Update from Montpelier Grand Isle/Chittenden State Representatives
By MICHAEL MORGAN
firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-881-7835
End of Session
This past week the Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tempore had established Tuesday the 20th of June through Thursday the 22nd for a “veto session” to debate on and vote whether to override 7 more vetoes issued by Governor Scott. He had earlier issued a veto against Senate bill S.5 – “The Affordable Heat Act” but that was already voted on and overridden during the regular session. I will not get into that bill as that dialogue already occurred in earlier reports/conversations I’ve had with you folks.
The veto session that could have taken up to 3 days with deliberation and compromise turned into the majority party in the House simply taking swift and decisive action to override the Governor on all 5 bills that he vetoed. The Senate followed suit and voted to override them as well. The session ended at roughly 5:00 pm the day that it started. No compromises were made, and all 5 bills will now become law. This was all done despite the House Republicans asking for compromise and concessions to make the bills more palatable for all Vermonters. With the current construct of the House and Senate, there is one sided “rule” with little to no back-and-forth dialogue and no compromise. Without this, we end up with one-sided legislation without a diversity of thought and work going into the bills. This does not bode well for Vermonters. The Senate had two bills that were vetoed but not taken up as it appeared they did not have the votes to override them, so they were simply sent back to their committees of jurisdiction with no further action on them.
Despite pleas on the House floor for reason and fiscally palatable bills, the majority rapidly overrode the Governor’s concerns on: H.494 (Budget). This budget has grown 13% over last year’s baseline and contains $20M in unsolicited DMV fee increases (20% increase in one year). H.217 (Childcare) - sets up a brand-new, (multi, multi millions of dollars) payroll tax largely funded by employers, although all workers will be required to pay their share. H.305 increased professional licensing fees for all state licensed occupations. H.509 - non-citizen voting in Burlington and H.386 - 16/17-year-old voting in Brattleboro.
As Governor Scott has stated on numerous occasions – he proposed a budget that had no new taxes or fees and yet provided the very best in services to all Vermonters. These overrides will financially hurt every Vermonter. Don’t get me wrong – these bills may have been well intended but the cost to enact them was too high. Again, the Governor had a plan, but it was largely ignored. In addition to these new expenses being levied on all Vermonters, the non-citizen voting and 16/17-year-olds voting bring to light a constitutionality component that is questionable.
With nearly a half billion dollars of new spending in this one budget, Vermont has become one of the top 3 or 4 taxed states in the nation. I don’t think that Vermonters should be pleased with that notoriety……….
May 8 - May 12
Around 11:30 Friday evening the gavel fell on the 2023 legislative session. We debated late into the evening several bills and we ended the session on a very heated dialogue on the budget or the “Big Bill.”
The major bills of topic this week were:
H.479 - The Transportation Bill was a solid bill from the beginning stages until, earlier in the year, the Ways and Means committee added in a 20% (unasked for) price increase, across the board on DMV fees (licenses, registrations, etc). In the end, the T-Bill finally came back to us with the DMV fees removed and instead placed in the Budget. The Transportation Bill ended up as a well-done product and it was unanimously supported by the House.
H.217 – The Workers Compensation Bill with S.56 (Child Care/Pre-K) folded into it. Finding adequate childcare that pays providers a fair wage and provides families with facilities to accommodate their children is a challenge today. That we all agree on. In January, the Governor presented a comprehensive budget that didn’t raise any fees or taxes on already struggling, working Vermonters. In Governor Scott’s proposal for childcare, specifically, he allocated $56 million dollars which would have assisted families all the way up to 400% above the poverty line (roughly $120,000/year income for a family of 4)! The Governor’s proposal would have made us number one in the nation for childcare state assistance. Unfortunately, this proposal was ignored, and instead the bill came to us with a price tag of $135 million/year, with $82 million of it raised by a payroll tax. This proposal allows for families with incomes at 575% above the poverty line ($172,500 dollars/year income for a family of four) to qualify for assisted childcare! By far, this was the toughest vote for me this session as I’ve always supported childcare initiatives in the past. However, I could not support a bill that raises taxes on hard working Vermonters and would be a regressive tax on our lower- and middle-income earning families.
On Wednesday of this week, S.39 a Legislative Pay Raise bill came to us from the Senate. We are paid $812/week currently. This bill raises that number to $1000/week in 2025, $1100/week in 2026 and $1210 in 2027. It also allows for off session pay of $250/week. All told this results in a 50% raise with “in session” pay over the next 4 years with additional monies on top of it for “off-session” work and the possibility of health care added in. I absolutely did not support this proposal that will ultimately add approximately 5 million dollars a year to the baseline of the budget for a citizen legislature to operate. Under this bill annual pay and benefits for a legislator could roughly double by 2027 from today’s standards. Unfortunately, a majority voted for this pay raise for themselves. This bill was a slap in the face to the hard-working people of this state and I voted no on this shameful bill.
The Budget/” Big Bill,” H.494 - In the Governor’s budget address back in January, he proposed a 5.2% increase to the baseline budget (baseline means it will be there, theoretically forever, in future budgets). The House/Senate committee of conference came up with a budget increase of one-time expenditures and baseline increases of 13.3% (8.8% is baseline costs). The budget also creates or converts, (temporary positions to full time) at least, 136 new state positions to add to the annual payroll! Back in January our state economists briefed us that we should expect a steady economic decline in the next year. As predicted, as of April, personal income tax revenues were $43 million dollars below projections for the year. A memo provided to the Ways and Means committee by the Tax Commissioner outlined his concerns regarding state spending, taxation, and income revenue projections. He stated that we are the 2nd least populated state and the 3rd highest taxed. This is all gravely concerning. We need to be living within our means and we are not. The budget passed on a 90-53 vote in favor. With these above concerns this budget to me was out of touch with reality for Vermonters and I voted no on it.
I have talked with so many of my constituents that are financially living in hard times. We are already experiencing high inflationary costs. These largest financial bills will be costly for our hard-working Vermont families. We need to get back to reasonable and sustainable spending that does not break the backs of those trying to make ends meet.
Stay tuned – I expect Governor Scott to veto several bills and we already have a tentative, veto special session scheduled for June 20-22nd. I will provide an update on where we are at after that session.
May 2 - May 5
This past week saw us spending most of our day on the House floor debating and voting on the bills that we have time for this session. We spent a morning session at 10:00 am and an afternoon session at 3:00 pm doing this work. In between we listened to testimony in committee on the very last few bills that we have time to pass and then get back to the Senate, if we amended them. We are scheduled to wrap up for the year this week.
On the Horizon this week will be a couple of bills that I’ll discuss. The first one is S.100, An Act relating to housing opportunities made for everyone. We have not seen the final product yet, but from the information I’ve received so far it has enough good components to it that makes it supportable. The Governor asked for deeper Act 250 reforms to allow for more affordable housing, but at this point it appears that the committee of jurisdiction has done enough on it that it’s a possible compromise. It will be debated on the floor on Monday.
The second proposal (not its own stand-alone bill) addresses our work in my committee, Government Operations and Military Affairs (HGOMA) on Sections C.112 and C.113 of the budget (H.494 – also known as the Big Bill). In these sections we are working on language to improve dispatch services in Vermont. The way dispatch services for 911 services in Vermont occurs is an interesting network that works, now, but needs some shoring up but, at the same time that we don’t disrupt or in any way jeopardize the systems already in place. Our goal is to simply support, strengthen and build upon the efforts and initiatives already in place. The Public Safety Commissioner, in consultation with the Public Safety Steering Committee (which would be newly established) would head this effort up. The Legislature would receive feedback in January of 2024 on a preliminary design established with the Steering Committee including the following components: a timeline and any additional data and resources needed to develop a final design on or before January of 2025.
Another bill, S.39 – An Act relating to compensation and benefits for members of the Vermont General Assembly saw fast and furious testimony in HGOMA. It came to us from the Senate. It was first introduced to us on Friday, the 28th of April. We debated it as a committee and took limited testimony. A few of us felt it was too fast tracked. A very quick overview of what it contains: a) it would take effect for the 2025/2026 legislative session and b) This is the big one – would increase our current $811/week to $1000/week in 2025 (a 23% increase) and moves to $1100/week in 2026 (a 36% increase). We already enjoy the same cost of living increase given annually to all state employees. S.39 unexpectedly came back up for discussion in HGOMA today (May 8th) and was voted on to move forward as a bill for floor debate. In good faith I cannot support this proposal to my constituents. I voted no on it.
