Dear Neighbors and Friends,
While I love the work up in Montpelier, there is nothing better than coming home. It's been wonderful to be back to enjoy this spectacular summer and fall, to have time with my family, to reconnect with the communities I serve, to work on issues and to prepare for the coming session.
The off-session has been very busy -- I’ve been meeting with constituents and community groups; organizing meetings to advance broadband, the creative economy and renewable energy projects in our region; traveling to Montpelier for the Joint Justice Oversight Committee meetings and to DC for the Women in Leadership conference; participating in local and state-wide conversations on higher education, corrections reforms, climate solutions and strengthening our rural economy. As a State Representative it's such a privilege to meet with a lot of people and hear about struggles and challenges and I try to help them cut through the red tape and connect them with resources. I also get to hear about the success stories and all the wonderful work that people are doing in our communities and it really inspires me and motivates me.
I am working to find solutions and build coalitions to collectively address the social, environmental and economic challenges we face and I wanted to share some of the issues that I have been working on and to let you know about some upcoming events and opportunities.
ADVANCING REGIONAL SOLUTIONS FOR RURAL BROADBAND
As many folks know, improving access to broadband has been a high priority for me. This year the Vermont House passed the boldest, most innovative policy yet to get high-speed internet service to the farthest corners of our state. The legislation empowers local municipalities to determine the connectivity solutions most appropriate for their communities and provides financing programs to get local initiatives off the ground.
Telecommunications are regulated at the federal level, so close cooperation with our federal delegation is key. In July we had a terrific meeting with Congressman Peter Welch to talk about the complex issues around connectivity in our rural state, and while challenges remain, coordinating our state efforts with work being done in DC will mean better access for Vermonters. You can read more about our meeting HERE: https://www.reformer.com/stories/common-ground-found-on-broadband,578557
On September 11th we held broadband meeting and had terrific turnout with folks from Guilford, Vernon, Halifax, Marlboro, Newfane, Wardsboro, Dover, Readsboro, Jamaica, Londonderry, Brattleboro, Rockingham and Wilmington. With the passage of the broadband bill, more funding and technical expertise is available to towns so they can work together to create a plan and a model that will help communities reach the last mile of connectivity. I am so appreciative of the collaborative efforts of Clay Purvis of the Public Service Board, Chris Campany of the Windham Regional Commission and Adam Grinold and Laura Sibilia of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.
If you were not able to make the September 11th meeting - not to worry - you can watch it on BCTV https://www.brattleborotv.org/community-forum/southeastern-vt-broadband-info-mtg-91119.
If you’d like to receive additional information on this topic and be added to Windham Regional Commissions broadband email list, please email WRC directly at email@example.com.
TAKING CLIMATE ACTION
The issue of climate change, and what we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is one of the most pressing challenges facing us today. In Vermont we have not been reaching our targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As we saw during the youth-led Global Climate Strikes on September 20th, Vermonters are demanding a response to climate change commensurate with the scale of the problem.
We know that heating our homes and driving our cars are two of the major drivers of greenhouse gas emissions. Last session we took important steps on climate action by increasing our investments in energy efficiency and weatherization, public transportation, financial assistance for low income Vermonters to upgrade from a gas guzzler to a fuel-efficient car and buy or lease an electric vehicle to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but we know we must do more. I am looking forward to working with colleagues the Climate Solutions caucus to develop climate policies that will help us reach our targets that is equitable for rural communities.
RENEWABLE ENERGY CONVERSATIONS IN VERNON
I believe that one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to invest in renewable energy and battery storage. There is some terrific new thinking around renewable energy, energy usage and battery storage that is happening to “decarbonize” the power grid, by allowing stored renewable energy to be available during times of peak demand, offsetting fossil-fuels.
Working with members of the Vernon Planning Commission, I organized a public meeting that brought energy experts and legislators from the House Energy and Technology Committee to Vernon to meet with town officials to explore possibilities for a utility scale renewable energy project and/or energy hub in Vernon. Many believe that with the existing infrastructure adjacent to the Vermont Yankee site there are some great opportunities. This group of 22 people met on September 27th and included folks from VELCO, Green Mountain Power, Dynamic Organics, NorthStar, Windham Regional Commission and the Department of Public Service. We had a terrific exchange of information and I am excited about some of the ideas that were generated and am looking forward to continuing to work with the Town of Vernon to find energy solutions that are a good fit for the community in ways that will also enable us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for energy production.
JUSTICE REINVESTMENT + CORRECTIONS REFORMS
I sit on House Corrections and Institutions, and while I got to hear alot of testimony in our committee room I also wanted to get other perspectives on our criminal justice system, so I have been getting out and talking with lots of different people. Over the last eight months I have visited three of our correctional facilities, have spoken with current and formerly incarcerated folks, spent a few days in Windham County Court to sit in on proceedings, and met with local attorneys and the staff at the Brattleboro Community Justice Center to hear about some of the good work and some of the challenges.
Despite an opioid epidemic and an increase in opioid-related crime, our incarceration rates in Vermont are decreasing, which is a testament to the positive impact of the justice reinvestment act a series of criminal justice reforms that were initiated in 2007. Justice Reinvestment led to the creation of community justice centers designed to use community based restorative practices to divert people from going to prison and to provide supports to enable people to successfully leave prison; increased use of diversion; built more transitional housing; increased access to behavioral health treatment; and access to substance use treatment programs. Since 2007 Vermont has reduced our incarcerated population by 33% leading the country in criminal justice reform.
This past session my committee thought it was time to enlist the help of the Council on State Governments again to help us with "Justice Reinvestment 2" so we could get the data on what factors are driving our prison population so we can make more informed decisions on how we can best reform and improve programs and facilities. In July I had the opportunity to speak with Rep. Mike Mrowicki about some of the challenges within our correctional system and Justice Reinvestment 2. You can watch the full conversation on BCTV via this link: https://www.brattleborotv.org/montpelier-connection/rep-sara-coffey-71019?fbclid=IwAR2LntD1Nf7Oh5Eq9dfFvBmRJcm9QBU9tlEemylNSznnvCc7GckxCR1Q4
RESTORING THE DAM AT SWEET POND
Over the summer I hopped on my new electric bike (the power assist is great for the hills of Guilford!) to check on the progress of construction of the dam at Sweet Pond State Park. The Agency of Natural Resources has completed the construction of the dam. ANR contractors cleared about 4 acres of woody vegetation from the main channel and deepest parts of the pond. The Parks Regional Manager reported recently that have been studying what to do with the basin before it gets re-inundated and will be doing some hand clearing of the largest trees in the near future in the area that you can see from the dam, which correlates to the deepest part of the pond. They have an in-house crew that will be working on completing the approaches to the relocated trail bridge soon. The hope is that the dam will refilling will start soon, and the area will be open for swimming this summer and that we will celebrate the reopening in late May.
A big shout out to the Sweet Pond Committee that organized the community to bring attention to and legislative action to rebuild the dam and keep this important recreational asset in Guilford.
INVESTING IN THE WORKING LANDSCAPE - GRANT OPPORTUNITY
The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative program was created by the Legislature in 2012 to strengthen and grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont's working landscape through technical and financial assistance to help working lands businesses. This year the legislature raised the budget for the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, and this year the program will allocate more than $1.5 million, including one-time funding for the dairy sector.
The next grant opportunity for the WLEI is open with pre-applications due November 3rd. Grant program and information is available at https://workinglands.vermont.gov/grant-opportunities
Tuesday, October 29th Guilford Energy Committee presents “Paris to Pittsburgh” 6:30PM at the Broad Brook Community Center, 3940 Guilford Center Rd. I'm pleased to be participating in this event that being organized by the Guilford Energy Committee. This National Geographic film celebrates how Americans are demanding and developing real solutions in the face of climate change. We know that climate change is one of the most serious issues facing us today, and I will be sharing my perspective from the legislature and talk about what actions we can take. There will be refreshments and the event is free and open to the public.
Tuesday, November 19 Legislative Update from the Climate Solutions Caucus 7pm at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Brattleboro The Vermont Legislature’s Climate Solutions Caucus has been hard at work since last session developing its priorities for 2020. We want to share those priorities with Vermonters as well as hear other ideas on strategies that will grow jobs, save money and save our environment. Please join members of the Climate Solutions Caucus and local legislators - we want to hear from you!
Wednesday, December 11 Public Hearing hosted by the Rural Economic Development Working Group (REDWnG) 6-8PM at the State House, Room 11 I am a member of REDWnG - a tri-partisan group of legislators that focuses on rural economic development issues in Vermont. The aim of this upcoming public hearing is to gather input from folks in rural Vermont on issues important to them which can guide decisions made in the upcoming legislative session.
STAY IN TOUCH
Your feedback is critical to helping me understand how I can bring your voice and ideas to the State House, so please do not hesitate to reach out - email is usually best.
Once the session starts in January, I will resume my monthly “Coffee with Coffey” hours in Guilford and Vernon – I encourage you to stop by.
It’s an honor to serve Guilford and Vernon in the People’s House. Please stay in touch!
Sara Coffey State Representative Windham-1/ Guilford & Vernon
House Committee on Corrections & Institutions, Room 33 House Seat 60 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Home: 802-257-0288 State House: 802-828-2424