It is an honor to be serving Rutland County in Montpelier as one of your senators and I would like to let you know about some of the bills the Senate has passed in the first two months of the session.
S. 18 is a consumer protection bill dealing with the fine print in many of the contracts you sign when buying goods and services. Although most businesses we deal with in Vermont are consumer friendly, some corporations have been increasingly successful in exposing consumers to burdensome demands in contracts for services like cell phones or car rentals. S. 18 prevents “unconscionable” contract clauses, such as requiring consumers to travel to distant locations to resolve disputes and limiting appeal rights. Read the fine print, but if this bill becomes law, you wont have to worry so much about untenable hoops if you have a problem with a company.
S. 23 raises the minimum wage. Currently, our minimum wage is $10.78 an hour and this bill, if passed into law, would raise the rate annually until it is $15 an hour in 2024. The perception may be that the typical minimum wage worker is a part-time high school student, but statistics show that over 40 percent of all minimum wage workers are 35 or older; almost 90 percent are 20 or older. In addition, 41 percent of minimum wage workers are the head of a family providing most of the family’s income.
Last September, the Vermont Department of Health reported that 16 schools tested for lead in drinking water had elevated levels. S. 40 provides 100 percent state funding to test every drinking source at every school and childcare facility in Vermont. Lead exposure for children can damage brain development. We feel this is a very important health issue and passed the bill 29-0.
Campaign finance is a perennial discussion. S. 47 bans corporate contributions to political parties and candidates for office in Vermont. If this ban is passed into law, Vermont will join 22 other states that have banned these contributions in an attempt to clean up the election process and put candidates for our citizens’ legislature on a more level playing field.
Vermont law allows for the legal possession of up to two ounces of cannabis. S. 54 creates a system to regulate the cannabis industry to provide a safe method for consumers to purchase cannabis products. It taxes the sale of cannabis and seeks to eliminate the black market.
Among adults who smoke, approximately 90 percent first used cigarettes before age 19. S. 86 increases the legal age for buying and using cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. The research indicates that raising the legal age of purchasing tobacco products to 21 will result in 11,000 fewer Vermont adults smoking. Research also shows that not smoking is among the best decisions a person can make to maintain good health.
H. 3, which has already passed the Senate and the House, creates a working group to review the curriculum used in all public schools in order to increase awareness of the contribution, treatment and perspective of Vermont’s racial, ethnic and social minorities. The more we know about each other and our differences, the more we know we are the same.
The Senate has also initiated hearings to better understand the health impacts Vermont soldiers deployed overseas may experience due to exposure to “burn pits.” Burn pits are large piles the military uses to eliminate all sorts of waste. This could be a public health crisis in the making, and we need to protect our soldiers.
I voted for all of the above legislation and send this information with the help of the office of the President Pro Tem. These and many other issues will progress as the session goes on. They all need to be vetted by the House and you are welcome to follow the progress of any legislation being considered.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve Rutland County.
Cheryl M. Hooker is a Democratic Rutland County state senator.