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

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.

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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.

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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

Final weeks of the session coming up

Act 46 and School Choice updates: Last week I participated in a regional panel discussion on Act 46 sponsored by Marlboro Colleges Center for Creative Solutions alongside Brad James from the Agency of Education, Superintendents Ron Stahley and Dan French,  Wilmington student Peyton Eisler and Whitingham student Kassidy Walkowiak.  It is inspiring to have students voices engaged in the discussion about what the future education delivery system in our region should be.

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At the Marlboro College Center for Creative Solutions Act 46 discussion

Dover has recently voted to move forward and study becoming part of a side by side study with one or more districts.  This means working with one or other districts to see if educational opportunities for kids can be improved by joining forces with another district.  Though yet undetermined, the most likely districts for Dover to work with are Wardsboro and or Marlboro.  Dover and Wardsboro operate pre-k through 6th grade and Marlboro operates pre-K through 8th grade.  Any merged district is required to operate the same for all students under one unified budget, so in this case, if all three school districts merged, all students would likely retain school choice beginning either in the sixth or eight grade depending on the results of the study and the articles of agreement agreed to by the districts studying the merger.  The final decisions to merge and approve the articles of agreement rest with the voters of each district.  Searsburg, which does not operate a school and has complete school choice, is continuing to try to work with another geographically reasonable non-operating district to fulfill the requirements of Act 46.  Readsboro and Stamford, which both operate pre-k through 8th grade, are part of a study committee with Halifax which also operates a pre-k through 8th grade.  In all cases, in our district, school choice as it exists now is able to be preserved under the original language of Act 46 if the voters choose to do so.

You may have heard or seen that school choice is under threat from Act 46.  Act 46 very  stated that no town could be forced to give up school choice.  Some towns in Vermont have recently given up school choice by vote of the residents.

Yield bill: The House passed H.843 which set the property tax yield at $9,701 and the income yield – for those that pay using income sensitivity – at $10,870. The penny rate is still used to calculate the nonresidential property tax for commercial property and second homes. Under the current education tax proposal, the rate would be reduced from $1.59 to $1.53 per $100 of assessed property value.  H. 843 also changes the excess spending threshold from 121 percent to 119 percent.  This is the old cost containment piece that almost exclusively impacts small and rural schools.  Rep. Oliver Olsen (I) Londonderry, working with Rep. Ann Manwaring, myself and others, led an effort to postpone the re-engagement of

Talking Yield with Rep. Olson and Rep. Manwaring

Talking excess spending penalty with Rep. Olson and Rep. Manwaring

the excess spending thresholds until a study could be done to determine if changes needed to be made in other aspects of the funding system.  He read from the course catalogues from several of Vermont’s high schools, highlighting the current inequities in opportunities between rural and more urban high school districts.   This is the exact issue my constituents have have been raising for years.  The House was determined to pass the excess spending thresholds, and so as a result, turned down Rep. Olsen’s amendment.   However the next day, for the final reading of the bill, I led efforts to resurrect Rep. Olsen’s study language on how pupils are counted in an amendment that will study whether we need to be looking at a heavier weighting for students in lower population density areas.  This amendment passed!  Though the study will not be completed until 2017, it has the potential to FINALLY begin to assess whether or not equal funding is providing equal educational opportunities for students in districts of all sizes.

Independent Contractors: On March 11th, after 52 hours of testimony and almost as many witnesses, the House Commerce Committee voted out H.867, an independent contractor bill on a bipartisan 11-0 vote.  On March 31st, the bill was sent back to our committee for additional work without the bill ever hitting the House floor for discussion or vote.  Three amendments, sponsored on behalf of labor organizations, were proposed.  Additional amendments are being worked on, including by a group of legislators I am working with.  We have been told by House leadership that the narrowest opportunity still exists for a bill to make it through the House and Senate and to the Governor’s desk.  The issue at hand: Currently in Vermont, nearly every person who is working is potentially required to be treated as an employee of someone else for the purposes of workers comp insurance.  Even if the individual is an entrepreneur, and in business for themselves.  At the same time, the owner(s) of a business can waive the requirement to purchase workers comp insurance for themselves.   This situation is creating instability in the labor market with businesses and general contractors afraid to hire independent contractors for fear they will be charged with paying the independent contractors workers comp premiums through a state audit, and independent contractors having to forgo the benefits of being in business for themselves as most are required to be someone’s employee.  This unpredictable and dated model does not support the entrepreneurial business climate we need to promote in Vermont.   I hope we will be able to introduce modern independent contractor reforms that protect workers in this session.

