by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Five candidates are running for election in the Caledonia Senate district for two seats. The incumbents are Sen. Joe Benning (R) of Lyndon and Sen. Jane Kitchel (D) of Danville.
Gazette towns represented: Danville, Hardwick, Stannard, Walden, among others.
Candidates: Democrats Jane Kitchel, incumbent, and Matthew Choate; Republicans Joe Benning, incumbent, and Charles Wilson; and Independent J.T. Dodge.
As of Monday, candidate Charles Wilson had not replied to these questions.
“I chair the Senate Institutions Committee, the Joint Committee on Judicial Rules, the Capital Complex Security Committee and the Senate Ethics Panel. I am vice-chair of the Senate Ethics Panel. I also serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Joint Legislative Management Committee, the Joint Rules Committee, Senate Rules, the Judicial Retention Committee and the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules…
“Upon completion of the 2020 Census, legislative district lines are going to be re-drawn to reflect shifts in population. Given my experience and positions of authority in the Senate, I believe I am well positioned to rebuff any attempt to decrease the number of legislative seats in northeastern Vermont if our population has decreased. As chair of Senate Institutions, I believe I am also well positioned to continue the roll out of broadband and cell phone coverage, protect the state college system, and push for state support of completion of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.
“[It] is an honor and a privilege to have been previously elected five times by the citizens of this senatorial district. I have endeavored to represent them to the best of my abilities. Even when confronted by someone who has disagreed with a position I’ve taken on given legislation, I do my best to explain why it is that I voted the way I did. If re-elected, I will continue to do the best I can and hope that I can gain the people’s trust.”
“I grew up in Danville on a dairy farm that has been in continuous family ownership and operation since 1839. My parents valued and expected civic engagement and instilled in us the importance of being involved in community activities and to feel an obligation to help others. I was first elected to the Vermont Senate in 2004. Prior to my election I worked 35 years in state government, starting out as a social worker in St. Johnsbury and retiring as secretary of the Agency of Human Services – an agency consisting of nearly half of state government.
” As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee I have responsibility for writing budgets each year that are balanced, reflect policy priorities, and address the financial obligations of the State. I believe that my track record in state budgeting reflects my effectiveness in overseeing this complex “must-pass” bill. The budget bill, which is called the “big bill” for good reason, is where all of state government comes together in terms of funding, policies, and priorities. There are no Vermonters who are not impacted by the services and benefits that are funded in this bill. This year the budget passed the Senate on a unanimous vote which is the best affirmation of my work that I could receive.”
“My name is J.T. Dodge. I live in Newbury with my wife and two children. I was born in Newport and was raised in Island Pond. I am an information technology systems engineer. My wife and I both have small online stores that are growing.
“My wife Jessica and I decided to home school my son (who is 16 years old) a couple of years ago, and this past year we selected to home school my daughter (8 years old) as well. We initially made the decision to pull my son out based on his multiple disabling allergies, many that were exacerbated in the school, and made worse by losing confidence, bullying and suffering grades. It was for different reasons we decided to home school my daughter. She excels in a competitive environment and has above average literary skills. The problem was that she fell outside of the bell-curve. In standard public schools if one falls outside of the mainstream, there is an unconscious effort to keep the child within the learning parameters of the largest majority of students progress-wise. There is little incentive to push effective students to levels that reach
beyond the mainstream or struggling students. My wife and I decided that our children would have a more positive experience at home. I stand behind school choice as I will make the best decisions for my children. Some do not agree that parents should have choices outside of government schools. I’ll add that I appreciate teachers and the patience it takes to instruct those little ones here in Vermont.
“We have such a beautiful state to live in here. It’s not easy and it does take an extra effort to take care of business in the wintertime. We’re familiar with winter vehicle preparation, stacking wood or saving for heating fuel, gathering the shovels and the overall effort it takes each year. We put one foot in front of the other as we always have, and we travel to work each day. Work is the only thing that keeps our heads above water, and I can’t say my neighbors are being successful with this in the Northeast Kingdom and many other corners of this state.
“We should focus on not making the economic picture worse than it already is. The state should have an exhaustive, top to bottom financial audit. This falls upon the office of Secretary of State Condos, and I call upon him to get the job done.
