We have reached the final third of the legislative session. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted out the Senate version of the budget last week. This puts the legislature on track for an early – to mid May adjournment. I’ll update on bills that the governor has signed below, but I also want to discuss three issues that have been top of mind for me the past few weeks as I have been conducting the people’s business and considering Vermont policy:
Correcting the known inequity in our education finance system. The House Ways and Means Committee currently has S.287, a bill which will correct the existing pupil weight calculations in Vermont’s education funding formula. The flawed weights which have been in place since Act 60/68 incentivized the underfunding of our neediest students and the over taxing of many high poverty, rural and English language learner districts. The flawed weights also incentivized increased spending of state collected property tax revenues in our largest wealthiest districts which raised property taxes across Vermont.
The Committee has yet to consider the Senate bill in depth, preferring instead to get rid of weights and institute an opaque grant program whose amounts would be determined by state legislators. The Progressive ThinkTank Public Assets has also repeatedly presented the committee with misinformation, and whether that is intentional or because they don’t understand how the finance system works, a change of this magnitude can not be undertaken based on faulty information.
The loss of local control, the very real likelihood that these grants will be politicized as small school grants were, and the lack of cost containment are unacceptable to me, and VLCT, VSA and VSBA have also testified they prefer to correct weights. I have been in almost constant communication with the Speaker’s Office opposing this proposal and regular communication with the Governor’s office. Many thanks to River Valleys School Board Chair Rich Werner who attended a press conference in Montpelier calling on the committee to pass S.287 with a faster timeline and transition funding for overweighed districts. This week will be telling as we see what version Ways and Means votes out. The bill will likely need to go to the Appropriations Committee before coming to the House Floor for a vote by all 150 representatives.
How we protect our natural resources and also allow development and support those who work the land I’m the Co-Chair of the tri-partisan Rural Economic Development Working Group (REDWnG) in the House. Amongst issues the group worked on this year, Act 250 and supporting the people who work Vermont’s lands has taken the most time. Many in this group spent multiple days last Summer and Fall meeting with foresters, sawmills, lumber and firewood processors throughout the state to better understand the issues at play between those who strictly want to protect our environment and those who also want to have a working landscape. And then we need to build resilient workforce housing. The relationship between environmentalists and those who work the land has been extremely contentious during my time in the legislature. Fixes to problems with Act 250 or other ANR regulations have always been paired with increased regulations somewhere else. REDWnG has been more proactive this year, looking to see new regulations standing on their own and working with the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees to try and solve some problems. We are hopeful, but again, this week will likely tell if we get Act 250 solutions this year.
More then 5% of Vermonters are LGTBQ. These Vermonters had an exceptionally rough week last week. Following Fox News’ Laura Ingraham targeting of a Vermont assistant Vice Principal who identifies as transgendered, national groups began targeting LGBTQ Vermonters with hate filled messages. Shortly after this national targeting began, the Vermont Republican Party began a fundraiser targeting legislators who had introduced a contentious bill about LGBTQ minor’s healthcare followed by the Burlington Republican Party publicly stating these individual legislators were “groomers”. This language has been used historically to paint LGBTQ as pedophiles. The week ended with Governor Scott issuing a statement condemning the “Exploiting fear and targeting divisive rhetoric at people who are just trying to be who they are is hateful and can lead to violence” following the murder of transgendered Vermonter Fern Feather.
Already we hear attempts to separate the hate-filled violence-inspiring free speech from the actual violence of the murder. I’m not sure that the 1 in every 20 of our Vermont friends and colleagues who are LGBTQ care whether the terror of these events are directly connected or not. As national attacks on LGBTQ increase, now is the time to speak up and show up for our fellow Vermonters. The Vermont Human Rights Commission and Pride Center of Vermont are places for research and resource. I have signed on to two bills this biennium protecting trans Vermonters – the “Gay Panic Defense Bill” which prohibits the murder defense claim of temporary insanity from a same sex sexual advance and a bill that removes barriers to Vermonters who want to change the gender on their birth certificate.
As I noted, these three issues have been front and center in terms of time and attention for me the past few weeks at the statehouse. In the case of each of these issue, the opportunity to work together across party or to resolve differences has been jeopardized and progress has been threatened. Nonetheless, I am encouraged by the courageous actions of legislators across the political spectrum and the governor and hopeful for meaningful progress on these issues this year.
Other issues I am watching that are of particular interest to our district include military pensions, state employee and teacher pensions, and a ban on public funds going to private religious schools.
Clean Heat Standard Discussion with Matt Cota from the Vermont Fuel Dealers and me
News of Interest to the Windham/Bennington District
- Scott signs long-debated gun background check bill
- Governor Signs Bill to Allow Birth Certificate Gender Change
- Scott signs new legislative maps into law, solidifying Vermont’s political playing field for next decade
What Bills Have Passed and What Bills Have Been Vetoed?
Latest OpEds and Blog Posts
- Rep Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Weeks 9 and 10
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Week 8
- Rep. Sibilia: A Vermont Clean Heat Standard
- Rep. Sibilia: Town Meeting Update
- Rep. Sibilia submits testimony on redistricting
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Week 7
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Week 6
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Week 5
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Week 4
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Week 3
- Rep. Sibilia: 2022 Session Update Weeks 1 & 2
Stay in touch and keep track of the legislative session
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham