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Vermont Legislative Priorities Outlined

Vermont Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe (left) and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson outline legislative priorities
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe (left) and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson outline legislative priorities

The leaders of the Vermont House and Senate discussed the legislative priorities for the upcoming session with reporters in Montpelier today.
With the legislature beginning the second half of its biennium in January, Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson says Vermont faces a number of challenges.  “Within all these challenges lie a lot of opportunities to really address a lot of the core issues that we've been facing. And I think you'll see themes here of creating a strong healthy future, leveling the playing field so that we can create an economy that works for everybody not just those that can afford it.”

A number of issues are already being reviewed by legislative panels.  For example, a meeting on health care was taking place as the leaders spoke. A number of other priorities were noted. Among them, Johnson said both chambers agree that money must be found to address the cleanup of polluted waterways.  “We're concerned that capital money is the only funding source being looked at at the moment by the governor. We want to make sure that we're moving forward in a comprehensive way with a sustainable source. We'll have all kinds of debates about what that funding source might be. But we're committed to making sure that we take long term sustainable action on this.”

The Speaker noted that Vermont is more reliant on property tax than any other state and education funding remains a priority.  “While this is a really difficult issue to tackle we're really interested in diving in to see what we can do to shift the system to something that is a little simpler, that remains progressive, that remains locally determined and that really sets us up to make sure that we can fulfill what I think is government's number one responsibility which is educating its young people.”

On the Senate side, Democrat and Progressive Pro Tem Tim Ashe said a focus will be on human services and the mental health sector.  “We hope to engage with the University of Vermont, the University of Vermont Medical Center, Vermont Technical College and any other partners we can to come up with strategies to increase the supply of home grown nurses with training in psychiatric care.”

Ashe noted that both chambers have relatively new panels to field sexual harassment complaints.  That led reporters to grill the duo over news of a complaint filed against a sitting Senator.
Ashe:  “One of the issues that we are going to have to evaluate is whether the amount of information which currently our policy is allowed to be revealed is sufficient.”
Johnson:  “ I think this is a prime example of us needing to re-evaluate what exactly the procedures are. We’re  really diving in and looking at how we can take our current policies and really make them the gold standard.”

The legislative leaders also expect uncertainty from Washington D.C.   “What we've learned is that all we're going to get out of Washington is uncertainty and so we have to do our best to create that stability and certainty for Vermonters.”

Johnson and Ashe will lead their chambers in working with Republican Governor Phil Scott during the 2018 legislative session which convenes on Wednesday, January 3rd.  

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