“We should freeze most new expenditures while focusing upon paying debts.
“We MUST build a coalition to repeal the wrongheaded, economically crippling Global Warming Solutions Act. The economic outlook is grim.
“Vermont needs a legislated ethics panel, to address legislators when potentially corrupt behavior occurs by any legislator. There should be hearings and teeth when violations occur. “Here is an example of why this is needed:
“In the recent past, there were three House Representatives that in one way or another, worked for a single major Vermont solar panel installation firm. They spoke to bills regularly that presented legislation on taxpayer subsidized solar panels and their installation. This was wrong and I called it out. Government shouldn’t be in the business of playing favorites, and this is an example of unethical behavior.
“We must deregulate and begin to embrace free market solutions.
“I will also work toward repeal of Act 94 [large-capacity firearm magazines bill], which, after its submission, was marked up far beyond its original intent in a dishonest and underhanded move by the Democrats in Montpelier. Act 94, which bans so-called ‘large capacity’ magazines, is a direct insult to Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution. I will work tirelessly for its repeal.”
“I grew up in Barnet on one of Caledonia County’s oldest working dairy farms, and learned the values of independence, hard work, and fiscal stewardship. I graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy and from UVM on two occasions (biochemistry and nursing). I completed my MBA at Northeastern University. I began working in healthcare at age 12 as a volunteer at NVRH and over the next 25 years worked on CALEX Ambulance and at NVRH in various roles. In 2015 I became a resident of Danville and began working at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin where I am the chief nursing officer. I was elected to the Vermont Senate in 2008 and served 2009-2010 as a member of the Agriculture and Health and Welfare Committees. I worked on bills that advanced economic opportunities, helped our farmers, and made changes to our health care system to improve access and reduce system cost.
“I have been leading our organization through the COVID-19 pandemic and have seen firsthand how quickly economic hardship fell on Vermonters once containment efforts began. I applaud our governor and the administration for their response, and our safety and health have been protected. We now begin the process of recovery, while waiting to see if a resurgence of Covid occurs. I feel the next few years ahead will be challenging to navigate, yet there are opportunities ahead. I am running to offer another perspective to the decision making process and believe that I will bring my experience of growing up on a farm, my past experience in the legislature, and my recent experience leading a large organization through the pandemic to the Senate. We will have to spend our scant resources wisely and I will advocate for protecting our most vulnerable while helping get our economy on track and investing in growing Vermont in the years ahead.
“I believe to be effective you must listen to all perspectives and then make informed decisions that advance our state to the goals we set. I prided myself in my 2009-19 term on working hard for constituents – answering concerns quickly and helping to navigate the issue to a resolution. I will bring an open mind and a willingness to find the best solution to the problem at hand to the table. My number one concern is positioning Vermont to GROW in the years ahead — we must reverse the trend of our shrinking population.”
Benning: “I think the definition [of affordability] is rather simple. Citizens should be able to live without worrying where the next meal is coming from, whether their home will be taken from them, whether they can find daycare and a good education for their children, and work as productive members of society. My constituents want good, well-paying jobs, safe infrastructure (roads and bridges), adequate broadband/cell phone coverage, and taxes they can afford to pay. Fostering policies that provide those things is what I constantly strive for.”
Kitchel: “I think affordability is a lot like beauty – it is in the eyes of the beholder. It is also a wonderful word for political leaders to use because people interpret as it suits them. For someone with great wealth, affordability might be considered within the context of Vermont’s income tax structure which by design is progressive. For low-income households, affordability is often viewed within the context of the availability of decent housing which frequently exceeds the recommended threshold of 30 percent of income. It has long been known that the cost of living is higher on the Pacific Coast and New England. We do have higher energy costs because of our winter weather and our housing stock is older.
