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Democracy for America hosts panel discussion

Legislators focus on issues from health care to river bank protection and challenge their constituents to raise awareness in communities SHELBURNE The challenges were flying on Wednesday evening as Democracy for America hosted a panel of six Representatives from south Chittenden towns, and one Chittenden Senator to preview the issues they think will be most important as the Vermont Legislature begins the second half of its current election cycle. The audience, about 25 people who filled the meeting room at Shelburne Town Center, challenged the legislators to follow through on campaigns for health care and energy efficiency and affordable housing. The legislators challenged their audience to talk to the uncommitted and those who are questioning a lack of action on social issues. Talk to them in their own kitchens, said Rep. Jim McCullough of Williston. It is not enough to have rallies of our friends. We need to talk to good Vermont people who arent aligned. Senator Ginny Lyons took the challenge further, saying It is especially important to talk to people in this town who have been spreading misinformation on important issues. Each of the panelists explained what they expected would be the most important issue coming before the committee on which they serve. Rep. Bill Lippert of Hinesburg, who has been in the Legislature for 12 years, chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He said sometimes the work of the committee is in the spotlight and other times it is under the radar. This session he expects their most significant work will be related to sentencing guidelines and cutting costs in the corrections programs. The conflict arises, he says, because it is impossible to get tougher on crime without spending more on corrections. However, he did see hope for cutting the costs of corrections if there can be more action on preventing domestic violence, with community intervention and education. Rep. Helen Head of South Burlington is in her third term and is Chair of the General Housing and Military Affairs Committee, a committee that deals with a disparate mix of housing, labor, military questions and things that dont fit anywhere else. The committee was recently involved in setting a higher minimum wage and she expects the focus for this session will be on housing concerns. Our committee has concerns about the Governors proposal to improve opportunities for housing. We are working on a plan that is more environmentally friendly, doesnt rob education funding and ensures that older housing stock is habitable over the long haul. Senator Ginny Lyons of Williston is Chair of Natural Resources and Energy and also a member of Health and Welfare. She said that re-examining the Catamount Health plan, as well as looking at better prevention and care for long-term chronic diseases, and nutrition programs for children would be key activities of Health and Welfare. The energy bill that was vetoed by the Governor last year has been revised and Senator Lyons said she is confident it will be signed, along with other climate change bills. Rep. Joan Lenes, in her first term in the House, is on the Institutions Committee, where future plans for the State Hospital will be a big consideration. They also work with the capital projects in the state budget and will be reviewing the current challenges to school construction plans. Rep. Jim McCullough of Williston is on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee where storm water and ground water management have been major issues. He said he expects this session will see substantial ground water legislation proposed, and also legislation to improve the health of riparian zones, the river banks that play such a vital role in pollution control and the health of lakes and rivers. He said that New Hampshire and Maine are far ahead of Vermont in this matter having passed such legislation several years ago. Rep. Michele Cupersmith of South Burlington is a member of the Commerce Committee which has responsibility for banking, insurance and other commercial issues. Main focus for her committee will be the telecommunications authorization bill and work force development. There is such a disconnect between the fact that young people are leaving Vermont because they cant find work, and the employers who cant find workers, she said. Rep. Scott Orr of Charlotte, in his second term in the Legislature, is on the House Human Services Committee. He said that during the months when the legislature has not been sitting, they have been conducting forums around the state, hearing testimony by people and service providers, especially related to mental health issues, and the overlap between poverty and corrections. In a question and answer session that ranged over issues including the need for universal health care and affordable housing, cuts in staff in human services, sending Vermont prisoners out of state to for-profit prisons, proposals to expand Vermonts innovative energy efficiency programs, the legislators diagnosed much of the frustration felt by the public and the legislators themselves as a result of what Senator Lyons described as a huge philosophical divide between the legislative and executive branch. She said, There is an idea that private enterprise will find a solution for everything from health care to energy efficiency; they just dont get it.

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