The Legislature began last week with a last-minute shift from in-person legislating back to remote, at least for the first two weeks. My policy priorities, however, remain the same and it’s good to be back regardless of the format.
We are starting the second year of all legislators’ two-year terms, so no changes have been made to committee placements. As I enter my second year on the House Energy and Technology Committee, I am looking forward to making progress on the various issues our committee handles.
Our committee develops policy to promote buildout of universal broadband internet service. Last year, we committed historic amounts of money to the cause, to be administered by the new Vermont Community Broadband Board. We took great care to ensure that public money will go toward broadband buildouts that are part of a strategic plan to ultimately serve all households, rather than leaving isolated parts of communities unserved.
This year, with state money and technical support already allocated, much of the progress to be made in broadband buildout is in the hands of the local communication union districts, as well as the Vermont Community Broadband Board. However, there are some pieces left for my committee to work on, including workforce development for line workers who physically construct the broadband infrastructure by stringing fiber-optic cable on utility poles.
In a less glamorous, but also important role our committee will continue to oversee necessary IT upgrades and cybersecurity measures for Vermont’s state government.
We will also be taking up a bill relating to the use of artificial intelligence in state government. The intent is to make the use of artificial intelligence by our state’s government more transparent, and to set guidelines to ensure that Vermonters’ privacy, rights and access is not compromised by its use. I am taking the lead on this bill in committee and plan to write more about it next week.
What I am most excited about in committee this year is our upcoming discussions on modernizing the electric grid. One of my tasks during the legislative break was to dive into learning about this topic.
Upgrading the features and structure of our electric grid to enable it to run on renewable energy will be essential if we are to transition successfully into the post-fossil-fuel world.
In addition to committee work, my priorities for the session are responding in real time to state needs related to COVID-19. These go along the lines of strengthening our forest products industry in Vermont, changing our education funding formula to ensure equity for rural, low-income, and English Language Learner districts, and, of course, remaining in frequent communication with constituents and listening fully to your feedback. I am starting this session with optimism and humbled by all the work there is to be done.
Lucy Rogers, a Democrat from Waterville, also represents Cambridge in the Vermont House of Representatives.