Sen. Hardy sets priorities for legislative session

MONTPELIER — Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, begins her second year in the Legislature with an eye to the present and the future.

First, the future: She’s running for re-election, and made that clear to her supporters through a “$20 for 2020” campaign email she sent out last month.

As for the present: Hardy is spearheading a half-dozen bills touching upon issues ranging from gun safety to making the portraits on the Statehouse walls more inclusive of the state’s women and people of color.

“The Legislature got off to a really quick start. The first week in committee we were already considering bills and taking testimony,” Hardy said during a Monday phone interview. “That’s one of the good things about the second year of a biennium, is that we’re able to hit the ground running.”

The Senate this past Friday passed a paid family leave bill, and did so by a veto-proof majority of 20-9, according to Hardy. She added she hopes the House passes the bill with a similar majority.

The bill ensures up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a newborn, or an adoption. It also allows a worker to take up to eight weeks of paid leave to care for a sick child, domestic partner, parent, sibling, grandparent or grandchild. Proponents propose to fund the initiative through a payroll tax of 0.2 percent.

“I was very pleased; (paid family leave) has been a priority of mine, and something that I campaigned on,” Hardy said, adding, “As someone who has had three children and never had paid maternity leave, and who had to take time off from work to care for both of my parents, I think it’s a piece of legislation that will have a lot of benefits to many Vermonters.”

Hardy serves on the Senate Education and Agriculture committees. And she has high hopes for a bill, S.271, that she’s championing in the Senate. S.271 would create a Community College Scholarship Program that would extend tuition-free scholarships for Vermont residents attending the Community College of Vermont (CCV).

Tuition rates, Hardy noted, present a significant barrier to many Vermonters considering post-secondary studies.

“That has been a focus of mine, trying to find more resources for higher education to make sure we can get more Vermonters some post-secondary education, a college degree, employment certificate or something after high school,” Hardy said. “(Vermont has) one of the highest rates of high school graduation, but one of the lowest rates of students going on to college.”

CCV has 12 Vermont sites — including Middlebury. Hardy reasoned the scholarship offer would indirectly help the University of Vermont, to which some CCV students ultimately transfer.

Hardy is also marshaling support for:

• S.268, a gun safety bill that proposes to require a 72-hour waiting period for all firearms sales; repeal the statute that permits large-capacity ammunition feeding devices to be manufactured in Vermont; require a firearm not in a person’s immediate possession or control to be locked in a safe storage depository or rendered incapable of being fired; permit a family or household member to file a petition for an Emergency Risk Protection Order; and authorize health care providers to inform police when the provider “reasonably believes” patients pose an extreme risk of causing harm to themselves or other people by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a dangerous weapon.

Hardy made the following remarks at a recent press conference about S.268:

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues in the Senate to support comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation that will help keep Vermonters safe in their schools, homes, neighborhoods, and public gathering places,” she said. “Vermont is not immune to gun violence.”

Hardy cited several pertinent events in Addison County last year, including an averted shooting at Middlebury Union Middle School, a murder-suicide and police-involved shooting in Bristol, a drug-related homicide in Salisbury, and an armed robbery in East Middlebury.

“As a mother and a senator, I have an obligation to keep my children safe and an obligation to keep Vermonters safe,” she said. “This legislation would help do both.”

• S.270, which would to require individuals and establishments offering massage therapy to be licensed and professionally regulated by the Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation.

This bill, Hardy said, is directly related to the case of former Middlebury massage therapist Roger Schmidt, who in July began serving a six-month jail term after pleading guilty to 25 counts of voyeurism and “no contest” to two counts of illegal advertisement of medicine. He was accused of videotaping around 30 women in various states of undress during massage sessions at his Middlebury office.

Hardy and local advocates hope massage therapists can be more closely monitored if they are licensed and their industry regulated.

• S.280, which proposes to require the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation to create resources for the public on forest carbon sequestration. It creates a new analyst position at the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to complete this work.

It also requires the Secretary of Natural Resources to evaluate the feasibility of enrolling state land into a carbon market and to do so if feasible. It also requires the secretary to develop a plan to create a public-private partnership to facilitate forest carbon sequestration projects.

• S.281, which proposes to establish a “Working Group on the Status of Libraries” in Vermont to report on the current status of Vermont’s libraries and recommend improvements to the public library system.

• S.285, which proposes to create a “Statehouse Artwork and Portrait Project Committee.” The goal, Hardy said, is to create new standards for evaluating which portraits should hang in the Vermont Statehouse.

The vast majority of paintings hung in the Statehouse depict white men, many of them past governors, Hardy noted. There are currently only three portraits of women, including former Gov. Madeleine Kunin; Edna Beard, the first woman elected to the Vermont Legislature; and former House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Consuelo Bailey.

Hardy’s bill would create a committee to discuss the diversification of the Statehouse artwork and how to go about doing that.

“The decision to hang (portraits) of mostly governors was a curatorial decision; there’s no law that requires it,” Hardy said. “Those portraits could be changed. Other statehouses have much more diverse artwork.”

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