The 2022 budget has been signed – this reflects the culmination of work done during the legislative session. Here is a highlighted overview on what was and what was not accomplished this year in the legislature.
A reminder that legislators work in committees to develop policy which then makes its way to the entire House or Senate to be voted on. I have served as the Vice Chair of the Energy and Technology Committee for four years as well as the Co-Chair of the Rural Caucus and the National Guard and Veterans Affairs Caucus. Policy development needs are identified by the Governor’s administration, citizens encountering a challenge or seeing an opportunity, legislators and outside advocacy groups. In the 2022 Legislative Session, my policy priorities were centered on issues related to rural equity.
What does that mean? It means examining our policies and programs to see if they are working for rural Vermonters as well as they are working for Vermonters who live in larger towns and cities. Three policy areas I worked on this year that are directly related to rural equity are education finance reform, municipal energy resilience investments and working lands initiatives:
- Education finance reform: S.287 Over the last decade, I’ve written at length about the need to adjust pupil weighting for both property tax accountability and equitable access to student opportunity. I am proud of the coalition of towns, districts, citizens and legislators that came together to finally secure passage. During debate on the bill, I spoke to the harm that our students, communities and taxpayers had endured since the passage of Act 60 and paid tribute to our community members who worked for decades to fix this flaw. When the Governor signed the bill into law, he acknowledged the inequity of the flawed Act 60 and articulated reforms he’d like to see in the next biennium.
- Municipal and Commercial Energy Resilience: Vermont is moving rapidly to help residents, business and municipalities shift off of the unstable globally priced fossil fuel market, both to ensure our ability to afford heat in our buildings and to reduce fossil fuel emissions which contribute to the warming climate and intensifying storms. S.269 expands a pilot program for businesses to utilize their energy efficiency charges on efficiency the bill projects. allows the current participants to accrue additional funds and gives participants additional time to spend the funds on efficiency projects. H.581 is a 45 million dollar program to help municipalities assess their buildings for efficiency and emissions and provides significant grant funding for HVAC systems improvements. The rules for this opportunity are still being written, but the Bennington County Regional Commission and Windham Region Planning Commission will both be assisting towns when the program is ready to roll out.
- Act 250 Working Lands Initiatives: S.226 is one of this years housing bills that passed and which includes long sought hours of operation relief for forestry operations and extended licensing of the Ryegate baseload power plant in S.161. The Rural Economic Development Working Group which I co-chair and Rep. Katherine Sims work to help legislators educate themselves on the forest products industry last summer and fall were key to securing passage of both of these bills.
In addition to issues of rural equity, as the Co-Chair of the Vermont National Guard and Veterans Affairs Caucus, I worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass H.517 which expands educational benefits for military families, secured a partial tax exemption of military retirement pay, reform how we elect the Adjutant General, and learn about the extensive work our Vermont Guard is doing nation leading to address sexual assault and harassment.
We appropriated billions of dollars in state and federal relief funding. Highlighted policies that passed this year are highlighted below
- Budget: H.740 The FY23 budget as voted by the Committee of Conference appropriates a total of $8.3 billion to meet the ongoing costs of operating state government and to make transformative investments in Vermont’s infrastructure, including human capital, from federal funds available from the America Rescue Plan Act. The budget is balanced and includes priorities to allow Vermont to continue to emerge from the pandemic in the strongest position possible. Committee of Conference summary.
- Universal Meals: S.100 creates a one-year universal school meals program that provides free breakfast and lunch to all public school students. Approved independent schools physically located in Vermont may also participate in the one-year universal school meals program for those students who attend on public tuition. Schools that participate in the universal meals program are required to maximize access to federal funds. This act also creates a one-year moratorium on the ability of a school district to ask for an exemption from participation in a school meals program under 16 V.S.A. § 1265.
