While this is a fairly somber start to the new year with Omicron cases rising and the end of the pandemic still out of sight, I hope you are finding hope, joy and warmth as we turn the page on 2021. Our legislative session gets underway in just a few days, and I have appreciated your time and input on critical issues facing you and your families.
Before the session begins, I wanted to share some of the key priorities for discussion, and specifically, legislation that I hope to bring to the table:
• Affordable housing and homeownership: According to a December 2021 apartment vacancy survey, the vacancy rate in Chittenden County is 0.8 percent — its lowest point in 20 years. Access to affordable, available housing and homeownership will be a main priority of my committee, Senate Housing & Economic Development.
I am introducing a comprehensive housing bill this session that includes the creation of first-generation homebuyer grants, municipal land banks, increased funding and reduced red tape for housing creation in existing neighborhoods and town centers, a bill of rights for the unhoused and resources for mobile home communities and weatherization.
• Climate action: Together, we can curb climate change and build the economy of the future while centering equity and ensuring no one is left behind. For over a decade, I have worked to advance an environmental justice policy for Vermont so that all Vermonters can enjoy clean air, clean water and a healthy home and neighborhood.
My bill, S.148, is now a priority of the Vermont Climate Council for passage, alongside recommendations for increased funding in weatherization and sustainable transportation, our greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. If we get this right, it’s a win-win for our environment, our health, our economy, and the future.
• Pensions: Our frontline workers are our most critical resource. The state needs to keep its promises for their retirement security. We need a sustained increase in pension funding, along with a meaningful one-time boost to make up for past underfunding. This will pay down our liability and stabilize the retirement system. Once we reach a sustainable path forward, I will work to codify our retirement promises so we do not put our civil servants through this undue stress every decade.
• Criminal justice: We have put too great a burden on our criminal justice system to solve the problems of poverty, inequality and mental health. We must advance a new approach, while allowing victims of police misconduct to access justice. With Sens. Richard Sears and Philip Baruth, I have introduced legislation to end the doctrine of qualified immunity. I am also introducing a number of other reforms to advance equitable public safety, including funding municipal community safety conversations, ending the sentence of life without parole, eliminating cash bail and banning no-knock warrants.
• Paid family leave and child care: As families face daily stressors from close contacts to closed child care facilities, it is a reminder that paid family leave is currently a missing piece of a healthy economy. Many of us are still in the fight to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, which includes four weeks of paid family leave for working families and greater child care subsidies. I have sponsored and championed paid family leave and universal child care access for over a decade, and will continue to do all I can to pass meaningful legislation for working families at the state and federal level.
• Redistricting: Following the 2020 Census, the Vermont House and Senate legislative districts will be redrawn. A significant change is coming to Chittenden County with the breaking up of the six at-large Senate seats. I serve on Senate Government Operations, which oversees this process, and we will work to balance the foundational principle of one person one vote with the unique contours and character of our neighborhoods and towns. It is a process with a lot of moving pieces and a key piece of voting rights and access.
• Reproductive rights: The Vermont Senate has advanced an amendment to the Vermont Constitution to enshrine the right to an abortion and reproductive freedom. This has become even more important than we anticipated given the potential of Roe v. Wade to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This session, the House will vote on the amendment and, when it is approved, Proposition 5 will be on the ballot in November 2022. If passed, we will be the first state in the country to explicitly codify reproductive liberty in our constitution.
My hope is this gives you a sense of our challenges and opportunities this session. Reach out if you have further questions, thoughts or feedback about these issues or any others. Thank you for putting your trust in me. It’s an honor to serve as your senator and I carry your experiences and insights with me into our work every day.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, a Democrat, serves in the Vermont Senate from Chittenden County.