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Vermont Legislative Leaders Begin Series of Community Conversations

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file)

The leaders of the state House and Senate have begun what they are calling “Community Conversations” to hear from Vermonters on what they think are the key issues and how legislators should invest federal stimulus funds.

Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint, both Democrats, are holding a series of listening sessions they are calling: “Investing in Vermont’s Future: Community Conversations.” The first two sessions have been held virtually with residents of Addison and Windsor counties.

At the first town hall with Addison County residents Speaker Krowinski said they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make significant investments to transform the future of the state.

“Thanks to federal stimulus funds, the surge in state revenues and more potential federal funds on the way the Vermont Legislature is positioned to make historic investments in Vermont’s pandemic recovery, address critical infrastructure needs, support Vermonters’ health and well-being and strengthen Vermont’s communities, businesses, climate and environment," said Krowinski. "We are spending this fall reaching out to people across the state. We’re intentionally reaching out to individuals, groups and communities that have not typically been included in the legislative process to gather broad feedback from our citizens.”

Senator Balint said they want to know residents’ hopes for their communities and the state.

“We’ll ask you what you care about, what you struggle with and what you envision for Vermont’s future. And we really want to know what you’re thinking about. And we’ll take your thoughts and ideas along with those from the other conversations we’ll be having statewide. We’ll identify themes, ideas, insights from Vermonters. And we going to bring these ideas back to our colleagues to inform our policy and our budgetary work when the Legislature reconvenes in January.”

Participants joined breakout rooms for focused discussion on issues. Then the moderators provided a quick summary. Balint led a conversation on agriculture, the dairy industry and climate.

“There was quite an impassioned plea for making greater investments there to help people transition from conventional dairy to organic dairy farming.”

Democratic Middlebury Representative Robin Scheu said several issues surfaced during her group’s conversation.

“The first was how many more people are engaged. Zoom actually helped those who had access to broadband to participate in things that they never had done before. And they really found a lot of public engagement that way. We talked about what was called sort of the trifecta of issues: child care, broadband and housing. Those three came up quite regularly." Scheu added, "Transportation in rural areas also came up as a big issue and then near the end we were talking about funding for public education and taxes as some barriers and challenges that we face in getting people to come and keeping people here.”

Vergennes House Democrat Matt Birong added:

“Additionally also concerns over workforce. There was also conversations around heavy property taxes versus keeping rural schools open and that complicated interplay. And then also promoting outdoor recreation as an economic driver.”

Nearly 50 residents of Addison County participated in the first Community Conversation town hall.

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