- Child Tax Credit: H.510 Creates a refundable Vermont child tax credit of $1,000.00 for qualifying children who are five years of age and under. Fiscal Note
- Other Tax Credits: H.510 also amends the Vermont child and dependent care credit, creates a new deduction on qualified education loan, increases the income thresholds for the Social Security income exemption by $5,000.00, creates new $10,000.00 exemptions for retirement income from federal Civil Service Retirement System the U.S. military. Fiscal Note
- Housing: S.226 From Governor Scott’s Press Release $15M Missing Middle Income Home Ownership Development Program providing incentives and support to developers to build modest homes to be sold at prices affordable to middle-income Vermonters. $4M Manufactured Home Replacement and Park Improvement Program to allow manufactured home communities investment in improvements and continue to provide an affordable, safe housing options for thousands of Vermonters. $2.45M Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit Expansion to expand the tax credit benefit to neighborhood development areas, creating new housing opportunities and a new flood mitigation credit to help offset the costs of making vulnerable buildings flood-ready. $1M First-Generation Homebuyer Program is intended to support households historically sidelined from home ownership and the opportunities it provides to build wealth through down payment grants. $1M Neighborhood Development Partnership will bring representatives from the Department of Housing and Community Development the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB), the Agency of Natural Resources Vermont Department of Public Service, Vermont Agency of Transportation , Regional Development Corporations, VHFA, Regional Planning Commissions, and other stakeholders to pilot a model partnership to develop and re-develop new neighborhood infrastructure and build needed homes. Act 250 reforms to include increasing the unit cap for a priority housing project to qualify for Act 250 exemption from 24 to 49 dwelling units, for small municipalities with populations less than 6,000. The legislation also simplifies qualification as a priority housing project on lands subject to Act 250 permit by eliminating the requirement for a permit amendment.
- Rental Housing: S.201 creates a Vermont Rental Housing Improvement Program providing property owners with grants or forgivable loans of up to $50,000 to rehabilitate rental units that are out of compliance with applicable building, housing, and health laws and once rehabilitated, to rent the units at affordable rates, making more rental units available.
- Hunting Coyotes with Dogs S.281 moratorium on hunting coyotes with dogs until Fish and Wildlife establishes rules, then a permit is needed. Establishes that a person shall not release a dog onto posted land for the purpose of pursuing coyote with the aid of dogs unless the dog owner or handler has obtained a courtesy permission card from the landowner allowing the pursuit of coyote with the aid of dogs on the land.
- Workforce Development Bill S.11 From Governor Scott’s Press Release: S.11 workforce initiative highlights include: $3M Regional Workforce Expansion and Work-Based Learning and Training to expand regional support at the Department of Labor, connecting and assisting jobseekers and employers who are hiring. This initiative will also fund statewide on-the-job learning and training experiences to subsidize costs for employers and create opportunity for career changes and upskilling for workers. $3M Vermont Trades Scholarship Program will be administered through the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and provide scholarships for individuals enrolled in an industry-recognized training and certification program that leads to employment in high-demand sectors in Vermont. $10M to address healthcare workforce shortages through various grants, loan forgiveness and incentive programs to support, recruit and retain healthcare workers in the state. $3M New Relocating Worker Program to continue the state’s work to recruit new residents to the state through grants that help pay for their moving expenses. $720K Corrections Workforce Development System to be created to better support reentry into the workforce by establishing a community-based reentry program. S.11 economic development initiative highlights include: $40M Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program to support municipalities, businesses and non-profits in sectors severely impacted by the COVID-19 emergency through investments to recover and revitalize their businesses and local communities, with a preference for projects located in regions and communities with declining or stagnant grand list values. $19M Forgivable Loan Program to be administered by the Vermont Economic Development Authority and provide forgivable loans to businesses who are experiencing continued working capital shortfalls due to the COVID-19 emergency mitigation measures.
- Capital Budget and State Bonding H.737 From the bill summary adjusts the second year of the State’s biennial capital budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, reallocates $7,737,808.64 from prior capital appropriations, and authorizes the State to issue $12,840,163.00 of additional general obligation bonds that were authorized but not issued in fiscal year 2022.