I’ll touch on a couple bills that passed the House this past week. The heavily debated S.5, The Affordable Heat Act, passed the Senate with House amendments and went to the governor. He, as expected, vetoed the bill. We will likely see it come back to the Senate and House this week for a potential override of the Governor’s veto. The Senate passed it on a 20-10 vote. The lack of 2/3 of one legislative body sustains the veto. If one Senator that voted for the bill changed their mind and it became 19-11, the veto would be upheld. H.81, An act relating to the fair repair of agricultural equipment. It requires equipment manufacturers to relax proprietary restrictions in the form of offering the diagnostics (manuals and electronic medium), parts and various codes for machinery to farmers (or any other users of this equipment). This allows for faster repair, loss of time in the field moving equipment back and forth to dealerships and gets them back into the fields. All in all, a good bill.
Last, HGOMA along with House Judiciary took testimony/a rollout from legislative counsel on HR.11 – a resolution regarding impeachment proceedings for the Franklin County Sheriff and Franklin County State’s Attorney. The House Resolution allows for the establishment of a Special Committee on Impeachment Inquiry and granting it investigatory powers. There will be much more to this as it unfolds.
April 18 - April 21
We are winding down our legislative session and with 3 weeks to go, we are tackling some of our largest pieces of legislation. Arguably, one of the most debated bills (inside and outside of the Vermont Legislature) is S.5, The Affordable Heat Act (also known as the Clean Heat Standard from a similar bill from last year).
I fully believe that most of us feel action is needed to address climate change. In the Vermont House we have supported significant investments to do just that. In our current fiscal year budget, we committed over $200 million dollars to climate action. A lot of money has been directed to weatherization projects for homes, which is a huge priority for Governor Scott.
S.5 punishes Vermonters for their use of fossil fuels. Last year, our own Joint Fiscal Office stated: “It is too soon to estimate the impact on Vermont’s economy, households and businesses. The way in which the Clean Heat Standard is implemented, including the way in which clean heat credits are priced and how incentives and subsidies are offered to households and businesses, must be established before meaningful analysis is possible. At the same time, those incentives or subsidies could be costly for the State, suggesting larger fiscal impacts in future years”. JFO reiterated the concern this year regarding S.5 stating, “The fiscal impact of the bill would likely be greater (than the $1.725 million in FY24) because of increased investments over time.”
As elected officials, we have an obligation to ensure Vermonters know what the financial costs and impacts of any bill will be on their lives and the State’s economy, before passage, because that is how lawmaking and governing is supposed to work, and what Vermonters expect and deserve. Studies are done before a program is stood up. As stated by a member of the Environment and Energy Committee, “This bill is not a study”, it stands up a program! Further reinforcing that this bill is not a study, in Governor Scott’s press release yesterday he quoted from the bill: “Effective on passage, the Clean Heat Standard is established, and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) shall adopt rules and may issue orders to implement and enforce the Clean Heat Standard Program.” Again, that is not a study.
Once again, we are usurping our authority by delegating our job as elected officials to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), an unelected body of individuals. Further, we give the PUC authority to stand up two committees, without one elected official serving on either one.
The PUC can adopt and issue orders to implement and enforce the Clean Heat Standard Program that they are standing up without legislative approval! Yes, we will receive a report on or before February 15, 2024; however, the Program is being stood up, without a study as to what the effects are with this Program regarding costs to Vermonters, businesses, or the State.
S.5 requires more thought, study, and analysis to ensure those who can least afford it are not harmed or punished. The level of work, data collection and technical analysis to ensure this does not happen has, quite frankly, not be done. There are too many Vermonters who cannot afford to pay an additional 70 cents or more per gallon of heating fuel. And many certainly cannot afford to pay the upfront costs to upgrade their service panels, weatherize their homes and install cold climate heat pumps. Again, quoting Governor Scott: “If the Legislature was serious about S.5 being a study, the language would be clear and there would be no debate about it. In case it’s not abundantly clear, my opposition to this bill has nothing to do with the overall goal to reduce emissions, it has everything to do with protecting Vermonters and legislative transparency.”
Collectively, the Legislature is asking a lot of Vermonters this year with:
When is enough, enough?
In closing, I’ll paraphrase from my floor comments on Thursday evening during debate of S.5:
“I have heard from my constituents in petitions, emails, text messages, phone calls and face to face dialogues on S.5. Overwhelmingly, they have voiced their opposition to this bill. I remember who elects me and who I represent – I am listening to my constituents on this bill and will be voting NO!”
April 11 - April 14
In my committee this past week, House Government Operations and Military Affairs, we continued to take testimony on and pass out several town charters. Again, they are not subject to crossover and can be worked the entire session. We continued to take testimony on S.17 - Sheriff reforms and S.32 - Ranked-choice voting. We also received the Vermont
National Guard Annual Sexual Assault Prevention Response Report with our colleagues from Senate Government Operations.
In the Statehouse, Committees continue to work on bills, and the House floor saw minimal action. Bills passed this week include:
The last charter I could not support as it violates the Vermont Constitution which states in Chapter II, Section 42 (Voter qualifications and oath):
Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior…… (followed by the Oath of Office)
A bill to keep a close eye on as it makes its way through money committees and to the House floor this week is S.5, the Affordable Heat Act.
Last, I called into a Zoom meeting this past Thursday evening that detailed the work that is to be done on the North Hero/Alburgh connection bridge also known as the Mother’s Bridge. Construction is slated from now through November of this year with hopes to have all work done by then. Weather dependent there could be some small finishing touches that’d have to happen next spring (2024). Essentially the project entails the removal of the asphalt and concrete decking and completely replacing it and then replacing all the guardrail with a rail very similar to that used on the drawbride project. When done, there will be 11-foot lanes for each direction of traffic and a 5’4” shoulder on each side. One side will be done at a time with a temporary traffic light on either end that will direct the one 12-foot span open while the other side is worked. Timing on the lights is set for a 10-car passage before turning. For cyclists there is a button to push that will allow a greater interval of time. There is also an emergency vehicle preemption feature for first responder vehicles. Please use caution and patience as the construction workers do their work to keep this bridge in good working order.
April 4 - April 7
This week in the State house, work on the House floor was short compared to the last couple of weeks. Committees were working on and passing out a small number of bills that are not subject to crossover rules. We also had numerous Senate bills that were sent to the House from the Senate following their matching crossover period.
Bills that passed on the House floor this week were: H.146, Amendments to the charter of the Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District; H.271, Amendments to the charter of the Town of Springfield; H.418, Amendments to the charter of the Town of Barre; S.54, an act relating to individual and small group insurance markets and H.282, an act relating to the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact.
In my House Government Operations & Military Affairs committee (GOMA), our work
continued to focus on additional Town Charters (they are not subject to crossover). In committee we also received testimony on a couple of Senate bills – they were: S.17 - An Act surrounding Sheriff reforms; S.6 - An act relating to law enforcement interrogation policies and S.9 - An Act relating to the authority of the State Auditor to examine the books and records of State contractors.
A couple of noteworthy items relating directly to our district this past week:
-- I had the privilege of presenting on the House floor, H.150 – An Amendment to the Charter of the Village of Alburgh. This bill allows the Village of Alburgh to appoint versus elect their Town Clerk/Treasurer. The Village Trustees would have the hiring authority for this position. It passed the House on a unanimous voice vote and is now headed to the Senate.
-- Thursday, April 6th was Alzheimer’s Awareness Day and a group of Legislators met with the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Group on the Capitol steps followed by a group photo. They then headed inside for the floor session of the House. The Rev. Jane Dwinell of Alburgh gave our devotional for the day and spoke to this day that has deep, profound meaning to her. Her husband Sky Yardley passed away in 2021 at the early age of 66 from this horrible disease. During his struggle with Alzheimer’s, Sky and Jane co-authored a book titled “Alzheimer’s Canyon – One Couple’s Reflections on Living with Dementia.” During the announcements on the floor, I was honored to give a brief biographical overview of Rev. Dwinell’s storied life of service to others.
This past Tuesday marked the beginning of the Month of the Military Child. The Vermont National Guard family programs division brought parents and children of these families in to spend the morning with us. As a retired member of the Vermont National Guard, I was asked to give opening remarks to all of them in our committee room. We had our guests from the Guard seated in the balcony at the beginning of the floor session – I had a resolution read and passed, thanking them for the sacrifices they make with their families to maintain our freedoms. I then introduced them to the House legislative body. I felt it important for my colleagues to understand the sacrifice these children make when their parents are called away for months at a time and sometimes more than a year for deployments in austere environments.
On a separate note, for those following the work on military pension tax exemption, I
attended the testimony of Representative Lisa Hango with the Ways and Means committee. She testified on H.255, An Act relating to exempting all military retirement and military survivor benefit income from State income tax. I will keep folks updated on whether this bill gains traction or not.
