Friday, April 08, 2011

I Love to Ride My Bicycle

Last week, the House passed a bill calling for more bike racks at state government buildings.

It started out with H.307, a bill that I co-sponsored along with Rep. Burke (P-Brattleboro), Rep. Davis (P-Washington), and Rep. Lanpher (D-Vergennes).

Working closely with Nancy Schulz of the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition, we successfully folded the bill into the Capital Bill, H.446, which passed. Now it's up to the Senate and the Governor Shumlin, whose administration has been very supportive.

It disappointed (but didn't surprise) me that many in the House opposed this provision, because they worried about staff costs and costs of bike racks. To me, that's penny-wise, pound-foolish. Fortunately, reason saved the day and it passed. Encouraging and expanding on cycling as a means of transportation carries clear benefits to our environment, Vermonters who cycle to work (it's not just for recreation!), and our state budget.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gender Neutral Restrooms

It is always a pleasure to find ways to make more people happy without incurring any costs.

Earlier this month, the House passed the Capital Bill, H.446 with a provision that allows people, regardless of gender, to access more restrooms in government buildings, provided that they are single-stall buildings that a person using the restroom can lock from the inside.

At virtually no cost, just by changing door signage, at least three groups of people will benefit:

(a) People needing to assist someone of a different gender, such as a parent of a young child, an adult child of an elderly parent, or someone assisting someone with a disability

(b) People waiting for bathrooms when only an opposite gender bathroom is available, and

(c) Transgender people or people who do not present themselves in typically traditional gender-normed ways and are often at risk for harassment, bullying, and violence.

Thank you to Outright Vermont's Executive Director Melissa Murray, Commissioner of Buildings and General Services Michael Obuchowski and many others for their support on this provision.

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Justice Reinvestment


I first met with Michael Thompson from the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments four years ago. Since then, his work has been instrumental in helping save Vermont tens of millions of dollars while keeping our communities safe.

Click here for the latest report which he shared with the legislature:

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Newspaper article on Marijuana Decriminalization


Click here to read about H.427 progress.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Legislative Update

Here's a brief update on some of the legislation I'm working on:

1. Farm-to-Plate is thriving! The Farm-to-Plate Law that I co-authored produced its 10-year plan, right on target. This lays the groundwork for more jobs, spurring the Buy Local movement, and continuing down the path that has the attention nationwide of states looking to copy what we've done right in Vermont.

2. Protecting children whose parents are incarcerated continues to be a high priority of mine. I've teamed up with over half of the House members (by getting them to co-sponsor bills) related to giving more recognition, dignity, and safeguards to children whose parents are incarcerated. One of the plans is to create a task force, which could enable local non-profits to get five or six figures of $$$ from the federal government. All of this will help end some of the pernicious inter-generational cycle of prison for so many families.

3. We must cut the costs of healthcare. Five years ago it cost Vermonters collectively $3.9 Billion. Next year it's expected to be $5.9 Billion, or about $10,000 for each man, woman, and child. That $2 Billion growth in just five years is unsustainable. We have a long way to go in our planning, but we cannot afford to fail and give in to the solely market-driven status quo that involves layers upon layers of bureaucratic waste.

4. Marijuana decriminalization. I've submitted my bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana (1 ounce or less). The bill ended up being more moderate than initially planned, but by making it more moderate, I was able to pick up support from a Republican co-sponsor and the Shumlin administration. The goal is to devote our scarce resources, and the attention of police, prisons, and judges on true public safety threats.

5. Concern over prison move. The Shumlin administration suggested moving our women inmates to Chittenden County, which will require many changes to our system. I'm working diligently with the parties involved to ensure that cost savings will result AND that we will reduce recidivism. If those things cannot happen, I will be a road-block to the proposal. Nevertheless, I'm hopeful that this proposal can become a win-win.

6. Bicyclists: I offered new legislation to bolster biking in Vermont, teaming up with several key legislators on the transportation committee, among others. Stay tuned....

There are literally dozens of other issues I'm working on, but I wanted to give a snapshot of some of the activities underway.

Vote Tues., March 1 in Burlington

Okay, perhaps that's a bit extreme. But there are some important items on the ballot. Here's where I stand:

Vote Yes on #5 (Majority Vote for Mayor): One of the bedrock principles of a democarcy is that you need at least half the votes to be elected. Don't settle for a 40% "victory." Demand the winner get 50% of the vote, and help ensure the mayor is accountable to more than half the voters. People who hate IRV and people who love IRV support this move. Please join me and virtually all Democratic and Progressive leaders in this city in voting Yes.


Vote Yes on Schools. Just because times are tough doesn't mean that our kids (and our future) should have to pay the costs. Burlington schools are excellent. Let's keep them that way.


Vote Yes for Affordable Housing. Vote Yes on #8 to protect at-risk Vermonters.


Vote Yes for Burlington Electric's bonds. They're supporting our city and renewable energy. They have a great track record of keeping costs low while supporting the environment.


Vote here. Find your polling place: http://www.ci.burlington.vt.us/ct/elections/locations/

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

And you are...?



Lobbyists should wear name tags. Doing so would help level the playing field and let people know who's who.

This week I submitted a bill along with Rep. Lynn Dickinson (R-St. Albans) and Sarah Edwards (P-Brattleboro) to require lobbyists to wear name tags.