“Another factor in affordability is income. This has been the impetus for increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage – one that can support the basics of daily living. A wage analysis by the Auditor of Accounts shows that wages in Vermont for a comparable job in other areas are lower. However, with the ability to work remotely this may change. Related to income is the skill level of workers. We must improve the rate at which our youth go on to further certificate training or higher education after high school graduation. While Vermont has a high graduation rate, it has an unacceptably low continuation rate in further education or skills development activities. A skilled workforce is an essential component of a strong economy. “
Dodge: “I see this as an affordability crisis, while the super majority continues to spend. We can implement free market ideas, to make a change, but it will be a long road if we continue to allow legislators to spin up bills while utilizing citizen taxation as the cost. We are overtaxed and as a Senator, I will be a brake pedal on taxes, and an accelerator pedal on free market solutions that do not require taxation. I will also vote to make strategic cuts to begin relieving fixed income elderly on Social Security of income taxes (This includes retired military).”
Choate: “For me, it is much more than taxes. A place is affordable if you can secure a job, earn a wage that allows you to meet your needs, save some dollars, and have some disposable income. There are many factors that work against affordability in Vermont — housing is limited and expensive; wages are lower than other parts of the country in many sectors; taxes, while progressive generally, are high; property taxes are high; the climate requires expensive heating in winter to name a few. I believe that investing in downtown situated, high quality, affordable housing is a first step we need to take to make Vermont more attractive to live in. We need to work on reducing barriers to opening and siting businesses in Vermont. We must complete the broadband build-out to all Vermonters. We must continue to examine our tax code and look for ways to reduce the burden on all Vermonters.”
Retail Market for Marijuana
Benning: “I was a co-sponsor of this bill, so of course I supported it. The work surrounding the bill’s implementation will be considerable and will primarily involve creation of rules for the roll out of licenses and monitoring of product quality and sales. Only time will tell if anything “more or less ‘needs to be done.'”
Kitchel: “Until this session, I had voted against any bills to tax and regulate cannabis (marijuana), primarily because folks in the public health field are strongly opposed to doing so. While I still have public health concerns with cannabis, I reluctantly had to come to the conclusion that what we have been doing for years is simply not working and I voted for S.54. A Rand study done for the Legislature estimated that 80,000 Vermonters use cannabis. It is my hope that with a regulated market there will be greater health protections in place to assure quality and strength. With the black market there are none. While revenues are of secondary importance, the bill does place a sales tax on the product and these revenues will be used to support after school programs. In addition, up to $10 million is allocated for prevention programs.”
Dodge: “I see what many are calling legalization as decriminalization, which has limits that can fine and incarcerate consumers.
“Businesses should be able to sell cannabis products. Individuals should be able to grow their own without government interference.
Many believe the taxes we get from this product will reduce our education taxes or other affordability problems we have in Vermont. But it won’t — because the legislators voting on these issues are the same ones raising taxes at every turn.
“My compromise would be to support reasonable legislation that would allow for individuals to consume these products, but only as a path to full legalization. In that event, the issue of roadside testing with respect to the Fourth Amendment must be robustly addressed.
“Cannabis isn’t the path to affordability in Vermont. A proper and responsible budget is the only thing that will do that. It’s not going to be easy, but in the long run we’ll have much more affordable lives.”
Choate: “I support the tax and regulate approach to cannabis and am disappointed that it took this long to happen. We will need to evaluate how this market rolls out and if adjustments need to be made, we should be prepared to do so in a timely manner.”
Police Use of Force Bill
Benning: “Although I was not one of the original sponsors, I worked on this bill quite heavily when it came to the Senate Judiciary. I believe the bill’s concept is justified, but recognized police could not meet adjustments to their training protocols in the short time frame that the original bill required. I personally brought the amendment that extended that time out several months in order to give police time to adjust. My amendment was accepted by the committee, voted affirmatively by the Senate, and subsequently concurred with by the House.”
Kitchel: “I did vote for this bill that sets standards for the use of force, deadly use of force by law enforcement officers as well as establishing a duty for other officers to intervene when another officer violates these standards. There is also a provision that a model statewide policy be developed by February 2021 by the Department of Public Safety and the Executive Director of the Office of Racial Equity. The governor did allow the bill to become law without his signature citing that the bill had gaps, lacked sufficient definition in places and required more input from law enforcement and community members. The bill does require Public Safety to undertake a process that includes the list of community representatives and other stakeholders in the policy, number of meetings and the opportunities given for public comment and participation.
There is time to make modifications before the law becomes effective and I am confident that the Senate Judiciary Committee will respond quickly so that we can act on any recommended changes.”
