There was actual work happening under the golden dome on Wednesday — the art of crafting law, intense deliberation, the democratic process, etc. — but we’re not here to discuss that. No, the real talk of the Statehouse today was this godforsaken winter storm.
Legislators’ duties continued as scheduled throughout Wednesday, and as I write this silly little newsletter in the evening (from the comfort of my home), House and Senate staff say they plan to press on through Thursday. Numerous lawmakers with long commutes made overnight accommodations in Montpelier and, if need be, senators can Zoom into their hearings at committee chairs’ discretion. (House members technically can, too, but cannot vote via Zoom, and Zoom attendance does not count toward a quorum. The lower chamber, am I right?)
If you didn’t hear about this doozy of a forecast from your weather app, perhaps you read about it in one of Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei’s exquisite forecast emails, in which he warns lawmakers and staffers of incoming severe weather.
“Looks like quite the barn burner of a storm coming in tomorrow. I haven’t seen preparedness advisories like this in a while,” he wrote yesterday afternoon.
I, for one, can’t believe I’ve gone so long without knowing about these missives. I caught up with the chief today, and he told me his rationale is simple: When lawmakers’ and staffers’ inboxes are flooded, how does he get them to open his emails?
“Any email that I send out, if I am not just absolutely at the end of my day and exhausted, I will try to put an Easter egg in it,” our resident Taylor Swift said. “And they're usually a little humorous. Rarely are they sketchy… You know, it's just something for them to look forward to, to give them a break in their day. And to get them to read.”
I happen to know a thing or two about that.
Perhaps my favorite Romei weather scribe came last week, when he wrote, “The ride home tomorrow might get a little sporty…..”
Indeed, yours truly got stuck on the way home last Thursday night. C’est la vie!
— Sarah Mearhoff
IN THE KNOW
On Wednesday morning, lawmakers in the Statehouse cafeteria were greeted with a small breakfast spread, free of charge: cups of granola parfait, homemade cinnamon rolls, and a bowl of apples and individually wrapped pieces of Cabot cheese.
Those offerings were there to illustrate a campaign to make breakfast and lunch in Vermont schools permanently free.
“The pandemic has been a horrible, horrible thing in so many ways,” said Anore Horton, the executive director of the nonprofit Hunger Free Vermont, which organized the spread. “And the discovery that it's possible and desirable to do universal school meals is one silver lining.”
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, an infusion of public dollars paid for breakfast and lunch for Vermont public school students. Now, with funds scheduled to dry up after the 2022-2023 school year, advocates are urging lawmakers to make the program permanent.
Legislative leaders, though, have preached caution around spending, noting that federal pandemic dollars are drying up.
“We will be doing our due diligence this session to carefully consider all needs, recognizing that we don't have the influx of federal funds that enabled this pilot program this past year," Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, said in an emailed statement.
— Peter D’Auria
In an afternoon news conference, Attorney General Charity Clark, legislators and advocates unveiled policy recommendations to help tackle Vermont’s domestic violence crisis and prevent cases from becoming deadly.
Specifically, Vermont’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission studies domestic violence cases that resulted in the death of a victim, or someone else related to a domestic violence case. That can mean a responding police officer, a family member, an intervener or the abuser themself.
“Let's just say it right out: Roughly half of homicides annually in Vermont are related to domestic violence. Half,” Clark said. “And in addition to that, a much larger number, 40,000 people in Vermont, are victims of domestic and sexual violence every year. 40,000 is a very large number.”
Two of the commission’s four categories of recommendations revolve around domestic violence cases which involve law enforcement officers, either as victims or perpetrators. Clark said this is largely because officers who experience domestic violence may be disinclined to report their own abuse to their colleagues. Or, if an officer is perpetrating the abuse, their partner may be afraid to call the police.
The 17-member commission based its four new policy recommendations on research it conducted on five domestic violence-related homicides that occurred in Vermont in 2021. Clark acknowledged that the recommendations have a narrow focus, and are not “meant to be a comprehensive recommendation on how to fix domestic violence.”
