March 30-April 2:
The 2021 Legislative session is roughly at the 2/3 mark with many bills being sent back and forth between the House and Senate. The largest bill of note this past week that is picking up steam and is going to receive a lot of attention this week is House bill H.315. It is titled: An Act relating to COVID-19 Relief. This has been the House’s “fast track” COVID relief bill that has been in the works since February. The bill started out at $75 million in the House, went to the Senate and grew to $104 million, principally due to the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. These are monies from the Federal Government intended for COVID-19 recovery. A key section that was added just this week states: “The purpose of funding appropriated from ARPA in this act is related to addressing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as making investments for a sustained economic recovery. The appropriation of these funds is not intended to create a future funding commitment from other State funds.”
In my Committee, House Corrections and Institutions, we continued taking testimony and working out final language in Senate bill S.18, An act relating to limiting earned good time sentence reductions for offenders convicted of certain crimes. Earned time is time removed from the minimum and maximum sentence for good behavior by inmates in the custody of the Department of Corrections. This bill seeks to ensure inmates that are currently serving time for seven (7) of the heinous crimes did not continue earning time off their sentences. Under the parent bill, which became Act 148 in the last biennium, all inmates can now earn good time, but the difference going forward is that victim notification and participation in the sentencing/plea agreements has impact/bearing on how these crimes are worked in the judicial system. These components did not exist in the past and hence the need for this correction.
Over the next few weeks, I fully expect a multitude of bills to hit the House floor. Stay tuned for updates from Representative Lee Morgan and myself.
Legislators are being contacted with concerns related to Vermont’s pension system reform plan that is in the Government Operations Committee. The problem lies in the fact that for decades there has been an ever increasing unfunded liability that today is approximately 5.8 billion dollars and is increasing by many millions of dollars each month. How and why this happened is debatable, and one could play the blame game all day long, but that will not solve the problem. Action has to be taken moving forward.
As of this writing the Committee is taking testimony, has or will be having public hearings, and will be formulating a bill that will eventually get to the whole House. Depending on the level of debate in the Committee, public input, and the time left in this session, this reform plan might not be completed this session.
It has been proposed that those people that are within five years of retirement or those that have retired will not be affected. It appears that for others, everything is on the table for discussion, including the creation of a fifteen member Vermont Retirement Commission with overarching responsibilities in pension, benefits, and investments.
This is a very complicated undertaking and nothing is set in concrete as of yet. If you have comments or concerns you can contact the Committee Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts. I am sure there will be a lot of news coverage on this topic which will make it easy to stay informed.
March 15-19, 2021
We are now well into the second half of our 2021 Legislative Session. The “Crossover” period is now complete as this past week was the last opportunity for Bill introduction that has a monetary component to it. Many Bills each day are now coming up for passage in the House. Three that I’d like to highlight are: A) H.218 titled: The Sale of Unpasteurized Milk. This Bill had a great amount of spirited debate. Of the two sides of the coin were those that felt we had come a long way with the pasteurization process and they did not want to see health issues develop by dropping this standard. The other camp was about freedom to choose on how one gets their dairy product of milk. The Bill handily passed and farmers, with regulation in place will now be able to expand selling milk in this manner. B) H.149 titled: Modernizing Statutes Related to the Vermont National Guard. Basically, passage of this bill deleted some antiquated language that is no longer applicable to the operation of the Guard. It also adds longer State Active Duty protections for members when called up for State emergencies. C) H.227 titled: City of Winooski Charter Amendments. I highlight this one as this Bill, since passed, allows non-citizens of the city to vote in local election issues. This had a huge amount of debate, as many are concerned about this expanding beyond local elections. Note: All Bills have to pass both chambers and signed by the Governor to be enacted.
In my committee, House Corrections and Institutions, we wrapped up final pieces of needed testimony for our Capital Bill that had to be wrapped up and submitted by Friday, March 19. We spent many long days this past week to get this completed on time to meet the “Crossover” deadline that I spoke of above. In this Bill we took the Governor’s recommended budget numbers and worked through final numbers with the testimony and lengthy discussions with our Committee members. Included in this Bill are things such as: Funding for Vermont State College infrastructure, University of Vermont infrastructure assistance, State Building modernization and maintenance, Historic preservation projects, Underwater diving park maintenance, Grant programs for Clean Water initiatives, State Park maintenance, numerous Fish and Wildlife projects, Vermont State Military (for the National Guard) Armory maintenance, Public Safety projects in regards to State Police barracks upgrades and construction, and Rural Fire Protection support. These are about half of the many things located in this 34 page, draft bill.
