Sibilia re-election campaign underway

Dear friends and neighbors,

Serving my first two years as your representative in the Vermont House has been a privilege and an honor.  As an independent freshman legislator serving on the House Commerce Committee, I worked hard, every day, to forge productive relationships with my colleagues and use my experience and voice to assist our district, our neighbors, and our state. I decided to run two years ago to bring a new voice and new focus to Montpelier with a focus on the issues that matter most to our district. It was and is important to me that my time away from my family, and friends and job have results for the folks living in our district. I have included a list of initiatives I undertook in my freshman biennium at the end of this letter.

Next year will see a historical change in leadership of state government  with a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Senate President, and many long time House members retiring.  I am running for re-election to the House to represent Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, and Whitingham and hope to work with fresh leadership on issues important to our district and to Vermont.

Ongoing challenges that must be prioritized in the next session include ensuring our health reform initiatives are functioning, sustainable and properly budgeted for. We will need to monitor the educational governance changes of Act 46 to make sure the result is the improved and equitable opportunities for all Vermont students that was envisioned and we will need to continue to push for real property tax reform measures, a priority Act 46 lacks.  In addition, we need to prioritize the establishment of a continuous assessment, development, and investment program for telecommunications for ALL Vermonters.  Future opportunity for existing and new Vermonters relies on our ability to sustain and grow as part of a globally connected economy.

Thank you for your support of my candidacy in the past. I am proud of the local support my campaign generated in the last election. Once again I will not be accepting support from special interest groups and because I am not affiliated with a party, I will not be receiving financial support from political parties. However, special interest groups lobbying for national agenda initiatives have already signaled they will once again be funding opposition to my campaign. If you are interested in me continuing as your State Representative, I am going to need your help.

The campaign is approaching a fundraising milestone on July 15th and I would appreciate whatever level of financial or other support you might be able to provide to my campaign.  To donate online go to www.laurasibiliavt.com and click on the yellow donate button. Supporters may also send contributions to Laura Sibilia for VT, PO Box 2052, West Dover, VT 05356.

Thank you for your support, your questions and the knowledge you shared with me, about issues you care about, during the past two years.  As always, please be in touch with questions, comments or if I may be able to assist you in navigating our state government by email to lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.

Best wishes to all for a safe and enjoyable July 4th weekend!  I’ll be out and about at the fireworks on Hayford Field Saturday and the Wardsboro Parade on Monday.

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
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Regulatory initiatives I led or took a shared leadership role in during my first biennium include:

Economic Development:
  • Creation of the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and resources for increased economic development collaboration between Windham and Bennington Counties.
  • Ensuring our towns along the Deerfield River have a representative to the state working group considering a purchase of thirteen TransCanada dams
  • Requesting a federal audit of the 6 year old VTel federal stimulus award to determine why wireless telecom services promised to tens of thousands of unserved Vermonters have yet to be received
  • Working before and during the legislative session to develop a solution to the Independent Contractor misclassification issue. This is a serious issue for business interests in our district who need to hire independent contractors, and for businesses that are following the law competing with business that are taking shortcuts.
Budgets:
  • Began working with a bipartisan group of House and Senate members on developing state budget results based accountability practices and metrics.
Education:
  • Created Small Schools Caucus to ensure rural Vermont towns have a voice in education policy.
  • Ensured that protections for high quality small schools and the identification of the adequate cost of providing an education to Vermont students was included in Act 46.   The adequacy study led to development of significant special education cost savings proposals.
  • Ensuring that education cost containment measures required financial restraint from schools of all sizes, and not just exclusively our smallest rural schools.
  • Worked with students and community volunteers in Wardsboro to educate the rest of Vermont on the appropriateness of having the Gilfeather Turnip be named the Vermont State Vegetable

Rep. Manwaring endorses Sibilia for re-election

Ann has been a trusted friend and mentor for almost 20 years – I am grateful I was able to serve my first term while she was still in the House and I will miss her in the coming years.  I’m honored to have her endorsement.  Even though we have occasionally disagreed on policy, we have always been a united team in our dedication to high quality education, helping the people of our little valley towns and the great state of Vermont!

