. “I’m looking forward to continuing to chair the House Judiciary Committee,” she said. “I will continue to help people recover from the pandemic and to get them the resources they need.” She cited her priorities this session as workforce and economic development, health care, justice reform, racial justice and “the many challenges COVID presents.”
“I will continue to work on issues regarding the justice system,” Grad said. “I really do believe workforce and economic development can be achieved in justice reform.” She is working on a bill to protect victims of violent crimes. “It’s a priority of mine to make sure we are supporting survivors and victims.” She will be advocating to include funds in the state’s budget to support victims through organizations such as the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services. “It’s really important and very helpful to victims,” she said.
“We’re looking at gun violence prevention,” she said, working on a bill “to enhance public safety and the prevention of violence.” She will also continue to work on racial disparities within the justice system, calling recent findings regarding racial disparity in Vermont “disturbing.”
Both representatives encourage constituents to contact them. “I am a firm believer in being accessible to our residents,” Dolan said. Before the pandemic, she’d have multiple public meetings each week. “I want to continue to be available and accessible,” she said. “Please know that a top priority for me is to listen to residents of our district and reflect the interests of residents.