Voting to override the Governor’s veto

Thursday of last week Governor Scott vetoed the budget proposed in H.13.  This budget was virtually the same budget that a tri-partisan majority of senators and representatives approved during the regular session in H.911, but removed the items under contention between Governor Scott and the Vermont Legislature – namely how to spend unanticipated revenues from one time tax changes, tobacco and other settlements and – good news – growth in receipts from a recovering economy.

The legislature refused to negotiate the “tax bill” H.4 until the governor signed the budget.  The governor refused to sign the budget until the legislature agreed to use those funds to artificially lower all property taxes so that there would be no increase on property taxes for a second year in a row. The legislature won’t agree to artificially lowering this year’s property tax rates because it sets up a significant property tax increase next year.  The governor won’t move from his position because he believes Vermonters are with him, school-boards have issued a call to override the governor because they believe acquiescing supports a false narrative about how education property rates are determined and sets up a negative chain of events for next year.

We are at a stalemate.

On Friday I attended a day long series of hearings between the legislature’s relevant committees – appropriations, ways and means and education – and members of the administration, the Vermont State Treasurer and the Joint Fiscal Office.  Pretty much all agree that doing what the governor has requested – artificially zeroing out property tax rates – is going to cause a very significant property tax increase next year regardless of what locals decide to vote at next year’s Town Meeting. We could return those funds in some other less precarious way to Vermonters by paying down future debt, or even as straight up refunds, but the governor is insistent they have to be returned through the property tax. That’s a problem. And it’s bad policy.

With some limited movement from the legislature and even less movement from the administration, at this point I’m voting to support the school boards and communities working to change the system.  I can’t support the governor’s current position and will vote to override.

Governor Scott has successfully applied downward pressure on increasing taxes and fees.   I think many Vermonters, like me, thought we needed a pause to catch our breath from the rapidly increasing – and costly – new nation leading programming we were implementing year another year, and that – more then any other reason – is why our moderate Phil Scott is governor.

However it is important for all to remember that at the same time Governor Scott was elected, Vermont was also beginning to undergo massive education transformation through Act 46.  Last year and this year we have pushed forward additional MAJOR reforms in special ed, weighting and considerations for teachers healthcare being negotiated at the state level.  These are significant, difficult and cost containing state policy changes being implemented at the local level.  As a planner, I know these processes take years to be fully realized.  With our distributed governance system – we are on the locals timeline.  I can not willingly vote to undermine the work going on by communities and school districts by supporting a built in tax increase next year that will have absolutely nothing to do with educating Vermonts students.

I support the goal of returning excess funds to Vermonters.  I do not support the largely false narrative that we control property tax rates in Montpelier and that we should not “raise” rates, because it just isn’t true.

We are approaching unchartered territory with the reality of a potential government shutdown needing to be acknowledged by all responsible parties.

The vote tomorrow will be close and regardless of whether or not the governor is sustained there will be ongoing negotiations.  It is my sincere hope that during those negotiations House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe will not only work to return as much excess revenue as possible to Vermonters, but that they will steadfastly defend Vermont’s students and the integrity of our rapidly changing education governance and finance system to ensure Vermonters future access to high quality education throughout our state. I hope Governor Scott will agree to moderate his position on this issue and commit to those same goals.  And that all will respect and encourage the ongoing and extremely difficult work going on in our communities. If these goals are shared we will quickly finish our business, pass a budget, provide unexpected additional tax relief and let the rest of Vermont get on with their lives.

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2018 special session continues

At the end of this year’s regular legislative session both education finance/tax and state budget bills passed by large tri-partisan majorities.  The Governor vetoed both – citing the property tax increases that the bills allow to go into place.  This update will focus almost exclusively on the education finance aspects of the bills that are being debated in what is entering a 3rd week of a special session.

H.911 was passed during the regular session and contained the tax legislation required  to set residential and non-residential property tax rates.  This would have allowed an increase of 2.6 cents on the residential rate and 5 cents on the non-residential rate, to pay for the school budgets that voters approved at Town Meeting.  The state budget which passed at the end of the regular session would have also put one-time funds towards teachers retirement.

The two bills we passed included:

  • $9.8 million in one-time money going into the education fund to restore reserves
  • Capping income sensitivity adjustments at $400,000 of property value, rather than $500,000
  • A removal of the general fund transfer instead committing all the revenue from the sales and use tax, and 25 percent of the meals and rooms tax to the education fund. The education fund would have no longer paid for adult education programs, renter rebates, or the Community High School of Vermont.
  • Fixed an inadvertent $30 million income tax hike on Vermonters from the federal tax changes enacted last year, created a Vermont standard deduction and Vermont personal exemptions. The bill also reduced Vermont tax rates and collapsed the top two tax brackets and established a charitable tax credit for Vermonters that would be capped at $20,000
  • 34.5 million in one-time money to pay down obligations to the teacher’s retirement fund which is projected to save $100 million in interest over time.

I voted for both the budget and the tax bill during the regular session because I believe they struck a good balance for where we are in time with our distributed education system.

Screenshot 2018-06-01 06.40.22

The Governor vetoed both bills over the property tax increase they allow this year.  In addition, and importantly, his administration wants to be able to be able to pull funding out of the current system to be able to pay for expanded childcare and post secondary education in upcoming years.

The administration’s end of session proposal has six components and relies on the projected savings over 5 years to pay back funds used this year to eliminate the property tax increase:

  1. Move to new Special Education payment method (legislation is passed & signed)
  2. Lowering income sensitivity house value from $500K to $400K (agreed to by the legislature)
  3. Increase student/staff ratio working with task force (task force agreed to by the legislature, $250 million in projected savings by 2024 not agreed to)
  4. Significantly reduce per pupil excess spending penalty
  5. Transition to statewide healthcare bargaining unit
  6. Property tax adjustments for new homesteads after 7/1/2018

The backdrop for this debate is the massive organizational transformation Vermont’s education system is currently undergoing.   Since Act 46 passed in 2015, voters in 146 towns have voted to merge 157 former districts into 39 new unified districts, in 33 former Supervisory Unions, for a net reduction of 118 districts and 4 fewer supervisory unions.  The latest evidence of this historical transformation came out June 1st with the release of the Secretary’s Proposed Plan under Act 46, Sec. 10

Governor Scott reminded Vermonters in a recent oped that there is good reason for the ongoing organizational changes in Act 46: “…our education system is being weakened by a decline in our working-age population and an increasingly inefficient system that’s diverting budget dollars away from kids. The K-12 system was built to educate more than 100,000 kids. Today, we’re educating about 76,0000 – that’s 27,000 fewer in 20 years, and declines continue.”

At the state and local level we are all working overtime to stabilize a system that is critical for Vermont’s children and future.  Situations with very few changes occurring are considered “stable”.  Systems that are not stable – undergoing a lot of change –  require careful management to avoid system failures.

Governor Scott’s administration and the Vermont legislature must acknowledge and respond appropriately to the level of stress that exists in many of our communities (and institutions) given just how much change is occurring in our demographics, our communities and our rural education system.   We need to be careful.  The full effects of the 157 Act 46 school district mergers noted above will take at least 10 years to fully unfold, and additional future merger recommendations are ongoing.

In this historic period of time, Vermonters have choices to make if we want to have a strong publicly funded education system 10 years from now. When making these choices in the next few years, Vermont’s policy makers must prioritize stabilizing the system first with an eye towards positively impacting quality and cost.  This will be challenging given Vermont’s education system has shared state and local roles.

It is virtually impossible to manage for both costs and quality in our current system of shared state and local decision making.  Vermont has a state education taxing and finance system for which no single entity is accountable to tax payers and which currently cannot scale equitably.  When it comes to quality of student opportunity, the responsibility is squarely placed on local decision makers who must assess student and budget needs, develop a budget based on those needs, assess information from the state on how much per pupil spending is acceptable this year, and who then are held accountable by local voters at Town Meeting for the ensuing tax implications.

So how are we going to find a compromise between the governor and legislators?  The debate has been defined as whether or not to use unanticipated revenue and one time funds to buy down tax rates for one year, or pay down borrowed teachers retirement funds and save interest.  We will likely land somewhere in the middle.  There are several proposals under consideration right now to find consensus on new tax and budget bills:

  • House Ways and Means has proposed to use one time funds to eliminate the residential property tax increase this year.  Like we did last year.  This comes with the knowledge that we are artificially lowering tax rates, even though spending went up this year.  And that means we will likely see a bigger increase next year.
  • Rep. Cynthia Browning has proposed using one time funds to pay for the Act 46 incentives instead of raising taxes to pay for them.  She rightly notes that no local school budgets included the cost of the incentives, and these are a state imposed cost driver of tax rates.  This year that cost was about $10 million dollars.  In the next two years it will be $14 million each year.
  • Last year’s budget was vetoed over a failure to agree to move teachers healthcare negotiations to the state.   Unique circumstances presented an opportunity to manage both costs and quality.  I strongly supported that proposal, (driven by the governor’s determination to reduce property taxes), becasue it was the first savings proposal I have seen that didn’t create unpredictable and uneven impacts for kids.  We should move this proposal forward as part of a compromise this year.

