I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend and I hope you were able to enjoy the nice weather we had on Sunday. The Vermont State Legislature had another busy week working on bills related to COVID-19 relief as well as the state’s budget. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Education had a brief meeting about Senate Bill S.164 which is our Miscellaneous Ed Bill. We are currently only focusing on sections 10-14 which will help special education surrounding Act 173. You can follow along in any of our meetings by going to our committee website at https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2020/10.
On Friday, Governor Phil Scott extended his State of Emergency in Vermont and all existing mitigation orders and closures until May 15th. The decision was made to help continue to flatten the curve and protect the public from seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Everyone is still being encouraged to practice safe social distancing, work from home if you’re able to, and stay home as much as you can.
The Vermont Department of Labor has seen a significant increase in total claims, which has reached over 70,000 Vermonters claiming unemployment. I have received numerous complaints and issues from many of you during the last couple of weeks and I encourage anyone to continue to reach out to me and use me as a resource as needed. The VDOL has tried to fix these issues by increasing their staff, outsourcing their work, and they’ve also added a new voluntary system to help ease the number of people filing at one time. This will take some time, so please be patient. To learn more please go to the VT Department of Labor website: labor.vermont.gov.
On Wednesday we met as a committee with State House Chief of Police Matt Romei to train on how we can vote remotely. We will be using an online voting app to vote from home, while we meet as a floor via Zoom. We are still a few weeks away from being able to get everyone comfortable with the voting app before we can meet as a floor of 150 members, so we are making sure to spend our time wisely focusing on committee work and our state budget.
Friday we met with members from the higher education community, specifically from representatives of UVM, the Vermont State Colleges, and the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges. They gave us an update on the issues they were experiencing. Some of those issues were that some students were still on campus and couldn’t go home, specifically some international students who couldn’t return to their home country. Other concerns were financial issues with colleges and some even saying they might have to make some tough decisions on schools closing.
We also met with Superintendents, Vermont Principals Association, the VTNEA, and other educational leaders informing us of issues that our local schools are facing during this very difficult time. The issue of online teaching has proved to be very difficult. There are still major inequities with online teaching and learning, mainly with the lack of broadband access across the state. Many teachers and students struggle with broadband access and the schools are concerned about the students' social emotional issues. I applaud everyone’s effort for working for the betterment of our students and I thank you all for your continued hard work.
We are in some really troubling times as a state. More and more people are claiming unemployment as the state has received over 70,000 people filing for unemployment insurance. I hope everyone can stay optimistic as we’re currently making history as a society. I know we’ll get through this because we are Vermont Strong. I hope everyone is being safe and practicing proper social distancing and staying home.
If you ever need to reach me I am always available at email@example.com.
Representative Casey J. Toof
St. Albans City & Town