MONTPELIER — The tri-partisan Rural Caucus (formerly known as the Rural Economic Development Working Group, or REDWnG), met earlier this month with more than 45 members to elect its co-chairs and clerk, and begin setting priorities for the 2023 legislative session.
The Caucus unanimously elected four officers to guide the work of the group as they continue to expand the priorities from 2022 and dive deeper into the challenges faced by rural communities. The four officers and their positions include Democratic Co-Chair Rep. Katherine Sims, Republican Co-Chair Rep. Lisa Hango, Independent Co-Chair Rep. Laura Sibilia and Clerk Rep. Monique Priestley.
The Rural Caucus is seeking to build on the success of the first-ever Rural Economic Development Omnibus Bill (H.581) in the last biennium and to address the opportunities and challenges in rural Vermont, the group said in a release. Following elections, the group dove into a facilitated discussion to share individual members’ priorities for the upcoming session to make a path toward collaborative efforts and joint statement.
“The rural caucus has a long history of bringing the voices and values of rural Vermonters to the Statehouse. I look forward to working with our members in the coming session to advance policies that strengthen and support Vermont’s rural communities and economy,” said Sims, of the Orleans-Caledonia district.
“Rural districts throughout Vermont are experiencing so many challenges related to capacity and need. My goal for the Caucus is to realize economic resiliency and prosperity for all Vermont towns, which may look different in each one of them. As a tri-partisan co-chair, I look forward to working collaboratively towards our common goals by building coalitions, listening to the needs of our rural communities, and developing policy that benefits all Vermonters,” said Hango of Franklin County.
“This is a watershed moment for rural Vermont,” said Sibilia, of the Windham-Bennington district. “Broadband expansion and buildout is rapidly accelerating with rural Vermonters leading one of the largest public works projects in Vermont’s history. Ensuring energy modernization and climate change adaptation reach all of our communities will require similar levels of mobilization. This caucus serves a key communications and coordination role between rural Vermont and policymakers.”
Rural Caucus members shared some of their individual priorities as they relate to rural Vermont, bringing diverse perspectives, ideas, and several shared goals. Common themes among the Caucus included increasing rural municipal capacity, housing in rural communities, support for emergency services and dispatch services, road maintenance, and workforce development, climate resiliency, and many other substantive ideas to consider during the 2023 session.