“But it's also important — in a way, it's nice — they’re bite sized. They're doable,” she said. “We could do them this session. We could get these across the finish line.”
— Sarah Mearhoff
If you’ve spent any time in the Statehouse, you’ve likely noticed the pages: green-blazered eighth graders, running silent errands between committee rooms.
But on Wednesday, several legislative pages got the chance to take the mic. Seeking insight into the question, “What does a Vermont education look like?,” the Senate Education Committee called on the resident experts on Vermont education — e.g., the people in the building who were currently living it.
Lawmakers quizzed pages on their school experience. What were their favorite classes? Answers included math, P.E. and social studies: “The class discussions, at least in my classroom, are really healthy,” said Nadia Frazier, from U-32.
How were school lunches? “School lunch is… I’m less than thrilled about it,” said Elliot Palm, Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School.
Favorite book? “I read a lot,” said Hannah Young, First Branch Unified School District. “I like a lot of books.”
What did they want to be when they grew up?
Hannah: Maybe a doctor.
Elliot: Lawyer, because “I like the debate and argument side of it.”
Nadia: Potential careers include a judge, lawyer, doctor, author, journalist and Broadway actor.
“It’s kind of all over the place,” she said.
— Peter D’Auria
Testifying to members of the Senate Government Operations Committee on S.17, a bill to reform Vermont sheriffs’ departments, officials from the state auditor’s office revealed that the sheriff of Caledonia County gave himself and his entire department bonuses amounting to $400,000 less than five months before stepping down.
The bonuses, which ranged from $1,359 to $41,112 for 16 people, didn’t violate any regulations. But that’s because the sheriff’s department doesn’t have a bonus policy in place — despite a directive in the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association Uniform Accounting Manual.
“How convenient,” State Auditor Doug Hoffer said in an interview. (The auditor’s office is advocating for a consistent bonus policy across sheriffs’ departments.) Sheriff Dean Shatney, who didn’t seek reelection and whose term ends next week, didn’t respond to messages requesting an interview.
— Tiffany Tan
Vermont is still not meeting its goal of recycling and composting half its waste, according to a new report from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Vermonters still generate about the same amount of waste as they did ten years ago, when the state’s Universal Recycling Law was passed, the report says. Meanwhile, the state’s only landfill, in Coventry, has only about 20 years’ capacity left.
“We’re getting buried in our own trash,” said state Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, chair of the House Committee on Environment and Energy.
— Fred Thys
ON THE MOVE
Gov. Phil Scott signed bill H.42 Wednesday, extending Covid-19-era options for how and when the state’s 247 cities and towns decide local leaders, spending and special articles.
“I’m signing this bill at the request of Vermont municipalities who value an extension to pandemic-era flexibilities,” Scott said in a written statement, in which he also echoed some cabinet officials’ concerns about a temporary suspension of requirements for how schools report per-pupil costs on budget ballots.
The governor also repeated his past objections to the fact the latest bill didn’t call for the automatic mailing of municipal and primary ballots. “As I have said, we should all support increasing voter participation,” he said. “Currently, universal mail-in voting only applies to general elections, which already has the highest voter turnout.”
— Kevin O'Connor
IF YOU’VE MADE IT THIS FAR
I’ve got a real juicy scoop for you. Romei reminded me that Girl Scout cookie season is nearly upon us, praise be, and his daughters are here to provide. I hear there will be 15 cases up for grabs. To answer the question nobody asked, I’m a Thin Mint gal.
— Sarah Mearhoff
WHAT WE’RE READING
VTDigger, state square off before Vermont Supreme Court over secret EB-5 documents (VTDigger)
A $400,000 battery pack was removed from the Statehouse over a fire risk (Seven Days)
Burlington neighbors gather to support teen beaten outside home (VTDigger)
Crime pays: Burlington Police officers land a lucrative side gig (Seven Days)
After a chaotic start, Vermont's first congresswoman finally gets to work (Seven Days)
Covid funds buoy wastewater projects statewide (Community News Service)
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