Telecommunications Bill: This week our committee’s telecommunications bill, H.870 will be voted on in the House.  This bill provides new funding for internet upgrades or expansions for schools, adds funding for news services for the blind, modifies Act 248a for telecommunications tower siting, and increase the Universal Service Fund tax by .05 cent.  Additionally,  telephone providers who wish to access high cost funding from the USF, will need to comply with telecommunications mapping data  requests from the Department of Public Service.  This is an exceptionally important provision for rural Vermont, including much of our district. 

Whitingham connectivity meeting: A community wide public meeting with the Vermont Department of Public Service, Telecom and Connectivity Division and interested Whitingham  citizens has been scheduled for April 18th at 5:30 pm in the main hall of the Jacksonville Municipal Center.  The purpose of the meeting is to share data about existing broadband availability and broadband and cell projects and upcoming deployments happening in the Whitingham area. This public meeting will help inform the next steps in determining how Whitingham may choose to participate in expanding cell and broadband services in the town. The Connectivity Initiative Program run by the Department of Public Service, seeks to provide funding for hard to serve areas. More information on the DPS and their various programs is available at: http://publicservice.vermont.gov/topics/connectivity. The meeting is open to the public.

I am continuing to work to understand what has transpired with the 5 1/2 year old VTel Wireless project, WOW and why folks that were to have been covered by this project remain uncovered.  If you are currently a VTel customer in Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro or Whitingham, I would very much like to hear from you as our towns begin to consider developing a “Plan B” for connectivity.

Tax and Budget bills: The preliminary budget, tax and fee bills have passed the House and gone to the Senate.  These bills are required to originate in the House every year.  It is very likely what passed the House will be changed, added to or subtracted from in the Senate.  The bills will then come back to the House where we will either agree with the Senate changes, or ask for a conference committee to negotiate the differences.  At that point the House and Senate will both vote yes or no on the recommendations from the conference committee.  These will almost certainly be the last bills voted on before we adjourn.  I voted in favor of the  preliminary House budget, but not in favor of the preliminary tax bill.  My budget vote explanation below:

“Mr. Speaker: I campaigned and arrived for my first biennium deeply concerned about the relationship between Vermont’s revenues and Vermont’s budget. I am still concerned. However, I believe there are not an abundance of easy or inconsequential choices to cut in front of us.

I voted to support this budget process, the inclusivness extended to the public and all members of the House, the commitment to examining each aspect of the budget to assess if it was serving Vermonters and how well, and the request for all committees to examine the programs within their jurisdiction and prioritize them. I voted for this budget because of the process and progress I believe the committee is making. Clearly there is still work to do. And clearly a budget needs to be paid for.

My vote on the tax bill this afternoon reflects lingering specific concerns I have with some of the specific tax increases. I am hopeful with amendments those concerns may be alleviated.”

Completely related to the budget and tax bill is a recently passed independent audit of Vermont Health Connect: No single issue has contributed more to our current budget situation then our Healthcare reform efforts and the expansion of medicaid.  We want more access for Vermonters then we have been willing/able to pay for.  Additionally, many legislators for many years have been calling for an independent review of Vermont Health Connect, the healthcare exchange access point which continues to plague Vermonter’s with challenges.   Last week the House approved a $400K independent audit of the exchange and assessment of whether or not it should be abandoned.  This independent will come back next December, in time for a new Governor, new Lt. Governor, new Speaker and many new legislators to utilize in determining how best to move forward.