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 email@example.com 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 Basically, passage of this bill deleted some antiquated language that is no longer applicable to the operation of the Guard.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.
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