Decreasing the excess spending threshold and banking on savings from the staff/student ratio task force are not acceptable in this current dynamic atmosphere.  Neither is the “Beck mechanism” which did not make it into the final bill we signed during the regular session, but it is being floated as a part of a “compromise”.  This mechanism acts like the excess spending threshold by presuming that all students are the same and are educated in the same environment and in identical sized communities, but it is able to impose much more aggressive penalties to local taxpayers and students in rural districts.

Most importantly we need to remember the effects of this disagreement are not contained to Montpelier.

After leaving the statehouse one night during week two of the special session, I received an uncharacteristically terse phone call from one of my district’s longest serving school board chairs – “Do you guys have numbers for us yet? Central office says we need to provide our numbers to you, but I don’t understand how you all think we can give you our numbers when you haven’t given us yours.”

This 25 year veteran has not only cautiously and steadily shepherded our local district and our joint district study committee through the Act 46 process, he led our entire Supervisory Union through the first successfully completed S.U. process in southern Vermont.  He is working with our superintendent to try to wrap things up in one district while simultaneously working with two communities to establish staffing, curriculum, transportation and school norms in a new district.  He is really frustrated that the administration and the legislature cannot get on the same page on this year’s education tax rates so he can focus on those things.  He could use quality educational support, technical expertise, and encouragement from Montpelier.  He is not helped by Montpelier trying to manage staffing levels in individual school districts, or by the imposition of extreme per pupil spending penalties on individual rural schools in less densely populated regions of the state.  We can not take his ongoing service for granted.

This phone call points to a central tension in most of our Vermont education debates including the current one: Who do Vermonters want to manage the schools?

Maybe it is time to finally put the state on the hook for using the state’s education fund to ensure equity for all students instead of the Hunger Games scenarios we repeatedly set up in rural and poor Vermont districts.

Pledges to keep property taxes level or lowered are admirable.  They need to be partnered with a sense of responsibility for ensuring we aren’t violating (or exacerbating existing violations) of our constitutional requirement to ensure all Vermont students have substantially equitable educational opportunities.

Please stay in touch, and stay engaged,

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

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett

Agency of Education releases statewide plan

Today, the Agency of Education released its proposed statewide plan as required by Section 10 of Act 46.

Today the Agency of Education submitted the draft to the State Board of Education. The statewide plan is a recommendation from the Agency on what the Board should consider for each of the 43 “section 9” proposals that have been submitted from 88 towns and 93 school districts. Section 9 proposals are requests to the State Board of Education for Alternative Governance structures – these are mergers or non-mergers that do not meet the criteria laid out in Act 46.

In other words, these are the requests from districts that have not yet undertaken a merger through Act 46 and, in many cases, would like to be exempt from the requirements of the law. The Board has authority under Act 46 to require mergers – this plan is largely to inform how to make those decisions. The Board has until November 30th to finalize the plan.

You can see the plan from AOE here: http://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-secretary-proposed-plan-act46-sec-10_0.pdf

In the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union both the Stamford and Searsburg proposals were accepted. In Windham Central Supervisory Union the Stratton proposal was accepted and the Windham proposal was NOT accepted.

Please let me know if you have questions on this map.

We just ended the 2nd week of a special session. Please look for an update on where we stand later this weekend.

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia

Memorial Day – reflecting on the cost

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The markers for Matthew Commons and Jason Cunningham in Arlington National Cemetery.  They were killed in 2002 in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda

Today is Memorial Day. As my grieving veterans remind me, it is not military appreciation day, it is not thank a veteran day, and it is not the official kick off summer.

Today is the one day on the calendar where we are meant to reflect on what it coststo be an American and to be free.

Costs means lives lost. It means parents never seeing their child again, husbands and wives never embracing their spouse again, children who will live without their father or mother. And while all human’s lives are eventually lost for myriad predictable and unpredictable reasons, most human lives are not lost preserving American’s freedoms.

More than 1.3 million lives have been lost in defense of our country and our freedoms.

We live in a representative democratic republic which means our government is formed by the people and their collective decisions on self-government are made through their elected representatives. In this type of government, here is who makes the decisions about where our American troops are sent to fight.

To be sure that is:

• The President

• And our Senators and Congress men and women

But equally as responsible for determining whether or not we will risk lives are all of those who elect our President, Senators and Congress men and women. That includes:

The 18 year old and the 80 year old, the history scholar, the businessman who is being harmed by a regulation, the mother of a new private in the army, the person who was inspired enough to work on an elected officials campaign, those who can not tell you who the president of their country is, the director of a non-profit helping to protect defenseless children, those who have read the Constitution and those who have not, those who have served in our military, those who have served in the peace corps, teachers, school board members, and those who don’t like politics and so don’t register to vote.

Each of these individuals is equally responsible for the decisions made about where our U.S. troops are sent to fight because they each choose to vote or not to vote and for whom. Those collective decisions are how we govern this country and how we make decisions.

WE. Not them. WE.

In a republic, a constitution or charter protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government.

On Memorial Day, we need to reflect on the United States Constitution.  This foundational document informs how we have agreed to govern ourselves in the United States of America.  Enshrined in it is our Bill of Rights which explicitly states our individual freedoms that we collectively as Americans make decisions to spend lives to defend and keep.

Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press, The Right to Bear Arms, The Housing of Soldiers, Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures, Protection of Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, Rights of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases, Rights in Civil Cases, Excessive Bail, Fines, and Punishments Forbidden, Other Rights Kept by the People, Undelegated Powers Kept by the States and the People.

On Memorial Day, there are specific fallen names which remind me of the importance of participating in our democracy and of remaining grateful.   Here are the names of  American lives that were spent in defense of our country and our rights:

Killed on March 2nd 2002 on Takur Ghar “Robert’s Ridge” Afghanistan

• PO1 Neil C. Roberts, 32

• TSgt John A. Chapman, 37

• SrA Jason D. Cunningham, 27

• CPL Matthew A. Commons, 21

SGT Bradley S. Crose, 22

SPC Marc A. Anderson, 30

• SGT Phillip Svitak, 31

Killed In Ramadi, Iraq

2004

Sgt. Christopher Ramirez, 34

2005

1st Lt. Mark H. Dooley, 27

2006

Sgt. Joshua Allen Johnson, 24

Killed near Naray, Afghanistan June 21st 2006

• Staff Sgt. Jared Monti, 30

• Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, 28

• Sergeant Patrick Lybert, 28

• Pfc. Brian J. Bradbury, 22

Killed near Kamdesh, Afghanistan November 26, 2006

Take a moment today to think of their families and all whom they left behind.  Take another moment to reflect on how each of us can work to better uphold our individual responsibilities as Americans.

Sibilia to run for re-election to Vermont House

Good evening,

Over the past four years, I have provided a consistent voice for our district, our businesses, towns, taxpayers and our schools, our students and the need to reform our education finance system.  My work on telecommunications is linked to several internet and cell expansions in our district. As an independent I have consistently worked to find common ground to solve problems, worked for the public interest as opposed to special interests and maintained a local perspective on legislation under consideration. My focus has been on our district and on Vermonters – not on national partisan priorities. I am both a fierce advocate for our district and a proponent of collaborative solution development with other pragmatic independents, Democrats, Republicans and Progressives in the House.

Since having been re-elected in 2016, I have been honored to have been asked to serve a role on Governor Scott’s transition committee, and to have been appointed by the Speaker of the House to the House Ethics Panel, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Action Panel and to a newly created Energy and Technology Committee in the House. I’ve sponsored and led passage on several key legislative initiatives including Net Neutrality protections, passage and funding for the student Weighting Study (twice), and emergency action to to ensure no loss of cell service at Grace Cottage Hospital.  Due to the rural nature of the towns in our district, I have helped to lead the House’s Rural Economic Development working group; bipartisan legislators representing smaller towns and regions who collectively work to elevate the voice of rural Vermont on economic issues such as connectivity, forestry, infrastructure and agriculture.

