By RUSSELL JONES
Freshman Rep. Stephanie Jerome, D-Brandon, said that while the way the session ended was unusual and somewhat mystifying, the issues of surrounding a $15 minimum wage and establishing family leave are issues they can take up again in January.
“We saved $250,000 a week by not going back,” she said in a recent interview. “We won’t rush into making any bad laws this way.”
Quirky ending aside, one thing that struck Rep. Jerome during her first year in the Legislature was the depth of knowledge of her co-workers.
“The long-term legislators were amazing, especially the money committees,” she said. “They have an understanding of the depth of the problem and the historical background to go along with it. They all have such a deep-seated concern and love for the people of Vermont, as well. It’s touching.”
The variety and range of the legislators was something else that struck her right away.
“You have six legislators under 25 years old and several that are in their 80s,” Jerome said, “both, rural and urban, yet they work so great together. It’s unbelievable.”
As a new representative, Jerome said there was a steep learning curve to overcome.
“I haven’t had a new job in 20 years,” said Jerome, who holds a master’s degree in public policy but has never worked on a legislative body. “It was fun, but the learning curve led to some sleepless nights. I did meet some amazing people in all four of the political parties, though.”
Jerome said she enjoyed the level of discussion in the committees and said she had never been in a room where so many people just wanted to do the right thing.
As a member of the Commerce Committee, she enjoyed the economic development and workforce training they did.
“I can see the actual benefit in my communities,” Jerome said. “We can train new grads out of high school and retrain older workers to fill jobs that need workers. That’s something the state really needs.”
Although her committee is the only one with a Republican chairman, she said those in her committee seemed to only bring their opinions and experience to the table and not their political views.
The Rutland County legislators all meet up with each other once every week to talk about issues or to have a presenter talk about various issues, ranging from law enforcement issues to someone discussing economic development.
“It was very healthy to meet up and talk about issues since we have such a diverse county,” Jerome said. “It was great to be able to meet with the people who represent Rutland County.”
Regarding the two issues that kept Democrats in the House and Senate divided, Jerome said that everyone is in agreement that workers need to be paid a living wage, they are just working out what that will look like. Jerome said the House wanted more modular checks on recession because they understand that smaller businesses may struggle in a weak economy with raising the minimum wage too high too fast.
“In the Senate, they are all assigned to two committees where as the House we are assigned to one each,” she said. “I think we just have more of an ability to dig deeper into the issues in the House, where the Senate has to stick to broader topics.”
The two bodies will pick up the issues in January. In the meantime, Jerome is already back at work at her company, Visual Learning, where she makes and distributes educational videos with her husband.
She said she enjoyed talking to her constituents during her office hours in Brandon, Pittsford and Sudbury and will hold the hours again before the session resumes next year. “It was a good opportunity to share and hear people’s concerns,” she said. “I look forward to doing that again before the next session.”