We’re just two weeks into the legislative session and impactful votes have already been cast. On Thursday an important harm reduction bill passed in the house; last week the House overrode by Governor Scott to pass the “bottle bill”; and new coalitions advocating for economic justice have starting to make waves in the building. In less heartening news, I also wanted to share some information with you about a recent rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate and threats that we’ve seen in our state.
I also want to alert you that on Friday, January 19th I’ll be hosting the first Lt. Gov. Coffee with Constituents of this legislative session. Please stop by my office in the state house between 8:30-10:00 am for free coffee, tea, pastries, and let’s have a conversation about what’s on your mind and what’s been happening in Montpelier.
This week saw a big win for those who are struggling with substance abuse disorder and harm reduction advocates. With a strong vote, H.72, An act relating to a harm-reduction criminal justice response to drug use, was passed by the House of Representatives and will be taken up by the Senate soon. This bill includes funding for two overdose prevention centers and creates the legal framework for the centers to operate.
We all know that Vermont has been plagued by a rapid rise in overdose deaths. Overdose prevention centers are being explored as a way to reduce the number of deaths by creating safe, supervised spaces where people using drugs can have access to clean supplies, testing kits, and staff who are prepared to reverse overdoses if needed. Critically, they also provide resources for people seeking help for their addiction.
Some who oppose this bill fear that these overdose prevention centers will help fuel the opioid crisis in Vermont rather than help those who are facing addiction find a pathway to better health. It is important to remember that once someone is gripped by addiction, we need to find a way to reduce the harm and find a path towards sobriety, health, and workplace and community involvement. This will be part of the solution. Substance use disorder is a complex issue, and those who face it often cannot simply stop using drugs without community support. What these centers will do is give people the tools they need to seek help while reducing criminal charges and ensuring that their lives are not lost in the process.
If you would like to learn more about this bill and about overdose prevention centers, here are some resources:
Last week, the House voted to override the Governor’s veto on the “Bottle Bill”, H.158, by a vote of 112-32. This bill, which passed through the legislature last spring and was vetoed by the Governor in June, will overhaul the state’s beverage container redemption system. More containers- such as water and sports drink bottles- would be accepted at redemption centers, keeping them out of landfills.
The Senate plans to hold an override vote on this bill later this month.
Fund Vermont's Future
Last fall, a coalition of organizations came together to announce the formation of Fund Vermont’s Future (FVF) and the Fair Share for Vermont campaign. This campaign proposes a tax increase on the wealthiest Vermonters (top 2%) that would raise nearly $100 million per year in state revenue. This money could help fund our schools, increase access to healthcare and housing, protect our environment, and fix our infrastructure.
I have long been a proponent of creating a system that taxes people more proportionately to their wealth. By implementing a surcharge on personal income tax for those who make $500,000 or more per year, we can invest more in public services and programs that will benefit all Vermonters, especially our most vulnerable populations. I am looking forward to seeing what this coalition can accomplish during this and future legislative sessions.
You can learn more about FVF and sign up to receive updates about the campaign on their website.
LGBTQ+ Hate Crimes
The beginning this year in Vermont has been marred by an uptick in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. Last week, an organic farm in Isle La Motte was vandalized, causing thousands of dollars in damage. A letter left by the vandals cited their pride flag as the reason for the attack. Over the weekend, a bomb threat caused a Drag Story Hour event in White River Junction to be evacuated mid-event. Between 60-70 attendees were rushed out of the North Stage theater and the remainder of the event was cancelled. I have also learned that two drag queens associated with Drag Story Hour had bomb threats made directly to them and their homes.
The events that have happened over the course of this past week have shown that anti-LGBTQ+ violence and threats are not just a national problem, but a problem rearing its ugly head right here in Vermont. Hatred and bigotry of any kind is unacceptable. We cannot allow such bigotry to go unaddressed.
I would encourage you to support these Vermont-based organizations who do great, inclusive work to support the LGBTQ+ community:
We encourage you to contact your legislators and the Governor’s office on these issues and other issues that are important to you. It takes action on your part to influence the work that happens in the halls of the statehouse.
Lt Governor David Zuckerman