U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Republican Susan Collins, of Maine, introduced the Northern Border Regional Commission Reauthorization Act of 2022.
The bill will extend the authorization of the NBRC and support job creation and community development in the most economically vulnerable parts of rural New Hampshire and the Northeast. The bill is also co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, independent Angus King, of Maine, and Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire.
According to a news release, by reauthorizing the NBRC for another 10 years, the bill encourages business retention and expansion, invests in public infrastructure and promotes tourism across the region.
“To address unique challenges facing rural workforces, the legislation also invests in projects that expand rural access to child care, health care and affordable housing needs,” the release states.
“In my time leading the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have been proud to increase funding for the Northern Border Regional Commission by tens of millions of dollars and ensure that projects in every county in Vermont are eligible. This bill will secure the existence of the Commission for years to come and means that future generations of Vermonters will continue to benefit from its support for their communities and local economies,” Leahy said in the statement.
Bald eagle comes off list
Seven species and three critical habitats received updated conservation designations on Vermont’s Endangered and Threatened Species List, including the highly anticipated de-listing of the bald eagle after over a decade of restoration efforts.
“The bald eagle’s de-listing is a milestone for Vermont,” said Wildlife Division Director Mark Scott. “This reflects more than a decade of dedicated work by Vermont Fish & Wildlife and partners. It shows that Vermonters have the capacity to restore and protect the species and habitats that we cherish.”
That conservation capacity will be essential moving forward.
Along with de-listings for the bald eagle and short-styled snakeroot, a flowering plant of dry woodland habitats, Thursday’s update to the State Endangered and Threatened Species List included a range of new listings.
Two invertebrate species, the American bumblebee and a species of freshwater mussel known as the brook floater, and two plant species, Houghton’s sedge and rue anemone, have been listed as endangered. State endangered species are considered at immediate risk of becoming locally extinct in Vermont.
One bird species, the Eastern meadowlark, received a new designation as threatened. State threatened species are considered at risk of becoming endangered without timely conservation action.
Into the race
Chris Winters, of Berlin, announced his candidacy for the office of Secretary of State following the retirement announcement of his boss.
Winters, 51, is currently the deputy secretary to Secretary of State Jim Condos.
A graduate of Williamstown High School, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the California Western School of Law, Winters has worked in the office since 1997, serving as a staff attorney, then as director of the Office of Professional Regulation before being appointed by Condos as deputy secretary in 2015. He is a Democrat and lives with his wife and children in Berlin.
There are expected to be other candidates also joining the race in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
Afghan Adjustment Act
This week, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, in a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, called on Congress to assist Afghan evacuees arriving in Vermont by passing an “Afghan Adjustment Act.”
According to a news release from Gray’s office, as Afghan evacuees arrive in the United States and are welcomed to Vermont, “many face significant hurdles in their path to U.S. citizenship. Some have received Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) granting them permanent resident status after one year. More commonly, because of the rapid emergency evacuation out of Afghanistan, Afghans are being admitted as ‘humanitarian parolees.’”
The legal process for “humanitarian parolees” is complicated and requires parolees to first apply for and be granted asylum. This process can take years to complete and requires significant, costly legal representation.
“Vermont lacks qualified legal representation to handle additional asylum cases. As a result, Afghan refugees are subject to greater vulnerabilities while contending with an uncertain future,” Gray said in her statement. “An Afghan Adjustment Act would fulfill our humanitarian obligation to vulnerable Afghans contending with uncertain futures. Moreover, passing an Afghan Adjustment Act is the least our country can do to honor the sacrifices of our Afghan Allies and the risks associated with their service.”
Gray, a Democrat, is running for congress.
Decriminalize coalition forms
Decriminalize Vermont, a coalition of organizations dedicated to social and economic justice, including criminal justice, drug policy and law enforcement reform, announced its public launch this week.
Decriminalize Vermont is working alongside a group of 42 Democratic, progressive and independent lawmakers to advance, H.644, a bill that would decriminalize possession of small “personal use” amounts of drugs.
“This initiative builds on the growing support in Vermont and across the nation for approaching drugs and drug use through the lens of public health rather than continuing the failed ‘War on Drugs’ approach,” according to a news release. “With nearly a third of the chamber signed on as original co-sponsors, H.644 is the most broadly-supported decriminalization bill in the nation.”
The coalition includes the following Founding Organizational Members: American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont (ACLU-VT), Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women’s Justice and Freedom Initiative.
Wait times report
The state team examining waits for health appointments released its findings this week, identifying lengthy wait times for Vermonters accessing certain specialty care.
Then-secretary of the Agency of Human Services Michael Smith announced the probe last fall after Seven Days chronicled long waits for appointments. The Green Mountain Care Board and Vermont Department of Financial Regulation joined the inquiry soon after.