Vaccine roll-out for COVID-19 has been hugely stepped up. See the various websites and notices throughout multiple media sites for information regarding the dates of availability for each age group.
Stay Safe – Stay Well.
We are now at the time in the Legislature that is termed crossover. It is roughly the midpoint of the session when House and Senate bills must be reported out of committees and filed with the Secretary/Clerk so they can be placed on the calendar. This will give both the House and Senate time to consider each other’s bills and take action on them. The exceptions to this crossover deadline include the general Appropriations bill, the Transportation Capital bill, the Capital Construction bill, and the Fee/Revenue bills.
In my Committee, (Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife), we voted out a bill that relates to clean water. This bill amends the Vermont Water Quality Standards to clarify that the same standards apply to wetlands and discharges to wetlands. Wetlands serve to protect water quality and reduce the risk of flood hazards by temporarily storing floodwaters and storm runoff and slowly releasing water downstream.
Preserving, protecting, and restoring the water quality of surface waters, including wetlands, are necessary for clean water, recreation, and wildlife habitat.
This bill has passed in the House and is now in the Senate for their consideration.
Feb. 23 - Feb. 26:
This past week was the last session prior to the Town Meeting week, Legislative break.
We reconvene on Tuesday, March 9.
On the Floor of the House this week, several bills were passed for movement over to the Senate and their consideration. H.135 was passed, which was a bill imposing a set of Ethics Standards for senior elected officials in the state. We were only one of three states without this provision, so movement is being made with respect to better transparency in our State Government.
We also passed a very important bill, H.315, which delivers $79 million in COVID relief funds for small businesses, farmers, school children, mental health programs, poor Vermonters and the homeless. $10 million will go to small businesses that have not qualified for CARES Act funds and are on the brink of closure/shutdown/bankruptcy.
The House “fast tracked” this bill to the Senate for approval and then on to the Governor for signature. I expect both of those actions to happen quickly.
The House also passed HR.8, which is a resolution extending the emergency order for the House to stay in the remote work mode through the 15th of May.
In my committee, House Corrections and Institutions, we had a lot more testimony on our Committee bill. This bill, by design, will primarily address concerns stemming from past issues in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF).
The bill doesn’t only direct attention only at CRCF but in other areas of Corrections that need some Legislative action/intervention.
Also, in that vein, we took further testimony on our “Good Time” bill which addresses giving credit to inmates for good behavior as long as they also meet metrics of their treatment and rehabilitation programs (not necessarily drug rehabilitation, but programs that help re-assimilate them into society).
We also worked with the House Education Committee on portions of a bill that addresses school construction funding.
There will be a one-week lag in our reporting due to no House sessions next week.
Feb. 16 - Feb. 19:
The Vermont House is right into the heart of the session with one week til the Town Meeting Day break.
A number of new bills were introduced which puts us close to the 300 mark of total House bills brought to the floor. Bill introduction should start slowing down rapidly as we are also approaching three weeks from “crossover” where bills have to be passed and sent to the Senate for their “look” and consideration.
One bill of note that was passed in the House this week was a bill relating to Agritourism which I think is of great value to our District. We have a great amount of agriculture, in many forms, and this Bill, if fully passed and signed by the Governor (which I fully expect will happen) will give great protection to all of our farmers. It removes liability if a customer is on their property and gets injured in any way.
Like many things, agriculture has certain levels of risk with machinery, animals, terrain etc. This would put customers on notice that they assume all the risk when participating in any activity on a farm.
As for my committee, the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, we had another very busy week of testimony as we continue to build on the Capital Bill.
We heard from folks from Public Safety as we consider upgrades to the Vermont Police/Fire Academy in Pittsford.
We also spent a bit of time on further review of Stormwater issues with the Agency of Natural Resources.
Another big piece of testimony was given for the “ask” on requested monies dedicated to supporting capital projects at our State University system with UVM and the Vermont State Colleges.
A very interesting testimonial was given on the property and buildings on the now closed, Southeast Correctional Facility in Windsor. It was originally slated to be populated by Fish and Wildlife, but they have declined to use it. So, we are faced with finding another tenant within the state or selling the property.
This one ought to be interesting as we move forward.
We are now in the seventh week of the 2021 legislative session. There will be the traditional recess the first week of March for Town Meeting. We will then be back in session until the middle of May when we will adjourn for the year. Of course this is all subject to change. Remember last year we had a special session late in the summer, so it all depends on the circumstances.
In all likelihood we will not be meeting in person at the Statehouse for the remainder of this session. Hopefully that will be a different story next January.
