Many of my neighbors were dismayed by the results of the presidential election. I, too, am deeply concerned. Decisions that will be made in D.C. will impact how we proceed in the Vermont legislature. As we begin the next biennium, we will face uncertainty in many areas including providing health care to Vermonters, cleaning up Lake Champlain, addressing climate change, and reforming criminal justice. But I choose to remain hopeful, if not optimistic.
At the national level, I am hopeful that governing policy will not mirror campaign rhetoric. To the extent that this is not the case, I have faith in the ability of our institutions to act as a moderating influence. Even though we will have one party in control of the federal legislative and executive branches, the Senate will retain the ability to filibuster legislation that is deemed too extreme. Just as important is the federal bureaucracy, staffed by many career civil servants and constrained by procedural and substantive rules. I worked for 12 years at the Department of Justice under the Clinton and Bush administrations. In my experience, Clinton’s political appointees in the executive branch pushed policy initiatives in one direction and Bush’s appointees pushed in the opposite direction. In both cases, the bureaucracy tended to temper and restrain those efforts. Also, I have confidence that the judiciary will continue to apply the rule of law, upholding the protections afforded by the Constitution and judicial precedent.
Closer to home, the Vermont legislature can play an important and active role in protecting and advancing Vermont values that may be threatened at the national level. We can stand up for state laws if they end up conflicting with federal policies such as those on immigration, L.G.B.T. rights, public education, and social services spending.
I anticipate that the Vermont legislature will maintain the positive outcomes of the last session. In the recent biennium, we reformed criminal justice with legislation that addresses deficiencies in our juvenile justice, victim notification, and driver’s license suspensions systems. We increased access to the ballot box with same-day, automatic (when obtaining a driver’s license), and online voter registration. We also implemented environmental protection measures including landmark clean water legislation, pollinator protection, and balanced renewable energy and solar siting legislation. We enhanced economic development through expansion of a first-time homebuyer down-payment assistance program and other initiatives. We supported children and working families with earned sick leave legislation and education reform.
In the coming session, the legislature should not merely defend our past achievements, but should continue to advance efforts to protect the environment, enhance public education, support vulnerable Vermonters, and encourage appropriate economic development. Of particular interest to me will be our continued efforts to reform criminal justice in the face of a probable change in direction in this area at the federal level. It is likely that the new administration will reinstitute the war on drugs, using increased policing and incarceration to attack not only the suppliers of illegal drugs, but also substance users. Vermont has recognized that such a policy has failed in the past and is unlikely to work in the future. Although the State should continue to rein in the supply of drugs in our communities, the legislature should also expand programs to curtail the demand for these substances, including expanding the State’s Treatment Courts and increasing the capacity of our hub-and-spoke opiate treatment system.
Picking up the slack where the federal government no longer supports our efforts will put increasing pressure on the State’s budget. Recognizing this, the legislature should also work with our new Governor to address the concern of many Vermonters as to the affordability of living in Vermont. To that end, the House and Senate need to continue to ensure that State government is working as efficiently as possible and is delivering results that justify the expenditure of the community’s tax dollars.
Although the tasks of the legislature in the upcoming biennium will not be easy, I look forward to getting to work on January 4th to sustain and improve our way of life in Vermont. If you wish to share your ideas of what the legislature should focus on in the upcoming session, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-3086.