A wish for an easy fast for those observing Yom Kippur.
The legislative has come to a close for the 2019/20 two year biennium. We passed the budget Friday night and adjourned. This session has been historical for many reasons including for length – 263 days. Legislative sessions typically last 17-18 weeks and end in May. We started this session 37 weeks ago. The previous longest session in Vermont history was in 1994 when the session went until June 12 and was 160 days long.
On Tuesday of last week I drove up to the Statehouse to retrieve things left behind when the state of emergency was declared. It was a bit surreal to see my shoes lined up with other members outside of the House Energy and Technology Committee room, our files waiting at our desks just as we left them 6 months ago and the House Chamber empty except for the Clerk on a day that would nonetheless be filled with debate on session ends legislation.
Vermonters have had their lives, education, finances and businesses disrupted – as have all Americans – due to the pandemic. But we can be thankful that we are Vermonters living relatively safely in our Green Mountains during this time. This was by far the most difficult legislative session of my past six years, but also the one I will be the most proud to have been a part of. Vermont has a serious, calm and capable governor who has relied on science and his faith in Vermonters that they would continue to care for one another. Vermont has legislative leaders from three different political parties who put aside partisanship to ensure the legislature could pass emergency legislation and finish the work of the legislative biennium. Vermont also has legislators that committed to doing the work in front of them remotely – many with poor internet – working to assist the Department of Labor when they were overwhelmed and with support from families and employers who have been generous and flexible during the stress and demand of the extended session. I particularly want to thank my husband and son and my colleagues at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.
FY 21 Budget and CRF Funds
Agreement was reached on the remaining 3/4 year year budget for FY 21. The full-year budget approved on Friday replaces the partial appropriation that funded government for the first quarter. The General Fund base budget required only modest reductions because of the following onetime revenues:
- $130m net onetime tax receipts tied to 2019 pre-COVID income/economic activity paid in July.
- $28m of onetime reversions across the state due to offsets from Coronoavirus Relief Funds or other March-June changes
- $44m of savings due to the federal matching funds rate change currently in place
- Provides Vermont State Colleges restructuring bridge funding of $23.8m
- Appropriates $5m for equity payments to Vermonters left out of federal stimulus payments.
- Provides $1.5m for VEDA match for CUDs and an additional $1.5m in CRF grants
- Appropriates $450k to in the Agency of Natural Resources base Global Warming Solutions Act
- Provides funding for both telecommunications planning and PEG study
- Restores funding for Microbusiness Development and Matched Savings Programs
- Provides additional one-time $7m town highway aid, $2.4m level & pave; and roadside mowing funds
- Funds $1m for Electric Vehicle incentive and $500k for public transit ridership incentives
- $102.5m for Business Grants, marketing, stimulus to UI recipients, upskill tuition offsets, recreation
- $22.5m Hazard pay expansion and correction –total hazard pay is $50.5m with this addition
- Prek-12 Ed ucation adds $53m for schools (total schools CRF now $103m of which $13.5m is for HVAC upgrades)
- Funds EMS workforce
- Funds Meals on Wheels rate increase and Adult Days to programs keep viable thru fall and reopening
- Embedded mental health clinicians in Public Safety
- Downtown tax credit:Increases limit by $400,000to $3 million total
The final coronavirus relief fund appropriations detail can be found here. I am pleased to have worked with our two Southern Vermont CUDs and others across the state to include $20 million dollars for improving connectivity.
You can keep up with accelerated work of the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District at their website
Police Reform Bills
Two police reform bills passed S.124 which includes changes to the Vermont Training Council, consistent use of body cameras, and a requirement for a department or agency to contact the past or present employer prior to employment. I voted to support this legislation.
A second bill, S.119 seeks to create a statewide use of force policy. I am in favor of a statewide policy, but getting this legislation right holds life and death consequences for all involved. I wanted to see more time to work through fine details and with the Department of Public Safety. This passed by a vote of 106-37 but did not get mine and some Democrats and Republicans support.
Unemployment Rate Calculation Protections
The Legislature also approved changes to the calculation of the unemployment tax calculation on employers to mitigate some of the increase expected next year in light of the dramatic decline in the unemployment trust fund.
Legislature approves Cannabis Tax and Regulate
The Vermont House and Senate have approved the compromise tax and regulate retail cannabis bill S.54. The state will keep all tax revenue except in communities which have a 1% local option tax. Those towns will be able to keep 7/10 of one percent. 30% of a new 14% cannabis excise tax will go to fund prevention and treatment programs and the 6% sales and use tax will go towards afterschool and summer programs.
As part of the program:
- advertising for cannabis-related businesses is allowed
- seat belt use still can not be a primary reason for vehicle stops.
- fees from cannabis licensees go to towns hosting retail entities
- a roadside saliva test can be obtained with a warrant
The legislative conference committee report passed the House by a vote of 92-56 on Thursday and a vote in the Senate passed 23-6. The governor has not said one way or the other if he will sign or veto.
