The Colchester Community Development Corporation (CCDC) hosted an annual legislative breakfast where local representatives presented on their committee work and noted key bills to follow in the upcoming session. The panel included Representative Curt Taylor (D-Vt.), Senator Dick Mazza (D-Vt.), Representative Sarita Austin (D-Vt.), and Representative Seth Chase (D-Vt.).

State officials, town staff, and local business-owners gathered in the Outer Bay Conference Room on Oct. 30 for presentations and a light breakfast.

Representative Curt Taylor

Rep. Taylor serves on the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, the Legislative Information Technology Committee, and the Working Group of Water Quality funding. Taylor kicked off the morning by emphasizing the state’s need to revamp their deteriorating prison facilities. “We need a long-term plan for corrections facilities and policies,” he told the crowd.

In terms of economic growth, Taylor said that he’s pushing for more careers and education in trades. “Not everyone has to go to college,” he said, noting how expensive higher education can be.

In the same vein, he pointed to the state’s aging population as a structural problem. Younger folks are moving from “rural to urban,” he said, and personal income tax revenue is going down. “It’s not sustainable.”

By pushing for more careers in trades and creating more opportunities in that vein, Taylor suggested more young people might want to stay in Vermont or relocate to the state.

He noted two bills left over from the 2019 legislative session to watch for in 2020: paid family leave and minimum wage.

Senator Dick Mazza

Some of the committees that Sen. Mazza serves on include Chair of Senate Committee on Transportation, Vice Chair of Senate Rules Committee, and Committee on Institutions.

Mazza reviewed the massive amount of construction work conducted over the summer, including “lots of paving,” and numerous other projects.

He noted “distracted driving” as an issue in Colchester, but that he’s hesitant to turn it into primary enforcement. “I don’t know what the answer is,” Mazza said.

He also confirmed the incoming of Amtrak service from Burlington to New York City; duration of the trip should take about 6.5 hours.

Since Mazza serves on the transportation committee, he also addressed the construction project planned for Exit 16 of I-89. The plans outline a Diverging Diamond traffic pattern designed to alleviate congestion, increase safety features for pedestrians and cyclists, and decrease the amount of crashes in that segment of highway. The plans, however, have been tied up in court. A recent ruling forced the spring groundbreaking to be postponed yet again. Mazza emphasized the need for improvements in this area, due to its high number of crashes. In addition to federal funds, he noted that Costco—whose ability to open its gas station hinges on stormwater permits embedded in the Diverging Diamond project—expressed interest in covering some of the overall cost.

Representative Sarita Austin

Rep. Austin serves on the House Committee on Education and, outside of state government, on the Colchester Planning Commission.

One of Austin’s goals on the education committee is to “look at how we graduate students, what skills and knowledge they should be getting to prepare themselves, and avoiding spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on college,” she said.

Austin also mentioned Act 77, the Flexible Pathways Initiative, in discussing her goals for education in the community. The 2013 initiative promotes “opportunities for Vermont students to achieve postsecondary readiness through high-quality educational experiences that acknowledge individual goals, learning styles, and abilities,” according to the Vt. Agency of Education.

For Austin, a student’s access to technology is a big part of that goal. She discussed her hopes to enable students to design their own curriculum geared “to what they gravitate towards,” she said.

Representative Seth Chase

Rep. Chase serves on the House Committee on Energy and Technology, the Joint Information Technology Oversight Committee, and the Legislative Information Technology Committee.

Chase defined his goal as to help ensure a stable energy grid across the state and to increase connectivity so that people can live, work, and learn from anywhere.

As far as plans go, Chase said that he hopes to continue building out the internet, pointing to the north side of Malletts Bay in Colchester as an example of an area that could be “more balanced.”

He also discussed long-term planning, in terms of education and growth. “New England needs another tech hub; I’d like that to be in Vermont,” Chase said.