What House candidates think about abortion, money, racism, and other topics | Local News


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WALLINGFORD — The four men running to represent Clarendon, Wallingford, West Rutland and much of Rutland Town in the State House were questioned about their views on abortion, health care and child care, school funding, slavery, and other topics at a forum earlier this week.

Republican incumbents Thomas Burditt, of West Rutland, and Art Peterson, of Clarendon, are running against Democrats Ken Fredette, of Wallingford, and Dave Potter, of Clarendon.

The forum was hosted at the Town Hall by the Wallingford Memorial Rotary. About 20 people attended.

Each candidate was given the same amount of time to respond to each question. The questions were compiled by the Rotary, who got them from online forums. No questions were taken from the audience.

Tammy Heffernan moderated the forum.

Q: Please describe your position on Article 22, the Reproductive Liberty Act and the reasoning behind your position.

“I don’t want to make that decision for anybody, certainly as a man, I don’t want to make that decision for anybody, but in this situation it’s my constituents that told me how to vote,” said Burditt.

He said he received about 200 emails on the subject, with only four telling they favor Article 22.

“I think it’s important to note that we were talking about Proposition 5, Article 22, before the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,” Fredette said, adding that he believes the decision to have an abortion should remain between a woman and her medical provider.

“I’m totally opposed to Article 22. I spoke on the floor of the House very passionately about it,” said Peterson, adding that given the wording of the article he believes it would leave women with the right to have an abortion up until the day of birth without exception.

Potter said he’s never counseled a woman to have an abortion and never would, but believes the decision should be between a woman and her medical provider and advisers.

Q: What steps should the Legislature take to help resolve our health care problems, especially high out-of-pocket costs and the shortage of primary care doctors and mental health professionals?

“It’s a big issue,” said Fredette, but said he believes everyone should have access to health care and that this should be ensured on the federal level. He said he believes the system should move away from the fee-for-service model and toward something more based on people’s health. He said he takes issue with companies that get taxpayer dollars to manage health care not having to show their financial information.

“It is a daunting problem with many moving parts,” said Peterson. He noted that the Legislature gave the Green Mountain Care Board funds to redesign the state’s health care system, but said he isn’t sure how successful it will be. He said he’d like to understand more about the shift from fee-for-service. Hospital sustainability is a big issue right now, he said, with the pandemic having impacted hospital finances.

“I think we can use other countries that have health care systems that better provide health care to the whole population at a cheaper expense and we should look at them for models of how we can do that better,” said Potter. Everyone having health care would be for the public good, he added.

Medicare and Medicaid don’t fully reimburse doctors for their services, said Burditt. While raising the reimbursement rates would cost money, it’s necessary, as more and more doctors are leaving private practice, not taking new patients or moving to concierge models of care.

Q: Lack of child care is keeping many people out of the workforce. How should the Legislature address the statewide problem?

The state should take a look at the regulations it has governing child care, said Peterson, and adjust them to allow for more children to be looked after. “I will say right out, I voted against the child care bill in 2021. I don’t feel that that is a realm that the state government should be involved with. Beyond that, I think we should encourage people to start child care businesses, and that’s the track we should take.”

People looking to move here and work are looking for child care, said Potter. He said he believes the state needs to subsidize child care in some way in order to draw both providers and families.

“One problem in Vermont is our regulations and qualifications for child care centers are too tough to get certified to do it,” said Burditt. “We have a program in the state called the Five Stars program. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to get to the fifth star and it almost stops people from doing it, and if people aren’t going to be able to finish the Five Star program they aren’t going to open a daycare centers.”

The state needs to set some money aside for child care, he said. “I do agree the regulations need to be revisited.” Children need to be protected and kept safe, but the rules around doing so could be reexamined.

Q: Now that all of the towns that you would represent have passed declarations of inclusion and the governor has issued his proclamation of inclusion, what steps should we take as a state and as individual towns to work toward effective implementation?

“I think we should all appreciate diversity and inclusiveness because not any one person has all the best ideas,” said Potter. “So by affirming diversity and inclusiveness you get a better result, you have more ideas on the table to solve problems or to participate and get a job done or invent something new or whatever the case may be in that regard. And it allows people to be treated equally so there aren’t people who are advantaged or disadvantaged. That’s the most important thing.”

“Just for myself, this baffles me, in a sense, and the reason it baffles me is, I don’t understand keeping people away or out of anything,” he said, noting that the House Committee on Judiciary that he sits on has passed bills related to fair and impartial policing.

“The first thing that comes to mind, it’s nice to have an overarching inclusion statement but where does the rubber meet the road in actually implementing it?” said Fredette. “And what comes to mind for me is implicit bias training for law enforcement, maybe select boards, and other leadership groups.” He said he attended such training as a school board member and found it enlightening.

“Most of this, in my opinion, revolves around respect, just general human respect for other people,” said Peterson. Towns could peruse their ordinances to make sure there are no inclusion issues, he said. “Beyond that, I really believe in schools that there ought to be just a program on respect … something that lets the kids know … you may be different from each other, but nothing gets in the way of respecting other individuals.”

Q: The housing shortage is raising the percentage of people’s income required for housing above the recommended 30% threshold to over 50% for many Vermonters. As a result, employers are finding it difficult to hire people because they can’t find an affordable place to live. As a legislator, how would you work to identify and resolve these deficiencies?

Businesses can solve this issue themselves, he said, noting Casella Waste’s recent purchase of a portion of the former College of St. Joseph campus for employee training and housing. He said the government also is spending too much money on putting people up in hotel rooms, spending in a week what they might otherwise be using to cover a month’s rent.

Short-term rental properties are using up all the available rental space, said Fredette. He’d like to see something done to address this while also seeing innovating solutions, like small housing units sharing infrastructure and rehabilitating existing properties.

Housing is a complex issue, he said, and he’d like to learn more about the economics of short-term rentals. He noted that the rising price of construction materials hasn’t been helpful. He said he believes many property owners aren’t renting their units for fear of problem tenants. He said he would like to see landlords given more rights so that more people might opt to rent out their units.

Potter echoed the statements made by others saying motels aren’t cost-effective, and that construction costs are high. That said, the state should look to building more housing units for renters, he said.

Q: According to the Rutland Herald, food insecurity now affects two in five Vermonters. What actions would you take to increase food security for families and do you support extending universal free lunch in Vermont beyond this school year?

He said he was glad to see programs during the pandemic buying food from farmers and distributing it to people in need. He believes food security to be a priority along with health and child care. He said he supports universal school meals and wants to see regulations that allow for local food to be supplied to schools and the like.

He said he supports the government helping people who need food, but doesn’t favor universal school meals. “I would not support free lunches at school. I don’t. We voted on it here this year and I voted against it. It’s a lot of money and it includes everybody so, if you are making $200,000 a year, your kids get free lunch. I think those folks have a responsibility to pay for their kids lunches at school.” A better business climate would lead to more people being able to afford food, he said.

“We need to provide a livable wage for people,” said Potter. “If they have a livable wage, they’ll be able to buy the food they need to be able to feed their family.” He thinks the food banks and similar groups are doing a good job keeping people fed, and supports universal school meals.

He jokingly accused Peterson of stealing his answer to this question, adding that free meals through the schools should be based on a family’s income.

Q: Do you support moving education funding from the property tax to the income tax? Why or why not?

He said he doesn’t have a good answer for this, as it’s an extremely complex issue that’s been discussed for some time now. He said he would have to learn more or see a bill.

He said he supports the notion, but said he doesn’t think it would be a drastic shift from one to the other. It would help senior citizens mostly and allow people with higher incomes to contribute more.

“The devil is in the details on this one,” said Burditt, concurring with Potter that it wouldn’t be a quick or drastic change, if done at all. There already exists property tax breaks for people of certain income levels.

He said he used to oppose this, believing that funding education through income taxes would be too volatile, but now thinks a hybrid system where homestead property taxes are shifted to income taxes, leaving nonresidential property taxes unchanged, would be a good option to consider.

The entire forum lasted approximately two hours and was filmed by PEG-TV, which posted a video recording to its YouTube page at bit.ly/Rutland2forum online.


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