Continued Conversation on the Development of a New Women’s Correctional Facility

I want to spend the majority of this update discussing my thoughts on how conversations and legislation are shaping up with regard to the women’s carceral and re-entry facility. So I will only provide a brief update on the legislature as a whole. This past week was an incredibly productive week in the House as well as an especially exhausting week with Thursday’s floor debate lasting until 11:00pm. I’m proud of the work we accomplished – some very significant legislation was passed out of the House and has now landed in the Senate.

H.230 is the suicide prevention law that seeks to significantly impact the ease by which any individual experiencing suicidal ideation would have access to firearms. The law would require safe storage of firearms within the home, a 72 hour waiting period for any purchases, and would provide family and household members the right to petition the court to have a gun removed from the dwelling unit. I firmly believe this will save lives. If you or somebody you care about is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988

H.66 creates a state-wide paid family and medical leave insurance program. As written, this law would provide 90% wage reimbursement for up to 12 weeks, guarantees that your job is protected while on leave, and also provides up to 2 weeks of bereavement time off with pay.

H.165 will require all publicly funded schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. This program is especially important to my oldest daughter, Gabby, who will be defending her Ph.D. dissertation in just a few short months at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has devoted her educational career to studying the use of formal and informal social infrastructures to alleviate household food insecurity. Voting in support of this bill brings me a lot of pride and reinforces an important connection with Gabby’s work.

H.127, if passed, would legalize sports betting in Vermont. I was in a small minority of those voting in opposition to this bill. I’m happy to discuss my personal reasons for the opposition should you like to reach out.

Keep your attention on H.483 this coming week (likely Wednesday). This is the act relating to the accountability and oversight of approved independent schools that are eligible to receive public tuition. This is the much anticipated “school choice” debate that seeks to provide Vermont’s response to recent and controversial Supreme Court decisions.

Progress on the Women’s Carceral and Re-entry Facility 

I have already responded to a few of you individually, so some of what follows is a cut/paste of those responses. I want to update you all on recent developments from my committee’s (Corrections and Institutions) involvement with proposed legislation that would impact Vermont’s evolving plans for building new prison facilities.  I was in the room when Representative Brian Cina, along with various advocates, attempted to amend the Capital Bill in ways I would have certainly supported. At this point, H.445, which would impose a 5 year moratorium on building any new prisons, has not been introduced within the committee and will not be up for any General Assembly vote this session. I doubt the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions will even consider it prior to the end of session. Practically speaking, we are likely at least 3-5 years out from breaking ground for any new facility.I worked as hard as I could to get as many of the concepts out of H.438 into stipulations on how the Capital Bill will allocate any money for continued design work on a new facility to replace the current women’s facility that, by any measure, is a substandard facility. I am pleased and grateful that our Chair of the Committee was flexible and willing to include some important intent language into the Capital Bill that will add accountability to the forthcoming design conversations. General language can be found on the bottom page 33. More specific language that will pertain directly to any new women’s facility is found on page 35 of that draft. We voted this out of committee on a 10-0-1 vote and it will likely be presented on the floor for 2nd reading later in the week. Our chair worked directly in collaboration with requests from the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Vermont Commission on Women to draft the stipulations.

I’m grateful to Representative Cina’s continued work on this and am proud to represent Chittenden 15 with him. The next step in the planning for a women’s facility will be for the State to attempt to locate land that would support a more humane facility. There are a many guide rails we can continue to attempt to put in place to hopefully make certain that a broader vision is considered as we look to site and design any new facility. I’m more than willing to talk frankly about my interpretations on how the involved departments might show up for those conversations. Representative Cina and I will be discussing strategy for how to get more concepts from H.438 added onto S.14 that has now arrived to the House from the Senate.
I regret not attempting to request more time for the advocates that joined Representative Cina in the room. I’m still trying to figure out when/how to use my voice and when to interrupt the schedule that is set by our Chair. It’s an interesting balance between securing the Chair’s trust, respecting her history and long involvement with these conversations (a respect that is fully warranted), and pushing against any given day’s agenda. I am committed to working closely with the many advocacy groups who lobby on behalf of justice involved Vermonters and to do my very best to keep their voices at the table. I am always more than willing to continue the conversation either in person or via e-mail to keep you all informed, so please do not hesitate to keep me engaged.