According to a news release, the three agencies began their work by convening public forums and soliciting written patient experiences that indicated waits for specialty care could be particularly long. Medical providers from around the state were also invited to contribute. Providers confirmed the challenges Vermonters faced in accessing timely specialty care and expressed concern about patients in need of services.
“This report gathers information from across the state through multiple methods and confirms the testimonials we received from community members and providers over the course of our evaluation,” said Ena Backus, Vermont’s director of health care reform. “We studied this issue during an unprecedented time of disruption and strain for the health care system and know the pandemic exacerbated system challenges. Nevertheless, health care providers have done everything in their power to meet Vermonters’ care needs and are national leaders in COVID-19 response. We look forward to working with our partners across independent clinics, hospitals, and the entire health care system to ensure every Vermonter can get care when they need it.”
The report lays out a series of recommendations to address wait times issues in Vermont. Chief among these is for the Department of Financial Regulation to request authority from the Vermont Legislature to systematically collect wait times data and make it available to the public. The move would make Vermont unique among states in monitoring this issue. Currently only Veterans Affairs hospitals regularly publish wait times estimates.
The aging of Vermont’s provider community and the expected “tsunami” of delayed care brought on by the pandemic have the potential to exacerbate wait times into the future, the report concludes.
On Feb. 14, community leaders and members of the legislature gathered to address the enduring issues of police violence that disproportionately impact communities of color across the nation.
“Comprehensive reforms to policing procedures and accountability measures are necessary and long overdue,” a release on the gathering states.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden County, spoke to police reform bills S. 228 and S. 250, both of which are up for consideration in Senate Judiciary and Senate Government Operations, respectively.
“Public safety is in a state of evolution toward justice and accountability. These reforms are necessary to accelerate that evolution and restructure our current tools to hold law enforcement officers accountable,” said Ram Hinsdale, who is running for congress. “Our communities deserve immediate action. As arrest, sentencing, and police violence disparities continue to grow between Black and white Vermonters, we as policymakers must make justice a top priority.”
Kiah Morris, movement politics director for Rights & Democracy, emphasized that “our law enforcement and criminal justice systems need fundamental reform and in some places a complete restructuring. This cannot happen without the support of strong legislation that will enforce and guide that change moving forward.”
“Vermont made commitments in 2020”, said Rutland Area NAACP President Mia Schultz. “Police violence happens in our state too, we just don’t speak of it in the same way — but despite declaring racism as a public health emergency, despite having all of the data indicating the disparities in policing — we still lack any real accountability laws.”
Farm Credit makes awards
The Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement Program, a joint effort of Farm Credit East and CoBank, recently provided more than $60,000 in grant funding to 17 organizations to assist their efforts to support young and beginning farmer initiatives, encourage youth leadership development, promote diversity equity and inclusion and advance Northeast agriculture, forestry and commercial fishing.
Recipients implementing projects to support young and beginning farmer initiatives, youth leadership development, and educational opportunities include: The University of Massachusetts; National Agriculture in the Classroom; City Green, Inc; Northeast Cooperative Council; NOFA Vermont; Rural Vermont; New Jersey Agricultural Society; Unadilla Community Farm Education Center Inc.; and CNY Fiber Artists and Producers Inc.
This week the state’s Public Utilities Commission denied a request from GlobalFoundries to become its own self-managed electric utility.
The large manufacturing company in Essex Junction was seeking special permission to be free from the state’s most important climate change laws.
Conservation Law Foundation’s Chase Whiting released the following statement in response: “The PUC made the right call today. Allowing GlobalFoundries to skirt the state’s climate laws would set us back years in reaching our pollution reduction goals. This would be nothing more than an illegal loophole for a wealthy corporation, and officials saw right through it.”
Republican Gov. Phil Scott this week announced his appointment of Wayne A. Laroche, of Franklin, to the House of Representatives, representing House District Franklin-5. Laroche replaces former Rep. Paul Martin, a Republican from Franklin, who recently resigned.
Laroche served as the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife under Gov. Jim Douglas from 2003 to 2011. After leaving state government, he worked as a staff scientist for Lake Champlain International Inc. for more than four years, focusing on water quality and fisheries in the Lake Champlain Basin. Most recently, he was director of the Bureau of Wildlife Management at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, before retiring in 2018.
Judiciary extends order
The Vermont Supreme Court has further amended Administrative Order 49, which declared a judicial emergency on March 16, 2020. The order is effective Feb 22.
The court extended the effective date of the administrative order until May 31, 2022.
According to a news release, “The court will continue to respond to the changing situation by amending provisions of the order as necessary but anticipates that some portions will continue to be necessary due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.”
The other amendments provide a procedure for notifying defendants of the availability of federal funds under the Vermont Homeowner Assistance Program, which assists borrowers with overdue mortgages in hopes of reducing foreclosures. The requirements apply in one-to-four-unit residential property foreclosure actions and residential mobile home replevin actions.