Dodge: “Looks like ‘feel good’ legislation, that accomplishes very little. Nothing really to report other than they appear to have removed the ‘choke hold’ from the police ‘use of force’ policies. Additionally, they added the position of the new Executive Director of Racial Equity as a status reporting agent.
“I see it as a good thing to have a use of force policy, however I would have liked to see a longer, more in-depth discussion that included all pertinent parties affected and involved. Speeding this through into law struck me as national political pandering. We must be more thoughtful and avoid knee-jerk responses.”
Choate: “I am in general support of the goals of S.119 though share the concerns of law enforcement that there is a good deal of grey zone that is created by this change that could be problematic. I will be following the roll out of this in practice and will be open to making changes to this in the coming session that improve the clarity around the goals and intents.”
Benning: “The original intent of Act 46 was to lower property taxes by combining various levels of bureaucracy, while broadening educational opportunities for those at the lower end of the scale. In some districts (my own, Kingdom East, for instance) this actually worked. In others, like OSSU, it appears there are still concerns. I am not sure the current structure can be adequately addressed by the legislature. It may well be that the entire system needs to, once again, be overhauled. I am also concerned about the growing feeling that local control is being eroded.”
Kitchel: “Within this Senate District that consists of 23 towns, including one-third of Orange County, the experience with this legislation has been varied. The bill was passed to address the growing concerns over the costs of our K-12 system. The intent was to use educational resources more efficiently, reduce administration etc. and bend the spending curve or to free up funds that could be used to enrich programs for students. As with any major piece of legislation, we cannot just pass it and move on – we need to evaluate its impact, determine if the intended results were achieved and to modify as needed based on experience.
“Unlike any other area of the state budget, spending for schools, which constitutes about one-third of the state budget, is determined by local voters – not the Legislature. It is not subject to the normal legislative appropriations process of testimony, review, or modification. Funding of schools comes from a separate Education Fund that consists of revenues from the statewide school property tax (which has an income sensitivity provision so that more that 60 percent of homeowners pay their property taxes based on income), along with all sales tax revenues, 25% of room and meals revenues, one-third of the purchase and use taxes paid for vehicle purchases and all lottery profits. Although the total amount of school spending is determined locally, funding must be appropriated from the Education Fund through the state budget process.”
Dodge: “I am not supportive of ACT 46. I believe the money should follow the child, and the parent knows better than anyone else the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Let’s place the parents in the proper role.
“Also, the state shouldn’t force towns to merge their schools. I read recently that two districts were forced to merge, one had substantial financial assets, the other had debt. The district with the local taxpayer-paid funds was forced to hand it over to the merger. This is just plain wrong headed.”
Choate: “Property taxes are far too high, and while we income sensitize them below household incomes of $137,500, we still experience a disconnect between what is voted locally and what the tax bill at the end of the day. I hear this in traveling around the district – many towns produce lean budgets but at the end of the process the property tax rate increases proportionately more than what was in approved local budgets. I would like us to pull together a group to look at revising this entire system with an eye at reducing property taxes – a move that would help make housing more affordable – while also right sizing our spending. We continue to see a decline in students year over year, yet we see massive upwards pressure on the education spending. We must fix this paradox and align spending to the capacity we need for the reduced number of students we serve, then we can look at the taxation system to produce the needed revenues.”
Benning: “Given Vermont’s limited resources, especially as we recover from Covid-19 with anticipated reductions in our revenue streams, I believe we have little choice but to proceed with piecemeal roll out as we can afford it. As a former member of the now-defunct Vermont Telecommunications Authority, we identified areas that could be reached with a combination of efforts. This led directly to several towns in this district (including Hardwick) receiving access. But finding willing providers to cooperate with extending lines to the last mile was our biggest obstacle. Again, given Vermont’s limited resources, this is likely the method we will have to proceed with. That could change with either a massive infusion of federal dollars or new partnership agreements with providers agreeing to extend lines out to the last mile.”
Kitchel: “When Vermont was awarded the federal $1.25 billion Corona Relief grant, I was optimistic that with this funding we could make significant progress on our goal of universal broadband access. Initially for budgeting purposes, I had allocated $100 million of the grant for this use. Then we hit the brick wall of the federal guidelines that greatly restricted how these funds could be used for broadband. In the end, we appropriated $30 million for this purpose, but not necessarily in the ways we would have wanted for the greatest long-term benefit. As we look to the future, I believe the development of the Communications Union Districts (CUDs) are our best strategy to achieve this goal. The budget included $2.5 million in state funds to serve as the match needed by the CUDs for loans from the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). I think as these districts develop they will play a major role in the planning and delivery of this service.
“There have been some discussions as to whether we have the right structure in state government to provide the oversight and leadership for broadband rollout. I serve on the Joint Information Technology Oversight Committee and I believe that this committee has to evaluate this question. We did include funding in the budget for a 10-year telecommunications plan and this work should help guide us to make strategic funding and policy decisions.”
Dodge: “I am a systems engineer in the technology field. I have implemented long distance wireless radios that serve residential and business internet connectivity. We must embrace the free market to stand up these radios. Vermont has unique challenges due to it’s hills and geology, but this is not impossible. What makes it impossible is placing it on the backs of taxpayers.
“I stand firm that less taxation and more free market ideas and implementations will present internet connectivity to those that need it most in the NEK and the Upper Valley. Children and parents need this for school-choice and adults need the opportunity to open online shops, like my wife and I have in Newbury.
“I believe many rural spaces in Vermont will be gentrified if we do not take this important action. It’s time our rural folks have some opportunity, as our more urban spaces do.
Choate: “At the current rate of investment we will need another 15-20 years to complete broadband development to the entire state. If we are serious about a growth strategy for Vermont we must make this capital investment over the next one to three years. I liken this to a large purchase or investment we need to make at the hospital where we will take a cycle of budgets over a few years and lean out some areas to make the needed investment. There are places we can save in our budget to put these funds into finishing broadband — this is an absolutely critical investment to growing our economy.”
Minimum Wage and Paid Family Leave
Benning: “The vast majority of my constituents live in an area that competes directly with the pro-business oriented state of New Hampshire. This necessitates a delicate balancing act between governmental mandates that seek to provide assistance to workers and burdens placed on employers that can lead to them vacating the state if they cannot compete. I walk cautiously on minimum wage increases, especially when they are already tied to the cost of inflation. I can support paid family leave if it is a voluntary program that the workers themselves pay for.”
Kitchel: “I did vote for an increase in the minimum wage to $12.55. Before the pandemic, most employers were having to pay more than this wage to attract workers. So, in many respects this wage only mirrors what had already happened in the labor market due to the workforce shortage. Even large national employers whose business practice had been to pay low wages and externalize labor costs onto public assistance programs such as food stamps and subsidized housing programs were having to change this practice.
“I did not vote for the family leave bill, not because I disagreed with the merit of the policy or the benefit to families. Rather it was a matter of recognizing the reality of the state’s limited revenue generation capacity and starting a new program when we are already underfunding a number of existing commitments to families including housing, college tuition assistance, and our basic safety net programs did not seem prudent. I also had concerns over using a payroll tax as the source of revenue for the benefit. This is a regressive tax and unlike the income tax, all workers are taxed regardless of how little they earn. Historically with the payroll tax the contributor is also the beneficiary such as with Social Security and Medicare; however, this link would not exist for the family leave program. In fact, early experience from Rhode Island indicated that lower-wage employees did not utilize the benefits to the extent of higher wage employees because they simply needed their full wage and could not afford to take a benefit based on a percentage of salary.”
Dodge: “It’s easy for the government to consider raising the minimum wage … but consider for a moment where the money comes from. All businesses are not Amazon or Wal-Mart. When businesses are legally forced to raise wages for the least skilled workers, they will always need to raise the wages of the skilled individuals, in order to keep them. All of this wage raising puts a damper on the business budget that was laid out at the beginning of the fiscal year. Businesses exist to profit, and that profit gives them the ability to hire individuals with the skills to perform the tasks needed for sale. If the profit isn’t there, regardless of the reason, jobs must be cut and/or wages slashed to keep the business above water and paying its liabilities, such as taxes.
“I believe, as I’ve said a few times in this survey, that the path to prosperity and a living wage is via skills. Minimum wage is not a living wage, in particular when the least skilled Vermonters lose their employment as a result of cuts.
