On Tuesday, the Vermont Mayors Coalition outlined its priorities for the 2021 legislative session, with a focus on COVID-19 recovery, police reform, and other pressing issues.
The mayors of Burlington, Barre, Montpelier, Newport, Rutland, St. Albans, Vergennes and Winooski make up coalition, and they’re calling on the legislature to prepare for crises like housing and food insecurity to worsen before they get better.
“Even with the support that’s been available, and especially with the break that we have seen while we’re awaiting more federal funding, many families are still really behind on bills,” said Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott. “We’re concerned that when state courts resume hearing eviction cases, we could see a lot of folks slipping into housing instability and potentially homelessness.”
The coalition wants free legal clinics for Vermonters who find themselves in that situation so they can avoid going to court, as well as an extension of rent and mortgage support.
The coalition is also calling for Act 250 reform – Mayor Miro Weinberger suggested that the old land-use law is unnecessary and inefficient, only working to slow down local developers with red tape.
“This is absolutely a COVID-related issue in that our downtowns are hurting right now, our downtowns are facing an existential threat, many of the restaurants and retailers in particular have gone through the worst year they’re ever been through,” Weinberger said. “This is a time when we need investments in our downtown.”
Act 250 reform failed last legislative session, and an attempt by Gov. Phil Scott to get it done through the executive branch was struck down by the Senate.
The eight mayors also have an eye on public safety reform, and are in support of Gov. Scott’s executive order to create an Agency of Public Safety. They want to expand its proposed jurisdiction to include the police academy.
“The mayors support moving the oversight of the academy along with the Criminal Justice Council under the jurisdiction of the Agency of Public Safety and the Governor,” said Barre Mayor Lucas Herring. “This model will improve police training, clarify accountability, and provide oversight for the professional standards that are needed.”