VWW Follows and Testifies on Legislation Impacting Women, Youth, and Vermont’s Workforce
By Jillian Scannell, VWW Development and Communications Coordinator
A buzzword through this legislative session has been workforce development; what does that even mean? And there was a lot of talk about reproductive liberty, whatever happened with that?
Don’t worry – there is a lot going on, but Vermont Works for Women has been staying up to date on legislation and state funding that impact women and youth and offering testimony and data throughout the current session. Here are a few highlights:
Vermont Works for Women (VWW) has close to 35 years of experience working directly with women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals to help them overcome individual and societal barriers to economic security. We are passionate about workforce development, and have been keeping a close eye on the many policies and projects that have been discussed this session. Workforce development efforts focus on ensuring individuals have the education, skills, and training needed to obtain jobs.
Legislation to watch:
H.703 is the omnibus (aka large, multifaceted) workforce development bill that includes millions of dollars in investments in Vermont communities. The propsed bill includes:
- $2 million to continue the successful Serve, Learn & Earn workforce development collaboration of Vermont Works for Women, Audubon Vermont, ReSOURCE, and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. The group’s shared vision is for every Vermonter to have a viable pathway to employment and affordable education in exchange for serving their state. Funding would support each partner organization’s existing training programs. For VWW, this funding would support our Trailblazers trades training program.
- $300,000 for the establishment of a community-based pilot reentry program with the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility to provide continuity of services for justice-involved women. More information on this project below.
- Multiple large investments to encourage more Vermont youth to pursue career and technical education, providing an on-ramp to well-paying careers and filling crucial job shortages in the trades. VWW is advocating for prioritizing supporting female and gender-expansive enrollment in these training opportunities to close the gender gap.
Justice-involved Women – Facility and Reentry Supports
VWW joins The Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Mercy Connections, the Lund Center, and the Women’s Justice and Freedom Initiative to share concerns about a proposal to build a new women’s prison facility in Vermont. While we know firsthand that Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility urgently needs facilities improvements, constructing a new facility is not the only answer, and does not address gaps in community resources and support that currently exist.
As VWW Executive Director Rhoni Basden mentioned during her February testimony to the House Corrections Committee, “While more and enhanced services are undoubtedly needed for incarcerated women, it would be a mistake to concentrate services within institutional settings without comparable investment in our communities.” We are continuing to stand up and engage in important planning conversations moving forward.
Legislation to watch:
H.703 – The House workforce development legislation includes funding for a new community-based reentry program. Working in partnership with the Department of Corrections and Middlebury College, VWW would pilot a project to support women in their successful transition from incarceration into the community. The vision is for a multi-year fellowship program that includes guaranteed employment and housing with tiered levels of support and skill building as well as long term career exploration and on-the-job training.
H.534 – Sealing Criminal History Records also passed in the House and crossed over into the Senate. This bill would expand the types of charges that are eligible to be sealed, including most misdemeanors, and would remove a barrier that prevents people from obtaining better jobs, housing and access to educational opportunities. As our Program Manager Heather Newcomb put it in Seven Days, “This [legislation] really levels the playing field for everybody to have an equal shot at rebuilding their lives after being incarcerated or coming in contact with the justice system”.
Workplace Policies That Promote Gender Equity
VWW supports current employment bills in the Vermont Legislature that provide working families with what they need in order to return to the workforce. Policies that advance flexible and transparent scheduling, protection from wage discrimination, and safeguards if faced with harassment or discrimination in the workplace will promote gender equity, improve the economic well-being of more Vermont women, and attract eligible workers to fill open positions.
Legislation to watch:
H.329 – Amending Prohibitions Against Discrimination This bill proposes to amend the laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, education, public accommodations, and housing to provide that harassment need not be severe and pervasive to constitute unlawful discrimination in addition to other supports. While the bill did not make the legislative crossover (from the House to the Senate), the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee hopes to continue moving it forward and attaching it to another piece of legislation.
Reproductive Liberty Amendment
After a successful legislative process in the statehouse, Vermont voters will decide on a constitutional amendment in November that would guarantee the right to reproductive liberty.
Reproductive health care provides women access to more career opportunities and allows them to fully engage in the economy. In states with access to reproductive rights, women’s incomes are 15.9% higher than the women’s national median wage. If approved by VT voters, Vermont would make history by becoming the state with the strongest protection for reproductive liberty in the United States.