Next Saturday from 11-noon I will be holding office hours at the Dover Free Library and hope to be joined by both Senator Hashim and Senator Harrison. Residents from Wardsboro, Jamaica, Stratton, Somerset are also invited to come and talk with us.
This week, H.42 was the first bill to pass and be signed into law by the governor. It suspends the mandatory, specified school district budget ballot language in 16 VSA Section 563(11)(D). This is language connected to per pupil spending amounts which have been miscalculated due to two decades of inaccurate student weighting. As the corrected weights begin to roll in over the next few years and we see the slow shift towards a more equitable education and taxing system, per pupil spending as a metric for incentivizing cost containment may finally be a reliable indicator of over/under spending.
Additionally, H.42 provides authority through July 1, 2024 for: (1) permits school boards to move the date of the annual meeting, apply the Australian ballot system to annual and special meetings, and hold electronic informational meetings in the days preceding the annual meeting; and (2) permits school boards to hold electronic meetings without designating a physical location and without requiring staff to be physically present at that location.
This week we also received the governor’s proposed 2024 8.4 billion dollar budget which includes significant one time investments in post secondary education, childcare and federal matching funds for a number of major infrastructure projects.
I’m really pleased to share one of the last meetings I had this this week happened because our republican governor and democratic speaker are helping a bipartisan bicameral group of legislators try to come together quickly on a proposal that can pass the full House and Senate to establish 3 million dollars in technical assistance for our smallest and most rural towns. These funds are part of the 2023 budget adjustment and could become available as early as March. Some federal funds which expire in a year and a half and have largely been accessed only by towns and cities that have paid staff or means to contract for help. This 3 million in technical assistance could help smaller and more rural communities develop plans and key infrastructure projects needed for climate change resilience, planning, water and sewer capacity and housing. This group made significant progress and it was a pleasure to end the week with this bi partisan, bicameral problem solving group.
A similar but separate bill has been introduced by the legislative Rural Caucus which proposes means of growing the capacity of rural and small towns to address the energy transition, climate change, workforce shortages, water and waster needs. It also proposes to correct a structural deficit in the NEK. In Windham County, our regional planning commission (RPC) and regional development corporation (RDC) support planning and community development activities for 22 towns. In the NEK, where Vermont most rural and impoverished communities are, the RDC and RPC are combined and supporting more then 50 towns.
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Federal Tax Credits:
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Bills I have sponsored that were introduced this week:
H.96 An act relating to affordably meeting the mandated greenhouse gas reductions for the thermal sector through electrification, decarbonization, efficiency, and weatherization measures This bill proposes to establish the Clean Heat Standard to reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions from the thermal (heating) sector. The Clean Heat Standard will be administered by the Public Utility Commission with assistance from the Clean Heat Standard Technical Advisory Group and the Equity Advisory Group,
What is a Clean Heat Standard? The Clean Heat Standard is a performance standard that requires fossil fuel sellers to reduce emissions created by the fuels they sell. In short, a Clean Heat Standard takes a largely unregulated industry and regulates it, requiring fossil fuel sellers to help their clients reduce their fossil fuel usage. I wrote about this concept last year.
A similar bill passed the House and Senate by wide majorities in the 2022 session and was then vetoed by the governor. A veto override vote failed by one vote. Since then stakeholders have been working to fine tune measurements of emissions reductions and change the dates within the bill to ensure that the legislature has an entire legislative session to receive recommendations from the PUC and make changes if necessary.
This bill has started in the Senate this year, and is expected to pass easily and then come to my new Committee, the Committee on Environment and Energy. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Governor Scott, but this is an area where I have my sharpest disagreements with him on how to proceed. I will be writing more about this soon, but the governor’s opposition centers largely on two issues which I conceptually agree with him on. First that the legislature should have to vote before implementing the standard and second that Vermonters deserve to know the costs of such a program. My disagreements are on how those two issues are addressed and resolved. This year there is a 78% increase for #2 Fuel Oil over last year, and last year there was a 42% increase over the previous year. These prices are a function of the global marketplace, Americans and Vermonters are not regulating these prices. Even American fuels are priced on the global market.
H.99 An act relating to the Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program The Vermont National Guard Tuition Benefit Program (Program) is created, under which a member of the Vermont National Guard (member) who meets the eligibility requirements in subsection (c) of this section is entitled to the following tuition benefit for up to full-time attendance.
H.110 An act relating to extending the sunset under 30 V.S.A. § 248a This bill proposes to extend the sunset on applications under 30 V.S.A. § 248a, the statute that governs the siting of telecommunications facilities, for an additional three years. This is an important alternative permitting mechanism for cell towers and broadband deployment. An alternative bill has been introduced which would make these activities much more difficult. I will be looking for us to pass a bill which supports telecommunications facilities that are part of a universal service plan for publicly accountable entities like CUDS.
H.113 An act relating to the public, pious, or charitable uses property tax exemption This bill proposes to clarify that churches and other public, pious, or charitable organizations are not eligible for the State property tax exemption if those organizations engage in any lobbying or other political activity on their property. Churches and nonprofits will also be required under this bill to certify annually to the Vermont Department of Taxes that the organization does not conduct any lobbying or political activity on the property that would disqualify the organization from the exemption. On Friday I testified in House Ways and Means about the prolific violations of the eligibility for the state property tax exemption that we saw in Vermont during the 2022 election cycle. Churches that want to hold partisan evens are risking their tax exemption and violating federal law.
H.89 An act relating to civil and criminal procedures concerning legally protected health care activity This bill proposes to define legally protected health care activity to include reproductive health care services and gender-affirming health care. The intent of this bill is to protect patients from states with abortion bans if they travel to Vermont for the procedure, as well as Vermont doctors who provide abortion healthcare services. It would protect them from investigations and prosecutions by states that have criminalized specific reproductive health care procedures and will bar the extradition of a Vermonter to another state in order to testify against a patient who received this type of medical treatment within the state.
Monitor the bills I am sponsoring and recorded roll call votes.
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, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton, Wardsboro