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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

The 2021 Legislative Session Begins Wednesday. How's That Gonna Go?

Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would increase the proportion of education resources going to districts with economically disadvantaged students.
Angela Evancie
VPR File
The Statehouse will not be filled with legislators this year, as most are working from home over Zoom.

Wednesday is the first day of the 2021 legislative session, and the Statehouse is faced with quite an unusual openining day, followed by a remote start to the session. This hour, we talk with freshman lawmakers and Statehouse employees about their plans, hopes and worries for 2021. 

Our guests are:

  • Tom Kavet, Vermont Legislature's economist
  • Sen. Kesha Ram, a newly-elected Democrat from Chittenden County
  • Josh Wronski, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party
  • Rep. Heather Surprenant, a newly-elected Progressive from Windsor County
  • Rep. Michael Morgan, a newly-elected Republican from Milton
  • Matthew Romei, chief of the Capitol Police
  • David Schutz, Vermont's State Curator

Broadcast live on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 at noon. Rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Vermont Edition spoke with three freshman lawmakers — one from each major political party — about their plans for the new session.

Sen. Kesha Ram: D-Chittenden

Sen. Ram says racial justice and Vermont's recovery from the pandemic are deeply interdependent.

Ram plans to prioritize supporting BIPOC Vermonters throughout the remainder of the pandemic, with a focus on economic relief and addressing inequities related to language. Ram said she hopes to reinstate trust in government among communities that have historically been underserved.

  • “One of my main priorities is language access in State government … Economic and health information was about two or three weeks behind for people with limited English proficiency in the state. That’s a lot of Black and Brown Vermonters in concentrated areas, who are frontline workers in our hospitals and grocery stores. A two-to-three-week delay is a hazard in a pandemic.”
  • “We’ve already seen, coming out of some early reports, BIPOC business owners were at the back of the line for economic relief. Economic wellbeing is health, and is health care.”

Rep. Heather Surprenant: P-Windsor

As a farmer, Rep. Surprenant said she hopes to use her voice in the Vermont House to elevate the needs of farmers statewide. Incorporating the voices of rural community members into the Progressive party’s platform, Surprenant said she plans to bring an intersectional lens to agriculture.

  • “You can’t leave agriculture out of the conversation. When you’re looking at 1 out of 3 Vermonters being food insecure, farming plays an absolutely critical role in addressing that. Additionally, we need to recognize that our farmers and food producers are the fabric of Vermont’s rural economy. [We need to] make sure they are present and part of this conversation, and what they need is being addressed.”
  • “Agriculture is truly intersectional, and it can’t be left out when we’re talking about the pandemic.”

Rep. Michael Morgan: R-Grand Isle-Chittenden

Rep. Morgan is a former military officer who unseated former House Speaker Mitzi Johnson in November, to represent Grand Isle-Chittenden.

As a member of the minority party in the House, Morgan said he hopes to bring a voice to conservative Vermonters who have felt unheard, while reaching across party lines to pass critical legislation this session.

  • “If you have diversity of thought, you bring dialogue to the table, versus stagnation. This will craft and create better legislation for all Vermonters … I’m hopeful that gains on the Republican side are taken note of, and it does lead to more reaching across the aisle.” 
  • “I’ve been hearing from constituents that, with the augmentation of the Global Warming Solutions Act last biennium, there are talks of taking the Transportation Climate Initiative which we are part of and expanding that. And potentially, if legislation is passed, adding upwards of 17 cents-a-gallon to gas and diesel [prices]. Especially in our district, people commute pretty good distances to get to jobs … I’m hoping we can stay away from some of that legislation this session, and focus on other things.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

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Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Ruby Smith was an intern in the Vermont Edition production team during the winter of 2020-21.
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