September 13, 2016
To the Editor:

Summer is over way too fast and it is now election season for real, and even though many of us believe that our national election can’ t be over soon enough, we do have local elections which are important to all of us.  Early voting has started where we can now ask our Town Clerks for absentee ballots either by mail or by stopping by the Town offices.

Laura and Ann at last weeks legislative issues forum in Dover

Laura and Ann discussing the upcoming session at last weeks legislative issues forum in Dover.

As you consider whom to vote for to represent you in the Vermont House of Representatives for the next two years, I would like to share with you that I support the re-election of Laura Sibilia to serve for another term Representing Voters in Dover, Wardsboro, Searsburg, Sommerset, Readsboro and Stamford and a portion of Whitingham.

Even before Laura was elected to Represent your District two years ago she and I had worked extensively on issues concerning Vermont’s education system, specifically issues that affect our small rural communities.  It won’t surprise any one reading this that Vermont public education and its financing framework is a complex system, and sometimes we were able to shape good things and sometimes the job was to keep bad things from happening. There is so much more work to do, and I have enormous respect for her knowledge, understanding and commitment to keep this issue in the forefront on her time and energy in Montpelier.

But that’s not all.  In addition she takes to Montpelier her considerable experience and skills around economic development in Windham and Bennington Counties.

Laura hit the ground running in her first term, and I believe the voters in her District would be well served by sending her back to Montpelier for a second term.  I am sorry I won’t be returning to Montpelier, but I hope to continue to work with her from home.

Thank your for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ann Manwaring, Representing the neighboring

District of Halifax, Whitingham and Wilmington

Act 46 update– Rep. Laura Sibilia

Many will recall that Acts 60 of 1997 and Act 68 of 2003 were the result of the Vermont Supreme Court having struck down the previous state-funding system and directing the legislature to come up with a new system that would eliminate the inequities among the local school districts.  The legislature did this by establishing a statewide property tax to pay for the education of all students.  The rationale was that towns with wealthy grand lists – lots of businesses and second home owners – could spend more on their students then towns with very few businesses or second home owners on their grand list.  The financing mechanism created by Act 60 put in place put an equalized property tax of all properties in Vermont, income sensitized it for residents and over time the legislature has enacted policies to narrow the gap between education spending per pupil between communities, with the goal of promoting greater equity.

act46 bridgeAct 46, the “Unification” plan for school districts was passed during the 2015 session and its general premise was to reduce inequities across the state by asking individual districts that operate the same grades, to partner with their neighbors and form bigger units.  If you and I join our school boards together, now your students and my students become “our students” and we will ensure that “our students” have the same opportunities.  There are obvious questions here about why the massive increases in education spending spurred by Act 60 did not fix the inequity of opportunity problem that spawned the Brigham lawsuit.   While that discussion has by no means ended, it is not the subject of this column.   With this update I intend to provide parents, residents (full time and weekend) and businesses with information about how to keep track of the Act 46 education reform which is taking shape through our valley.

To start, I am maintaining a page with links about the law Act 46, guidance provided by the Agency of Education and the Vermont School Boards Association on my website at https://laurasibiliavt.com/act-46/

act 46 map

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains an interactive map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state http://www.vtvsba.org/#!act-46-map/q4i59

Act 46 implementation progress across Vermont is happening unevenly – since the passage of Act 46 there have been a number of district merger votes, but none yet in southern Vermont and only a few successful votes in the Northeast Kingdom.  This is likely due to a number of factors including topography, distance, population, economy, more variations in how schools operate and more variations in choice then in the Champlain Valley.  Though there have been no votes in southern Vermont, work is being done, and in our valley work has been underway since the passage of Act 46.