March 28 - March 31
This past week was a very busy and “spirited” week in the House; most notably on the House Floor for debate and voting on bills. I’ll get to that in a moment. In my House Government Operations and Military Affairs (GOMA) committee we spent only minimal time on other topics as the floor was long and intense. In GOMA we took testimony on the Emergency Communications system and the pitfalls that are in it that need working out. We will be working more on that; I hope this session. The rest of the limited committee time that we had was primarily used for testimony and voting out charter changes for several towns. As a reminder, Vermont is a Dillon’s Rule State, which means towns are granted their legal authority by the Legislature. GOMA is the committee of jurisdiction for these changes.
I’d like to address two of the major bills that were on the floor this week:
H.494 – the Annual State Budget affectionately known as the “Big Bill” – Governor Scott, in his budget address to us, back in January offered up an $8.4 billion budget that provided for Paid Family Leave, Child Care, Housing needs, School Meals and much more without raising ANY taxes or fees. His budget also ensured that we took care of our most vulnerable populations. The Governor’s proposal demonstrated responsible spending. It also, heavily leveraged federal dollars with matching state dollars to work on critically needed infrastructure projects. This would all be done with historic levels of COVID era, one time money that we’ll not likely see ever again. These funds were to be allocated in the ballpark of $4 of federal money for every $1 of state money spent to get these direly needed projects done. Sadly, the Appropriations
Committee stripped away these matching dollars to be used for programs/initiatives that only affect this year and don’t take care of projects state-wide that will benefit us for decades to come. Additionally, the structure of these programs add 70+ jobs to the already 800+ jobs that the state can’t fill. Ultimately the budget climbed from the Governor’s recommend of 8.4 to 8.53 billion. We are using one-time available monies for recurring programs and that is not sustainable. This will lead to two things: increased taxes/fees and program cuts. The budget passed out of the Appropriations Committee on a party line vote of 8-4. This has not happened in over a decade – the two major parties have consistently come to a compromise spending bill that is palatable by all. Sadly, that was not accomplished this year. With the addition of $118 million over the Governor’s recommend and the reallocation of the above-mentioned matching dollars for infrastructure, I could not support this budget.
Again, the budget stripped out matching dollars for other programs. As a result, the following roadways/clean water/drinking water projects that will be in jeopardy in Grand Isle County/Milton are:
Alburgh – Rest Area sidewalk replacement
South Hero – Community Wastewater project
North Hero – Route 2 Water Main Replacement
Colchester to Milton, US-7 corridor - resurface and paving.
Milton-Georgia US-7 corridor - slab removal
Milton - New Collector Sewers, Flanders Development Sewers
Milton - Railroad Street water main and pressure sustaining valves
Statewide, we are losing out on $661 million dollars’ worth of much needed work like the above projects and a multitude of projects throughout our other communities in Vermont.
H.479 – The Transportation Bill (T-Bill) – this bill initially left its committee on a solid, bi-partisan vote of 11-0-0 and would have been a bill that I could have solidly supported. However, when it went over to Ways and Means, that committee added in a slew of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) increases. In total, these increases added up to $22.2 million dollars which is a 20% increase across the board for Vermonters. These fees were UNSOLICITED by the DMV. Unfortunately, when you raise fees like this, it affects the most vulnerable and least able to pay Vermonters – it’s a regressive tax in nature. For this very reason I could not support this bill either.
My hope on these two bills, especially (now that they’ve been sent to the Senate), is that the Senate takes a critical look at them and adjusts them to a posture that we all can support when their alterations come back to the House.
I typically would like a more positive, upbeat report, but I felt it was important for you all to know that I felt that these bills were in the form of irresponsible spending. This is all being done in a near record inflationary, recovery period. To paraphrase a comment that Senator Randy Brock said at a Republican press conference held this past Thursday: “There is a dark cloud looming and budgets in the coming years which, if spending isn’t cut, means raising of taxes on Vermonters.”
March 21 - March 24
This past week was the deadline for money bills to crossover to the Senate – we spent many long hours on the House floor hearing debate and voting on bills, as well as committee meetings sprinkled throughout our days to hear amendments from money committees to bills that had previously passed out of Government Operations & Military Affairs(GOMA).
Since we are now into the heavy floor time of the session I would like to remind folks that if they’d like to follow a particular bill you can find the text of a bill, by typing in the bill number on the General Assembly webpage and see the various iterations of a bill – please click on the bill as passed by the House for the most up to date version ; if it is a Senate bill at this time of year, click on as passed by the Senate.
Among the bills that passed on the House floor are the following, listed by bill number and title: H.55 unemployment insurance amendments; H.110 extending the sunset on siting telecommunications towers; H.171 adult protective services; H.471 technical and administrative changes to VT tax law; H.476 radiologist assistants; H.178 commissioning Department personnel as notaries public; H.288 liability for the sale of alcoholic beverages; H.476 miscellaneous changes to law enforcement officer training laws; H.481 public health initiatives to address death by suicide; H.230 implementing mechanisms to reduce suicide; H.482 Vermont Criminal Justice Council recommendations for law enforcement training; H.126 community resilience and biodiversity protection, which requires that 30% of land will be conserved by 2030 and 50% will be conserved by 2050 by purported voluntary means; H.66 paid family and medical leave, which has an estimated cost of $118 million/year and requires an employer-funded payroll tax; H.165 School food programs and universal school meals; H.157 the Vermont basic needs budget and last, H.127 Sports Wagering.
I would like to address a couple of the bills that were passed. H.66 – Paid family leave: This is a noble idea and is absolutely good for workforce development. However, the Governor had proposed a voluntary program that would not have cost all taxpayers more out of pocket money. The passed bill would make participation of all current working Vermonters mandatory and is regressive. It is in the form of a payroll tax of .55 cents for every dollar earned. It is split between the employer and the employee. The bill also adds over 60 new jobs at a time when we can’t even fill 800+ state, open jobs. Ultimately I could not support this bill in its current construct. We will see if the Senate modifies it in any way. H.165 – Universal School Meals – I was originally on the fence with this one but with significant constituent support of it and feeling that benefits outweighed costs I worked to a “yes.” I would have preferred a bill that put a cap on household income where families would pay for their own meals (and many, many that I’ve spoken to want to pay). H.230 – implementing mechanisms that reduce suicide. This bill came to us as a bill to reduce suicide but in reality was a bill to restrict firearms. Coincidentally, the same day that this bill passed the House, another bill was brought to the floor (H.481 that I mentioned above) and that truly addresses suicide. H.230 was debated heavily on whether the recent Court case known as the Bruen decision (Supreme Court ruling) applied and was valid. The Bruen case states that firearms laws, in general, are not constitutional. In our jobs in the legislature, we have taken an oath that we will not “directly or indirectly, do any act or thing injurious to the Constitution or Government thereof.” Additionally, I had significant constituent input to not vote for this bill – I value and use that input on bills. With all of the above said, I felt obligated to vote no.
March 14 - March 17
I got right back at it early Tuesday morning after our Town Meeting break! As a member of the Vermont National Guard and Veterans Affairs caucus, I attended our monthly meeting and heard two briefings from the Guard. The Adjutant General, Greg Knight spoke to us about the newly created Provost Marshall position. This position is utilized for various investigatory work within the Guard. Next, we heard from Captain Anne Turner. She is one of our Army Guard commanders in the Vermont National Guard. She was deployed to Southwest Asia with her troops to in-process the first waves of Afghan refugees as the US exited that region, militarily.
This past week was the “crossover” week for bills in the House and Senate committees. Any bills that are not money related had until the 17th of March to make it off the various committee’s “walls” and made actionable for vote on the House floor. If the bills are considered a money bill, they have one more week for the above process to occur. The Senate has the same constraints for movement of bills to the House.
As a result of this crossover period, committees are feverishly taking testimony on a multitude of bills that have the greatest amount of priority to them. Many ask what drives a bill to be put above others that don’t make it off the wall. There are a host of reasons for lack of movement on a bill – some reasons are: The Governor’s priorities, emergent needs of the state, and you guessed it – just plain politics!
Testimony in my Government Operations and Military Affairs (GOMA) committee this week included the following bills: H.470 – An act relating to miscellaneous amendments to alcoholic beverage laws; Committee Bill 23-0907 – An act relating to miscellaneous changes to law enforcement officer training laws; H.178 – An act relating to commissioning of Department of Corrections personnel as notaries public; H270 – An act relating to miscellaneous amendments to the adult use cannabis programs; H.291 – An act relating to the creation of the Cybersecurity Advisory Council; H.125 – An act relating to boards and commissions; H.251 – An act relating to the issuance of a Brady or Giglio letter as misconduct under the jurisdiction of the Vermont Criminal Justice Council and Committee Bill 23-0959 – An act relating to Vermont Criminal Justice Council recommendations for law enforcement officer training. All of these bills except for H.251 were passed out of committee and moved forward for voting on the House floor in the next week or two. It was felt that more testimony and legwork was needed to properly coordinate the structure of the bill. I am a big fan of this “pause” taking place as I never want a hastily crafted bill that has not had the appropriate homework put up against it.
On the House floor this week these bills passed: H.461 – Making miscellaneous changes in education laws; H.175 – Modernizing the Children and Family Council for Prevention Programs; H.62 – The Interstate Counseling Compact; H.77 – Vermont’s adoption of the Physical Therapy Licensure Compact; H.86 – Vermont’s adoption of the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact; H.465 – Regional emergency management committee’s meeting quorum requirements; H.466 – Technical corrections for the 2023 legislative session. The last two bills came out of my GOMA committee. I did the floor report on H.465 – this bill gives good relief to the Grand Isle County portion of our district on quorum requirements for our Regional Emergency Management Committee.
While on break this past week, I was able to attend 3 of our 6 town meetings in our Grand Isle-Chittenden district. I was able to be present at South Hero’s, Grand Isle’s and Milton’s Town meetings and say a few words at each on what was happening in Montpelier. I wish I could have made all the town meetings but I could not logistically be at all 6!
February 27 - March 3
This last week leading up to the Town Meeting Day break was a whirlwind.
Last Saturday we did a Legislative Update at the Snow Farm Winery in South Hero. It was well attended, and a lot of good dialogue took place.
On Monday, Feb. 27, the Governor’s administration hosted a town meeting style event at the North Hero Community Hall to work with the towns in our district to access programs that still have American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money available to them. It, too was well attended and I think many walked away with good information on how to proceed in accessing these monies.
After the meeting, I joined Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts and Deputy Secretary of the Administration Doug Farnham at Happy Bird Poultry Farm in Isle La Motte for a visit. Co-owner, Ember Boyle gave us a nice walk through of their facilities and showed us where past agricultural grants had served their business well. This is important to the Boyle family and especially so to the area as we desperately need places to access, good local food products that are raised and processed right here!
I next joined Assistant State Librarian Tom McMurdo at the Alburgh library. We were greeted by librarian Gina Lewis and several of the library trustees. Mr. McMurdo briefed them on other potential state assistance for enhancing their facility. The libraries are a critical asset in all of our rural communities as they provide internet, educational materials and social meeting spaces among other numerous upsides to their existence.
In the House Government Operations and Military Affairs (GOMA) we continued to take a great amount of testimony on several topics. We took more testimony on the Cannabis Control Board regarding a re-write of legislation regarding regulation of cannabis in the state (it falls under H.270). Our legislative counsel gave us an annual update of technical corrections for the current legislative session that will be wrapped into a committee bill.
Late in the week we took more testimony on a trio of alcohol related bills (since liquor and lottery now fall under our jurisdiction) and on Friday we took testimony from the Vermont Emergency Management folks on a committee bill that addresses Regional Emergency Management Committees. Last, in the testimony world we spoke once more with Sheriff Mark Anderson, the Windham County Sheriff and State Sheriff’s Association President. He did a walk-through of another committee bill that relates to the Vermont Criminal Justice Council and recommendations for improvement in policing/law enforcement training.
Crossover dates for this half of the biennium are as follows: standard bills – March 17th and money related bills – March 24th. What crossover means is that each body (House and Senate) have until these dates to vote on and move over bills to the other side for consideration or they must wait until the following year. There are a few exceptions to this, especially in GOMA – for instance Town Charter changes are not subject to these dates. The reason that the Legislature validates and approves town charters is because Vermont is a Dillons Rule state which means that our towns are granted legal authority by the Legislature.
With crossover looming, this past week saw a flurry of bills go through the House. And here is a sampling: H.41 – Referral of domestic and sexual assault violence cases to Community Justice Centers; H.305 – Professions and Occupations regulated by the Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR); H.67 – Household products containing hazardous substances; H.148 – raising the age of eligibility to marry; H.227 – The Vermont Uniform Power of Attorney Act; H.94 – Removing the Reach Up rateable reduction; H.217 – Miscellaneous Worker’s Compensation amendments. There were more and with crossover looming I anticipate the week that we are back in session for there to be a great number of bills hitting the House floor.
Senate bill S.5 (titled the Affordable Heat Act) passed the Vermont Senate on a vote of 19-10 on Thursday. It will now come to the House for a look and any changes. To date, I have had dozens and dozens of emails, text messages and phone calls asking for me to vote NO on this regressive form of legislation on Vermonters. I told folks at last Saturday’s update at Snow Farm that I do not support this legislation. The Governor does not either. Stay tuned and keep sending me your thoughts on this bill.
February 13 - 17
This past week was a relatively quiet week on the House floor. Now, committees are deeply entrenched in taking testimony and massaging bills sent to them as the committee of jurisdiction. To this Legislator, this is not a bad thing, as I’m forever the optimist that we are doing thoughtful, non-knee-jerk work on behalf of Vermonters.
On Tuesday, I kicked off the week with a briefing to the National Guard and Veterans Affairs Caucus (of which I’m a member). As a Guard retiree I was able to educate and pass on the inner workings of the Vermont National Guard, having served in the organization as a senior leader.
My committee, Government Operations and Military Affairs (GOMA) took a great deal of testimony on our Sports Betting bill. We finished it today and passed it out of committee. It has several more stops in the House before it goes to the floor for a vote of the whole body. It will have to be viewed by Ways and Means and Appropriations for sure and possibly a couple of other committees. We also passed out a committee bill, 23-0908, An Act relating to Professions and Occupations regulated by the Office of Primary Responsibility. It is a bill dealing with oversight of professional, licensed occupations in the state.
This week, three bills that I either sponsored or co-sponsored were introduced in the House: a) H.225 – An act relating to exempting all military retirement and military survivor benefit income; b) H.263 – An act relating to emergency medical services and c) H.284 – An act relating to regulating drones above privately owned real property. One that was introduced last week that I am sure will interest several readers is: H.158 An act relating to authorizing dredging for navigation of public waters. It is a bill that would set up a working group to study the dredging of Lake Champlain between Mallet’s Bay and the Inland Sea. This is something that has been talked about by many over the years. Additionally, I have signed on as a co-sponsor to the Rural Caucus Omnibus bill – this bill encompasses the top ten concepts adopted by the 33-member Rural Caucus.
During a special House session on Thursday morning, we elected 3 individuals to the University of Vermont Board of Trustees as well as re-electing Janet Miller as our Sergeant of Arms for another 2 years. On Thursday, after session, I participated as a member of the Sportsmen’s Caucus. This was very well attended by 35+ Legislators. Our primary speaker was Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Chris Herrick. He spoke to us on several topics that are of immense importance to his department and our district. He also talked about bills that are being worked in committees that affect him and his staff and ultimately our sportsmen.
Last, please join Senators Brock, Norris and Mazza (the three of them are tentative pending firming of their schedules) and Rep Leavitt and me for a Legislative update/roundtable at Snow Farm Vineyard, Saturday, February 25th from 9:30-11:00.
February 6 - 10
This week was heavy with testimony in our Government Operations and Military Affairs (GOMA) Committee. We delved more into online sports betting. Legislative counsel presented the latest iteration of the bill. We also spoke with an agency that specializes in geo-fencing. Geo-fencing is a set of “permissions” for location based participation in sports betting. It basically only allows folks to bet online when in the physical confines of a specific entity (in our case, being present in Vermont). Data shows that there were 139,000 attempts from the confines of Vermont, since the start of the current National Football League season, to gain access to other states online sports books. These were attributed to 16,800 people making these attempts. Proponents feel this is a reason for starting a program here as we have folks willing to participate. In turn revenue is generated for the state. Another pro, according to the briefer, is that thousands of folks attempt access via illegal, offshore sports book accounts – so, we are losing revenue and folks are gaming with no protections in place. As a committee we do not have a full recommendation on this topic, yet.
Testimony on another GOMA Committee Bill delved into licensure of various entities/persons that the state oversees. Current statute regulates fifty-one professions with a total of 85,000 licenses activated. This updates the original bill. Some drivers for licensure are federal statute, consumer demands and market place conditions. A major topic within this arena was compacts. Compacts are agreements by two or more entities such as drivers licenses – a license issued in Vermont is honored throughout the United States. Compacts that are on Vermont’s horizon are for nurses, doctors, and physical therapists. If a person is licensed in one state with a compact and loses their license, they lose their license in all states that have compacts with that state. Compacts have commissions which make their rule sets. We took testimony on three proposed bills involving compacts: H.62 Interstate Counseling Compact – this would allow mental health counselors to do tele-health across state lines. It is close to being online. H.77 Physical Therapy License Compact. H.86 Speech and Audiology compact would also allow for tele-health. For instance, in our district a patient talking with a specialist in Plattsburgh. The Secretary of State’s Office (the office of primary responsibility for these actions) is fully supportive of these to ease barriers to health care in these arenas. I see positive impacts for all of these if stood up.
New testimony was taken from the Agency of Digital Services (ADS) – this was an agency created via Executive Order by Governor Scott during his first term in office. He saw that there were many redundant services provided in each state agency that made sense to consolidate under one entity. This was done to save duplication of effort and ultimately, money. The ADS Secretary Shawn Nailor with his Chief Financial Officer, Kate Slocum, discussed with us the economies of scale that were realized by bringing a majority of the state information technology (IT) systems under their purview. Josiah Racine, the Director of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for ADS also discussed his program that he runs for the state. AI is the development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. One that most of us know is Siri on our phones: Siri recognizes your voice and performs the function from your audible command.
Three Bills passed on the House Floor this week. H.46, Dissolution of Colchester Fire District #3 – this bill addressed a legacy concept that is no longer suitable in the town’s current construct of fire protection and water services. Fire services have been assumed by the town’s fire department and water services have moved over to Champlain Water District (CWD). H.89, Civil and Criminal Procedures Concerning Legally Protected Health Care Activity – this addresses protections for health care professionals and those supporting them. It prohibits litigation being levied upon them in performance of certain medical care procedures that are legal in Vermont. The last bill we moved over to the Senate was H.161, Issuance of Burning Permits – this adds a provision to existing law giving authority to the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation to direct town fire wardens to halt burn permits for specified periods of time. I voted in favor of all three bills.
We have reached the 1/3 mark of the session. We bid adieu to our first set of Paige’s in the State House. New Paige’s show up next week. Bills should start popping up on the House floor with greater frequency from here forward.
January 30 - February 3, 2023
This past week was very busy!
On Tuesday, I took part in Governor Scott’s press conference introducing the PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins) Act. This is a federal program that gives all veterans, that deployed in certain regions of the world, the ability to sign up on a registry that shows service with a connection to hazards such as burn pits, agent orange, etc. Use this link to learn more: https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/#page/home
That same afternoon, I was honored to attend the swearing-in (for another 4-year term) of Grand Isle State’s Attorney, Doug Disabito. It was conducted by Governor Scott in his ceremonial office.
State Treasurer, Mike Pieciak released February 1st as National Unclaimed Property Day.
Vermont has 119 million dollars in unclaimed property (forgotten bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, and more). In 2022, Vermonters filed 15,000 claims that yielded 5.3 million dollars in payouts. To see if you are owed anything go to: email@example.com
In my committee, Government Operations and Military Affairs we took testimony on various bills in our jurisdiction. We took testimony on online sports betting – the pros and cons with stakeholders on both sides of it – those that conduct that type of business venture and gambling addiction entities. We also had testimony on the Sheriff’s Departments in Vermont and the roles they play in our communities. Bad press in a couple of departments has brought unfortunate attention to their ranks. My comments to committee and testifiers were simple: our Sheriff’s play an integral role in our communities with a multitude of invaluable services. I went on to say, “don’t let a couple of bad actors taint their image.” The Sheriff’s duties include courthouse security, prisoner transfer, highway security, and fulfilling the policing role in many of our towns that do not have a police department. Our communities are safer because of their valuable presence.
On Thursday I met with the Vermont Alzheimer’s Association Policy Director and her staff/volunteers. One volunteer was a constituent from Alburgh, Jane Dwinell. Her husband suffered from Alzheimer’s til his death, and they collaborated on a book titled: Alzheimer’s Canyon. I intend to purchase the book and read it. It addresses the horrible disease that took my grandfather’s life and currently inflicts one of my other family members. I thank them for their work.
Two bills passed in the House this week. First, H.45, Abusive litigation filed against survivors of domestic abuse, stalking or sexual assault. In essence it protects victims of stalking or abuse from having abusive litigation levied against them. This was a very good bill with bi-partisan support and I wholeheartedly supported it.
The only other bill passed was H.145, the annual Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget. The Appropriations Committee recommended everything the Governor asked for in the adjustment but went even further with 91 million of additional monies that were not asked for.
His requests covered essential services and especially was thoughtful when it came to our most vulnerable populations. However, as a body there were fundamental disagreements on getting the adjustment accomplished without “mortgaging” a portion of the next fiscal year budget to get there. For that reason, I could not support this level of fiscal irresponsibility.
January 17-20, 2023
This was the third week of legislative session. Bills are being introduced at a brisk pace. As of today, 86 bills have been introduced on the House Floor. 3 bills passed on the House floor this week. H.1, an act relating to legislative oversight for case management for individuals with developmental disabilities. H.28, an act relating to diversion and expungement for juveniles, and H.42, an act relating to temporary alternative procedures for annual municipal meetings and electronic meetings of public bodies (our committee bill that was introduced and I discussed last week). A review of what happens next with bills that we pass is as follows: Their next stop after we pass them is with the Senate. If it passes the Senate it is then sent to the Governor for consideration. The Governor can do one of three things: sign the bill into law, veto the bill or not sign it and let it go into law without his support.
Each week I’d like to expand on one of the aforementioned bills that passed. H.28 is a really good bill that had unanimous support. It allows a young person to have their record expunged if they meet the following criteria:
Again, I am a member of the Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee (GOMA). In committee this week we took a great amount of testimony on many subjects that fall within our jurisdiction. One interesting piece of testimony was from the Department of Liquor and Lottery, an area new to our committee. They briefed the workings of their department and how they manage liquor and lottery for the state. It is very closely regulated. We also took testimony from the Cannabis Control Board, the Agency of Digital Services (also new to us), the Department of Public Safety and Vermont Judiciary. We also had several of the 86 introduced bills referred to our committee for consideration. Some of the bill sponsors came to committee and spoke to their individual bills.
I spoke last week about my membership in the National Guard and Veterans Affairs Caucus. I am also a member of the Rural Caucus. Rural Vermont is a hot topic in the legislature this year. Much attention was given to rural capacity and how we can put human capital to work to ensure our communities remaining federal relief funds (from various COVID stimulus packages) are expended in a timely manner before the rapidly approaching deadline of Dec 2026. The work of many folks on the Rural Caucus has yielded a rural administrative capacity bill that should be introduced next week, as well as a comprehensive rural omnibus (many things rolled into one bill) package dealing with many issues unique to rural life that are in the works. Through collaborative, tri-partisan efforts, these bills and others like them seek to highlight the plight of many rural towns with respect to overwhelming public safety, infrastructure, and housing needs. All of the bills being introduced need to go through the committee process but many legislators seem on board at this point.
Lastly, on Friday afternoon we heard the Governor’s Budget Address for the year. His proposal is a record 8.4 Billion dollar budget with a strong amount of federal (COVID related relief) dollars attached to it. He warned that this is the year to use the remaining pieces of this money in “investments” rather than just “spending” it. I could not agree more. Future budgets should look different in my humble opinion. Some major points of investment that he spoke to were: infrastructure buildout (roads, bridges, water, sewer etc.), monies toward climate – specifically with a lot of weatherization, regulatory reform, investment in our youth, monies for our invaluable state college system, focus on training of folks in the trades (have you tried hiring someone to do anything in that arena lately?) and finally he asked that this year we look to fully eliminate tax on military pensions. If you’d like to see Governor Scott’s full address, you can find it on You Tube – it is about 50 minutes long.
January 10-13, 2023
This was our first full week of legislative session.
Bills are being introduced at a brisk pace. All committees are starting to get into the meat of their work. As I mentioned last week, I am assigned to the Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee (GOMA).
For those that want to know about various bills and where they stand; that process is in its infancy stages and we are merely introducing bills.
However, in one instance, my committee had the first actionable bill in House Bill 42. H.42 is an “Act relating to temporary alternative procedures for annual municipal meetings and electronic meetings of public bodies.” This bill seeks to continue pandemic provisions for our municipal bodies to have the ability to meet remotely if they choose. The reason for the bill is that current law only allows for these provisions through January 15, 2023. Town Clerks, for the most part, want this capability for their communities. It gives them options for the public having access to the meetings for a whole plethora of reasons – the Clerks and various town boards found this to be a very useful tool during the pandemic. If passed, which I fully expect it to do so, it would extend these provisions through July 1, 2024. So, in essence, it would cover the next two town meeting cycles.
The bill is currently sitting in the Ways and Means committee and I am confident that it will be “fast tracked” for passage in the next week.
In GOMA we already have several additional bills that have been introduced and are sitting on our “wall.” That means it is a bill that has potential to be taken up by the committee and testimony is solicited to look at the pros and cons of the bill. The committee then uses testimony and committee dialogue towards a bill’s passage (or not). There are a whole host of reasons that bills may or may not leave the “wall” for committee consideration. Other bills sitting on our wall awaiting action are: Modification of the reapportionment process (H.20); Establishment of credit for temporary state employment (H.52); and amending the definition of cider vs. hard cider (H.7) – liquor and lottery also fall under GOMA’s jurisdiction. There are more but these are just a few examples. Of course, all the other committees have their own bills for consideration.
This past week, we also had our first National Guard Caucus meeting of the session, I am a member of this caucus. We had our first briefing from the Selective Service, VT Director. We learned, that sadly, VT has one of the poorest levels of participation in this mandatory requirement for 18–26-year-olds. What folks may not realize is that lack of participation, in addition to being a violation of federal law, can deny these folks access to state and federal jobs. We also were introduced to the newly formed, national level program in the Guard for the Integrative Primary Prevention Program (IPPP). Each state is allocated a funded program in this arena with several full-time employees to administer the elements of it. The program will focus on prevention of sexual assault, harassment, substance abuse and suicide prevention. We also received a brief on the newly created Provost Marshall position. Last, the Adjutant General spoke to us on the initiative of the VT Guard making a concerted effort to reach out to New American populations. The Guard, much like the civilian work-force is hurting for manpower and these lawful, permanent residents are great candidates to help fill the ranks of the VT Army and Air National Guard.
January 4-6, 2023
Whirlwind first week of the Legislative session!
The House and Senate were sworn in on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Governor Phil Scott was sworn in with several other state elected officials. Gov. Scott then gave his address to the House and Senate. He implored us to use one time federal assistance wisely and to make sure we helped Vermonters in need due to inflation and record fuel/heating prices. He is deeply concerned we don’t tax Vermonters further and worsen their economic postures. The Governor further recommended we look how to bridge the gap between our cities and our rural communities. I am 100 percent with him on these priorities.
I was fortunate to be assigned to the Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee. This is a great assignment for me to be able to utilize my extensive Select Board service on the Government Operations side of things and my 38 years of military experience for the Military Affairs piece of our committee.
Today, I wrapped up the week with about 25 of my House colleagues with a couple of briefings at my alma mater, the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing. We did a base tour and ate lunch with some of our awesome Airmen.
The real meat of our work will begin next week and as we get moving forward I will have much more to report.
By JOSIE LEAVITT
A lot of folks have asked me what legislators do when we’re not in session. As this is my first session, I was curious too. Turns out we do a lot. There are many constituent issues that come up. I get many emails a week about issues that folks are concerned about.
“Is the Grand Isle Post Office closing?” is one I’m hearing a lot about. I reached out to the Postmistress, and was assured that it’s not closing. I also wrote to our Federal delegation (Senators Sanders and Welch and Congresswoman Balint) to find out more and to lobby hard for it remaining open. I’m working with the Congresswoman’s office on this and we’re in regular communication about this issue.
Many folks have reached out to learn more about how Universal School Meals will be paid for. I tell everyone that it will be a 3-cent increase on the education tax for property taxes. Here’s what I didn’t know until I reached out to the non-partisan Joint Fiscal Office to learn more. 65% of Vermonters receive an income sensitivity rebate on their property taxes. 35% of Vermonters pay their property taxes in full. So, the wealthiest Vermonters are paying into the system more and funding more of the school meals.
I’ve been working with Milton Democrats to help them with organization and planning. This has been lots of fun and it’s been wonderful to get to know the dedicated folks from all over Milton.
This past Thursday Congresswoman Balint did a tour of the Islands and our state delegation joined her for much of it. We went to Turn to Joy Early Learning Center where we tried very hard not to wake the children up during their naptimes. I heard from the folks who work there as well as the planners for the Alburgh Family Clubhouse how pleased they were with that the Childcare bill, S. 56. It creates larger subsidies for families to pay for childcare and for more money being paid to child care centers so workers can be paid a liveable wage.
We then went to Island Arts where the Board shared their fundraising goals for expanding the building. We headed up to Alburgh for an event organized by Josie Henry, the Selectboard Chair. We heard from the Selectboard, the Fire and Rescue Chiefs, the school principal and others about issues that are affecting them. The big issue seems to be finding enough staffers for the town offices and volunteers for the rescue squad and town boards. Housing came up as an issue as well. Our last stop was Arbor Farm Market where Alisha spoke about staffing issues which led to another discussion about the lack of affordable housing on the Islands. Hopefully, S. 100, the HOME bill (Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone) which was signed into law by the Governor, will help address that.
It's been a great off-session. Please keep the questions, concerns and comments coming via email firstname.lastname@example.org
April 18 - April 21
S. 5 passed the House Friday. The bill as passed creates a study group that will collect data from fuel dealers. This data will be used to create an implementation plan to help move Vermonters off of expensive fossil fuels. This implementation plan will be presented to the Legislature in 2025 where it will be voted on again before it can be enacted.
Your fuel bill will not change. You will not be asked to change how you heat your home. This two-year plan will create the framework for how to make clean heat affordable for all Vermonters. In the last two years there has been a $2 increase in the price of heating oil. Kerosene prices are astronomical right now. There is no basis in fact on the 70 cents or $4 a gallon figures that have been spread throughout the state. The study plan will use actual data and create the real costs to help Vermonters shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner, more reliable forms of heating.
Should the plan come back and show an increase in costs, lack of work force to implement the plan, or anything else that doesn’t help Vermonters, the Legislature can (and should) vote it down. Voting yes now doesn’t obligate us to anything other than learning more.
I voted yes because I couldn't vote against learning how to do it better. This is a chance to see how we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, how we can ensure the most vulnerable among us can be insulated not only from the weather but price volatility. I voted yes because I want Vermont children to have faith that there will be a world they want to raise a family in. I voted yes because nothing changes for Vermonters. In 2025 the Legislature will vote on the actual plan.
My yes vote is for study, learning and creating that plan.
April 4 - April 7
This past week was a quiet one on the floor because we're in a lull period and also because I got sick with a horrible cold.
One highlight was seeing the Alburgh Village charter come through. I had been working on this since December and it's a perfect illustration of how a piece of legislation comes to be voted on.
In December, a trustee of the Village reached out to me about getting this charter change done to reflect what was voted on in May of 2022. I then worked with Legislative Counsel on drafting the bill. I sent the bill back to the Trustee to make sure it reflected what they wanted. It did. The bill got assigned a number H. 150.
The charter change was quite simple. It sought to allow the Village trustees to appoint a Village clerk and treasurer, and to allow for these positions to be filled from outside the Village.
This charter change addressed two needs the Village had. The first was to no longer have an elected clerk or treasurer, but to hire them instead, allowing for greater oversight of these positions by the trustees. The second was to expand the area from which the Village could draw applicants. Rather than keeping it limited to the small population of Village, it expands it to anyone in the state.
The bill was read a first time in February and assigned to House Government Operations and Military Affairs committee. Last month I testified before the committee about this bill. This past week Rep. Morgan from the committee, presented the bill on the House floor for its second reading. Then the following day, on its third reading (all bills must be read three times on the floor). It passed by a unanimous voice vote.
It makes me very happy that the first bill I worked on as Legislator was for my district. The bill now goes to the Senate for their approval.
Here's hoping Alburgh Village can now get the staffing they need.
March 28 - March 31
I’ve heard some concerns about the newly-passed budget affecting projects in our district. I have fact checked with the Chair of the Transportation committee and members of the Appropriations committee and here’s what I’ve learned.
The Transportation Committee followed all of the Governor’s recommended transportation budget and funded all his priority projects. None of these priority projects are at risk, including for Grand Isle and West Milton projects. I’m waiting to hear to back from the Secretary of Transportation to confirm our district’s projects are still viable. The Transportation Committee also addressed funding gaps for the State Transportation exactly the way the Governor wanted. They cut nothing.
Per the governor, they filled the funding gap of $31 million by using $10.9 million from the General fund and $20.7 million of unused monies from last year. This allows the state to match $15 million of Federal grants, so we are not leaving any money on the table.
Going forward, the Governor has suggested that we continue to pull money away from the General fund (which funds all other aspects of the budget). This is not smart fiscal policy and could imperil the Transportation fund in future years. The solution was to increase DMV fees to ensure a funding stream for the transportation needs of the state, something that hasn't been done since 2016.
These are modest increases. Yes, 20% sounds like a lot, but for most of us the increase is $6 for drivers licenses and $15 for car registration. This will allow transportation projects to be funded by these fees and not dip into the General Fund and take money away from other projects. So, we are spending a little more now, so we don’t have to spend a lot more later.
When I hear the accusation of tax-and-spend Democrats throwing around money, I would like to always remind people that the government's job is to collect taxes and spend the money for the state's priorities and needs. Our work is to spend that money wisely, and when we can invest early and efficiently, we save money, and protect our future. With that money, we are also expressing and protecting all that we value as Vermonters.
March 21 - March 24
This was a very long week in Montpelier with many important bills getting passed. We had long floor sessions, with the longest ending at 11pm on Thursday night, after ten hours on the House floor. The following bills were passed:
H. 230, an act relating to implementing mechanisms to reduce suicide, was the most debated. Vermont has the highest suicide rate in New England, and approximately 87% of these suicides are committed with firearms. To be clear: this bill will not ever take your guns away. This bill just requires that in homes with people under 18 guns are stored safely, unloaded and with trigger locks. You can keep a loaded weapon in your home if it is under your control at all times if there are folks under 18 living or visiting you. If there are no people under 18 in your home, then you have no requirements. There will be a 72 hour waiting period to purchase a firearm. A lot of people are opposed to this. I am not. A waiting period would allow folks to not act rashly. This is especially important in the case of younger adults whose frontal lobes are not fully developed (that doesn't happen for men until they're 26). The waiting period is intended to allow someone more time to think about their situation and get help, or to realize that the precipitating event is not as bad as originally thought. This bill passed on a roll call vote of 99-43.
H. 66 Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance creates an insurance fund to allow employees and self-employed people to be eligible for up 12-weeks of paid leave (up to $1025 a week) for the birth/adoption of child, medical emergencies, the need to care for a relative, and to create a safety plan in the case of domestic assault or being a victim of a violent crime. The cost of this is .55% of salary and can be split with the employer and employee. The cost works out to be less than $300 for someone making $60,000. And I've been hearing that a fair number of employers will cover this 100%.
H.165 Universal School Meals passed by a resounding voice vote. You've all heard me extoll the benefits of feeding all school kids. This is a win-win for kids, parents and local farmers. Should this bill pass the Senate, it will allow schools to budget better for including local farm purchases in their meal plan. This can provide farmers a reliable revenue stream, increase the amount of local food purchased and allow schools to get more federal money per meal if they hit a minimum threshold of 15% local food purchased.
H. 127 Online Sports Betting was passed. This bill will allow up to six companies to provide online betting platforms to be used in Vermont. The expected revenue is about $3 million a year for the first three years. There will be money set aside ($250,000 the first year, $500,000 the second year) to address the issue of problem gambling. I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan of this bill as I think it might create problems with gambling addiction because of the nature of sports betting, where you can bet on every play in a game. But there are protections in place to help folks and these protections made me feel comfortable voting yes.
March 14 - March 17
This past week was the famous “cross-over week” where bills from the House have to get voted out to go to the Senate and vice versa. Bills that don’t get voted out of committee can still be worked on, but often will remain until the next session where they either get picked up or they die.
My committee (Agriculture, Food Resiliency and Forestry) spent a lot of time on H. 81, a right to repair bill. This bill’s goal is to provide farmers and independent repair shops with the tools, parts, and information necessary to repair agriculture and forestry equipment themselves and not rely on the manufacturer. As we see more and more computerization of farming equipment, being able to access source codes can make the difference between being able to bring the hay in, or waiting (and possibly missing the weather window) for a technician to come out. When a piece of equipment breaks, often the farmer can fix it themselves, but cannot clear the computer code to get the equipment running again.
Often the user has no other course of action than to use an authorized dealer to make repairs. The lag in time it takes to acquire service from a sole provider can be costly to the farmer, particularly in such a time- and weather-sensitive industry. In addition, repair services come without a reasonable price ceiling because of the lack of competition in the industry. Sending a tractor out for servicing can cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, just in towing fees to the authorized dealer repair shop. If this bill were to become law, then more local repair shops could open to service equipment here in the district.
Sometimes, Legislators get to work on bills that support a passion that’s outside their committee. I have been working on an eviction diversion bill, H. 391, that would create a small fund of $1.5 million to help folks who make just too much to qualify for emergency rental assistance, but have fallen behind in their rent. These are the folks who live paycheck to paycheck and budget carefully. Often one unanticipated expense (car repair, medical bill, etc.) is enough for them to fall behind. When folks like this face eviction for non-payment of rent, it is usually for less than $2,700. This bill would allow tenants and landlords to work together to stop the eviction proceedings, keep them out of a costly courtroom and get the landlord paid the back rent. (The average cost of an eviction is between $8,000-12,000.) This is a one-year pilot program. At the end of the year, we’ll see how many people were able to stay housed, and how many still fell behind in their rent. We’re looking at this as a bridge program, but if there are greater needs, then we’ll need to totally regroup and think about rental relief differently.
I want to address the question I get asked the most: how will I vote on S.5, the affordable heat act. As it stands now, I’m a no vote. But the bill has yet to come to the House and our committees haven’t begun to work on it to make it better. There’s a long way to go, and now is the time to share your concerns, and thoughts on how to make the bill better. There have already been some positive changes, and I’m hopeful the House can make this bill something that works for both the environment and us.
February 27 - March 3
This week was very busy in Montpelier. Many bills were presented and discussed at length on the floor. It was a first-hand view of democracy in action.
Bills come to the House after committees vote to move them forward. Then each bill is read once on the House floor. If the bill needs to go to another committee, for money appropriations or for tax purposes, that committee then votes the bill out and the bill gets read a second time.
It is during this second reading where anyone can make an amendment to change the bill. This happened this week with H. 429, a miscellaneous elections bill. A lot of people didn’t like this bill for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons were increasing the dollar amount that can be donated to a political party from $10,000 to $100,000 for state-wide or federal candidates, and eliminating the ability of candidates to run as what’s known as fusion candidates—Dem/Prog or Prog/Dem. I was not a fan of the huge jump in the donation amount and limiting the fusion candidates. I was not alone.
At the second reading of this bill many changes were suggested. Each potential change was brought to the House floor and discussed and then voted on. What impressed me was every voice was heard and every opinion mattered. We voted on amendments, either passing them or not (meaning the bill didn’t change). We did this for the second reading and then again when the bill was ready for its third reading. This process can literally take hours. While at times it might feel tedious, this process is a hallmark of our democratic process as it allows all parties to air their concerns and ideas every step of the way.
Nothing is written in stone until that final vote on the third reading. More amendments were brought to the floor, and we discussed, debated and voted on them. Finally, after all the amendments were dealt with, we voted on whether the bill should pass. And it did. The donation limit was brought down to $60,000, and fusion candidates are now allowed.
The Agriculture, Food Resiliency and Forestry committee spent the week looking at our committee bill H. 205. This bill works to create a grant program with money pulled from the Agency of Agriculture and Food Markets to help small farmers transition or diversify to a more successful kind of farming, so ag land stays as ag land. I’m a big fan of this bill and think it will help small farmers stay in farming.
The Legislature is on vacation this week, so my next update will be two weeks from now.
Please don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, March 7 for local town races.
This week we voted Universal School Meals out of committee. By a vote of 9-2, along party lines, we sent the bill to Ways and Means for their financial analysis. The bill is now out of the committee’s hands. Ways and Means will decide the best way to fund this program, then the bill is likely to go to the Appropriations committee, so it might be a while before I can say how we’re looking at getting this funded.
Our committee is actively and creatively working on ways to keep small farmers operational and thriving. We began working on H.205, an act relating to establishing the Small Farm Diversification and Transition Program, which is a bill with bipartisan co-sponsors. Vermont is an agricultural state with a long history of farming of all types, and this bill addresses the real needs of some small farmers to either diversify their products or transition to another kind of farming to stay financially viable. The transition often occurs when a dairy farmer switches to beef cattle, or a produce farmer shifts to hemp or someone begins adding goats into the mix for milk. The bill addresses four main areas of concern:
- diversifying the agricultural commodities produced;
- transitioning a small farm from one form of farming to another;
- on-farm processing of agricultural commodities:
- development of accessory on-farm businesses.
The current market shifts have created challenges to farming. This bill establishes a $250,000 grant program designed to help small farmers continue farming and maintain agricultural land as open ag land.
Saturday morning we had a legislative meet and greet with a Q&A at Snow Farm Vineyards. I was so heartened to see more than 30 people coming out on a frigid morning to ask Senators Brock, Norris and Mazza and Representative Morgan and myself questions about the current legislative session. The questions were good. Look for another one in Alburgh sometime this spring.
If there is a bill you feel strongly about, please do not hesitate to let me know. This information is extremely helpful and I group the emails by bill for easy reference, so please keep them coming.
February 13 - 17
This week found my committee busy hearing testimony about bills that have come to us. Bills (anyone in the Legislature can sponsor one) are assigned to committees by the Chair of the House. They then go on our cork board in the committee room. We take testimony from all sides to learn more about them, make edits to them, and then at some point, we'll vote on the bills and either decide to not move them forward, or to take them off the wall and present them to the entire Legislature.
This week we heard about H. 205, an act relating to establishing the Small Farm Diversification and Transition Program. This bill seeks to set up a grants program of $250,000 for small farms wanting either to diversify what they grow, or to transition to a different kind of farming to remain viable. The funding would be an appropriation from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. This was the first time we discussed this, and we'll be meeting Legislative Counsel to go over the bill and what the legal ramifications might be.
