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Final Reading: Rep. Kate Donnally to step down, calling legislating ‘an impossible juggling act’

By Sarah Mearhoff,

Rep. Kate Donnally, D-Hyde Park, listens to testimony during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Rep. Kate Donnally, D-Hyde Park, is stepping down from her House seat effective tomorrow, citing personal reasons.

The second-term lawmaker broke the news in her regular column for the News & Citizen , which went live early Thursday. In it, she said that she “did not come to this decision easily or lightly.”

“From the beginning of my time of service in the Vermont House of Representatives, I have been wrestling with a host of conflicting truths,” she continued. One truth, she said, is that she loves the work of being a legislator. The other “is that this work became an impossible juggling act.”

“One of the strengths that I brought to this role was the many hats that I wear in my life. Ironically, the Legislature, as it is currently designed, does not allow you to sustainably wear a multitude of hats,” Donnally wrote. “It asks you to forgo money, stability of schedule, accessibility to family and more with little regard to the mental, emotional, and familial toll that these demands require.”

Vermont’s is a part-time, citizen Legislature, gaveling in between January and May. It also compensates like a part-time gig, paying roughly $13,000 over the course of five months, despite requiring what many lawmakers say are year-round obligations. The job also doesn’t provide health insurance or child care, making service a logistical nightmare for many lawmakers. Over the years, legislators have had to bow out due to the low pay, or family obligations, or medical diagnoses, or the reality of having a full-time job that doesn’t allow for five months of full-time legislating in Montpelier.

“I have wanted so badly to find that elusive sweet spot that allows me to continue to do this work that I love without sacrificing my mental health and the health of my marriage and family,” Donnally wrote on Thursday. “I have finally come to the painful conclusion that such a balance simply does not exist. It ultimately became a choice between the Legislature and my life as I know it.”

Donnally declined to interview with VTDigger about her decision to vacate her seat, saying she wanted to maintain some privacy around the decision. But she pointed to a video from a Lamoille County candidate debate in October, during which she said serving in the Legislature has been “brutally difficult” for her financially and personally, particularly as a queer person. On the debate stage, she said that one of the first things she did when she decided to run for office was change the locks on her house.

“In the time that I've served, over two years, I've been directly targeted by the Vermont GOP. I've had my face plastered over social media with the word ‘extremism’ written under it. It's been shared on social media with the hashtag ‘groomer,’ essentially meaning that, because I support the care of queer and trans youth, I am somehow a child abuser,” she said. “These things place my life at risk. And when I talk to people in the state Legislature who are queer-identified, who are Black and brown, they all have their own stories of this kind of treatment.”

Republican Gov. Phil Scott will ultimately fill Donnally’s vacant seat, choosing from a list of contenders nominated by local political parties. It is customary for the governor to choose the party of the departing member. Scott’s spokesperson Jason Maulucci told VTDigger on Thursday that the process typically takes several weeks.

— Sarah Mearhoff


Organic dairy farmers pleaded with state lawmakers in both the Senate and House agriculture committees on Thursday to provide emergency funding during an economic crisis in the industry.

As many as 25 to 30 of the state’s 139 organic dairy farms are at risk of going out of business in the first half of 2023 without “swift and substantial intervention,” Maddie Kempner, policy director with Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, told lawmakers.

Vermont lost 11 organic dairies in 2021 and 18 in 2022, NOFA-VT officials said.

The organization proposed that lawmakers allocate $9.2 million to organic farms through the budget adjustment act. The payments would be structured so that farms would receive an additional $5 per hundredweight on their 2022 sales.

Read more here.

— Emma Cotton

Former Secretary of State Jim Condos appears to be enjoying his recent retirement as the state's top election official by…weighing in on legislation concerning local elections. On Wednesday, the same day Gov. Phil Scott announced that he had signed H.42 and extended Covid-19-era voting options for Town Meeting season, Condos circulated a "letter of concern" to the House and Senate government operations committees.

Condos took issue with the new law's extension of certain Open Meeting Law adjustments through June 2024 rather than just the current season, writing, “the OML is not and should not be used to make it easier for state/local government officials to conduct business — rather and most importantly — it is to provide for the public’s right to know.”

— Mike Dougherty


U.S. Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., have received their first committee assignments .

Welch has been assigned seats on four high-profile Senate committees, including the Agriculture, Commerce, Judiciary, and Rules committees.

Balint will serve on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, her office confirmed Thursday, and more assignments will likely be announced in the coming days.

The first-term representative’s committee assignments, along with those of the rest of the U.S. House, have been held up for weeks largely due to a historic battle over the House speakership, which has delayed the chamber from beginning its legislative work.

Welch’s assignments also come after weeks in waiting, as Senate leadership hammered out proper partisan breakdowns of each committee in a narrowly divided chamber.

Read more here.

— Sarah Mearhoff

Welch is now joining his senior compatriot U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in ringing alarm bells over Moderna’s planned Covid-19 vaccine price hike .

In a letter cosigned by fellow New Englander and lowercase-p progressive U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Tuesday, Welch said Moderna’s reported plans to quadruple the cost of the vaccine “could prolong the public health crisis caused by COVID-19 and leave many uninsured Americans simply unable to afford the vaccine.”

The senators’ letter comes as Moderna reportedly plans to hike the price of the vaccine to $110 to $130 per dose. They wrote that the company is already slated to haul at least an additional $5 billion in revenue this year, on top of their $12 billion in net income garnered in 2021 — even without the price hike.

Welch’s spokesperson Emily Becker told VTDigger that the senators were concerned by “troubling trends in pricing for life-saving vaccines, developed with the support of taxpayer funding.” In October, Pfizer announced plans to raise the price of their own vaccine to $130 per dose, prompting a similar letter from Warren and Welch to Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla in December.

In Tuesday’s letter, the senators wrote that Moderna’s move so soon after Pfizer’s “raise(s) questions about how Pfizer’s similar announcement of vaccine price hikes in October 2022 may have influenced Moderna’s decision-making process regarding its vaccine prices.”

Welch and Warren’s letter to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel comes on the heels of a similar letter from Sanders, which he sent to Bancel earlier this month. The incoming chair of the Senate’s powerful Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee called the move an example of “unacceptable corporate greed.”

“How many of these Americans will die from COVID-19 as a result of limited access to these lifesaving vaccines?” Sanders asked at the time.

— Sarah Mearhoff


Caledonia sheriff gave himself and staff bonuses totaling $400,000 before stepping down (VTDigger)

More than half of Orange County’s sheriff deputies will leave with the current sheriff next week (VTDigger)

Parking changes at Stowe Mountain Resort cause concern over access to outdoor recreation (VTDigger)

Woodstock approves $330,000 in grants to create up to 79 new child care slots (VTDigger)

Amid a housing crisis, some eye golf courses for development (Seven Days)

Read the story on VTDigger here: Final Reading: Rep. Kate Donnally to step down, calling legislating ‘an impossible juggling act’ .

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