It simply leads to more transparency in how government works.
More transparency leads to to more accountability and better access for all. The name tag bill would give more information to citizens, legislators, journalists, and advocates. The more information we have, the better. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Information is the currency of democracy."

See what Seven Days said: http://7d.blogs.com/blurt/2011/02/hello-my-name-is-bill-would-reqiure-nametags-for-statehouse-lobbyists.html#more

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Climate Day 2011

On Feb. 2, 2011, hundreds of climate change activists from throughout Vermont came to the State House. I got to meet with them to explain the process of how to reach out to their legislators so that we would know that they are truly invested in addressing Climate Change.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Bold politicians allowed (celebrated even)

Many think that in order to be successful in politics, you have to be all things to all people. Well, not so in Vermont.

We are the land, after all, of Sen. Bernie Sanders. And this week, we elected Peter Shumlin as governor, a man who made marriage equality and single-payer healthcare central to his campaign.

In 2004, when Pres. Bush won his re-election, I was elected to my first term in the Vermont House of Representatives. This year, while the Tea Party wreaks havoc nationally, voters in Vermont re-elected to me 4th term, AND decided to change from a Republican Governor, to a Democratic Governor.

Thank you Vermont. It's wonderful to live here. Boldly.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Implications

What happens in Vermont doesn't just stay in Vermont. Our actions here have national implications.

Case in point -- the Ninth Circuit Court is debating whether or not to abolish California's Prop 8 which outlaws marriage equality.

With two dozen other Vermont legislators, I signed onto an Amici brief stating that having Marriage Equality in Vermont hasn't resulted in the sky falling here.

The hope is that they'll recognize that once again they'll follow our lead.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New Bike Safety Laws

Do you care about bike safety laws? Have your voice heard.


The Vermont Bike/Ped Coalition about an upcoming meeting to discuss possible penalties for violating Vermont's new safe passage law.


This new law basically requires cars to stay a safe distance from bicyclists, pedestrians, horses, etc.. It also encourages cyclists to ride properly and safely. This law will help save lives and also boost Vermont's national standing as a bike-friendly state.


You can share your thoughts before the meeting by emailing me or Gabrielle.Lapointe@state.vt.us. If you want to attend the Oct. 29 meeting in White River Junction, or want to find out more about the meeting, including carpool info, email nancy@vtbikeped.org.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Successes 2009-2010

It's been an honor serving in the Legislature. These last couple of years, I'm proud of many things we accomplished, including

ü Created jobs for welfare recipients: I initaited a successful increase of investments in programs that assist entrepreneurs who are on public assistance, at a cost of under $2,000 per job created.

ü Spurred the “Buy Local” movement: I co-authored legislation to create a Farm-to-Plate program that received national attention.

ü Passed marriage equality: Helped Vermont become the first state in the nation to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples, sharing my own family’s perspective in one-on-one meetings and on the floor of the House.

ü Cut my own pay: Voted for a 5% reduction in legislative pay. Legislators are paid about $10,000 per year, plus expenses, which does not include any health care benefits.

ü Authored new laws to protect children of incarcerated parents: It’s critical to remember these unintended victims of crime and punishment. I teamed up with advocacy groups to write the new legislation and get it passed.

ü Went beyond the shutdown of Vermont Yankee by supporting programs to invest in renewable energy, to help Vermont power up responsibly and economically

ü Saved millions of dollars for taxpayers: co-authored “Justice Reinvestment” laws that invest in alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders focused on saving money and reducing crime. This effort continues to yield more savings and is part of a continued effort to focus on reserving prisons primarily for people who we’re scared of, not people we’re mad at.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Pot and Politics

Four leaders (Matt Dunne, Deb Markowitz, Peter Shumlin, and Doug Racine) vying to be the Democratic candidate for Governor declared support for deciminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession. That means they're calling for tickets rather than jail time. Doing so would also eliminate or vastly reduce the costs in our current system that go to judges, police, lawyers, and others with the current criminalization for people caught with pot.

That news follows a forum that I participated in at UVM, sponsored by Marijuana Resolve. Two TV stations covered the event, with news reports found here:




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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Jobs Bill


Jobs. Wait...no, not Steve Jobs. I mean jobs, jobs.

That's been my focus for much of this year, as it has been for my committee, House Commerce & Economic Development.

We worked across party lines. We unanimously passed the Jobs Bill, S.288.

Its goal is straight-forward: create short-term and long-term jobs. It does so by investing $8.7 million of Federal stimulus funds on projects including:


- Broadband access for 12,000 Vermont homes and businesses

- More worker training programs

- Low-interest loans for qualifying businesses and farmers

- Investments in Farm-to-Plate and Farm-to-School

- Support for low-income Vermonters starting their own business

- Assistance for Vermont businesses affected by Champlain Bridge shut-down

- Investment in tourism

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Support Veterans, Move Primary Election Date

We owe so much to our Veterans. The sacrifices they make for our country cannot be overvalued. And today’s soldiers are all volunteers. They fight for democracy abroad for people all over the world, and preserve our freedoms here at home.

Yet their ability to vote is not as strong as it could be. For some, when ballots are sent to them overseas, they don’t have enough time to send their ballots back to vote. That’s been the finding of the federal government when they asked Vermont and certain other states to change the timing of some of their elections.

For Vermont, the federal government ordered Vermont to change its primary elections – normally held in early September, back about two weeks. That’s what’s been was passed out from the Senate and the House. The primary, if it becomes law, will be in late August instead. That small change will allow our soldiers to be able to participate in the very democracy they work so hard to defend. The vote from the House Committee was unanimous and thankfully did not succumb to partisanship. It had the support of all seven Democrats and all four Republicans. It’s good to know that we can be united in our support of our soldiers.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Anita Hill in Burlington for MLK Day

Anita Hill is coming to Burlington, Sun., Jan. 17 at 3pm.

She will be the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sun., Jan. 17 at 3pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Pearl and Church St. in Burlington, VT.

Also featured will be Danny Eason and the Abundant Life Choir from Montreal.

I'm proud to be a board member of the Greater Burlington Multi-Cultural Resource Center who is producing this event, under the leadership of Patrick Brown.

Free tickets available at Fletcher Free Library, City Market, and the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington. For more information, contact 802-657-4219.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Health Care -- what's your take?

All Vermonters deserve affordable health care. That's my take on it. How we get there is the big question.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to email them to me, post a response here, or come to the State House for public testimony.

Date: Tues., Jan. 12, 2010
Time: 6 to 9 pm
Place: the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives



Key questions to address:

1. How can we meet our health care goals?

2. What are the most important criteria that Vermont's health care system should meet?

3. How do specific bills or proposals address, or not address, these criteria?

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Pay cut for legislators

The issue of $$$ and the tough times will likely dominate this year's legislation in Vermont.

The bad news: we start the year with a $150 million deficit, or 15% of our budget. Yikes.

But already we've begun working across parties. While it's a drop in the bucket, legislative leaders agreed to a symbolic 5% paycut for legislators, bringing our salaries near $9,700/year.
Also identified is a proposal for $38 million in savings by making government more efficient.
We have much more work to do to close the gap. But one thing I'm heartened by is that we have a tremendous track record on in Vermont as being the rare state that always balances our budget. We'll find solutions, and as always, I'm open to hearing your ideas.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tough Budget Ahead

We have tough choices ahead of us for the coming budget. Below is an opinion piece written by the chair of Vermont's House Appropriations, which is where the budget is created.

Jason
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Vermont Values and Sustainable Budgets
by Rep. Martha Heath (D)

In June, the Vermont Legislature passed, over the Governor’s veto, a balanced budget. This budget was built on the values that Vermonters elected us to reflect; responsibility, concern for our neighbors, and shared sacrifice.

Both the legislature and the governor faced a $90M general fund shortfall. While each of us proposed solutions to this shortfall, our solutions differed from the Governor’s.

Our balanced budget was built on the principle that in difficult economic times everyone must be part of the solution. We cut budgets for the people who rely on state services. We asked state worker to contribute. We asked Vermonters making over $250,000 to share in the required sacrifice by paying more in taxes. We were also able to make investments in creating jobs and providing a tax cut for middle class Vermonters. In the end we made sure Vermonters were getting value for their tax dollars.

The Governor’s approach was different. He asked the poor, the sick and seniors to bear most of the burden and asked nothing of wealthy Vermonters. He also asked property tax payers to shoulder more burden. He relied heavily on shifting the cost of teachers’ retirement to the property tax, effectively raising property taxes for all Vermonters.

The legislature’s values led them to conclude that sharing the pain was a better solution. We solved the same problem the administration solved with its budget proposal; we just chose to solve it DIFFERENTLY.

The Governor and his advocates like to say our budget is not sustainable. To some degree they are right. Next year’s state budget would have been easier to create under the Governor’s plan because your property taxes would have been higher. We agreed that education has to contribute to the solution but didn’t feel that higher property taxes were the right solution.

The Governor also seems to question the use of federal stimulus money (often referred to as ARRA money) sent to the states by the federal government to ease the pain in this difficult time. While there will be difficult decisions to be made when this money runs out, it seems irresponsible not to let Vermonters benefit from the opportunity created by this federal money. There are roads and bridges all over Vermont being repaired by this money and workers that would otherwise be unemployed had we not spent this money wisely. Does it make any sense to deny Vermonters this opportunity?

Vermont faces an extremely difficult challenge in building budgets for the next few years. Make no mistake, the budget that will finally pass next year will cause a lot of pain. We are facing an $80M “hole” and an even larger one when the ARRA funds run out in the following year. Things we value as a state will be cut or reduced in scope. People who depend on the state for services will suffer.

Ultimately, the real questions will be who bears the pain and what values will the budget reflect. Vermonters need to engage in the conversation and let both the governor and their legislators know what they value most as budget season approaches in order to build this very difficult budget in the best way possible.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Marriage: let's just say "Congratulations"

Marriage equality will be legal in Vermont on Sept. 1, 2009.

Vermont was the first state in the nation whose Legislature stood up and said yes to same-sex marriage.

Click here for the speech I gave.

Thank you to Vermont Freedom to Marry for capturing this teary moment.

Thank you to Rep. Kathy Pellet for the hug here (and photographer Karen Pike).

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Justice Reinvestment -- progress



John Perry, from the VT Department of Corrections (DOC) is a guest on my TV show, "Correcting Corrections." In this 50 minute interview, he notes the progress Vermont has made with a program designed to save the state money by finding alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders.

During this interview, we also discuss why VT's DOC estimates that only 4% of crimes result in incarceration.

This taping was set at DemocracyFest, a national annual conference of progressive advocates and activists, held this year in South Burlington.

Click on the photo above, or link here:



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Monday, July 06, 2009

My advice to Senator Al Franken



Congressional Quarterly just interviewed me about Al Franken becoming a Senator tomorrow.

Here's part of what I said:

My advice to comedian Franken is to remember that while he may be the funniest one at the club (and he is, I love Al Franken), he'll never be as funny as the chair of his committee. Especially if he wants to get the last laugh.


I've also had colleagues complain to me when I've spoken on the floor or in committee, "Jason, I heard what you had to say, and I was very disappointed. You weren't funny."


Click here for the full story.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Farm-to-Plate Gains National Spotlight!

Vermont leads the way, yet again. The national spotlight will soon fall on the new “Farm-to-Plate” initiative, which aims to strengthen the “Buy Local” movement in Vermont.

Several hundred politicians, funders, and policy experts around the country will be learning about this successful legislation through a national webinar.

Click HERE to join the webinar on Monday, June 29, 2009 at noon EST, or log onto https://rwjf.webex.com/rwjf/onstage/g.php?t=a&d=576340765.

Co-authors of this legislation, Rep. Jason P. Lorber (D-Burlington) and Rep. Christopher Bray (D-New Haven) will share how we developed their program which leverages federal stimulus funds designed to create new jobs in Vermont, and also all of the many players who were involved in this effort.

If you don't have internet, you can also call into the webinar (you just won't get to see our fabulous PowerPoint presentation) at 866-469-3239, and enter access code 576-340-765#. If you use this method, the conference organizers at the Robert Wood Foundation request that you email them (or me and I'll pass it along), your contact information so that they can keep tabs on who's interested in this information.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Press Release -- Rep. Lorber & Rep. Bray

Vermont’s Farm-to-Plate Law Lands National Spotlight

Rep. Lorber & Rep. Bray to be Featured

Vermont leads the way, yet again. The national spotlight will soon fall on the new “Farm-to-Plate” initiative, which aims to strengthen the “Buy Local” movement in Vermont.

Several hundred politicians, funders, and policy experts around the country will be listening to two Vermont State Representatives on Monday, June 29 through a national webinar. The principal architects of Vermont’s new law, Rep. Jason P. Lorber (D-Burlington) and Rep. Christopher Bray (D-New Haven) will share insights of how they developed their program, which leverages federal stimulus funds designed to create new jobs in Vermont.

“Farm-to-Plate is a prime example of how to stimulate the economy in a socially responsible way,” said Lorber, who serves on the VT House Commerce & Economic Development Committee. “We designed Farm-to-Plate to not only spur the Buy Local movement and create jobs, but also to strengthen the environment and Vermont’s farms and working landscape.”

“While Vermont is a strong agricultural state, we still purchase 97% of our food from out of state at an annual cost of $2.6 billion,” said Bray, who serves on the VT House Agriculture Committee. “As we rebuild our food system, we will not only keep more food dollars in Vermont and strengthen our farm economy, but because these dollars circulate locally, we will also strengthen our entire rural economy.”

The Farm-to-Plate Initiative will bolster Vermont’s local food system by quantifying market potential and pin-pointing critical bottlenecks, especially infrastructure needs and distribution systems. The Strategic Food System Plan, which will be one of the main deliverables from this initiative during its first year, will help determine where future investments should be made, thereby producing more jobs and agricultural economic activity.

“Buying whole local foods also delivers health benefits,” continued Bray. “In the long run, the economic value of the health benefits to Vermonters may exceed the agricultural value.”

The webinar is being coordinated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Leadership for Healthy Communities.” This program focuses on increasing access to healthy foods and spurring economic investment.

The one-hour June 29, 2009 webinar at noon is open to all. See posting above for connection details.

To craft and pass the Farm-to-Plate bill into law, Lorber and Bray worked with their respective committees, dozens of legislators, and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Rural Vermont, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and other regional and state food groups throughout Vermont.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Get out & push!

On June 2, 2009, history was made.

It was the first time that the governor of the state of Vermont ever vetoed a budget. It was quite a disappointment. Negotiations broke down, and a compromise couldn't be reached.

But I joined with more than 2/3 of the House and Senate in over-riding the Governor's veto.

The way I see it, we're all in the family car, out of gas, and we must make it up the hill. Everyone pushes, even Grandma. That's what the budget we passed does.

Some opponents of this approach say that Buddy, the strongest person in the car, shouldn't be asked to help, because he might defect to New Hampshire.

I say that the rule is, "Less whining, more pushing."

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Monday, May 18, 2009

VT #1 in Insurance (again)

Vermont was named the #1 state for insurance, for the second year in a row, according to a report from the Heartland Institute.

Sexy stuff, right?

Well, yes, if you think lower taxes are sexy. Insurance companies are a big industry in Vermont, especially in captive markets (that's basically companies who self-insure). And that means big tax revenues for Vermont (which means lower taxes for the rest of Vermonters). We all win.