Sometimes, to move forward, you need to look back. In discussions about H.165 Universal School Meals, we needed to learn about Act 67 which created the Local Food Incentives program. This established a tiered system where schools were able to get 15-25 cents back per meal if 15-25% of the food they used was Vermont produced. There are a lot of rules to this initiative, and the committee needs to know all of them to make the best decisions and to get more reimbursement to schools who are using at least 15% Vermont farm products in their food budget.
One of the other bills we discussed from the wall was Act 23-0761 — an act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects. One of those subjects was the dollar amount attached to the stipend for Vermont State Fairs and Field Days. This week we heard from Jackie Folsom representing the Fair and Field association. She was asking that their line item in the budget remain as it has been for the last few years. We learned that to qualify as a State Fair or Field Days and therefore be eligible for grant money, the event must run 3 consecutive 8-hour days, have at least 5 judged categories and much more.
This is what I love about being a Legislator. I am learning things I would have never known before from the complexity of dairy farming, to how to feed every kid two meals a day at school, to learning that judged categories at Field Days have to have prizes attached to them and so much more.
I have two loose ends to tie up. When I said last week the ice wasn't safe, I should have cited a source. Now I have one—the Department of Fish and Wildlife has issued an advisory to stay off the ice on Lake Champlain until the warm spell stops.
Several people have asked me about how Universal School Meals and other bills will be paid for. I don't know yet. Bills that have an appropriation of funding attached to them go from committee to the Ways and Means Committee whose job it is to figure that part out. Then the bill goes to the Appropriations Committee who looks at how that funding will work in the State budget. Once I know more, I'll share it.
January 30 - February 3, 2023
I've presented H.150 to the Legislature to allow Alburgh Village to change its charter to reflect the town-wide vote last year to appoint a Town Clerk and Treasurer and expand the applicant pool to folks outside of the Village. Any town Charter change has to be approved by the Legislature. Michael Morgan has joined me as a co-sponsor of the bill and it feels good to work together. Stay tuned for another bill he and I are working on.
H.165, an act relating to school food programs and universal school meals, has come through the Education and Agriculture Committees this week. I am very proud to be one of the four sponsors of this bill. Both committees will begin taking testimony on the bill as well as hearing from the Joint Fiscal Office on ways to pay for it. One of the biggest points I'd like folks to keep in mind is that for every $1 we spend on school meals, there is a $1.60 return to the Vermont economy. This largely comes from purchasing food from local farmers. I know I said this last week, and I'm going to keep repeating it, because it's important.
I'm also going to remind folks that Grand Isle County has a very high incidence of childhood hunger. Feeding children two nutritious meals a day ensures that they're eating. When a family faces hunger, knowing that their kids can get two meals a day at school often means everyone gets to have dinner. We heard in committee how much more focused the kids have been since this program started. There is no stigma with Universal School Meals, everyone eats and school administrations don't spend time acting as bill collectors for lunchroom debts.
I believe that feeding people is never a bad thing. The annual cost of this is less than 1% of the entire $2.1 billion Education Fund. As I learn more about funding this (should be this week), I will keep everyone posted.
The Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) was approved along party lines after two days of floor discussion. One piece of the Act was a request from the Governor for $3 million to give to underserved rural towns to help them maximize their ARPA funds. This money can be used to hire consultants, grant writers, engineers, etc. to help towns leverage ARPA funding. Currently Isle La Motte is the only town in the district that qualifies. Grand Isle town is close to qualifying and I've heard that towns that are close to the underserved limit will also be able to apply for funding if they need it. The BAA also allowed funding for $9.2 million of relief for organic dairy farms. Since my last update, we've lost four more organic dairy farms.
I've heard from many of you about things you like, things you don't and things you'd like to see happen. Please keep these letters coming. I read all of them and am catching up on responding.
January 23-27, 2023
This week my committee (Agriculture, Food Resiliency and Forestry) spent much of the week focusing on learning more about Universal School Meals and the crisis facing organic dairy farmers throughout the state.
We spent a lot of time hearing about Universal School Meals from five school nutritionists, and from Rosie Kruger, State Director of Child Nutrition Programs for the Agency of Education. It seems abundantly clear that the program is working. One aspect of USM is the Farm Fresh School Meals which uses food from local farmers in school meals. Scaling up to use more Vermont products is something all the witnesses want to do. Currently, the schools who came to us buy 12-27% of their school’s food from local Vermont farmers. The more local food school districts buy from farmers, the more money they get reimbursed from the federal government and the less they’ll use state money. For every $1.00 spent on Universal School Meals, $1.60 is returned to the Vermont economy.
We held a joint hearing with the Senate Agriculture committee to take testimony about the organic dairy farm crisis. Maddie Kempner of NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farming Association of VT) started off the discussion by asking that we consider a one-time $9.2 million appropriation for Vermont organic dairy farmers in the Budget Adjustment Act. The BAA is the time mid-way through the fiscal year where the Governor and the Legislature adjust the budget. We stand to lose up to 20 organic dairies in the next few months if nothing changes.
We heard from seven organic dairy farmers about the severe economic issues they’re facing. There has been a snowball effect for these farmers borne of sky-rocketing production costs— from rising fuel costs and feed that’s more expensive than ever because of the conflict in Ukraine, unanticipated inflation increases, and a severe drought last summer that has left many farmers struggling.
These farmers are smart, hard-working and diversifying their farms as much as they can. And they’re still struggling. The price for organic milk has not kept pace with that of conventional milk. Organic dairy farmers do not have the safety net that conventional dairy farmers have because the calculations the Dairy Margin Coverage uses do not take into account the higher costs incurred by organic farmers. The DMC is an insurance program which helps bridge the gap when dairy prices are lower than production costs, and since organic dairy farms don’t have the volume of many conventional farms, their reimbursement from the DMC is insufficient.
Our committee voted unanimously to submit a letter to the Appropriations Committee in support of this one-time $9.2 million appropriation for organic dairy farmers as part of the Budget Adjustment Act.
January 17-20, 2023
This past week was very busy as my committee really dug into the issues that face Vermont food producers of all kinds as well as the complexity of Universal School Meals. NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farmers of Vermont) and the Vermont Farm Bureau came to the committee. The main take-away was our farmers are in trouble and as one farmer put it, “We’re not okay.” She elaborated that dairy farmers are facing the same struggles as other industries: Housing costs, healthcare, and childcare. If you’re a farmer and have particular issues you’d like me to know about, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you.
Some of the issues farmers have addressed have been taken up by the Rural Caucus’ two bills:
Workforce Housing bill. To address the housing shortage, this bill proposes to 1) break down regulations barriers, 2) provide strategic investments, 3) add capacity at the local and regional level for planning and zoning.
Right to Repair Equipment. The bill would reform existing laws so farmers and independent repair businesses can access the same repair documentation, diagnostics, tools, parts, firmware, etc. that authorized dealers have.
My committee also took testimony from Hunger Free Vermont to explain more about the success of Universal School Meals and to start the discussion about making it permanent. To put this in perspective, Alburgh’s Community Education Center has just over 80% of their students qualifying for these meals, and just under half of the students in Grand Isle School qualify. We will hear much more about Universal School Meals this week as well.
I forgot to mention that last week we had a community gathering at the Milton Library where folks could meet all the Legislators and Senators who represent Milton. This was a truly non-partisan event as we’re all striving to keep party politics out of things and focus instead on what people actually need. I was so happy to see over 25 people in attendance. Everyone asked great questions and I was so impressed, not only with the turn out, but the interest and commitment of the audience. Be on the lookout for similar events in Grand Isle County.
Staff at the County Courthouse in North Hero reached out to me to see if I could help with their understaffing situation. This week I met with Teri Corsones, the Vermont State Court Administrator, and she said plans were in the works to help alleviate some of the problem.
January 10-13, 2023
It’s been an exciting blur of a start to the legislative session.
I’m on the Agriculture, Food Resiliency and Forestry Committee. While I come to this with experience from my work at the Champlain Islands Food Shelf as a volunteer and Board member, I am learning a great deal about ag and forestry from committee presentations. Currently, my committee doesn’t have any bills (this should change soon), but we’ve shared issues of concerns that we’re going to be working on. One of them is supporting farmers who might be transitioning away from the farming they’ve been doing. Last week I met with a constituent who is using four acres of his family dairy farm to grow hemp as a way to supplement their dairy farm income.
If you’re a farmer, I’d love to talk with you about any issues you might be facing and how my committee can be of assistance.
Other things my committee is focusing on is sustainable farming and forestry, and within that soil replenishment and carbon sequestration. As another committee member put it, “How can I, as a farmer, leave my land in better shape than when I began farming.”
I’m also a member of the Rural Caucus. This caucus looks at all the bills that are being offered to ensure the voices of rural Vermonters are heard. This is a truly non-partisan caucus and a real highlight of my week. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions.