Dear Neighbors and Friends,
I hope that you enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday. During this time of thanks, it's important to also think about our neighbors who are struggling to keep their homes warm, food insecurity or lack of access to affordable housing. It's a great time to consider what you can do for those who are less fortunate, now and throughout the year by volunteering or supporting some of our local social service and community organizations.
If you know folks who need assistance of any kind, dial 2-1-1, text your zip code to 828211, or visit the Vermont 2-1-1 database. There you will find connections to many programs and services, such as fuel assistance, legal help, transportation and employment. Currently there are over 10,000 services listed that are provided by local community groups, social service and health-related agencies, government organizations, and others.
In a little more than five weeks Vermont's 2020 legislative session will begin on January 7th. I want to hear about what you think of some of the major topics that we will be tackling at the State House. Please take a few minutes and let me know where you stand on some of the issues by filling out the 2020 Vermont issues survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/B9VDP98. Your responses will help me in advocating for the issues that you care about.
RURAL ECONOMY LISTENING TOUR COMES TO SOUTHERN VT
Small businesses are the backbone of the Vermont economy, a top source for job creation, and an integral part of what makes Vermont a quality place to live. In November I organized a listening tour which brought members of the Rural Economic Development Working Group (REDWnG) to Southern Vermont. Eighteen legislators and nine resource people traveled by bus to seven communities to meet with farmers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and creatives. We heard about their successes and challenges and a range of issues from the strength of the Vermont brand to the need for expanded marketing to frustrations with the Act 250 process to some impediments to doing business for the hemp industry, particularly around financial services. We also heard about the importance of the arts and recreational businesses and how they provide jobs, attract visitors and support communities communities.
We heard from so many folks that Vermont is a great place to do business. Many of the entrepreneurs we met have chosen Vermont – some had ties to Vermont and are coming back, others gained skills and talents in a previous career outside Vermont and have brought them to the state. It was great to have authentic conversations and listen to their thoughts about some of the policy issues that we will be taking up in the coming session and how the legislature can best support them and Vermont's rural economy.
Many thanks to Paul Bruhn who inspired the tour and to the Preservation Trust and the Windham Foundation for their support of the REDWnG listening tour.
ADVANCING THE CREATIVE ECONOMY IN VERMONT
There has been national research showing how the creative economy is particularly essential in rural states like Vermont. Arts and culture build the infrastructure for healthy, vibrant communities where people want to live, work, and raise their families.
In early November Robert McBride and I welcomed Karen Mittelman and Amy Cunningham of the Vermont Arts Council to Brattleboro to speak with community leaders and share some of recent research on Vermont's creative economy. We heard that Vermont has a higher share of jobs in creative industries (7% of all employment) than the average across the United States. The majority of those jobs are in design, specialty foods, and visual arts and crafts.
I’m looking forward to reading the final report and making the case for investment to help creative entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and thrive in Vermont. Many thanks to the Windham Regional Planning Commission for hosting our meeting.
UPDATE ON JUSTICE REINVESTMENT II
As most folks know I sit on the House Corrections and Institutions Committee. In Vermont we are seeing some concerning trends: an increase in state’s pre-trial population; prison facilities operating at 138 percent above their design capacity; and 30 percent rise in violent crime.
Many of us are pushing for some criminal justice and corrections policy reforms and I have been following the work of the Justice Reinvestment II. The working group has been led by Justice Center at the Council of State Governments with participation from representatives from all three branches of state government as well as criminal justice stakeholders. They have been collecting and analyzing data and have been sharing some of their findings with the Joint Justice Oversight Committee, and developing policy options for the legislature. If you would like to see their reports click HERE.
I am looking forward to using this research and working with my colleagues so we can identify possible opportunities to strengthen front-end programs and services to continue expanding connections to services and programs for people with higher risks and complex needs; provide services that are more consistent in quality, outcomes, and access across the state; ensure that incarcerated people are receiving the types of programming they need to best prepare them for successful reentry and lower recidivism; develop policies to advance evidence-based practices in probation, parole, and furlough supervision; identify how behavioral health needs identified and met as a person interacts with and moves through criminal justice settings across the state and understand where there are the gaps, and how collaboration and funding across and beyond state agencies can close these gaps. It is a long and ambitious list, but working across party lines and with the three branches of government and stakeholders, I believe we can make some positive change.
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. If you cannot make it in person, you send written testimony by Dec. 10th to me or Rep. Charlie Kimbell and we will include it in the public record.
Saturday + Sunday, January 4 + 5 Coffee with Coffey Hours first Saturdays in Vernon 10-11am and first Sundays in Guilford 3-4pm In January I will resume my monthly Coffee with Coffey hours: the first Saturdays at the Vernon Free Library from 10-11am and first Sundays at the Guilford Country Store from 3-4pm. Stop by for a few minutes or for the full hour. Hope to see folks!
Thanks for being an engaged community member. It's a real privilege to serve Guilford and Vernon in the Vermont Assembly.
Please stay in touch!
Best wishes, Sara