“The humane approach is offering Vermonters in the lowest wage brackets a path to higher level skills. We should in my opinion re-orient our perspectives to embrace trade schools and Internet connectivity. Without these two important components, Vermont will become gentrified by expensive climate regulations, and lack of opportunity. And with these important pieces, we’ll give hope to many struggling to find better pay, while in their pursuit of happiness and satisfaction.
“The path to prosperity and a living wage is via skills. Minimum wage is not a living wage, in particular when the least skilled Vermonters lose their employment as a result of cuts.”
Choate: “I support a higher minimum wage. I would like to see paid family leave begin with incentivized participation versus a new payroll tax as we are trying to recover from Covid-19. I think leave programs are important and they should be available no matter where you work, but I am hesitant to impose a tax to pay for this right now – there are ways to incentivize and get employers to group together to provide this benefit first.”
The Opioid Crisis and Criminal Justice
Benning: “Our legislature has substantially increased the number of trained drug recognition experts over the past three years for better enforcement of highway safety when it comes to drug intoxication. We’ve just passed legislation designed to equip all law enforcement with body cameras, which provide on scene evidence of intoxication. We’ve dramatically increased access to the drug Narcan, which can literally bring a person back from an overdose. I’m sure we’ll be looking to equip police with drug testing kits (as in alcohol tests) when they become available…
“I have been a trial lawyer for almost 37 years, have served on Senate Judiciary for 8 years, and now chair the Joint Legislative Committee on Judicial Rules. In addition, I chair Senate Institutions, which is directly responsible for the state’s brick and mortar facilities like jails and courthouses… Vermont’s violent crime rate has decreased while we have also decreased the number of citizens incarcerated. We are very close to the point where we will no longer have Vermonters serving time out of state, a very expensive problem that has plagued us far too long… We learned long ago that the so-called “War on Drugs” was an abysmal failure, resulting in over-incarceration, racial disparities and a system we simply couldn’t afford to maintain. Our biggest problem right now is the virtual closure of our courthouses during COVID-19. The backlog in cases is not the fault of lack of staff, it is the fault of almost no available court time while this pandemic rages.”
Kitchel: “The opioid epidemic presents demands on law enforcement in two ways. First, the dealers of the drug who bring it into Vermont and second, drug-related crimes because of addiction which are not necessarily crimes of violence. Monetary bail can only be imposed if a person presents a risk of flight; a judge cannot impose bail as a form of preventative detention. On any given day there are about 400 pre-trial detainees – half held without bail and the other half are held on monetary bail or approval of a responsible adult. Vermont has placed a priority on assuring the availability of drug treatment with no wait lists.
“Despite prevention efforts, we do not seem to be bending the curve the way we would like. It is always preferable to prevent rather than to treat. Communities are a front-line strategy to this effort and the hospital in St. Johnsbury has staff who work with communities to design strategies to respond based on its own situation.
“Many of the calls received by law enforcement involve domestic violence or an individual experiencing a mental health issue. We are pleased that in this year’s budget, the State Police have allocated funding for embedded mental health clinicians in all but one barrack to assist in these situations where a law enforcement response is not appropriate.
“Regarding the workload of the court, we know that family cases require considerable court time. Currently Vermont brings more children by far into foster care than the states around us. We are exploring ways to improve the adjudication of these cases. As part of this effort, judicial masters will be added which should have a beneficial impact on how children and their families are served and the workload of the court.”
Dodge: “From my perspective a crime is one where someone was harmed, but a serious crime would require someone with malice, physically harming or threatening harm toward another individual, excluding self-defense.
“This state does not have enough addiction treatment centers. Addicts shouldn’t simply be jailed for having a prohibited drug. That’s not sustainable at all, for two reasons, one it’s an economic disaster that already exists, second being, addiction shouldn’t be a crime. Government could play a role in educating and encouraging third party healthcare servicers to have a team of social workers out on the street encouraging the addicted to reach for help. We should and could reach into the free-market of ideas around effective addiction treatment. We can do this by reducing the treatment center’s taxes and reducing, as much as possible, known regulatory stumbling blocks around relocation. Let’s encourage addiction treatment centers to locate their services to all of our counties.