We have two Supervisory Unions for the greater Deerfield Valley area.  Windham Southwest Supervisory Union (WSWSU) includes the joint contract districts of Wilmington and Whitingham which provide K-12 education for all of their students, Halifax, Readsboro and Stamford which maintain K-8 schools and offer school choice for students in 9-12 and Searsburg which has choice for students K-12.  Windham Central Supervisory Union (WCSU) includes Leland and Gray Union High School whose member towns Jamaica, Newfane, Brookline, Townshend and Windham all send their middle and high school students to.  Each of those sending schools also maintain a K-6 elementary school.  Also in Windham Central Supervisory Union are Dover and Wardsboro school districts which maintain K-6 schools with school choice for students 7-12, and Marlboro which operates a K-8 with choice fro grades 9-12.

The WSWSU has submitted articles of agreement to the Vermont Agency of Education for Stamford, Readsboro and Halifax school districts to merge governance (boards and budgets).  If the Agency approves those articles, they will then be put to a vote in each town.  The WSWSU vote is currently slated for this November.  You can monitor the WSWSU activity at http://www.windhamsw.k12.vt.us/

Over the summer, two study committees have formed in the WCSU.  One is considering combining all of the boards and budgets of the Leland and Gray Union towns and the other is considering the consolidation of boards and budgets in Dover, Marlboro and Wardsboro.  These study groups are working towards a timeline that would have a vote in the towns at or around Town Meeting day in March 2017.  You can monitor the WCSU activity, including videotaped study committee meetings, at http://www.windhamcentral.org/home

In the WSWSU and the WCSU there are also two non-operating districts, Searsburg and Stratton who have been engaged in discussions with other non-operating districts in other Supervisory Unions about consolidating their boards and budgets.

School districts that do not merge with another school district are required to propose they operate as an alternative district.  The State Board of Education has recently provided guidance for districts that are considering this path forward.  The requirements for proposing an alternative structure are stricter then proposing a merging of boards and budgets.  The guidance for districts that do not voluntarily merge can be found here http://education.vermont.gov/documents/edu-sbe-guidance-alternative-structures-act46-7-2016.pdf

With regard to the various levels of school choice that currently exist in the Valley, Section 4 of Act 46 specifically states that compliant districts cannot be forced to give up their existing school choice and that nothing in the Act is intended to take away school choice.  It is important to note that a school district’s voters still have the ability to decide to change or alter school choice.  The State Board of Education has elected to begin looking at the existing rules which allow independent and private schools to access public dollars.  The Vermont School Boards Association, of which I am a board member, has testified that independent schools should be required to be held to a number of the same standards as public schools.   A change in the rules of how independent/private schools can access public funding would require public meetings.   To monitor this discussion, watch meetings, read materials and minutes presented at meetings go to http://education.vermont.gov/state-board

Very important conversations and votes about how we think about and provide for the education of students in the Valley are happening.  There is no greater reflection of our community’s vitality and values then how we provide for our children’s education.  Please join me in participating in as many of these conversations as possible and ensuring the Valley maintains high quality education for all of our students.

 

Pancakes & Issues September 10

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Pancakes and Issues with State Representative Laura Sibilia

September 10, 2016 Dover Town Hall 8:30 am -10 am

State Representative Laura Sibilia will be hosting a breakfast discussion on current and upcoming Vermont legislative topics on Saturday, September 10th from 8:30 am to 10 am at the Dover Town Hall located at 183 Taft Brook Road, Dover, VT.

In November 2016, Vermonters will elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor and a number of new legislators who will, in turn, elect a new Speaker of the House and Senate President.  Items that will be waiting for this newly elected leadership include addressing an economy struggling to maintain an adequate supply of workers, the second year of education reform implementation (Act 46), a federally required cleanup of Lake Champlain and ensuring we have sustainable funding for Vermont’s health care reforms.  Advocates have indicated that in 2016 they will also be pushing for legislation supporting paid family leave, universal background checks and marijuana legalization.

Rep. Sibilia is an independent representing the towns, residents and businesses of Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham in the Vermont House of Representatives.  She serves on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.  During the 2015/16 legislative biennium she lead efforts to request a federal investigation into why 100 million dollars in federal stimulus funds, awarded in 2009, has failed to bring wireless broadband to most of her district and to 30,000 other unserved Vermonters.  Sibilia also worked to establish and fund the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and established a small schools caucus in the Vermont House.

The discussion is free and open to the public.  Donations to offset the cost of the breakfast will be accepted. For more information on Rep. Laura Sibilia or her re-election campaign, visit www.laurasibiliavt.com

Forum on Regional and Municipal Energy Planning

Survey Available Now to Help Inform Draft Standards

Montpelier ­– The Department of Public Service invites all interested Vermonters to provide input on the standards the Department must create per Act 174 of 2016 for determining consistency of regional and municipal plans with state energy policy. The Department will host a forum to gather input on August 30, from 9 a.m. to noon, in Montpelier at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (Noble Hall). For those who prefer to provide input in writing, the Department has published an online survey, available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WMTZFF2. Responses to the survey are due September 5, and those received by August 25 will help inform the discussion at the forum on the 30th. The Department expects to release an initial draft of the standards later in September for additional public comment.

Act 174 is intended to improve regional and town energy planning and to enhance community input into the siting of energy projects. The legislation provides regional planning commissions and towns with a greater voice before the Public Service Board when their plans have been determined to be consistent with state energy policy. The Department of Public Service must issue final standards by November 1, 2016.

For planning purposes and in order to provide participants with additional details and parking permits, the Department is asking those wishing to attend the August 30 forum to RSVP. Please RSVP by August 16 by sending an email with your name, contact information, and the subject line “August 30 RSVP” to PSD.PlanningStandards@vermont.gov. For more information on the Department’s activities pursuant to Act 174 recommendations and determination standards, please visit http://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/act-174-recommendations-and-determination-standards.

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Vermont Public Service Department

112 State Street

Montpelier, Vermont 05620-2601

Visit the Department at: http://publicservice.vermont.gov/

In memory…

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America.

monti_image

SFC Jared Monti

 

It is impossible to know the angst of waiting that the military wife or husband, child, parent or sibling endure during a deployment, unless you have personally experienced it.  Family members hope and pray that those in power, sending their loved one into harms way, understand the value of the individual lives that have committed themselves to our country’s service.

Some never came home.

1441256_150159988691531_2033351250816443254_nTwo in particular have made an impression on me that will last the rest of my days.  SFC Jared Monti died saving the lives of a handful of his brothers, including one of my brothers.
I never met him, but I think of him often when I am with my brother’s children.

1LT Mark Dooley a police officer in our little valley, was killed during a deployment with the Vermont National Guard to Iraq.  The only time I had an opportunity to have a conversation with him I asked him to “take care of my little brother over there”.  Mark was one of 36 servicemen with ties to Vermont to lose their life during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Please join me in taking a moment today to remember SFC Monti, 1LT Dooley and all who have perished while in service to our county.

Rep. Sibilia running for re-election to Vermont House

May 16, 2016

Dear friends and neighbors,

Serving my first two years as your representative in the Vermont House has been a privilege and an honor.  As an educationpanelindependent freshman legislator, unaffiliated with a political party, the learning curve was occasionally steep, always interesting and endlessly inspiring.  On your behalf, I worked hard every day to learn the legislative process, forge productive relationships with my colleagues, and use my experience and voice to assist our district, our neighbors, and our state.

My work ethic and willingness to work across the political spectrum on state and local challenges allowed me to be more effective than might otherwise be expected of an independent freshmen.  Regulatory initiatives I took a leadership or shared leadership role in include:

  • The Vermont House, as a body, has requested a federal audit of VTel federal telecom awards to determine why services promised to tens of thousands of Vermonters have not been delivered, especially in Southern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom
  • Ensuring our towns have a representative to the state working group considering a purchase of thirteen TransCanada dams
  • Creation of a Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and initiative to fund deepening economic development collaboration between Windham and Bennington Counties
  • Worked with other House and Senate colleagues to extend developing work on state budget accountability practices and metrics
  • Preventing an expedited, top down,  regional form of municipal governance from being imposed prior to gauging local municipal demand for regional government
  • Requiring a study of the adequate cost of providing an education to a Vermont student which has led to development of significant special education cost savings proposals
  • Ensuring that education cost containment measures were both meaningful and fair in that they required financial restraint from schools of all sizes, and not exclusively our smallest rural schools

There are numerous ongoing challenges that need significant work including ensuring health reform initiatives are functioning and properly budgeted for, monitoring the educational governance changes envisioned as part of Act 46 to make sure they  result in improved and equitable opportunities for all Vermont students and continuing to push for real property tax reform measures.  In addition, we need to prioritize the development of a continuous assessment, development, and investment program for connectivity for all Vermonters.  Future opportunity for existing and new Vermonters relies on our ability to sustain and grow a globally connected and low environmental impact economy.

salwayNext year will see a historical change in leadership of state government with a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Senate President, and many long time House members retiring. I am running for re-election to the Windham-Bennington House seat and hope to work with this new leadership on these and other issues important to our district and to the state.   Over the course of the election season I look forward to being out in our towns and at local events hoping to hear from you on the issues most important to you, your family and your business.  You can keep track of what I am working on, or where I will be on my website http://www.laurasibiliavt.com and social media.

Thank you for your support, your questions and the knowledge you shared with me, about issues you care about, during the past two years.  As always, please be in touch with questions, comments or if I may be able to assist you in navigating our government systems for solutions to challenges at lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.

2016 End of Session Report

Dear friends and neighbors,

This year’s session ended Saturday, which also marked the completion of the 2015/2016 biennium.  The last days of the second year of a biennium are incredibly chaotic, as any legislation introduced in 2015 or 2016 Sessions must pass or start the process all over again next year.

Below are some summaries of how key legislation, and legislation important to our district ended up:

Possible state purchase of TransCanada Dams:
Glory Hole Empty May 2009A seven-member working group was formed by the Governor, the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem to determine whether the state should try to buy 13 dams TransCanada has put on the market.  Windham county legislators were successful in our efforts to include a regional representative of impacted municipalities.  You can monitor this working groups progress here on the Agency of Administrations website.

On April 27th 2016 members of the Windham and Bennington County delegation met with Vermont Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson and Windham Region Commission Executive Director RC Chris Campany regarding the possibility of a State of Vermont purchase of TransCanada assets. Secretary Johnson outlined three items the state was currently working on:transcanada
1. Scope of work for an RFP to get a consultant to look at work done by the state 12 years ago when the possibility of acquiring power generation assets had previously been considered.
2. Develop legislative language that is modeled to set up authority to run dams needed; however, the Secretary indicated he didn’t see how the state would do this without without a partner.
3. Valuation of some of the dams under state ownership.

Marijuana legalization:
The House had three votes on marijuana policy.  The first vote on the Senate proposal to legalize marijuana failed by a vote of 121-28.  The second vote to hold a non binding referendum during the August Primary elections failed 97-51.  The third vote, to decriminalize home cultivation of two plants failed 77-70.  It seems likely that legalization will occur in the coming years.  Since marijuana is illegal federally, I believe thoughtful regulation needs the input of many more legislative committees than have been involved to date, and will require more time then one year.  Given the session’s time constraints and resulting lack of vetting, as well as the fact that we have very large healthcare and educational reforms happening during a historical state leadership transition, I voted against all three measures.

Budget:
The Senate and House agreed to approve total budgets of 5.76B which is a 2.4% increase over last year.  I voted to support this budget largely because of the process by which it was created. Every legislator had multiple opportunities to participate in its development, voters were provided additional multiple public forums to participate in, and the House Appropriations Committee required every Agency and Department to prioritize and justify its programs with outcomes.  Read the summary here: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/appropriations/fy_2017/2017_budget_summary_COC_May_2016.pdf

Taxes: The tax and fee bills to support the budget included an increased fee on mutual fund providers and an assumption of increased rooms and meals tax collection as a result of tax compliance initiatives aimed at internet based lodging providers like AirBnB.  The original House tax bill had included an employer health care assessment which included an assessment on some employees or dependents who had health care through their partner or spouse.  I vote against the original House tax bill because of that potential double coverage penalty and given the number of employers who dropped their health care coverage, made their employees eligible for Green Mountain Care, and paid the amounts previously spent on premiums to their employees for their deductibles – as recommended by state officials.  With the employer assessment gone, I voted to support these bills.