Which is why we passed legislation this year that bolsters the insurance industry. That's another way that the Legislature is making Vermont better for business.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Save VT's Car Dealers!

Vermont car dealers need help. Ten failed this year, and only 88 remain.

I'm working with my committee on a bill that will protect them from the Big Manufacturers.

The bill is S.51 and it looks likely to pass next week. Keep your fingers crossed...!


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Update: May 8 -- the bill passed two days ago and was sent to the Governor for his signature (which is widely expected). Below are links to two articles on the subject:

Free Press: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20090508/BUSINESS/905080303/Bill+would+aid+Vermont+auto+dealers

Times Argus:
http://www.timesargus.com/article/20090506/NEWS/905069997/1002/NEWS01

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What about the kids, when parents are arrested?

It wasn't planned.  

But when I testified last week in the House of Representatives about a bill protecting children when their parents are arrested, a voice from the back of room spoke up.  It was an 18-year-old Girl Scout, who happened to be there to visit the State House on an unrelated matter.

She asked, "Do you want to hear from the voice of a child?"  

The Chairwoman of the committee was surprised, but invited her to speak.  And so she did, saying that she hadn't planned to tell her story for the first time in public, no less here to the Legislature.

Bravely, with great force and candor, she articlulated clearly the toll it took upon her when her father had been arrested when she was seven years old.  Her testimony was not only very moving, it was indicative of how widespread this issue is.  For thousands like her, I believe that we must improve our policies.

Please read the article below, which includes this note:

"In Winooski last year, according to Graham, police arrested a woman while her 14-year-old child was at school. The boy returned to an empty house, where he subsisted alone for more than two weeks before school officials began to ask questions."

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Marriage Equality

On Tuesday, April 7, Vermont became the first state in the nation to create marriage equality for gay men and lesbians, by an act of the Legislature.

We did this by over-riding the Governor's veto, with 100 votes in the House.

Stan Baker, a gay rights pioneer and friend, shares a victory hug here with me moments after passage.

He asked me, "How are you feeling?"

My answer, "Equal."

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Building Vermont's Economy

We can’t depend only on Washington and the federal stimulus package to see our way through this recession. Vermont is going to see its way through this storm. We will do that by working together creating jobs in the short-term, and building our infrastructure for long-term growth.

I've also been working on an economic development omnibus bill with my committee that creates new ways to strengthen our economy, along with investments in low-income entrepreneurs, renewed investment in the green economy, and strategies on how Vermont can get the most out of President Obama's Federal Stimulus Program.

Today, we passed a tentative bill out of our committee, knowing that much more work is needed before final passage.

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Don't Blagojevich Me

I haven't been sleeping well. I'm worried about this guy: Blagojevich. And it's not just his hairdo.

We all know the adage: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Well in Illinois, the governor has the absolute power to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. And we all know how that one turned out, now don't we.

In Vermont, the governor has the absolute power to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. And I believe we need to change that.

I authored a bill to do just that -- give the power back to the voters.

See the Burlington Free Press article on the subject:

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20090227/NEWS03/902270309

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Farm-to-Plate

Vermonters import over $2 billion worth of food every year. We should be buying much more locally. If we could grab just 10% of that imported food source, we'd create thousands of Vermont jobs.

This isn't just about supporting agriculture in Vermont. It's about jobs, and commerce.

So it's only fitting that as a member of the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee, I teamed up with Representative Christopher Bray from the House Agriculture comittee. We co-authored a bill that will create more local businesses for Vermont farmers, food processors, distributors, storage suppliers, and much more.

Called the Farm-to-Plate bill, it has the full support of two great non-profit organizations: Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and Rural Vermont.


See the news articles here:

Fox TV News: http://www.fox44.net/Global/story.asp?S=9852326


WCAX, Channel 3: http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=9852218&nav=menu183_2


WPTZ, Channel 5: http://www.wptz.com/money/18727322/detail.html

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Marriage Equality for All

Marriage Equality will be a hot topic in March.

I fully expect that it will pass in the Senate and the House, too.

As a co-sponsor of the bill (and as someone who will happily upgrade my civil union certificate to a marriage certificate with the wonderful man I've shared 10 years with), the vote will not come soon enough.

PS. Happy Valentine's Day

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vermont 3.0

How do you create hi tech jobs in Vermont?

You build the infrastructure, meaning you invest in high quality education, a well qualified work force, and you focus on "sticky businesses," meaning business that are particularly well suited to being in Vermont.
That was according to the five CEOs from Vermont tech companies that testified in a packed crowd in the State House today.
See and hear their discussion by clicking here:


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Time to Bond Now

Mom is thrilled.

Since I was assigned to the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee, she says, "Finally, your MBA from Stanford will be put to good use!"

While I'll stay involved in the prison reform legislation that I've helped write the past four years, and continue to push for more prison reform -- including supporting children of incarcerated parents -- my primary focus turns to Vermont jobs and limiting, if not reversing, the challenges of the recession in Vermont.

We must halt the slow-down in our economy with new jobs and a stimulus plan. House Speaker Shap Smith proposed a key piece of that plan on Jan. 7.

I wrote an editorial about it, including several reasons why the timing is ideal now to issue more state bonds.

You can read it here:


http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20090118/FEATURES15/901180307/-1/RSS10

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Governor Proposes Harmful Cuts


When times get tough, we need to stick together. As the State of Vermont faces an enormous budget crisis (like the rest of the nation) we need to remember our commitment to the most vulnerable Vermonters.

Do you think it's time to dip into the Rainy Day Fund? Or should we go ahead and make real cuts right now that will have multiplier effects to our economy and that may have long-lasting damaging effects, and will likely immediately work to raise college tuition, hurt working Vermonters, and cut vital services to children, the elderly, the poor, and so many of our environmental, forestry, and other vital projects.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lorber Named 2008 Public Official of the Year




REP. LORBER NAMED PUBLIC OFFICIAL OF THE YEAR
BY VERMONT SOCIAL WORKERS

Lorber, Other Award Winners to be Honored at Annual Conference

Oct. 22, 2008 -- Montpelier, VT -- Rep. Jason P. Lorber (D-Burlington) was named 2008 Public Official of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers -- Vermont Chapter (NASW-VT), for his work on behalf of children whose parents are sent to prison.

In addition to Lorber's award, NASW-VT also recognized Ellen Fein, a licensed clinical social worker in Montpelier, as Social Worker of the Year, and Mark Hage, with the Vermont Education Association, as Public Citizen of the Year for his leadership and the work of the Vermont Campaign for Healthcare Security and Education Fund in expanding access to state-supported health insurance programs for all Vermonters.

"In these troubling economic times, the role and perspective of social workers are increasingly important," said Rilla Murray, executive director of the NASW-VT. "We particularly appreciate of the leadership of Rep. Jason Lorber, Ellen Fein, and Mark Hage and the Vermont Campaign. Each has supported the values of the social work profession, served the cause of social justice and provided inspiration to others in meeting challenges.”

"When parents are sent to jail, we have a moral responsibility to minimize the harm done to their children," said Lorber. "Those kids need to know that they did nothing wrong. We need to know that, too. And we need to take action."

Lorber worked closely with Director of Kids-A-Part Tara Graham, Rep. Sandy Hass (P-Rochester), and other key legislators on bills dubbed "Remember the Children" legislation. Lorber's leadership was critical in passing a new law in 2008 that requires the Vermont Department of Corrections to investigate how many thousands of Vermont children are affected by their parents' incarceration, and calls upon several agencies to recommend safeguards and improvements.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

It Passed!

Legislation that I’ve been working on for the past three years became law this month.

It’s a prison reform measure that will save millions of dollars for Vermonters, improve community safety, and avert us from sending hundreds of inmates out of state (and our dollars with them).

It's been heralded as one of the defining pieces of legislation for the year. As it should be, especially given the context of Vermont's crime and prison outlook.

Vermont has a low and declining rate of crime, yet we continue to lock up more and more people, many for non-violent offenses. Despite the countless studies that demonstrate more cost-effective ways to deal with crime, Vermont government still needlessly spends tens of millions of dollars in added costs each year. But that’s going to start changing in a dramatic way. The new law, called Justice Reinvestment, will provide more alternatives to incarceration than we currently have by investing in drug and alcohol treatment programs, transitional housing, and community-based solutions.

It aims to reduce recidivism -- known as repeat customers to the prison system -- and is estimated to save, in reduced prison costs alone, $50-to-$200 million dollars over ten years. That’s some long-term planning and benefits that are well overdo. Justice Reinvestment seed money will come from the reorganization ofour prisons. The savings produced from Justice Reinvestment plus the prison reorganization savings will fuel not only further investments inalternatives to incarceration, it will provide tens of millions ofdollars left over to benefit tax-payers.

The key to the success of this effort stemmed from how we approached it from the get-go. Knowing that there were potential political landmines, we started out by involving not only all three political parties in Vermont, but also by involving all three branches of government --judicial, executive, and legislative. That’s extremely unusual inVermont. The end-result was a comprehensive bill that had overwhelming support.

Investing in alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders will not only save us millions, it will also make our communities safer.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nuclear Decommissioning

Today the House passed S.373. I was proud to vote for this bill, which is a vote to protect Vermonters in the event that the Vermont Yankee nuclear will be decommissioned.

Now, it's up to the Governor to act.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Gay Tax

Oh, hadn't you heard of the Gay Tax? It's one of the casualities of not having marriage equality for gay men and lesbians. To hear a commentary about the Gay Tax that I aired, click here:


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Monday, March 17, 2008

Fresh Milk in Vermont

The House of Representatives will vote this week on H.616, a bill I co-sponsored that would allow unpateurized milk to flow more freely in Vermont.
If passed, this law will milk the trend toward buying local, foster more neighborly contact, help Vermont's small farms, and preserve a great way of life here in Vermont.
Plus, it will make cows happier (well, at least they'll be selling their milk for more).

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Monday, February 18, 2008

More Education for Offenders

It’s not just a coincidence. Over 90% of young male adults who are in prison have no high school education. Here in Vermont, we’re currently doing something about that and thanks to pending legislation (H.135), we may soon be doing even more.

First, some background. Did you know that the Community High School of Vermont (CHSVT) is the state’s largest high school? Last year CHSVT became the nation’s first prison-based school to become accredited. That was a big deal. But it’s a bigger deal that offenders who get an education have lower recidivism levels. That's why we need more educational programming in our prisons.