There is a bill in Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife that if enacted will have an affect on all of us. It is H.175-the bottle bill. This bill proposes to increase the deposit from five cents to ten cents. It has been at five cents since the deposit program was started around 1970. The bill also proposes to expand the deposit-redemption system to include water bottles, wine bottles, and containers for all non carbonated and carbonated drinks except for milk and other dairy products.
We are taking testimony and discussing this bill, but as of this writing no action or vote has been taken.
Thank you for your time.
Feb. 2 - Feb. 5:
It certainly has been very snowy this past week, but your Vermont House and Senate have been aggressively meeting via Zoom! Things are really starting to pick up rapid pace with many bills introduced and very engaged Committee meetings.
COVID-19 Vaccine rollout is still the hottest topic out there. We are still in the midst of those 75 and above able to sign up and get shots. So far, more than 2/3 of the 46,000 Vermonters in that age group have signed up.
Another hot topic is the 1099-G mix up that occurred with unemployment documents sent to folks. The latest update from the Department of Labor (DOL) has the following happening: DOL will mail a pre-paid/postage paid envelope to everyone that received these 1099’s and is asking for a recall of all of them. 1099’s will then be re-issued to everyone. Also, everyone affected will receive fraud/credit monitoring at no cost to them. All claimants should be notified by DOL in an e-mail.
On Friday, the House passed H.18 “A bill that proposes to include simulated conduct with the definition of sexual conduct for purposes of the crime involving sexual exploitation of children.” This bill seeks to tighten down and include other acts that are ultimately an endangerment to our children. This bill had bi-partisan support, as it should have.
Last, my Committee, House Corrections and Institutions continues to take a plethora of testimony on the Vermont owned buildings for renovations and potentially, even some new construction. One possible new construction project is a $11.6 M proposal to Complete the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence. In 2011, Hurricane Irene wiped out the old Waterbury State Hospital and residents were transitioned to other facilities throughout the state. This facility would be for those no longer in need of inpatient care but still need serious intervention in mutual crisis. The key is that this, like all other projects need to fit into the Capital Bill, which our committee constructs, and stay within budgets projected by the Governor (which was a no increased taxes budget from last fiscal year).
We have just finished the fifth week of the 2021 legislative session.
Many bills are still being introduced on a daily basis, and are being assigned to the appropriate committees.
My assigned Committee, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife has received bills that are related to water quality, wetlands, herbicides, pesticides, hearing protection in relation to firearms, septic systems, beverage container laws, intentional release of balloons, licensing related to trapping, and Act 250.
The Act 250 bill is a 45 page bill that is more streamlined than the one that was vetoed last biennium. This bill is an attempt to update and modernize Vermont’s land use and development law that was enacted in 1970. It will be a time consuming process that I am sure will draw much attention as we work through this bill.
The Governor also gave his Budget Address to the Joint Assembly. He proposed a 6.8 billion dollar fiscal year 2022 budget using a 210 million dollar one time federal funding for economic recovery. There would be no increase in taxes, fees, or cuts in essential services.
We are now heavily into the throes of the legislative season; having just wrapped up our 3rd week. COVID-19 obviously remains the biggest topic and is on the forefront of the Administration’s minds and agenda. Speaking of which, starting Monday Jan. 25, those 75 and older can go to healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine and sign up to receive the vaccine. Those immunizations are going to be administered starting Jan. 27. From there the plan is to keep rolling backwards, age-wise, in 5-10 year increments as more vaccine is received.
There have now been over 100 bills introduced in the House and more come out daily. H.48, an Act relating to authorizing alternative procedures for 2021 annual municipal meetings in response to COVID-19, passed the House two weeks ago and was signed into law this past week by the Governor. Towns now have the ability to utilize maximum flexibility with their Town Meeting Days and ways of voting that are permitted.
Another bill that is working it’s way through the Legislative process is Senate Bill 9 (S.9). The House amended the original bill with minor changes and sent it back to the Senate. If ultimately passed, this bill will extend the Commissioner of Labor’s authority to waive or amend certain workers’ compensation related deadlines and requirements during a state of emergency related to COVID-19. The proposed date of this extension would be July 1st, 2021. I would expect the Senate to likely move forward with the minor administrative changes the House made and send it forward to the Governor for signing (which I expect he’ll do).
My Committee, House Corrections and Institutions, took a lot of testimony on several topics that we are addressing. Some topics were: alternatives for the Woodside Juvenile Detention Facility; Act 148 - an act related to Justice Reinvestment; testimony from the Corrections Union on work scheduling and continued work on the Capital Bill which falls in our purview. As always, feel free to reach out to me at.
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