PRIORITIES

My Approach

In my four decades of work I have developed a keen interest and expertise in the areas of education, workforce development, criminal justice reform, housing, and gender equity. The bulk of my legislative work has focused on these issues as well as those that come up in my committee (which includes everything from labor protections to regulating liquor and lottery licensing).

Whatever my particular expertise I am responsible for voting on a wide range of topics that are important to my constituents and to Vermont’s future. To understand issues with which I am less familiar I seek out people whose opinions and values I trust to understand the context and purpose of bills at play: my constituents, those with lived experience, advocates and academics, and legislators on the committees of jurisdiction.

The prioritites below reflect my own experience and what I have learned through conversations and reading . My positions are not immutable; indeed, I’ve found that the primary difference between being an advocate and serving as a legislator is my responsibility to remain curious and open – sometimes  despite what I think I might know. That helps to build trust in the face of differences of opinion. I believe this to be critical to forward movement.

What you read below represents my key priorities – but it is not all that I care about. Indeed, exposure to the full range of issues that the General Assembly considers has only widened my interests and, at times, changed my views. If something you care about is not on the list or you have a different opinion about something that is, please reach out to talk.

 

 

Racism is systemic and Vermont is late in acknowledging its sustained presence and costs. The legislature took important steps to address racial discrimination this session, but the journey to justice and healing will be long and hard. As a white Vermonter, I’m committed to doing my own work to recognizing and confronting racism and to showing up for BIPOC community members.

In the coming year, the General Assembly must work to:

  • Promote the success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Division of Racial Justice Statistics, and the Land Access Opportunity Board  — all of which were created this year and will need legislative support and vigilance
  • Advance criminal justice reform by re-introducing legislation that that would reduce sentencing requirements for a wide range of crimes, including drug possession (which passed the House but remained in the Senate) and ban qualified immunity for police officers
  • Require regular state reporting on, and increasing the percentage of, state contracts with women- and BIPOC-owned businesses 
  • Increase staffing at the state Human Rights Commission to meet increasing demand for its education and legal services

Over a third of Vermonters who work full-time cannot meet their basic needs, including many of the workers who have been deemed essential during the pandemic. Our ability to meet the needs of all Vermonters requires that we find the political resolve and the funding to:

  • Invest in higher education to make a college degree broadly affordable
  • Prioritize state workforce training efforts that nurture and promote existing local talent
  • Support people of color and women in accessing nontraditional jobs in high-wage, high-growth fields
  • Continue our years-long efforts to make child care accessible and pay early care educators a livable wage
  • Pass paid family leave
  • Incentivize the creation of workforce housing
  • Ban prohibitions from future employment in settlement agreements with employees who file harassment complaints 
  • Advance single-payer health care

There’s no argument that Vermont is facing a statewide housing crisis. Part of the problem lies in a significant drop in the rate at which housing has been built over the past four decades. In 1980, housing stock grew at an annual rate of 1.8%. By 2019, the rate at which we were producing housing had dropped by 87% to 0.2% per year. This translates into a reduction in housing units from 3,200 units per year to about 400.

Thanks to federal COVID relief, we’ve made historic investments in housing – totaling over $300 million – to support new construction, bring vacant rental properties up to code and back online, grants for first-time, first-generation home buyers, development subsidies to increase the stock of “middle income” housing, and emergency housing assistance and program support for Vermonters who are homeless. 

And…it’s not enough. Solving Vermont’s long-term housing shortage will require a range of strategies, among them:

  • ensuring that housing development and conservation be prioritized and receive its full share of state property transfer tax revenues as required by statute
  • expanding the geographic accessibility of housing for people exiting in-patient substance addiction treatment, including housing for individuals with children
  • Fund and incentivize repairs and improvements in housing for agricultural workers
  • ensure the safety of rental housing by creating a statewide rental registry
  • pursuing additional changes in zoning to promote greater density in Vermont towns and villages
  • limit the conditions under which renters can be evicted for “no cause”

This year, the General Assembly passed some key bills that have the potential to reform criminal justice policy and practice:

  • H.546 creating the Division of Racial Justice statistics to collect and analyze data related to racial justice in Vermont so that policy is informed by data we don’t currently have
  • H.399 requiring a court to consider someone’s status as a primary caregiver when making decisions about incarceration
  • S.140 protecting access to justice for immigrants by prohibiting immigration agents from civil arrests in Vermont courthouses

In the coming session, we must work to:

  • reduce sentencing requirements for a wide range of crimes, including drug possession
  • eliminate qualified immunity for police officers (which was negotiated down to a mere study)
  • centralize a database of potential impeachment information on officers within the Vermont Criminal Justice Council
  • conduct robust community conversations about corrections facilities, their size, their programs, and effective alternatives to incarceration
  • enact a concealed carry permit requirement and secure storage laws

We moved forward several critical environmental bills this session:

  • S.148, which establishes a state environmental justice policy to ensure that no community is left behind in our efforts to address the climate crisis and create a clean, healthy environment for all Vermonters
  • H500, which bans the sale of most mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs (we’re first in the nation to do so)
  • Investments totaling $40 million for electric vehicles, expanding the state’s EV charging infrastructure, zero fare transit and micro-transit

In the coming session we must:

  • Pass a clean heat standard bill that moves Vermonters off of imported fossil fuels by requiring that fossil fuel companies help Vermonters, particularly those with lower incomes, access more cost-effective, clean, efficient heating options for their homes
  • Ban the sale of cosmetics that contain PFAS and other toxic chemicals
  • Revise Vermont’s “bottle bill” by expanding its scope to include beverages like water, wine, and sports drinks (we were not successful in getting this passed this session)

Get in contact:

Emailtiff@tiffbluemle.com

Phone: (802) 393-8171