While it is impossible to be able to agree with each one of you on every issue, it is possible to help you understand what is happening, how it may impact you, and what additional steps you can take to weigh in.  It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent and connect you to our state government.  The decision to leave my husband and teenage son, my job and colleagues, and my friends and family requires careful consideration. Having spent significant time reflecting on the costs associated with running, as well as what we have achieved for our district and whether or not I believe I am still able to be an effective voice for our towns, I am enthusiastically announcing that I will run for re-election in 2018 to the Windham-Bennington House seat to represent the voters, taxpayers, businesses and students of Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro and Whitingham.

Over the course of the Summer and Fall I look forward to being out in our towns, at local events and hope to hear from you on the issues most important to you, your family and your business. I will be seeking both your support and your guidance, and as in past campaigns, I will not accept PAC funding . Follow, engage and support my campaign at  www.laurasibiliavt.com as well as on social media.

This weekend I will be out (with petitions) in the district at the Wardsboro Plant Sale Tomorrow Saturday May 26th from 9-1, and on Monday in Readsboro at the Pancake Breakfast at the E.J. Bullock Building from 8-12:30.

On Memorial Day morning, Monday May 28th, there is a Memorial Day Service at the Jacksonville Cemetery Monday at 9 which I will attend. In addition to honoring our departed service-members, please also have a thought for our living veterans on this day as many of them have lost multiple members of their military families.

Please stay in touch, and stay engaged,
Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Reagan

Time for a Special Session

The Vermont legislature adjourned on May 12th around midnight.  As of the writing of this update, several bills have been vetoed and several more including the budget and school finance bills are promised vetoes. Though the Governor had threatened to veto these bills, the legislature did not schedule a veto session but rather adjourned “sine die” which means without a date to return.  In the second year of a two-year biennium it is typical to adjourn with both a scheduled veto session or if the governor does not veto any legislation, sine die.

Given no veto session was scheduled, without any further action, the legislature would return to session after the November elections on the first Wednesday in January after the first Monday.  In this case, if the governor vetoes the budget and no veto session has been scheduled by the legislature, then the governor needs to call the legislature back for a special session to agree on a budget bill to fund government after July 1, 2018.  The legislature can also take up any bills it would like to in a special session, as opposed to a veto session which deals only with those bills that have been vetoed.

On May 23rd we were called back by the governor for a special session.  It is my hope that this session will be brief and will only deal with those bills needed to ensure the function of services for Vermonters and the funding of schools.  Given that so much hinges on the final passage of the budget and school finance bills, and that the legislature can take up anything during a special session, I am holding off on writing a final legislative update for this session.

Going into this session I’d like you to know that I will not support school finance bills which mandate student/staff ratios or lowering of excess spending thresholds until and if the state is responsible for the running of the schools or we have proper weighting of students which acknowledges that every child cannot be provided equitable educational opportunities for the same per pupil spending.  We can and should address property taxes, but it requires proper student weights to do so in a way that doesn’t harm the students in rural Vermont.  At the end of this Special Session, I will provide a comprehensive legislative update.

 

Important progress overcoming CoverageCo vulnerabilities

Please see the important announcement from the Governor’s office about Grace Cottage Hospital – one of a number of critical community facilities facing public safety issues as a result of the cell vulnerabilities of the CoverageCo project.

Thank you to Speaker Johnson, Governor Scott and AT&T for their preliminary response to the impending public safety issue. I look forward to participating in continued efforts to find solutions for Twin Valley High School, Readsboro and a number of other rural Vermont areas currently served by CoverageCo.

GOVERNOR SCOTT, AT&T PARTNER TO ENHANCE COVERAGE AT GRACE COTTAGE HOSPITAL

Townshend, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott today announced the arrival of an AT&T Cell Site on Wheels (COW) at Grace Cottage Hospital, which will reinforce and enhance wireless network coverage for the hospital and the surrounding area.

The hospital and surrounding area were facing a loss of coverage due to a potential shutdown of wireless provider CoverageCo. The Governor worked with AT&T to ensure there would be no coverage gaps in the hospital’s critical operations.

Within five days of the Governor’s initial request, an AT&T COW arrived in the Grace Cottage parking lot. This equipment will provide more AT&T coverage than was previously available.

