Rep. Sibilia: Town Meeting Update

“I like geography best, he said, because your mountains and rivers know the secret. Pay no attention to boundaries.”

― Brian Andreas, Story People

Town Meeting Legislative Update March 1, 2022
Friends and Neighbors: 

It is an honor to represent you in Montpelier. We are approaching the midway mark for the 2022 Legislative Session and significant issues impacting towns in the Deerfield Valley are making their way through the House and Senate. Please stay in touch with your questions and concerns at lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us.

CURRENT USE

H.697 An act relating to eligibility of reserve forestland for enrollment in the Use Value Appraisal Program is currently up for action by the Vermont House. This bill would allow a small number of pre identified tracts of land to enter current use as reserved forestland. The House Rural Economic Development Working Group which I co-chair supported this narrowly crafted provision:

“Vermont’s forests provide unique and irreplaceable resources, benefits, and values around the state. The careful and thoughtful stewardship of these resources – both for their intrinsic value and for their importance to the economic vitality of our state – is a vital discussion. H.697 strikes a productive compromise that will increase the attainment of old growth forest and all its attendant benefits while still effectively preserving working landscapes throughout Vermont.

We are aware that the JFO estimates an annual reduction in Education Fund revenues of approximately $100,000 and of less than $50,000 in General Fund revenues as a result of the proposed change. These impacts are significantly lower than originally estimated, due to the good faith effort of many partners including Forest Parks and Recreation to carefully catalog viable land parcels.”

MUNICIPAL BUILDING FUEL SWITCHING GRANTS and CLEAN HEAT STANDARD:

In 2020 the legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act which required establishing a Climate Council and producing a plan to reduce emissions. The House Energy and Technology Committee has spent most of the past seven weeks working on a bill which incorporates two items from that plan; H.518 which provides funding technical assistance and providing grants to reduce fossil fuel usage in municipal buildings and H.715 the Clean Heat Standard requiring the Public Utility Commission to conduct a public process to develop a system of heat credits to reduce fossil fuel usage for heat in homes and businesses. Though these actions will not stop climate change from happening, they will give Vermonters and Vermont businesses more help to keep apace with the magnitude of economic changes happening as the developed countries across the world shift off of fossil fuels.

MISCELLANEOUS TAX BILL:​​
The Miscellaneous Tax Bill is currently in Senate Finance. The following is included in the Miscellaneous Tax Bill:  

  • Clarifies that property transfer tax applies to enhanced life estate deeds in the same way as to conventional life estates. 
  • Clarifies that penalties apply to underpayments of corporate estimated tax payments in the same way that they apply to individual estimated tax payments
  • Adds requirement that Vermont Children’s Trust Foundation use the revenue received from income tax refunds to provide funds for community-based primary prevention programs
  • Requires a taxpayer to file and amend returns and pay tax owed if a change in federal tax liability results from the audit of a partnership or an adjustment of a partnership’s taxable income. The Partnership elects to either pay adjusted tax itself or the individual partner pays. 
  • Repeal of alternative minimum tax (AMT) for individuals:
    • AMT applies when a taxpayer has adjusted gross income over $150K, in which case the taxpayer pays the greater of (a) tax liability calculated on taxable income; or (b) 3% on adjusted gross income.
  • The military pensions portion of the bill was removed, but House Ways and Means will likely reinstate military pensions at $10,000.
Redistricting would benefit from a topographical map of Vermont. It has been daunting to help some members of the legislature understand the topography in our region, and how the mountains serve to both connect and isolate towns. During my testimony this week, one member actually rolled their eyes when I referenced the southern Greens as part of the Appalachian Mountains.

REDISTRICTING:
The initial maps for redistricting broke the current district in half and turned both halves away from the Deerfield Valley – Readsboro and Stamford to Bennington and Dover and Wardsboro to the West River Valley. This despite the Valley having a steady population while virtually all southern Vermont towns to the east and west lost population. The latest maps for towns in the Windham/Bennington District are:

This past week I testified on behalf of the towns of Readsboro, Stamford and Dover.

The town of Readsboro has repeatedly expressed concerns with the new proposed maps. Readsboro would join Pownal -on the other side of the Greens- with a significantly larger population, reducing the power of their votes to elect a representative to government and including towns that Readsboro shares little in common with: emergency resources, school systems, commuting routes, town government and commerce. Under a new map proposed by Rep Sibilia, Readsboro is currently linked with Stamford, Searsburg, Woodford and roughly 2,000 residents in Pownal. 

Stamford: Stamford did not support the decision to group Stamford with Pownal in a new District as they were worried about a lack of representation due to Pownals significantly larger population size. Stamford has expressed concern about the lack of roads between the town and Pownal – which is on the other side of the Greens – and has also expressed a desire to keep Readsboro and Stamford in the same district due to their similarities.  All maps under consideration currently have Stamford and Readsboro together. 

Dover has emphasized the importance of keeping the current District together due to overlapping similarities between towns. They share similar issues including access to internet, affordable housing concerns, and issues around low paying wage jobs. This current district also shares one newspaper and two school supervisory districts. Dover is currently proposed to be in a new District with Wardsboro, Stratton and Jamaica.

Rep. Sibilia made two proposals to the redistricting committee this past week.

EDUCATION:

We are finally seeing a bill emerge in the Senate that could correct the flaws in Act 60/68 that led to the underfunding and overtaxing of many poor and rural districts in Vermont.

  • Senate Education wrote a letter to Senate Finance recommending English Language Learners (ELLs) receive a weight of 2.49, with an additional categorical grant aid of $25,000 for schools with fewer than 6 ELL students and $50,000 for schools with 6-25 students, under the new education funding system. 
  • Senate Finance is currently writing a bill containing the new weights. This bill will be voted on 03/08/2022 and will then be sent to the House committee on Ways and Means. This bill contains new additive weights for the following categories: grade levels (pre-k: -0.54, grades 6-8: +0.36, grades 9-12: +0.39), students from economically deprived background (+1.03), ELL pupils (+2.49), low population density schools districts ( ≤35 persons/mi2: +0.15, 36-56 persons/mi2: +0.12, 51-101 persons/mi2: +0.07), and for pupils who attend small schools (<100 pupils: +0.21, 101-250 pupils: 0.07).
  • There is a current proposal to move away from property tax and toward income tax as the basis for the resident education tax (this is already the standard practice for 78% of taxpayers in Vermont). See presentation by Deb Brighton of the Joint Fiscal Office 

HOUSING BILLS Of Interest:

  • S. 210: An act relating to rental housing health and safety and affordable housing
    • Passed in the Senate 2/10/2022, currently in the House Committee General, Housing, and Military Affairs
  • S. 270: Am act relating to Vermont Housing Regulation Modernization
    • Referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy byt the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs 

REGIONAL DISPATCH
The governor has proposed an $11 million appropriation for a Department of Public Safety (DPS) proposal to restructure dispatch across the state. This proposal would likely affect every emergency medical services (EMS), fire, and police agency. The proposal would transition the entire state to a regional emergency dispatch system, and it would end state provided dispatching services to non-state public safety agencies and switch those users to a regional dispatching center. The state currently dispatches approximately 100 nonprofit, municipal and county EMS, fire, and law enforcement agencies. Over a 24 to 36 month period, those agencies would have to transition to regional providers for dispatching services.


What other organizations are saying about the legislative session


BILLS PASSED 2022

BILLS VETOED 2022


Latest OpEds and Blog Posts


Stay in touch and keep track of the legislative session

See what bills I have sponsored and voting record, or watch my committee hearings or Listen to VPR House Live Audio  or Watch House Live Video .

Join me on the 3rd Thursday of the month at 6 pm when I will be zooming with the Wardsboro Library from the statehouse or the 3rd Saturdays at 11 am when I host virtual office hours and you can join  here or by calling +1 646 558 8656 Meeting ID: 734 376 857 Passcode: 003089.

As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com

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

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