- Expand Current Use H.697 authorizes enrollment of reserve forestland and ecologically significant treatment areas (ESTAs). ESTAs are defined as lands within a parcel of managed forestland that will be managed using protective or conservation management strategies and are not required to be managed for timber, including old forests; State-significant natural communities; rare, threatened, and endangered species; riparian areas; forested wetlands; and vernal pools. Reserve forestland is defined as land that is managed for the purpose of attaining old forest values and functions in accordance with minimum acceptable standards for forest management as approved by the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
- Corporate Income Changes S.53 Read the fiscal note impacts here
- Health Insurance Coverage for Hearing Aids H.266 requires large group health insurance plans to cover hearing aids and related services beginning in plan year 2024
- Pension Reform: S.286 From the Fiscal Note this legislation implements the final recommendations of the Pension Benefits, Design, and Funding Task Force created by the Legislature in Act 75 (2021). Based on preliminary actuarial estimates, the bill is expected to reduce Vermont’s long-term unfunded retirement liabilities for state employees and teachers by approximately $2 billion by prefunding other post-employment benefits, modifying the pension benefit structure, and making additional State and employee contributions into the retirement systems. This bill contains a $200 million one-time General Fund appropriation in FY 2022 to the pension systems to pay down unfunded liabilities – $75 million to the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System (VSERS) and $125 million to the Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System (VSTRS). The bill also contains a $13.3 million one-time Education Fund appropriation in FY 2022 to the Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefits Fund to begin prefunding health care benefits for retired teachers. The bill also creates a new VSERS pension benefit group (Group G) for certain State employees of the Department of Corrections and other agencies. This benefit is structured to be cost-neutral to the employer
- AI Oversite: H.410 Creates the Division of Artificial Intelligence to review all aspects of artificial intelligence developed, employed, or procured by State government and requires the Division of Artificial Intelligence to propose a State code of ethics on the use of artificial intelligence in State government and make recommendations to the General Assembly on policies, laws, and regulations of artificial intelligence in State government. This act also requires the Agency of Digital Services to conduct an inventory of all the automated decision systems developed, employed, or procured by State government.
- Transportation Bill H.736 From the Fiscal Note the FY 2023 Transportation Bill (H.736) adopts and amends the State of Vermont’s annual Transportation Program and contains numerous statutory amendments and funding authorizations related to transportation. The bill, as enacted, also includes five provisions related to revenue-related statutory provisions, none of which are expected to have a material fiscal impact to State government
What was undone? Governor Scott vetoed a number of bills for various reasons and provided rationales in every case which can be viewed below. Two of the bills the governor vetoed that I believe were imperative for us to pass were the Clean Heat Standard which I wrote about previously and overdose responses in H.728 which included establishing a working group to study existing overdose prevention sites and design a plan for implementing one or more overdose prevention sites in Vermont.
Governor Scott’s actions on this year’s bills:
May 2, 2022
- Vetoed S.286 and sent a letter to the General Assembly, which can be viewed by clicking here.
May 3, 2022
- Signed H.629, An act relating to access to adoption records
- Vetoed H.708 and sent a letter to the General Assembly, which can be viewed by clicking here.
- Signed S.72, An act relating to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children
- Signed S.171, An act relating to adoption of a State code of ethics
- Signed S.265, An act relating to expanding criminal threatening to include threats to third persons
May 5, 2022
- Signed H.399, An act relating to incarceration terms for criminal defendants who are primary caretakers of dependent children
- Signed H.731, An act relating to technical corrections for the 2022 legislative session
May 6, 2022
- Vetoed H.715 and sent a letter to the General Assembly, which can be viewed by clicking here.
May 9, 2022
- Signed H.635, An act relating to secondary enforcement of minor traffic offenses
- Signed H.655, An act relating to telehealth licensure and registration and to provisional licensure for professions regulated by the Office of Professional Regulation
- Signed H.741, An act relating to approval of amendments to the charter of the City of St. Albans
May 11, 2022
- Signed H.266, An act relating to health insurance coverage from hearing aids
- Signed H.293, An act relating to creating the State Youth Council
- Signed H.411, An act relating to the retrieval and use of covered wild animals
- Signed S.162, An act relating to collective bargaining rights of teachers
- Signed S.206, An act relating to planning and support for individuals and families impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders
- Allowed S.197 to become law without signature, and sent a letter to the General Assembly.
May 16, 2020
- Signed H.447, An act relating to approval of amendments to the charter of the Town of Springfield
- Signed H.462, An act relating to miscellaneous Department of Health programs
- Signed H.482, An act relating to the Petroleum Cleanup Fund
- Signed H.661, An act relating to licensure of mental health professionals
- Signed H.711, An act relating to the creation of the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee and the Opioid Abatement Special Fund
May 19, 2022
- Signed H.287, An act relating to patient financial assistance policies and medical debt protection
- Signed H.500, An act relating to prohibiting the sale of mercury lamps in the State
- Vetoed H.505 and sent a letter to the General Assembly.
- Allowed H.523 to become law without signature, and sent a letter to the General Assembly.
- Vetoed H.534 and sent a letter to the General Assembly.
- Signed H.553, An act relating to eligibility of domestic partners for reimbursement from the Victims Compensation Program
- Allowed H.744 to become law without signature, and sent a letter to the General Assembly.
May 23, 2022
- Signed S.122, An act relating to the required votes of presidential electors
- Signed S.127, An act relating to clarifying community supervision furlough appeals and the powers of the Corrections Monitoring Commission
- Signed S.220, An act relating to State-paid deputy sheriffs
- Signed S.254, An act relating to maintaining records of judgments and settlements paid by law enforcement agencies and a legal analysis of qualified immunity
- Signed S.287, An act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight | Signing Letter to General Assembly
The McClure Free Degree Promise is a pathway to a free college degree for Vermonters who complete the CCV Early College program during their senior year of high school and then continue with full-time enrollment at CCV to complete the second year of their associate degree.
Letter from Senator Bernie Sanders: Are You a Vermont Veteran?
Dear Fellow Vermonter,
I want to take this opportunity to inform you about some excellent benefits available to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Unfortunately, figuring out how to access and enroll in VA benefits – or even what those benefits are in the first place – can be unnecessarily difficult and complex. Because of this, too many veterans don’t know about the benefits they’ve earned.
This is unacceptable and, as a member of the Veterans Committee in the Senate, something I’m attempting to address. In the meantime, I’m sending this note today to help get the word out to as many Vermont veterans as possible about what benefits are available and how to access them.
There are many important programs available, including:
- Free or very inexpensive, high-quality health care
- Top-of-the-line hearing aids for no more than $50, that would otherwise cost between $5,000 to $8,000
- Prescription drugs for no more than $11 each month
- $0 for all lab tests
Importantly, you do not have to choose between your private physician and obtaining VA health benefits. You can do both. Vermont veterans can also find state and federal resources compiled on our website, here.
If you, or someone you know, needs help accessing benefits or resolving an issue with Veterans Affairs, please do not hesitate to contact my office through our website or mby phone at 802-862-0697 or 1-800-339-9834.
STATE OF VERMONT REMINDS VERMONTERS OF AVAILABLE MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Numerous resources are available for mental health challenges of any kind
With a global COVID-19 pandemic and national and international turmoil, people have been exposed to extended stress, disruption and trauma. When coupled with the terrible acts witnessed over the past month, many Vermonters may be feeling emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration and grief.
Help is available to all Vermonters experiencing mental health challenges of any kind. Reaching out for support is a vital part of stabilizing wellbeing during tremendously challenging times.
The following resources can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
- Counselors are available through the Crisis Text Line. Anyone who texts “VT” to 741741 will be connected to a trained professional.
- That National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available. They can provide coping strategies and de-escalation techniques for anyone experiencing mental distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.orgfor an online chat option.
- Vermont has a network of community mental health providers. Dial 211 to access the nearest provider.
- Pathways Vermont provides a free support line to all Vermonters. Individuals can call or text (833) VT – TALKS / (833) 888-2557 to speak with local, trained, peer supports who have been through challenging situations themselves and are available to listen and provide non-judgmental insight.
- Individuals with substance use challenges can call VT Helplink at 802-565-LINK (5465) or visitVTHelplink.org. Support and referral services are available for anyone who is experiencing, or knows someone experiencing, difficulties with substance use.
Vermont Wetlands Program has posted Draft Vermont Significant Wetlands Inventory (VSWI) updates and associated materials on their website. The Vermont Wetlands Program is requesting feedback before July.
What are wetlands? Wetlands are also known as swamps, marshes, and bogs. Wetlands provide homes for wildlife, store flood water, and protect clean water. Wetlands are found throughout Vermont and can sometimes be difficult to identify.
Why are updates to the map needed? The State currently has an outdated map that shows the general location of some protected wetlands (Class I and II) called the Vermont Significant Wetlands Inventory (VSWI). The map is neither completely accurate nor comprehensive. The State has been working to improve the map in two significant ways: 1) by adding wetlands to the map, and 2) by revising wetland locations.
Why is the State asking for feedback? The State recognizes the importance of providing maps to the public, so that landowners can avoid impacts to significant wetlands. The updated map is intended to clarify the location of existing significant wetlands and provide better predictability for landowners. Theinteractive draft VSWI map allows the public to comment on specific proposed wetland mapping.
What can members of the public do?
· Find out if you might have a wetland on your property with this simple Wetland Screening Tool.
· Contact your District Wetlands Ecologist if you are proposing construction activities near a wetland regardless of whether it is mapped or not. Not all protected wetlands are mapped. Find your District Wetlands Ecologist on this contact page.
· Provide your feedback before July for consideration prior to the Vermont Wetlands Program starting the formal Rulemaking process (which includes another comment period). You may provide feedback through the interactive map or comment form.
Questions? Feel free to contact the Vermont Wetlands Program if you have any questions at email@example.com.
Early Primary Voting has Started
Friday, June 24 is the official start of early voting for the Vermont Statewide Primary Election, to be held on Tuesday, August 9.
To vote early in the August Primaries voters must request a ballot. In-person voting at the polls will still be available as usual.
Vermont voters have been mailed a postcard by the Secretary of State’s Elections Division containing information and instructions on how to request an early ballot.
Early ballots can be requested through a voter’s unique MyVoterPage on the Secretary of State’s website, by phone, email or in writing directly from their Town or City Clerk, or by visiting their Clerk’s office in-person.
Voters will be provided three Primary ballots: Democratic, Republican and Progressive. They must only vote one and return the other two unvoted ballots. It is important that voters carefully follow all instructions included in their ballot package or they risk their ballot being deemed defective.
In Vermont, all ballots must be received by the Clerk by 7pm on Election Day which is Tuesday, August 9, to be counted.
Vermont elections ranked 1st in the country for two Presidential election cycles in a row (2016, 2020) by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab’s Election Performance Index (EPI). The EPI is widely regarded as the most reputable non-partisan, data driven measure of a state’s election administration performance.
A record high number of Vermonters voted in the Vermont 2020 Statewide Primary and General elections, shattering previous early voting and total turnout numbers.
More information on Vermont elections, including resources for voters, can be found on the Secretary of State’s website under the ‘Elections’ tab.
Wardsboro July 4th Parade is back!
The Street Fair was canceled the last two years, though a small parade that traveled from Main St. Wardsboro to West Wardsboro and back again was enjoyed by the community. This year we are almost back to the full celebration, with local Street Vendors, Strawberry Shortcake, Chicken BBQ, Live entertainment, the famous Pie Sale, and Donuts and Coffee.
The Parade will begin at 10:00 a.m., and will travel down Main St. past the Town Hall to McMichael Park, where it will turn around and return to route 100. This year we are offering cash prizes for the top three float entries. Some of our traditional events, such as the Children’s Games, the Quilt Show, the White Elephant, and the Hamburger and Hot Dog Booth, will not be offered this year, but we look forward to their return in 2023.
Rep. Laura Sibilia Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham