I hope those who celebrate had a joyous Passover or Easter. Contained in this update is information on vaccinations, new bills that have passed both the House and Senate, information on the House Budget, and information and an update on pension issues.
S.13, which seeks to create a task force to implement the recommendations from the Pupil Weighting study, has been voted out of the Senate and is now in House Education. The path to achieving equity for our students and taxpayers is still uphill. Opponents of implementing the recommendations would provide additional resources for the neediest districts – for now – but would not rebase the system by correcting the weights. The courts have found that the state is responsible for ensuring equitable opportunities for students. The weights are the only factor in the current funding equation that measure differences in needs across districts. Correcting the weights ensures student populations across the state are counted fairly. Adding funds without correcting the weights increases taxes without solving the problem. Please consider signing onto this petition that a coalition of rural and poor districts across the state have started.
Vaccination availability is speeding up. Last week Changes to Vermont COVID vaccine schedule prioritized BIPOC, and parents with high-risk kids This decision was defended as being consistent with the administration’s goals of prioritizing saving of lives when determining in which order vaccinations are administered. Today the Governor issued a statement about the racist response to efforts to vaccinate BIPOC population.
Today Vermonters 40 and older are eligible. It is recommended to register in advance. In addition to the appointment slots found through the Department of Health site, you may also find slots through the external links to CVS, Walgreens and Kinney Drugs. If you make an appointment and then find a time that is more convenient, make sure to cancel the original appointment.
How to get Vaccinated in Vermont:
Use address below to make an appointment through the Health Department website, which includes many partner clinics. https://vermont.force.com/events/s/selfregistration
Make an appointment by phone at 855-722-7878. The Call Center Hours Monday – Friday, 8:15 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Do I have to get vaccinated?
No. Getting vaccinated is optional. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. CDC recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are eligible. Getting vaccinated protects you from severe illness, helps protect those who can not get vaccinated and slows the spreads of mutations of the virus.
Can a COVID-19 vaccine make me sick with COVID-19?
No. None of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19. Learn more about Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
Bills passed by the House and Senate
We are deep in the session and more bills are starting to make their way to the Governor having passed both the House and Senate. Three of those new bills have passed both the House and Senate and are awaiting the Governors signature.
|H.10||4/2/2021||An act relating to permitted candidate expenditures|
|H.127||4/2/2021||An act relating to approval of amendments to the charter of the Town of Barre|
|H.81||3/30/2021||An act relating to statewide public school employee health benefits|
Of the bills awaiting action by the Governor, H.81 drew significant debate on the floor. H. 81 removes the requirement that the same premium percentages and out-of-pocket expenses apply to all participating school employees for each plan tier. The administration weighed in with detailed concerns in advance of the bill coming to the floor, including that the bill had not been reviewed by either the Ways and Means Committee for tax impacts – or by the Education Committee. During debate I asked if it was possible if the bill would result in increased costs across Vermont school districts and if an analysis had been conducted to see how this proposal would effect underweighted districts specifically. The answer was yes to increased costs and no to any analysis on whether or not it might put underweighted districts over the excess spending penalty threshold. With no analysis having been done, I moved to commit the bill to the House Education Committee for further review. Advocates for the bills passage claimed it was a labor bill and not an education bill, despite the fact that the expense is part of education budgets and is funded through Vermont’s Education Fund. The motion failed on a roll call 50-96 and the bill was ultimately passed without my vote 102-46. This was not a small inconsequential change. This was the legislature directly inserting itself in ongoing collective bargaining negotiations and mandating increasing costs to school budgets without analysis by the tax or education committees. It is not clear to me what the Governor will do with regard to this bill – he can sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.
H.439 – FY 2022 Budget Bill
Last week the House passed a budget unanimously, and now the budget will review and propose their own budget. When the Senate and House begin to deliberate on solving their budget difference it is usually a clear sign the session is almost over.
A week ago the House Energy and Technology Committee presented a $150 million dollar broadband build out bill. The funding will be used to support the work of Vermont’s nine Communications Union Districts and establish the Vermont Community Broadband Authority will have the authority to make grants and loans to extend broadband to the unserved and underserved areas of the state.
$2 million in one-time funding for the Working Lands Enterprise Board for pass through grants to both operators of working land businesses and system providers to help those businesses with technical assistance and supply systems. (an additional $3 million is in H. 315 Covid Recovery Bill)
$2.5 million in one-time funding for Tourism Marketing, to market Vermont to potential visitors as the state and the county emerge from the COVID-19 travel restrictions. Many of Vermont’s tourism business are located in rural parts of the state. Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheunemann’s and the House Tourism Caucus advocated for these funds.
Childcare funding and workforce development bill (H. 171) that redefines eligibility for assistance, provides scholarships and loan repayments to individuals working in the profession, and looks to limit families’ expense for childcare to 10% of their income. This continues to be large issue in rural areas, particularly the shortage of infant care.
Choices for care (H. 153) provide a sustainable income for individuals providing health care services to older and disabled individuals in their own homes, making it more likely that individuals can “age in place” in their rural community without having to move to a larger town in which a hospital or health care facility is located.
