Richard Westman

Richard Westman

R-Cambridge, Lamoille, All Lamoille County towns, except Wolcott

What are your highest priorities for the Legislature as a whole this session?

COVID-19 remains on the minds of all of us. It’s still affecting the state and our communities and the way we do business. Whether it’s increased funding for testing or employee shifts in the health department, it’s changed how we live and work. The teachers’ and state employee retirement system and its underfunding is one of our most looming issues for the state. That $3 billion dollar liability sits in my thoughts as we make every financial decision. Transportation, broadband, housing and climate change are all major areas that will be on the agenda this session. With the large influxes of money from the feds due to the recently passed federal infrastructure bill and with the dollars from the American Recovery Act still in play, the Legislature and governor will have to appropriate and set priorities around these monies. In transportation alone we have had testimony that it will take $120 million in new state revenues to match what we are eligible to draw down from the federal government for transportation projects over the next few years.

What do you foresee as hot topics within your committee(s)?

The Vermont State College System is of particular interest in Senate Appropriations. We’ve worked hard over the last two years trying to it to a safer and more financially sound position and to make it more competitive. We’ve spent over $120 million, whether through direct appropriations, system debt reductions, transformation monies or through grants and scholarships for students, to help move the state college system to a more stable position. The central theme in the Senate Natural Resources Committee will be the Vermont Climate Action plan. Transportation and heating produce 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why issues like weatherization will dominate the agenda.

What are some sleeper issues that you think haven’t been given enough attention?

I was pleased when Gov. Phil Scott emphasized work in the trades in his message last week. We don’t have enough plumbers, electricians, licensed practical nurses and trade workers of all kinds. Tech education centers play a key role and any effort to expand workforce training in these fields will, in part, fall to them.

What are your thoughts on having to legislate remotely again, and do you think it’s important to get back to an in-person setting soon?

How we do our business in the Legislature changes by the day and week. I never could have imagined that I would, for a large part of three sessions still be sitting in my office at home for 10 to 12 hours a day doing my legislative duties. People don’t communicate using just their voice. It is hard to build camaraderie when you’re not next to someone and the Legislature is a people’s process. I long to be back in the Statehouse working face to face. After years of service, I have colleagues who are my friends. It’s easy for me even on a screen to talk to them about how they’re doing, asking about their families and their pets. I can’t imagine how difficult this process must be for someone new to the process.

What brought you at least a little bit of joy this week as you got the band back together again?

I’ve been working on the Green River Reservoir issue with the Friends of Green River, community members and Morrisville Water & Light since 2013. It’s an important issue for many in the county.

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