“Ensuring Grace Cottage Hospital does not see a lapse in wireless network coverage was a priority as we work to support the entire area impacted,” said Scott. “I appreciate AT&T’s partnership in identifying and providing this solution for the hospital and surrounding area, and the continued work of our Department of Public Service, Agency of Commerce, the Legislature and local officials on this issue. This kind of civic-minded cooperation is commendable and essential to addressing challenges like these.”

Grace Cottage Hospital and Townshend are new coverage areas for AT&T. In addition to the COW, AT&T has plans for a permanent cell site in Townshend as part of the company’s FirstNet nationwide first responder network, which benefits public safety and citizens alike.

“We were happy to work with Governor Scott and be able to quickly respond to this need for coverage in a critical area,” said Patricia Jacobs, President of AT&T New England. “In addition to the immediate coverage provided by the COW, AT&T is committed to further reinforcing and enhancing coverage for this area through FirstNet and supporting public safety efforts in whatever way we can.”

Scott sought assistance with the Grace Cottage Hospital site when it appeared that the CoverageCo small cell network would shut down at the beginning of April. Beginning in 2012, CoverageCo has been under contract with the State of Vermont to build a wireless network of small cell sites in rural areas, completing 160 of a planned 500 nodes over the past four years. However, in the face of mounting management difficulties, CoverageCo’s small cell network in Vermont may shut down, jeopardizing cell coverage along rural roadways in some of Vermont’s most remote areas, as well as for some school facilities, public safety outlets and Grace Cottage Hospital.

“We’ve been working diligently to find reasonable and sustainable pathways to preserve the gains made in these rural areas, and we are grateful to AT&T and the many partners who’ve joined us in this effort,” said Public Service Commissioner June Tierney.

Tierney added that addressing the compelling and complex issue of expanding cell coverage in Vermont’s hard-to-reach areas will remain a priority for the Department. “CoverageCo is a small private enterprise that has taken a run at the large economic challenge of bringing cell service to parts of rural Vermont where a sustainable business model has yet to materialize,” she continued. “We will continue to explore all reasonable options to help find an enduring and affordable solution for these communities.”

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2018 Session – Acts to reduce violence in our schools and communities

During the Legislative Session there are typically three different groups of eighth grade pages that rotate in for six-week terms to the statehouse.  The pages are a group of students from all backgrounds and areas of our state who carry messages back and forth to legislators from their constituents and other legislators.  This year’s second group of pages finished their work this past Friday.  They started six weeks earlier on February 13th.  Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson noted the historical nature of their term in her comments prior to weekend adjournment.  This group of pages first week was remarkably violence filled, even by today’s standards.  On Wednesday, February 14th 17 students in Parkland Florida were killed with another 14 injured in a mass shooting event and on Friday, February 16th a Fair Haven, Vermont high school student was arrested following a tip that he had been planning for two years to cause mass casualties.  What followed in the ensuing weeks began with a request by the governor and legislative leadership to have an expansive conversation on what could be done to improve the safety of Vermont schools, reduce community violence and protect Vermonter’s rights.  It ended after a week filled with historic votes in the Vermont House and Vermont Senate.

At public hearings that filled the statehouse, committee rooms as well as a public hearing in Whitingham, Vermonters asked us to take steps to secure school buildings, address undiagnosed and untreated mental health and drug abuse issues, and give families, law enforcement and the courts more tools to keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them.  Here are the actions that the legislature has taken, and that the governor is expected to sign.

Secure Buildings:

  • Creates a felony charge for the possession of a firearm on school ground with intent to harm.
  • $4 million in funds to the School Safety and Security Grant Program. Schools will be able to apply for grants to implement safety measures such as video monitoring and surveillance equipment, intercom systems, window coverings, exterior and interior doors, locks, and perimeter security measures. Another $1 million in federal funds is expected to be leveraged on this program.

Address untreated mental health and drug issues:

  • The Agency of Human Services will receive funds to increase their capacity to provide mental health services to relieve the backlog in our local hospital emergency rooms, increase the number of beds for therapeutic placement, as well as create a new psychiatric residential treatment facility at the Woodside juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex

Keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them:

  • Puts current practice into law giving the judge discretion to require any individual who is a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as of condition of pretrial release.
  • Empowers family members and law enforcement to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a court order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others (commonly called a ‘Red Flag’ bill).
  • Provides protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person.
  • Expanding background check requirements to unlicensed (or private) firearm sales, including a provision that provides immunity to Federal Firearm Licensees that provide background check services in unlicensed (private) sales;
  • Requiring purchasers of long guns to be 21 years or older, unless they have taken a hunter safety course (which is already required to obtain a hunting license), are a veteran, are a law enforcement official, or are in the military. This puts long guns on par with handguns. Under federal law one must be at least 21 to purchase handguns.
  • Bans the purchase and possession of bump stocks effective October 1, 2018; and
  • Bans the purchase (not possession) of high-capacity magazines while excluding antiques, replicas and long guns with lever or bolt action. Possession of high-capacity magazines that were purchased before the enactment date is grandfathered.

I am a strong supporter of our entire Constitution including the Second Amendment.  As such, I worked extremely hard to understand the legal provisions and constitutionality of the bills, read about supreme court cases, met with the attorney general’s office, spoke with supporters and opponents of various pieces of legislation, attended and hosted public hearings with leaders from our schools, communities and from local and state law enforcement, and at the very end worked with folks from our valley, legislative attorneys, the speaker’s office and members of the governor’s staff to develop amendments that were needed to strike an appropriate balance between Vermonter’s rights and public safety.

For some we will have done too little and for others too much.  Our individual Constitutional rights are not absolute.  Our courts have allowed for reasonable regulations when one individual’s rights have encroached upon another individual’s rights. While nothing we do can guarantee 100% safety for our students or are citizens, I believe we have found a balanced way to improve the odds and respect Vermonters rights.  Thank you to all in our Valley who supported or opposed this legislation that took the time to engage with us to learn, to research, to attend hearings, speak on the phone, offer technical knowledge, or who listened to the hours of debate on public radio.  That is how a free people govern themselves in a democratic society.

The session is rapidly drawing to a close and an early May adjournment is expected.  There are very significant education, income tax, telecommunications, minimum wage, family leave laws that have also been being developed and debated during the past 6 weeks.  I look forward to providing additional updates in the coming weeks.

Please stay in touch with questions about any of the legislation noted above of if you need assistance.  lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us or 802-384-0233

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

Current status of S.55

Here is the current status of the bill:

The bill is on the Senate Calendar for tomorrow (Thursday).  The Senate can concur, concur with further amendment or ask for a conference committee with the House to settle the differences.

Here is what the bill currently does:

  • Expanding background check requirements to unlicensed (or private) firearm sales, including a provision that provides immunity to Federal Firearm Licensees that provide background check services in unlicensed (private) sales;
  • Requiring purchasers of long guns to be 21 years or older, unless they have taken a hunter safety course (which is already required to obtain a hunting license), are a veteran, are a law enforcement official, or are in the military. This puts long guns on par with handguns. Under federal law one must be at least 21 to purchase handguns.
  • Banning the purchase and possession of bump stocks effective October 1, 2018; and
  • Banning the purchase of high-capacity magazines while excluding antiques, replicas and long guns with lever or bolt action. Possession of high-capacity magazines that were purchased before the enactment date is grandfathered.

House Journal for March 27th, 2018 which captures all of the amendments and roll call votes.

If you have questions please email or call.

History and my votes:

The House voted on 2nd reading for S.55 on Friday March 23rd.  The vote to support the bill was 85-59.  I did not support the bill because it created a ban on possession and transfer of high capacity magazines.  I spent much of last Saturday detailing the various provisions and how I voted which you can read here.  I voted no on the whole bill on Friday.

The House voted on 3rd reading for S.55 on Tuesday March 28th.  The vote was 89-54.  I spoke with a number of constituents over the weekend about the problematic magazine section.  I worked with a number of my House colleagues, the Judiciary Committee, our attorneys and the Speaker of the House to amend that provision.  I sent all of the new amendments to a few folks opposed to the bill and asked for more information about how they would be impacted.  We still had questions about transfers.  After 9 pm on Monday night, I had conversations with constituents opposed to the Friday version of the bill, our legislative attorneys and the Speaker to confirm transfer of magazines would still be possible.  I voted yes on the whole bill on Tuesday and sent out this explanation as to why:

As expected, S.55 has passed 89-54. There were 14 amendments on the floor. Some were handed out in paper. They will all be printed out in the journal tomorrow. I look forward to providing a detailed explanation of all the changes to the bill. This is the statement I just read on the floor.

Madame Speaker,

When we left here last week, this bill contained private sale background checks and raising the age for purchase of a firearm by three years, measures that I believe are in keeping with both the Second amendment and my oath of office, and that go hand in hand with Extreme Risk Protection orders, a measure I support. It also contained measures on high capacity magazines that would have made a number of my gun owners criminals upon passage, and so I could not and did not support the bill. The significant work that has been done over the weekend to protect my gun owners has changed my vote. While nothing we do will guarantee 100% safety for our students or are citizens, I believe we have found a balanced way to improve the odds.

No guns are being made illegal by this bill, all high capacity magazines that Vermonters currently own they can keep, Vermonters of all ages will continue to be able to possess and use a firearm.

Fear is a powerful force. Ignorance combined with fear is dangerous. I want to thank all Vermonters who both supported and opposed this legislation that took the time to engaging with us to learn, to research, to be here with us in this building, on the phone, to listen on public radio, to testify here and at hearings around the state. This is how a free people govern themselves in a democratic society.

 

 

School safety and gun regulations votes

Thank you to all who attended the hearing Rep. Gannon and I held in Whitingham last week.  Thank you also to the law enforcement, school administrators, civic leaders, sportsman and gun regulation advocates who helped us plan an event we hoped all would feel comfortable sharing their views at.  Read more about the event here.

My constituent Stephanie Greene, who assisted in the planning and hosting of this event, posted an opinion piece on the importance of using your voice.

Prior to Town Meeting, the House voted on H.675 :

  • Puts current practice into law giving the judge discretion to require any individual who is a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as of condition of pretrial release.
  • Empowers family members and law enforcement to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a court order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others (commonly called a ‘Red Flag’ bill).
  • Provides protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person.
  • Creates a felony charge for the possession of a firearm on school ground with intent to harm.

The roll call vote on this bill was 104-29 in favor.  I voted yes on this bill.  The Extreme Risk Protection Order contained in this bill is the most effective measure we have been asked to consider to ensure firearms do not end up in the hands of those who should not have them.

In addition, this bill allows law enforcement to remove firearms at the scene of a domestic assault.  Last year I voted against this piece of the bill because I felt it violated an individuals right to due process.  Changes to this language include requiring arraignment within one business day.  In my discussions with the Vermont Attorney General’s office I learned that the courts have found an individual is not Constitutionally entitled to pre deprivation due process.  In simple terms, in certain cases where law enforcement believes there is an extreme and imminent risk, due process begins after your weapon is confiscated, not before.

I tried to live post the voting on S.55 yesterday and it looks like it was tough for folks to follow.  Here is a detailed explanation of what happened on the House floor yesterday, March 23rd, with S.55.

I want to let those who elected me know that I take all parts of the Constitution very seriously.  In addition to the right to bear arms and the right of the people to petition, that also includes the separation of church and state, the right to assemble – as our youth are courageously doing today – and freedom of the press.

It is important to me to help people engage with their government, and so I work to ensure you know how to reach me, how I vote, how to read bills under consideration, and in yesterday’s instance to attempt to report what was happening from the floor.  I invite each of you to come to the State House and spend a day with me and see how our government functions.  The State House is also available to you without visiting me.  If we are in session, you have a right to be in the building watching as we attend to the people’s business.

Running for office is not a decision to take lightly.  Particularly if you are a parent with a school age child, particularly if you are not wealthy, particularly if you are not affiliated with a party.   I decided to run four years ago because I did not think our voice was being heard in Montpelier.  I’ve worked hard to help individuals and groups interact more successfully with government.  It is impossible for me to vote more then one way, so inevitably, on every vote, I have disappointed some and pleased others. If you are dissatisfied with the overall service of your legislators, the Vermont Secretary of State website contains the rules and links to forms needed to run for office. Competition in a democracy is a great thing.

To those in my district who are posting death threats and threats of bodily harm to me and/or to my fellow House and Senate Members, here are a few things to consider:  in addition to the fact that you are creating a public record of your intent, your children, their children, and my children are reading those comments.

It seems to now be acceptable for persons acting in fear to not take the time to research and cross check facts prior to taking to social media. I’d like to suggest an alternative.  Let’s turn down the emotion and rhetoric and try engaging with the information and facts which are being made available – before commenting.

Fear is contagious.  So is courage.

Thank you to all who have engaged and are engaging on these issues.  Please do stay in touch, please do ask questions, please do let me know what you are thinking about specific issues and please do let me know if you need assistance.  lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us or 802-384-0233