Our committee hopes to pass a bill that mandates education for incarcerated men and women without a high school diploma until their 26th birthday (current law says up to their 23rd birthday). For those housed in Vermont prisons, they'll be required to attend CHSVT. For Vermont's inmates who are housed in other states (due to overcrowding), they'll be required to attend classes if such classes are offered (which aren't as good as schooling in Vermont, but it's still much better than no schooling).

The cost for all of this? Either nothing or a negligible amount, says the Department of Corrections (DOC), because we’ve already got the staff – adding the students is free or practically free. With more education, DOC believes that these offenders will be more successful reintegrating into society and getting jobs, and we’ll all benefit from that.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Remember the Children

What happens to a child when Dad or Mom is incarcerated? Do children get to see their parents? What if the parents are sent out-of-state to serve their time? Who cares for the children? Who pays for the care of the children? And what rights do the children have?

Those were some of the questions that were asked last fall at an overflowing conference in Vermont that focused on the needs of children of incarcerated parents.

This week, I'll be presenting three bills that I've authored, one on my own, and two with Rep. Sandy Haas (P-Rochester). Those bills H.734, H.735, and H.736, together with S.253 from Senators Miller, Condos, and Snelling are being called the "Remember the Children" legislation.

Remember the Children legislation calls upon key governmental agencies to focus on the needs of children when parents are arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned. One of the bills calls for a Children's Bill of Rights. The goal is to spark a discussion and find solutions that address the needs of these unintended victims of crime.

Click here for a news article that today discussed this important issue.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hemp




















I was proud to be a co-sponsor of the Hemp bill, H.267, which just passed the House of Representatives last week with tri-partisan support.

Now before you get too excited, please realize that this bill does not legalize marijuana. That's a common misconception. Instead, it calls for allowing production of industrial hemp.

Industrial hemp is not marijuana. In fact, you'd have to smoke several HUNDRED pounds of hemp to get a buzz.

The bill we passed simply says that farmers should be allowed to benefit from the production of hemp, once the Federal Government gives the go-ahead.

Will the Feds do that? My crystal ball is agnostic on that one. But the more states that standup to paranoia and misunderstanding, the more likely it will happen.

So, we took that first step forward. And perhaps once again, Vermont will lead the country.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I have many resolutions this year, including spending more time with Max (who’s now 19-months old), making more movies, doing more standup comedy, and finding time (somehow!) to ski at least a few days this winter.

Politically, I’m working on many issues. And one of my big legislative resolutions is to pass a bill that accomplishes three things: (1) make Vermont communities safer, (2) save taxpayer dollars (particularly on prison expenses), and (3) encourage alternatives to incarceration for many of our locked up Vermonters. Doing all three at once will be the jackpot, not only because of making such measures politically successful, but also because all three goals go hand-in-hand.

What many people don't realize is that putting more people in jail doesn't necessarily make us safer. That's partly because most of the people in prison get out. The vast majority only serve a year or two. And more than half of them end up back in prison within three years of getting released.

What we do not need is repeat "customers" for our prisons. Instead, let's find a way to get to the root causes of why so many of them continually commit crimes. For many of them, it's related to an alcohol or drug addiction that they have.

New laws and community programs will save us all money in the long run, and will make Vermont a better, safer, and more humane place to live.

Last week was the first one for the Legislature, which runs Jan. to May, give or take a couple of weeks. Campaign finance reform and renewable energy are among many hot issues to watch out for.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Viva Espresso Visit

Join myself and Rep. Rachel Weston on Tues., Dec. 18 from 3-4 p.m. at Viva Espresso, a neighborhood café at 197 N. Winooski Ave., as we discuss our plans for the coming legislative session. This continues our ongoing informal meetings with our neighbors and constituents. If you can't make this one, hopefully you can make one in the coming months.

The legislature meets again on Jan. 8 and will end in mid-May, give or take a couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Verizon Sale?


Below is a copy of an open letter sent to the Vermont Public Service Board:


******************************************************************************************
December 9, 2007

Vermont Public Service Board
112 State Street (Chittenden Bank Building)
Drawer 20
Montpelier, VT 05620-2701

re: Proposed Sale of Verizon to FairPoint

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to you about the current proposed sale of Verizon to FairPoint. I am very concerned that the Vermont Department of Public Service, the Maine Public Advocate, the New Hampshire Consumer Advocate, the staff of the New Hampshire Public Utility Commission and the AARP have all recommended that state regulators deny the transaction as proposed because it places consumers and communities at significant risk. I am also very concerned about the potential job losses to hard working Vermonters.

As the Vermont Public Service Board nears the end of its regulatory review of the proposed sale of Verizon's operations to FairPoint, I urge you to ensure that Vermonters are protected adequately and that all of the critical concerns that have been voiced be addressed.

Sincerely,

Jason P. Lorber
Vermont State Representative

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Green Mountain Care

Did you hear the news? Vermont is number one in the nation when it comes to healthcare, according to the United Health Foundation.

They cite a high vaccination rate, lower smoking rate, lower obseity rate, and a higher percentage of Vermonters with healthcare coverage than most other states.

Our challenge is to continue our work on ensuring that ALL Vermonters have healthcare coverage and that costs are lowered for each of us. A step in that direction is the new Green Mountain Care, subsidized in part by State Government. If you are one of the 65,000 uninsured Vermonters, Green Mountain Care may be for you. Check it out by visiting http://www.greenmountaincare.org/ or call 800-260-8427.