I have voted consistently against legalization of marijuana because it did not have a means of taxing and regulating as we do for liquor and cigarettes. With the agreement by the House and Senate to move from a home grow policy to a tax and regulate policy, I voted in favor of the bill.
The next step in the regulation of cannabis is the appointment of a three member Cannabis Control Board.
Student counts inputs for budgeting & taxes passes
School Boards need real numbers and solid calculations in order to build tax payer friendly budget that provide high quality opportunity for students. Student counts are seeing significant fluctuations due to homeschooling and new students.
Every December 1, the Commissioner of the Department of Taxes is required to calculate and recommend statewide education property tax rates for the coming fiscal year. This is calculated using the student count collected on October 1 and an estimated increase in the cost of education over the prior year. This past week, I worked to ensure that a fix for the student count was included in the budget that ultimately passed on Friday. The fix would not allow student counts to go below last years student counts. Significant, but temporary, declines in student counts due to homeschooling could have forced dramatic cuts in programs or dramatic increases in residential taxes.
Much smaller Act 250 bill passes
The House voted on a greatly reduced Act 250 bill on Friday – it’s hard to call it a reform bill at this point. Remaining in the bill is the streamlined trails language that many – including the rural Caucus I co-chair in the House – advocated for, but also a new regulation on forest fragmentation and wild life corridors.
I fought for changes in this bill before it left the House (when it was much much bigger) including amending it to remove the change in elevation which would have impacted almost the entire town of Searsburg, and pressing for inclusion of streamlined processes and improved customer service as had been proposed by the Scott Administration and environmental advocates. Without a significant improvement in the applicant experience I voted no back in February when the bill left the House. With the regulation on forest fragmentation included in the current bill and no improvement to process I voted no on Friday. The bill passed 93-56. The governor has not indicated whether or not he will sign the bill.
The next step for the Forest Fragmentation is a two year rule making process.
Hazard pay Expansion
A $22.5m Hazard pay expansion passed as part of the budget and expands eligible workers to include grocery and hardware store workers, employees at essential retail businesses and in other professions. These workers will now be eligible to receive compensation for continuing to work throughout the coronavirus state of emergency.
“Every time we make progress in terms of containing the pandemic, we take our foot off the brakes,” Thomas Tsai, a health policy expert at Harvard, told me. “What we really should be doing is to step on the brakes harder, and truly suppress the pandemic.”VOX: Why the number of people getting tested for Covid-19 dropped in the US
House and Senate override Global Warming Solutions Act Veto
I have written previously about H.688 the Global Warming Solutions Act in September: Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act and in February Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act – first vote. You can also hear several interviews I have done on the bill at my legislative Facebook Page LauraSibiliaVT and you can hear me speak about why I believed we should override the governor’s veto on the recording of the September 17th session. The legislature had enough votes to override the governor’s veto.
This bill does three things:
- Creates a Climate Council whose job is to
- Create a plan for Vermont to meet it’s carbon emissions reductions goals, including those of the Paris Accords which Governor Scott – along with many other governors – pledged to keep us a party to even after the US withdrew from the agreement. The plan specifically must include protections for rural and vulnerable Vermonters. Vermonters who can afford to reduce their fossil fuel consumption of their car and their home heating – are already doing it. Like we have seen with telecommunications, those who are left behind in the modernization of our transportation and heating infrastructure will be facing increased costs and threats from weather in the coming decade. We need a plan to ensure we understand how and when we can help all Vermonters through this global shift away from fossil fuels.
- Narrows the methods by which a citizen can sue for enforcement of the bill
The bill does not:
- include any taxes or fees including a carbon tax
- ban wood heat, snowmobiling or gas powered cars
- allow appointed Council members to create laws or rules
- prevent the governor or legislature from doing their job
- create a new way for the State of Vermont to be sued.
Here are several articles looking at the costs of not creating a plan:
This work is going to be ongoing over the next decades and will require our communities, businesses and government to work together to put in place the most practical and inclusive plan. Please let me know if you’d like to talk more about the details in this bill.
Utility Arrearage Assistance Program Still Available
The Utility Arrearage Assistance Program is still available for those Vermonters who need help paying their overdue utility bills.
Vermonters suffering economic hardship due to COVID-19 can now get help to pay their overdue balances for residential and non-residential customers accounts.
This program provides financial support to customers of regulated utilities who may face disconnection of service because of past-due balances.
These utilities include electricity, natural gas, regulated private water, and wired/landline telephone service. More information can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions document here.
And, the program itself and application can be found here.
Voting has started for the 2020 election
Town Clerks now have 2020 ballots and you can vote early, vote by mail, or vote on November 3rd at your regular polling place. If you aren’t registered to vote, it’s easy to do and more information is available here.
The Secretary of State’s office has begun mailing ballots to all registered Vermont voters. Ballots will be mailed to all active registered voters who appeared on the voter checklist as of 9/2/2020. If you moved to town and registered to vote after 9/2/2020 – you’ll need to request an absentee ballot if you wish to vote by mail. If your ballot does not arrive by October 1st, please contact your town clerk. If you have moved please update your voter registration information by contacting your town clerk or by logging on to https://mvp.vermont.gov/. Please carefully read the instructions on the return envelope so that your ballot can be counted.
Ballots must be returned by 7pm to the polling place on Election Day
- Use the postage prepaid return envelope and drop in the mail.
- Hand deliver to the office during open hours.
- Bring your ballot to the polling place on Election Day and drop it in the ballot box.
As Vermont voters begin to receive their mailed ballots, please know that no system is perfect & ballots may be sent to voters who have since moved but have not been removed from the checklist. If this happens to you, let your town clerk know immediately to correct the problem!
2021 Reapportionment meetings now on the SOS website
Reapportionment occurs during the biennial legislative session following each Federal decennial census. The process primarily—but not exclusively—relies on the population figures gathered during the most recent census. Legislative districts are drawn and House and Senate seats are allocated to ensure that the populations of each district have relatively equal representation in both chambers of the State House. Read about the process at the apportionment website
VTDigger is hosting a live forum that will put reader questions in front of the major candidates running for Governor.
Phil Scott (R) | David Zuckerman (D/P)
Tuesday, Sep. 29 | 5:30 p.m.
RSVP for the livestream link and submit your questions for the candidates here. RSVP’s are encouraged, but not required. The livestream will be accessible on VTDigger’s home page.
Governor Phil Scott Executive Orders
Number 01-20 declaring a State of Emergency in Vermont & National Guard Call Out
Amendment to 01-02Declaration of State of Emergency in Response to COVID-19 and National Guard Call-Out – Amended and Restated
ADDENDUM 1 to 01-20prohibits all non-essential mass gatherings to the lesser of fifty (50) people or fifty percent (50%) of the occupancy of a facility
ADDENDUM 2 to 01-20Prohibits on-premises consumption of food or drink
ADDENDUM 3 to 01-20Suspension of all Non-Essential Adult Elective Surgery and Medical and Surgical Procedures
ADDENDUM 4 to 01-20Closure of Close-Contact Businesses and Further Restrictions of the Size of Mass Gatherings
ADDENDUM 5 to 01-20Work from Home Order
ADDENDUM 6 to 01-20Stay Home to Stay Safe Order
ADDENDUM 7 to 01-20 Requirement to quarantine
ADDENDUM 8 to 01-20Non-Congregate Sheltering in Vermont; Extension of Certain Deadlines Relating to Closures of DMV and Bars and Restaurants
ADDENDUM 9 to 01-20 Extension of State of Emergency Declared March 13, 2020; Other COVID-19 Related Directives and Clarifications
ADDENDUM 10 to 01-20Work Smart & Stay Safe – Restart VT: Phase I
ADDENDUM 11 to 01-20Work Smart & Stay Safe –Restart VT: Phase II
ADDENDUM 12 to 01-20Work Smart & Stay Safe -Restart VT: Phase III
ADDENDUM 13 to 01-20Play Smart and Play Safe: Restart Phase V
ADDENDUM 14 to 01-20Be Smart, Stay Safe
ADDENDUM 15 to 01-20Outdoor Restaurants, Bars and Other Establishments that Offer Food and Drink
ADDENDUM 16 to 01-20Close Contact Businesses; Large Social Gatherings
Addendum 17 to 01-20 Modified Quarantine Restrictions on Travelers Arriving in Vermont; Municipal Regulation of Bars and Restaurants
Racial Equity Task Force (Executive Order 02-20)
Amended and Restated Executive Order No. 01-20Declaration of State of Emergency in Response to COVID-19 and National Guard Call-Out – Amended and Restated
ADDENDUM 1 TO AMENDED AND RESTATED 01-20Extension of State of Emergency Declared March 13, 2020
ADDENDUM 2 TO AMENDED AND RESTATED EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 01-20 Strengthening the Use of Facial Covering
ADDENDUM 3 TO AMENDED AND RESTATED EXECUTIVE ORDER 01-20Extension of State of Emergency
ADDENDUM 4 TO AMENDED AND RESTATED EXECUTIVE ORDER 01-20Extension of State of Emergency
EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 03-20Governor’s Public Safety Reform Initiative
ADDENDUM 5 TO AMENDED AND RESTATED EXECUTIVE ORDER 01-20 Extension of State of Emergency
Directive 1 – Continuity of Education Planning.pdf
Directive 2 – Childcare For Essential Service Providers.pdf
Directive 3 – Department of Motor Vehicles Suspension of In-Person Transactions.pdf
AMENDMENT TO DIRECTIVE 3
Directive 4 – Department of Liquor and Lottery – Delivery and Take-Out of Beverage Alcohol – Amended March 20, 2020.pdf
Directive 5 – Continuity of Learning Planning .pdf
Directive No. 6 – Uniform School Reopening
My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020
Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham