The following 1/4/2022 statement by Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint outlines, in her own words, the priorities of the Vermont Senate this year – her last as Pro Tem. She is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. House. – Editor
On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate began its work for the 2022 legislative session. Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint issued the following statement outlining her legislative agenda to support Vermont working families:
“As we head into another session marked by the ongoing pandemic, my top priority is making the most of the historic federal stimulus dollars available to Vermont to improve the lives of working families. This means real and sizeable investments, with much-needed policy support, in:
- pandemic response
- addressing the housing crisis
- meeting our critical workforce shortage
- protecting our climate and planet
- accountability in our criminal justice system
- supporting our teachers, public employees, and their pensions, and
- enshrining reproductive rights in our constitution
By meeting these challenges head on, we signal to all Vermonters that we take seriously the grave ways their lives have been impacted in the pandemic and give them real opportunities to thrive in the Green Mountain State.
We must continue to stand with Vermont families, businesses, and communities and support them as the pandemic lingers in our lives. Our very first legislative action in the Senate today was adopting resolutions requiring Senators to be vaccinated or tested weekly, to wear masks when conducting legislative business, and to allow ongoing flexibility for remote legislating. By the end of this week, we’ll pass out a bill giving towns flexibility in deciding how to hold Town Meeting to ensure healthy and safe participation in our local democracy. In the coming weeks, our committees will hear from public health experts and struggling hospitals, schools, and local businesses on how we can best support them. This work will take time, and I continue to call on the Governor to put in place statewide mitigation strategies as soon as possible to reduce the spread of disease and help protect our health care and education systems.
One of my biggest priorities this session will be addressing Vermont’s major housing crisis. Vermonters across the state struggle with housing costs, access, and stability. Businesses can’t recruit employees, workers can’t fill jobs, and individuals and families suffer. The “Investing in Vermont’s Future” community conversations that the Speaker and I held with Vermonters around the state this fall drove home that we need housing at every level—from emergency transitional housing to affordable rentals, houses that first-time buyers can afford to supported housing for seniors. Over the next three years, we will be investing $250 million in building and rehabbing more housing, but we must use other policy tools too. I look forward to tackling the safety and availability of rentals, continued development for downtowns and villages, and pathways to homeownership for more Vermonters.
We also face a broad workforce shortage that greatly impacts businesses and families across the state. This is particularly difficult in essential industries – nurses, childcare providers, educators, mental health professionals, and professionals who support Vermonters with physical, cognitive or behavioral challenges. We also see shortages in the hospitality sectors and in the trades. We will continue to invest in higher education, training, and development programs for key professions, and work to identify new tools to help businesses recruit and retain employees.
We need to address families’ concerns about affording high energy bills, and about what kind of planet our children will inherit. The immediate recommendations of the Vermont Climate Council offer an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously by investing more money in weatherization, energy efficiency, and electrification, to reduce both costs and harmful emissions. We must root these efforts in environmental justice – ensuring that those most impacted by environmental degradation are helped by our solutions.
We also can take meaningful action on racial justice, by seeking to end qualified immunity. This would help Vermonters have access to justice when they are mistreated by members of law enforcement. Vermonters deserve their day in court and they should be entitled to access to judicial oversight when they are abused. The systems we create must be accountable to Vermonters.
We’ll seek a shared solution that ensures a sustainable pension system for our teachers and state employees, and keep pushing for a secure retirement for all Vermonters. We’ll set up a bipartisan, fair redistricting process that strengthens Vermonters’ trust in our democracy. And we will finish our efforts to protect reproductive liberty in our state’s constitution and send the issue to the ballot in November 2022.
This session, we will work hard to deliver incredible results for the working families we represent and make sure all Vermonters see their lives supported by our work. As Pro Tem, I will make sure the Senate stays focused every day on how to make important investments for our state. I look forward to working with the House and the Governor to get our priorities across the finish line, and to live up to the hope Vermonters invest in our process. Together, we can make great change for our state.