Hundreds of Vermont children and young adults rallied at the steps of the Statehouse Friday afternoon to show support for LGBTQ+ youth.
The rally, organized by Outright Vermont and the national group Queer Youth Assemble, showed support for transgender youth who have been caught in the crosswinds of anti-trans legislative battles across the country.
Twenty-eight people also spoke in support of trans rights and shared their own experiences of living as LGBTQ+ in Vermont — which at times meant bullying from their peers and abuse from their parents. When their voices faltered, the crowd would cry out, “We love you!” One person unbuttoned their shirt (despite a blustery spring wind) to proudly reveal their top surgery scars.
Kids decked in rainbows and wearing trans flags as capes presented a list of demands to Vermont lawmakers for trans youth safety and well-being, including protecting trans students in school and supporting gender-affirming health care.
“We need the state to act in our defense and say ‘queer people are safe here’ by passing laws that protect us,” said Maddie Thibault, a 17-year-old. “We deserve to live and work and play like kids. We’re still kids.”
Two of the state’s most prominent LGBTQ+ politicians — U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., and state Treasurer Mike Pieciak — accepted the letter, along with about 10 legislators. Notably missing from the crowd was anyone from the governor’s office; after a presenter asked if anyone representing Gov. Phil Scott was around, an awkward pause followed. One person shouted out, “They couldn’t even send an intern?!”
Reached after the event, Scott’s spokesperson, Jason Maulucci, said the governor couldn’t attend because of other commitments but "continues to strongly support trans rights.”
— Erin Petenko
ON THE MOVE
After a widely predicted floor fight did not materialize, senators on Friday came together, and, by a vote of 27-2, passed a wide-ranging housing bill intended to ease regulatory barriers to building.
Initially put forward in an attempt to make major changes to Act 250, Vermont’s landmark land-use law, and to force municipalities to allow denser housing in areas served by critical infrastructure, the bill, S.100, now largely only does the latter.
Those local changes, however, would not be minor. The “Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone,” or HOME bill, would effectively ban single-family zoning, allowing duplexes anywhere that currently only permits single-family homes. In areas served by water and sewer, tri- and four-plexes would also be allowed, and municipalities would also need to allow at least five units to be built per acre.
— Lola Duffort
ICYMI, the House worked late Thursday in order to move forward its draft of this year’s budget, H.494, voting 98-34 to give the bill preliminary approval. Debate was minimal, but lawmakers’ walkthrough of the $8.5 billion spending plan was extensive.
Raring for more action, they returned to the floor Friday morning, less than 12 hours later, to give The Big Bill some more spirited debate before offering their final blessing. Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, had some things to say.
“I think (the budget) actually meets the criteria for being a responsible budget this year. The question is, are we being responsible as we look just a few years down?” she said on the floor Friday. “Is that spending — whether one-time or initiating significant new programs — sustainable for the future, or is it going to set us up for fairly catastrophic budgets in the next several years to come? Because if we do that, we end up with very painful cuts in order to keep the rest afloat.”
Despite critiques from Republican representatives and Gov. Phil Scott, members voted 111-38 Friday to send the bill over to the Senate.
— Sarah Mearhoff
The Senate on Friday gave its final stamp of approval to S.102, a bill modeled in part after Congress’s Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or the PRO Act, for short. The legislation seeks to beef up labor rights in Vermont by allowing domestic and agricultural workers to organize unions. It also would crack down on employers’ union-busting attempts.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden Southeast, who is spearheading the bill, presented it virtually on Thursday from the University of Vermont Medical Center as she prepares to deliver her first child. While in the hospital, she noted, those taking care of her are union workers.
Unions, Ram Hinsdale continued, are correlated with higher wages, better benefits, reduced income inequality and higher employee retention rates.
“This all leads to a race to the top economically, with stronger human capital, greater quality of life, lower externalized societal costs, higher productivity, improved business operations and quality of service, and — perhaps most importantly — stronger democracy, freedom of association and fairness where we spend most of our waking hours, in our workplace.”
Stakeholders representing the business community have criticized S.102 not only for the bill’s timing — it was introduced in late February, spending relatively little time in committee before heading to the Senate floor — but for its contents. They allege portions of it could be misconstrued or open employers up to legal liability.
Senators voted 23-7 to advance the bill Thursday, and offered their final approval with a voice vote Friday. It now heads to the House.
— Sarah Mearhoff
WHAT WE’RE READING
2 Vermont State police troopers resign following allegations of offensive language at off-duty party (VTDigger)
A ‘pod’ of his own: How emergency shelter gave one man hope (VTDigger)
Afghan refugees will share Ramadan meal with Bennington-area students and leaders (VTDigger)
How a Vermont binder business is helping people feel more at home in their body (Vermont Public)
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