Friday, October 26, 2007

General Update

Happy Halloween.

As many of you already know, the Vermont Legislature meets as an entirety only from January to May, give or take a few weeks. But there’s a lot of legislative activity during the remaining months.

Over the summer and now fall, I’ve been to many meetings, spoken with constituents, researched bills, and been to prison (as part of research, really). Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been up to:

My visit to the Community Health Center on Riverside Avenue was informative. It’s amazing how they’ve grown over the years, now with state-of-the-art equipment, offering tremendous services to low-income and some middle-income families and individuals.

The Labor Day rally was fun to march in, and my one-year-old Max enjoyed it too, including the ice cream and burgers afterwards. He didn’t get as much out of hearing Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, and many union representatives speak as I did. Hot topics discussed included raising the minimum wage and ensuring that all Vermonters and Americans have healthcare, and the outrageous human and financial costs of the Iraq war to Americans and Vermonters.
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Saving Vermont taxpayers tens of millions of dollars while making society safer is the goal of one of my biggest legislative efforts. I’m continuing to hear testimony work toward that end.

I’ve also sat down with business leaders from Burlington and Chittenden County to hear what issues are on their mind: rising health care costs, the challenge of increasing sales, finding qualified job applicants, containing overall costs, among other issues.

I’ve also been involved in several other issues and work, including the Vermont State Hospital and caring for Vermonters with mental health challenges, children of incarcerated parents, global warming and environmentally visionary legislation, racial profiling, and fairer taxes for low-income and middle-income Vermonters, among others. There's lots to do before the next Legislative session begins on January 8. Stay tuned....

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pork-Free Grants for Non-Profits


I usually don’t like pork. Some pork is okay, like bacon. But just plain old pork, or even ham – it’s just not to my taste.

In the legislative realm, pork takes on a whole different meaning. Legislative pork means doling out government dollars for pet projects of individual legislators. While what’s pork to some is money well-spent to others, much is left open to debate. That’s why it’s good to separate government spending from political interests as much as possible. How to do that of course is the big challenge.

I am proud to say that three years ago, my first year as a Citizen Legislator, we passed into law what many of us called “The Pork Reduction Act.” What the bill did was shift the doling out of about a million dollars of capital funds from the legislators (myself included) to a nonpartisan committee of individuals in charge of “Building Communities Grants.”

Today, those results are yielding better government and stronger communities. Do you know of a worthy nonprofit who needs to install new heating systems, bathrooms, or finish other long-lasting projects? If so, there are several options for grants available to them:

Click here: http://www.bgs.state.vt.us/news_and_links.htm and then click on "BGS Grants" (due Oct. 1), or

Click here: http://www.vermontartscouncil.org/Default.aspx?tabid=217 (due Oct. 15), or

Click here: http://www.historicvermont.org/ for barns and historic sites (due Oct. 2).

They could get up to $25,000 for filling out a few pieces of paper. And they don’t have to lobby any politicians either. How’s that for kosher?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"The Simpsons" in Vermont

The Simpsons in Springfield, Vermont.

Springfield, Vermont took the national headlines today when it was chosen to be the home of "The Simpsons," yes, the TV Cartoon. I voted for it and told my friends to vote for it (but only several hundred of my closest ones).

In anticipation of that, I was actually in Springfield, a mere 119 miles south of Burlington. I didn't get to eat donuts (Homer would be displeased). But I did get to go to prison. It was part of my role on the Vermont Corrections Oversight Committee, where we focus on improving Vermont's prisons and jails. I spoke with a couple of inmates who pleaded for more support for mental health counciling, while they praised the service and support they received there. I've now been to 5 of Vermont's 9 correctional facilities, and will continue my visits, research, and legislation to reform our prison system.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Why So Many Black Vermonters Behind Bars?

Why are there so many black Vermonters imprisoned? And why are we so afraid to discuss this question?

Just asking the question raises the hackles of many. And for good reason – because asking the question means that we’re talking about race. But here in Vermont, one of the whitest states in the nation, we’re hardly immune from racism. It’s virtually impossible to have a justice system that’s blind to race. It’s time we named and addressed the inequities in our systems.

To that end, I attended a meeting on May 23rd with community leaders on issues of race, incarceration, and racial profiling. Present were about 50 people, a third of whom were African-Americans, recent immigrants from Africa, and other people of color. My hat goes off to Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan who convened the meeting and community advocate Hal Colston who brought the issue to TJ’s attention.

We discussed how blacks are arrested and incarcerated at rates many times that of whites in Vermont, and that the state lacks basic data or systems to track what critics call rampant racial profiling. I’m pleased that Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington), publicly offered to work with me on drafting legislation to address these concerns, and I’ve already had discussions with Mr. Colston, the executive director of the Human Rights Commission, and the head of Vermont’s ACLU, and several others on how best to proceed. The ball is rolling, and I’m heartened that community-based groups of people of color plan to take the lead on this matter, with participation from law enforcement, Corrections staff, and other key stakeholders.


Next step: the Citizens for Social Justice will be meeting on June 20 at noon at the Fletcher Free Library in downtown Burlington. I'll be attending to discuss this issue further. You're invited.