It is important to note that Healthcare reform initiatives remain the single biggest increased cost driver in our state budget challenges.  By a lot.  We have significantly increased the number of Vermonters who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare but have not significantly increased taxes to pay for that care.  We are going to have to kick people off of publicly funded healthcare, dramatically reduce other programs, or raise more money in order to sustain this current system.

Telecom: The House overwhelmingly passed a bill which required providers to provide mapping data on their coverage areas or lose access to public funds, made changes to Act 248(a) which deals with equipment siting, funded restoration of services to the blind, and raised the Vermont Universal Service Fund fee by half a percent to raise 1.6 million annually to expand broadband in unserved areas.  The Senate refused to take the bill up.  Rep. Sam Young (D) Glover led an effort by the Ways and Means Committee to attach the entire telecom bill to another bill sent to the Senate which provided long awaited reforms to the estate tax, but in the end, the Senate still refused to take up the bill.  This represents a temporary set back for towns and areas, previously thought to be covered by VTel, which are working to expand service, as their will be less state funding this year then expected.The Senate did include one claw back provision regarding VTel which received over 2M in state funds to purchase equipment meant to provide cell service to under-served areas.  Unless evidence of 2000 cell customers covered is provided, VTel will have to repay those funds in 2017.  Additionally the State Auditor has requested copies of VTel’s federal grant to develop a wireless network to provide service to unserved Vermonters and expand it’s existing fiber to the home.

Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone: This year’s Economic Development bill included50K in funding to support the development of regionally based economic development collaboration in

Rep. Carolyn Partridge (D) Windham Chairs the House Agriculture Committee

Bennington County.  This process is needed to support future plans to develop a comprehensive economic development plan with Windham County.  I’ve championed this zone initiative, which began last year, along with Rep. Oliver Olson (I) Londonderry and Rep. Kiah Morris (D) Bennington.

Gilfeather Turnip: Wardsboro’s Gilfeather turnip will officially become Vermont’s state vegetable on May 24th when the Governor signs the bill in Montpelier.  Kudo’s to the Wardsboro students and Wardsboro library volunteers who worked so hard, over two years, making the historical case for this to happen.

Rep. Carolyn Partridge and Senator Bobby Starr were instrumental in the bills passage, and in patiently explaining to Wardsboro’s students how long the process would take.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch on issues of importance to you.  The best means of contacting me is email lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.

Warm regards,
Rep. Laura Sibilia

Racing to the end :: Connectivity, cannabis and contractors

A short update as we head into what is likely to be a very long final week of the session. Hopefully we will be able to finish the people’s business and adjourn by late Friday or early Saturday.

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My son Casey has spent the last four weeks with me at the Statehouse as a Page

From a freshman legislator’s perspective, the past two weeks have been fascinating to watch unfold. The Vermont Legislature functions in two year bienniums. This means that bills proposed in January 2015 had all of last year’s session and until the end of this year’s session to pass. Bills that don’t pass need to start the process all over in a new biennium with new legislators. So in these final weeks we are seeing a lot of creative procedural moves as legislators try to get theirs bills voted on by both the House and Senate.

Two bills that my committee, House Commerce and Economic Development, worked on this session appeared to be dead.

A bill brought having to do with the proper classification of employees and a statutory definition of independant contractors passed out of our committee unanimously, but met fierce resistance from organized labor and was recommitted to our committee wall.  After having spent months taking testimony on the bill, many of my fellow Commerce members and I worked with others for weeks to find a compromise position, but to no avail. We were told there would be no more work done in committee on the bill this year.

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This happened!