The creation of the Better Places Program (H. 159) provides matching grant funds to communities to build cohesion and vitality through creating new public spaces in a community-wide effort. $5 million in grant funds to be allocated in grants of $5,000 to $50,000 each.
Here are documents and data presented to the members of the House prior to their vote on the budget.
Overview from the House Appropriations Committee: Federal pandemic relief funds makes this another unusual year for the State budget. This bill includes the full base budget for FY2022 that begins on July 1, 2021 and is what enables State government to operate. It includes one-time General Fund spending in both FY 2021 and FY 2022. In addition, this bill establishes a broad spending frame and initial appropriations for the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) – Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund that totals just over $1 billion. The budget represents a first step towards creating a stronger Vermont for the years ahead.
Vermont’s economy is experiencing an unprecedented period. With over $10 billion of pandemic federal funds flowing into the Vermont economy, the General Fund and the Education Fund have been
beneficiaries. As the Federal relief subsides, the amount of state funds is likely to be impacted. The federal funds received by Vermont represents both an opportunity and an area caution as we design spending for the future.
- General government
- Protection to persons and property
- Human services
- General education
- Higher education
- Natural resources
- Commerce and community development
- Debt service
- Allocations, one-time and contingent
- Other bills
- Grand Total
Vermont Legislature Takes Measures to Help Rural Vermont Communities
At the mid-point of the 2021 legislative session, the Rural Economic Development Working Group in the House is tracking components of bills passed in the House and are being considered in the Senate. We believe that these bills help to sustain and grow the economies in rural Vermont. Several priorities were noted in the budget discussion above and here are others:
Limiting Liability for Agritourism Businesses (H. 89) by exempting from liability the operators of agritourism businesses from voluntary activities taken by visitors while on the property (think of a visitor to a sugar house placing their hand in a boiling pan of sap).
Extension of the Dr. Dinosaur program (particularly pre and post natal care) to undocumented mothers and children most of whom are working in agriculture in rural parts of the state.
The creation of community schools (H. 106) recognizes the increased needs of students because of poverty, adverse child experiences, or other challenges and provides additional services around them.
State aid for school construction (H. 426) may be revived following a full analysis of the condition and needs of all school facilities in the state. This should help address one of the major challenges faced by rural school districts with aging facilities. It also could force underweighted districts into over the Excess Penalty Threshold.
Boston Globe: Vermont governor says give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free Gov. Phil Scott wants more refugees to settle in Vermont, where a lot of people still believe the US has a moral obligation to those fleeing war and persecution.
From Senator Sanders Office
$1.35 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds are coming in to our communities. Vermont’s allocation includes: $1.05 billion to the State, $121 million for County government, $76 million to be distributed directly to individual towns and cities based on population, and $100 million for water, sewer, broadband.
To find the allocation per town and county, see the spreadsheet here. For states like Vermont where counties are not units of government, the county money will go to towns as well. It’s distributed based on population, so for example if a town is 5% of a county’s population they’ll get 5% of the funds allocated to that county.
Vermont’s pension funds for state employees and teachers are in trouble. This is due to multiple factors, including underfunding in the 90’s, and overly optimistic projections on returns. The pension liability has already affected the state’s bond rating. Every year the problem is growing by millions of dollars. The unfunded pension liability has grown from $1.0 billion to just over $5.7 billion in the past decade. Even though there have been continually increasing contributions by the legislature. This coming year, the State’s payment has grown over $100 million to $316 million. If nothing is done, the funds will not be there for all who are counting them. This issue affects all Vermonters, makes some Vermonters afraid promises made to them might be broken and is getting worse every year.
Teachers and State Employees who are retired, nearing retirement or who have been working for a decade are rightfully stressed out and worrying if what they were told they could count on for retirement will actually be available. All the more reason the problem needs to be solved.
When problems of this magnitude have to be solved by government a few things can make solving the problem easier – a willingness by state leaders to solve the problem and a large amount of unexpected funds. A few things can make solving the problem harder – not taking time to understand all of the issues and approaching the problem in an extreme, us versus them, partisan manner.
All of these things have happened. The Vermont State Treasurer issued a report and warned about the need to create a path forward. The Speaker of the House responded by asking for a House beginning proposal to be drafted in order to start working to solve the problem and put together a budget with an additional 150 million one time dollars to come up with a solution. A proposal to tax those making over 450,000 a year was proposed on the floor as a means of solving the problem. The Treasurer and Speakers’ draft proposals were immediately met with calls to face a primary challenger and statewide protests. Friday House Democrats announced they will take up reform of the pension board, but have pushed off fixing the financing for another year.
The Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) is now open! Landlords & tenants can apply for help covering past-due or current rent. Visit the website erap.vsha.org or call 833-488-3727 for more info & questions.
Vermont House sessions
The public can also watch the Vermont House legislative sessions live or recorded videos – information below
Tuesday at 10:00 AM; Wednesday at 1:15 PM; Thursday at 1:15 PM; Friday at 9:30 AM (All times subject to change)
As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss them.
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