It can be said that 2013 was an amazing year for Vermonters and for our Party. The Legislature, with a strong majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate, working with our statewide elected leaders, including our Congressional Delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin, continue to move our state towards prosperity, equality, and education for all.
I have never been more proud to be a Vermont Democrat, and I thought as we move into the next legislative session it would be worthwhile to take a step back and note our accomplishments from this year.
We put up $400,000 to help cover start-up costs of publicly financed preschool, a down-payment on our goal of universal pre-k education. Thanks to the hard work of the governor and our Democratic legislators, Vermont schools now offer expanded dual-enrollment, so more Vermont high school students can earn college credit, a great way for them to advance into the next step in their education as easily and cheaply as possible. Vermont Democrats also invested in our future by ensuring that children from poor families receive free lunches so that they can learn on a full stomach, giving them an equal chance to succeed.
As we move forward with health care reform, Vermont is continuing to lead the way. Gov. Shumlin and Vermont Democrats have taken on the difficult task of implementing the Affordable Care Act and have enrolled over 50,000 Vermonters in quality health plans for 2014. That's more people on a per-capita basis than any other state.
Many Vermonters are receiving financial help to make coverage more affordable. Others are, for the first time in their lives, able to afford coverage. And Gov. Shumlin is continuing his push to take Vermont forward, making it the first state in the nation to have a sensible, publicly-financed health care system where coverage is a right and not a privilege and where doctors and hospitals get paid to make people healthier.
Vermont Democrats also fought hard to provide $6 million for the first-ever base state budget contribution to help keep the most vulnerable Vermonters warm in the winter, a challenge made more difficult by inadequate federal funding for the program.
We also expanded the rights of our citizens by decriminalizing the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, making the offense subject to civil fine rather than a criminal offense. This saves money in our judicial system, allowing those resources to be better directed elsewhere.
The governor and other Democrats worked to pass end of life choices, allowing Vermonters facing terminal illness and unbearable pain to make their own decisions with the guidance of physician and loved ones.
Vermont will always stand up for women. Just as Vermont has led the nation on other issues of civil rights, we made progress this past year by passing an equal pay bill. We recognized that it is unconscionable that in this day and age working Vermont woman can only expect to make $. 85 on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.
These are just a few of the common sense pieces of legislation that we were able to pass in Vermont thanks in large part to the support of the Governor and a Democratic-led legislature.
We've shown that the gridlock and partisanship that has led to roadblocks and bickering in Washington is not what we do here at home. Instead, we've set an example by showing that a strong Democratic party, working closely with our like-minded allies in the other two major parties, can get tough things done and move our state forward.
I am honored to be the chair of the Democratic Party during such an important and exciting time. Together, we will explain our success and our priorities to Vermonters, and we will keep moving our state forward.
Dottie Deans is chair of the Vermont Democratic Party.