The second Commerce bill that appeared to have come to a stop was this year’s telecom bill. Significant parts of the bill include reforms to the siting process, penalties for not providing mapping data to the Deprtment of Public Service and a .5% increase in the Vermnt universal service fund to fund build out to tens of thousands of Vermonters who had previously been presumed to have been served. This bill passed BUHS House by large margins and was sent to the Senate weeks ago. Despite significant advocacy efforts by Windham County Senator Becca Balint, it seemed unlikely the Senate would take up the bill this year.

Thanks to creative procedural efforts, both of these bills came back to life late last week and will see further action this week.

The same is now true for marijuana legislation. The Senate passed S.241 legalizing possession, sale and supporting commercial growing. That bill died in House Judiciary which replaced it with a study. House Ways and Means added legalization of small amounts of marijuana and the ability to grow two plants to the Judiciary bill and sent it to House Appropriations where it seemed it might never leave to come to the floor for a vote by the entire body.

The Senate has also engaged in creative procedural efforts and so the House will debate and vote on marijuana legalization this week.

One thing is for certain – it will be a long and interesting week debating and voting on these and other bills as well as the final budget and tax bills.  Looking forward to it!

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch on issues of importance to you.  The best means of contacting me is email lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.

We can’t leave 30K Vermonters behind

April 17, 2016 For Immediate Release:

Last week the Vermont House passed a bill which will raise additional funding to expand internet to approximately 30,000 unserved and underserved Vermonters.  H.870 will increase the universal service fee on phone bills by half a percent, raising roughly $1.6 million per year.  The language was approved in the House by a 96-31 vote.

VTel arra

Map of original VTel wireless project area

A resolution, also approved by the Vermont House of Representatives last week, underscores the urgent need for that preliminary funding. House Resolution 19 asks the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to conduct a financial and performance audit of a combination 116 million dollar federal grant and loan that the Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) received in 2010.  The resolution was drafted in response to finding whole parts of communities completely unserved and was co-sponsored by a large tri-partisan contingent of House Members. Senators from Southern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom  introduced a version of the resolution in the Senate, S.R.13.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, VTel was awarded an $81.7 million grant and a $35.2 million loan to fiber to the home in the Springfield area and to build 119 towers and antennas to set up a system of wireless broadband which would cover 33,000 unserved Vermonters in our state’s most rural areas. The 2014 Vermont Telecommunications Plan described the wireless project as “central to the state’s broadband efforts.”  While the fiber to the home project is completed and an asset to the Springfield region, VTel President Michel Guite has recently acknowledged that five and a half years later, the wireless project only has 1,000 subscribers.  VTel insists that the construction of the wireless system has been mostly completed.  While it may be mostly true that most of the planned towers have been erected, it’s also clear the wireless system was to have covered far more than the 1,000 subscribers Mr. Guite now reports.  Surely the goal of the funding was coverage for Vermonters, not just construction of towers.

After many years of hopeful waiting there is now a growing understanding that tens of thousands of Vermonters, Vermonters previously thought to have a plan in place for internet access under VTel’s wireless project, remain unserved (see 4/1 coverage unserved list by town here).  Their grand lists have not been growing, home values have not been rising, and they did not have a “plan b”.

The Department of Public Service is now working with these rural communities to develop “plan b” for universal coverage in their towns. VTel’s wireless project has been removed from the states broadband maps, thus opening up funding for other providers to serve what were previously considered VTel areas. It is imperative that we provide those communities with resources for this work.  In addition to the increase in the Vermont universal service fee, H.870 contains changes to act 248(a) to improve co-location and tower siting,  a requirement that providers, like VTel, who utilize public dollars for build out, also provide mapping data to the Department of Public Service and a financial penalty for failure to provide that mapping data by withholding high cost funds.

Access to the internet is an essential part of modern life and required in order for Vermonter’s to participate in our state, national and global economy, stay connected with family, and to become and stay educated.  It is the most important infrastructure investment we can make to encourage low impact economic growth and recruit workforce.

State Representative Laura Sibilia Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham