MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont House of Representatives passed a resolution Wednesday declaring that racism is a public health emergency. The House voted 135-8 in favor of the non-binding resolution, which still must be passed by the Senate to be adopted.
The resolution says that systemic racism affecting public health impacts economic, employment, education, housing, and health opportunities and outcomes of minority populations, even in Vermont. It also says the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened those inequities, and Black and Latino people are three times as likely as white people to die of the disease.
“This legislative body commits to coordinating work and participating in ongoing action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism,” the resolution said.
State Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, a Democrat from Hartford who is Black, said the discussion is emblematic of change that is taking place in Vermont. But he says that every day when he leaves his home he doesn’t know what to expect, and how he dresses will affect how he is treated. “I know how these affect me as a person of color even here in Vermont,” said Christie during the online debate.
He said he’d spent the 48 years he’s been in Vermont working to help his colleagues, friends and fellow Vermonters understand his experiences. “We do need to open our hearts, and our minds, to difference because ultimately that is where knowledge is inherent,” he said.
One of the lawmakers who voted no—Rep. Carl Rosenquist, a Republican from St. Albans—said after the outcome was announced, he voted as he did because he felt the resolution left out many disparities beyond race that can contribute to poor health outcomes.
“I believe the current resolution leaves out, or misidentifies, many of the root causes of these disparities,” Rosenquist said. “Let us concentrate on addressing and solving many of these inequities.”