2021 Legislative session discussion

Friends, Romans and Constituents,  it started like this:

Well, sports fans, as of 5:00 or so PM we, your legislators are “outta here”.  (An auspicious start on Friday at adjournment, but interrupted almost immediately and hopefully submitted on Sunday during a lovely light rain, and oak tree seeding event.) 

First and as always, thank you for the opportunity to serve in this historic era of plague and video legislating, of masks and interacting with a whole crop of new legislators which we never actually got to meet or really know.   It was strange to learn the new ropes of foreign processes, to try to communicate with committee members, and frustrating to try to share and find information on where/who/when/how and what was happening on any given day.  Bills that needed consensus required extra time for investigation and a LOT of the work that would have been done in the halls and cafeteria became impossible to accomplish.   Things moved at a snails pace one day, and in a flash the next.

It was often frustrating for me especially around the issue of the state and teachers retirement system proposals, as someone who has been involved in those systems and their investments for so long.  The “crisis” that was announced was created intentionally and the solutions were, not relevant to the real world that we are living in.  The messaging was convoluted and on the border of disingenuous.  The final solutions are yet to be realized, with a committee having been empowered this summer to make recommendations, but I continue to feel the unintended consequences for 30-50,000 Vermonters will be significant.  The impact on the current employees and the ability for state government/education to recruit and retain a high quality workforce may be sacrificed.  With that, fewer people of high quality will come to our state for employment and fewer Vermonters may/will stay.  We stand to break a promise and that is a shame.  

I feel that if Legislators had been at their desks in the Statehouse, rather than their bedrooms, kitchens or basements around the state, a different outcome may have been possible.  Frankly at adjournment, we were still awaiting information promised by government officials that never appeared.  I found this to be the frustration of Covid legislating.

But, when the final tally is done, we will have produced new and hopefully helpful legislation. This will have caused some to leap in joy and others to leap in anger, distributed a boatload of federal monies to Vermont businesses to keep them floating, to individuals to help them survive (not enough?) and kept our economy going strong in many sectors.    Yes, we all know a business that went under or is still really struggling……and there are many vacant storefronts where we once joined friends for breakfast or picked up a last minute gift.  These small businesses were the heartbeat of many Vermont communities and we all feel sorrow for their demise.  Few of the larger corporations who put out a hand for federal and state largess ultimately failed, and I hope that when these strong businesses are asked in the future to pony up to help others survive, they respond with gratitude and not the usual push back on tax policy or over reach.  We have now seen that we are best served when we are here to HELP each other.   

One thing that was clear from the start was that several state systems, most prominently the Department of Labor, had been neglected for too long and were not capable of serving when most needed.  Deserving Vermonters did not get timely response and fraudulent claims were not prevented.  We invested in updating those needs hopefully.  There is no choice really as the people capable of managing the old computers there deserve to be able to retire…..and there is no one knocking on the door with the skills to replace them.  (See unintended consequence above).

Front Porch Forum is a valuable community resource.   BUT, they also are a member of our business community.   CLICKING the donate button up there in the corner and kicking in a few bucks will help them to continue to thrive in our community also.   

That having been said, there is neither the room nor the time to put forth a detailed summary of the session here and now.   However, between Rep Odie and I—probably over the next couple of weeks, information will be made available on the details of what happened over these last several months both HERE in FPF, on the webpage – BobHooper.org and in meetings like the NPA, etc.   A brief list of areas we impacted is below:

-We hit on trying to improve the delivery of Child Care Services availability and affordability with federal and state dollars.

-Our budget put money into expanding BROADBAND access in rural areas, knowing that the little cable that comes into your house is now a lifeline for health and education as well as entertainment.  So many new Vermonters work remotely, and we are not prepared for that.

-We tried to help with investments into affordable housing availability.  Most current construction is mid to high end and young Vermonters and immigrants need other options.

-Clean water.  Both in getting it and keeping it by limiting harmful “forever” chemical pollution, as well as further limiting the untreated overflows we currently almost ignore.

-The air we breathe was addressed by starting to help people transition to cleaner energy in transportation and other daily life activities.

-Transition to a sustainable workforce with investment in higher education and broad workforce development.  IF we are to build new industry, we must have workers prepared to run the machines and master the techniques of those new incentives.

-We tried to address putting every Vermonter on the same step of the opportunity ladder.  But this is a very hard one to accomplish since really it requires changes to the heart of our population and not the distribution of dollars.  I hope we can talk more about that over the course of the summer.

The most significant discussion we had in Government Operations Committee this year, and in community response, was to the issue of MAIL IN VOTING.  Many of my friends urged a system of regulation to insure our elections were LOCK DOWN SECURE.   While I agree our vote is our most respected obligation, we took days of testimony on the issue of election security for Vermont.  Our last election went smoothly with a couple of validated “problems” and we decided that restrictions in law that would make voting harder were not necessary or effective.  Your signature on that ballot is your bond.  

Basically I trust Vermonters to do the right thing.  I also believe that NO LAW actually prevents crime or nefarious action by people, but only gives society a means to deal with those who refuse to respect the norms we find important and allow us to peacefully exist together.  

So, please email me if you have specific questions StateRepHooper@gmail, or ping the webpage or leave a message on the phone (temperamental battery warning!).

And thanks again for the opportunity to serve and represent you in Montpelier.

Next session my committee will be deep into redistricting.  Now that should be fun!!!

Bob Hooper