“However, stealing, defrauding, assaulting, breaking and entering are all very much crimes, and these behaviors should in my opinion be dealt with based on the gravity of their actions, and the harm that they have caused. We should consider a system that makes non-violent and violent criminals pay restitution not to the state, but the victim, where not paying could lead to incarceration for a pre-defined period of time.
“My position has always been that we need rule of law, but if there is no victim, it’s highly questionable in my opinion to cage them in a prison.
“Additionally, we have a significant ethical dilemma when we put non-violent criminals in cages with violent criminals.
“It is also unsustainable to incarcerate folks at the rate that is the same as the UK, France and Canada combined, as Vermont does.
“And regarding law enforcement on Vermont’s roads: The police must have probable cause to pull an individual over on Vermont’s roads. Probable cause means that a reasonable person would believe that a crime was in the process of being committed, had been committed, or was going to be committed by the individual being pulled over and detained. Data shows that racial disparities exist in searches and ticketing on the part of the Vermont State Police. This must end, and it must be robustly addressed and investigated. The stops must verify that there was true probable cause. With glaring data that could point at unfairness in applying the force of law by police, we need to know more.
“Latino and Black drivers were arrested the most for violations while Asian drivers were arrested the least for violations in the period examined here:
“In regards to the judicial shortages that have also been made worse by Covid19. There are folks awaiting court dates that have waited entirely too long. Court should get back to work utilizing social distancing. Individuals who are high-risk should be able to work via teleconference in many cases. Violent or unpredictable defendants could attend via teleconference, as could a judge with a secondary illness that makes them at a higher risk of covid19 complications, were they to acquire it.
“At some point we as a state are harming the defendants that are waiting over a year for a non-violent unproven charge. Therefore, because all individuals have rights under the law, we must immediately create incentives to acquire more qualified judges wherever necessary. This can not simply continue unchecked.”
Choate: “We are making some progress on the opioid crisis – more people are being connected to services that help detoxify and break the abuse cycle, yet our deaths from drug overdose continue to rise. We need to continue strengthening the good collaboration between law enforcement, social services, and the healthcare system as we collectively work together in a multi-pronged manner to address this crisis. Ensuring funding is there and accountability on performance to goals is how I see the role of the legislature.
“I am in support of additional space being created for short term incarceration of those who commit serious crimes while awaiting trial. Covid has impacted our courts but we must continue to work towards timely trial and adjudication of cases. In the interim, I am more comfortable having low to medium level security facilities that can house pre-trial offenders, again when a serious crime has been committed. I am not in support of quick release and community “housing” while awaiting trial when the crime is a serious one.”
Protecting the Rights of Women, Minorities, and LGBTQ+ Citizens
Benning: “If Roe and its companion cases are overturned, the decision regarding reproductive rights reverts back to the states individually. Vermont just passed H.57, which clearly proclaims Vermont’s position on this subject. Vermont could also pass Prop 5, which basically would enshrine Roe’s ‘compelling state interest’ analysis into our state constitution as the supreme law of the land.”
Kitchel: “I believe that the Vermont Legislature already anticipated this possibility by passing a bill that would initiate the process for Constitutional amendment that would specifically cover reproductive freedom. I voted for this bill. The final step in this process will be for the voters of Vermont to vote to approve or disapprove this amendment. Ultimately, it will be up to individual Vermonters to determine the outcome. In some states, laws have been instituted to restrict choice; however, I see no indication at this time that there is support for any such laws here.”
Dodge: “The legislature took action recently on women’s reproductive rights. I believe this was politically motivated as they knew that many Republicans would be triggered by establishing a law that defines a ‘woman’s right to choose’ up until the time of delivery.
“My position is that all people have the inalienable right to make health decisions for themselves. Government has no place telling any of us what we should or should not choose around health care.
“I do not believe doctors will perform abortions at the end of pregnancy, regardless of the law. That said, it’s an ethical problem when we can’t create realistic and simple to navigate, alternatives to abortion. Why is it so arduous and expensive to look at adoption. There are so many good Vermonters that want but can’t have children. Let’s promote alternatives without demonizing.
“How can we even have this conversation without a conversation about encouraging and positive incentivisation for child adoption. With these options perhaps many women and girls would choose an alternative.”