The legislature is making steady progress towards adjournment around mid May. In this update, there is a request for help on our recent electric outages, updates on S.5, an important and expected development in the discussion about school choice policies, updates on housing policy and the Rural Caucus and a note about legislative pay.
Fixing power outages – local help needed!
Many thanks to folks who came out to meet with me, Senators Hashim and Harrison and representatives from our electric utility Green Mountain Power last week in Wardsboro. The presentation GMP worked from is linked below, and discusses the changing moisture content in our snow, due to climate change, that makes snowstorms much more destructive to power lines. There is helpful information about the order of operations utilities go through when restoring power, and the climate change resilience work on the grid currently underway.
One item that I’ve recently learned about that is holding up moving and burying our electric lines is that in towns without zoning, in order to move or bury existing lines, an Act 250 permit must be secured. Before the utility can apply for a permit, every landowner must give permission.
Here is what is happening in rural areas like ours – a line that feeds into Wardsboro and East Dover, through Townshend and Newfane has been a priority for rebuild – for FIVE YEARS. Because there is at least one landowner on that existing line that is refusing permission to remove or bury the line, the utility can not apply for a permit to rebuild the line and literally hundreds of Vermonters along that line have been experiencing increasing outages for extended periods of time.
I have been working with the utility on a very small change in law to correct this problem in the coming year across all of Vermont. Here are some other examples from the Deerfield Valley and West River Valley areas that could be helped by this statutory change:
- Route 30, Jamaica to Dummerston, through Townsend and Newfane and parts of Dover and Brookline. This will help improve reliability for the whole area.
- Rt. 100-Wardsboro-from Rt. 30 along Rt. 100 into Wardsboro.
- West Hill Rd from Townsend Dam- feeds into rural parts of Dover and Wardsboro..
- Halifax- from route 100 southeast into Halifax.
We are now nearing the end of the session, and we could use your help to ensuring this change is enacted this year:
Here are four things you can do to help this week:
- Email Senators Hashim and Harrison and I your stories about this year’s power outages firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Email Rep. Jill Krowinski, the Speaker of the House and ask her to make sure we pass an exemption to Act 250 for the rebuilding of our existing electric lines. email@example.com
- Email Sen. Phil Baruth, the Senate President Pro Tem and ask him to make sure we pass an exemption to Act 250 for the rebuilding of our existing electric lines, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call the Governor’s Office (Phone: 802-828-3333) and tell him Vermont needs to exempt the rebuilding of our existing electric lines from Act 250.
S.5 The Affordable Heat Act
This week S.5, the Affordable Heat Act was voted out of my committee by a vote of 8-3. The bill next goes to the House Appropriations Committee, and then to the House Floor for a vote by the entire body.
Here is information I shared last week about the bill: Rep. Sibilia: S.5 Heating Fuel Transitions
Thank you to those who have reached out about the bill. I’m aware that the fossil fuel industry has bought television and radio ads telling vulnerable Vermonters their heating fuels are going up .70 if we pass the bill. This claim is upsetting and also demonstrably false.
The current crushing $2.00 increase per gallon that fuel dealers have passed on to Vermonters over the past two years is a powerful testament to the need to help Vermonters reduce their fossil fuel usage.
I’m really proud of the two years of work that has gone into this proposal by hundreds of Vermonters, and I’m looking forward to reporting to the House on that work as the bill’s reporter. This is an important tool for helping rural and poor Vermont adapt to climate change and reduce their heating costs.
I am happy to walk you through the details of the proposal and answer your questions one on one – just include your phone # if you leave a message for me at the State House.
I’ll close on this issue with one important piece of information that is conveniently missing from the misleading fossil fuel industry ads: the Clean Heat Standard outlined in the bill can not be implemented without the entire legislature coming back in two years – 2025 – and voting to support the work the Public Utility Commission brings forward. And the governor will have to agree.
S.100 – An act relating to housing opportunities made for everyone is in the House, and dozens of members of the Rural Caucus are advocating for Act 250 reforms for small communities to be put back into the bill after they were stripped out in the Senate.
The Rural Caucus held a special meeting last week, and drafted a letter advocating for changes to S.100. Close to three dozen members have signed-on to the letter so far. The caucus is also working on an amendment reflecting the requests in the letter and additional sections from the housing parts of their rural omnibus bill (H.367 An act relating to promoting economic development, administrative capacity, and vitality in rural communities) and are planning to share the letter and the draft amendment with the Speaker this coming week.
For a sense of how the conversation about housing is both breaking down and progressing, see this week’s VLCT update, which includes this letter about S.100 from Executive Director Ted Brady a recent update on housing from the Vermont Chamber and this Vermont Public story on the topic.
Vermont’s Homeowner Assistance Program
The Vermont Homeowner Assistance Program (VHAP) will accept new applications for assistance from Vermont homeowners until 6/12/23. All applications must be completed and submitted on vermonthap.vhfa.org by 5:00 PM on that date. Administered by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), VHAP provides up to $30,000 in one-time grants for eligible Vermont homeowners who have missed payments on their mortgage, utilities (water/sewer, electricity, home heating), property taxes, and homeowner’s or condominium association fees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If applicants are approved, payments will be made directly to service providers. To learn more and apply, visit vermonthap.vhfa.org or call (833) 221-4208. VHAP is being supported, in whole or in part, by federal award number HAFP-0040 awarded to the State of Vermont by the US Department of the Treasury.
Carson v. Makin news – Religious school sues State of Maine for blocking publicly funded discrimination against gay and trans students.
Last Summer’s U.S. Supreme Court’s Carson Decision holds significant consequence for Vermont’s school choice policies. I wrote about this last summer School Choice in Vermont is Changing.
Like in Vermont, Maine allows some some parents access to public dollars for school choice. This is an unusual policy in the United States. The Carson decision said that Maine did not have to offer publicly funded school choice. The decision also said that if Maine offers publicly funded school choice it can not tell parents they may not choose a religious school.
The Carson decision creates a number of challenges, but the one that both Maine and Vermont have been focusing on addressing is that public taxpayer dollars can now be spent to discriminate against LGBTQ students civil rights – as some religions discriminate against the LGBTQ community. I wrote about this focus and H.483 An act relating to the accountability and oversight of approved independent schools that are eligible to receive public tuition in Week 12 and Week 13.
As expected, a few weeks ago one of the Maine religious schools involved in the Carson v. Makin decision sued the state of Maine because religious schools would have to comply with its rules on sexual orientation and gender identity to receive state funding, forcing the school to choose between following its religious beliefs or making its gender identity policies line up with the Maine Human Rights Commission in order to receive public funding. This case will likely end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here is what will happen in Vermont without legislative action – which we are able to take at any time if we were to choose to act – while we wait for the outcome of that decision and others:
- Families are and will make choices to send their students to religious schools using public dollars – this was previously illegal.
- Taxpayers are and will be charged with paying for discrimination against gay and trans students – this is an unprecedented step backwards following the passage of the civil rights act in 1964.
Save the Date: Rep. Peter Conlon, Chair of the House Education Committee, will join me on May 1st from 7-8 pm on an online ZOOM meeting to discuss the legal implications for Vermont Carson V. Makin case. The ACLU has also been invited to attend.
“We actually agree more than some would think,” Scott said. “And when we don’t it’s usually about the how and what pace we’re on to get there. Here are a few examples of agreement: money I proposed for refugee resettlement. They supported millions for the Vermont Training Program to help workers move up and they fully funded our VSAC trade scholarship program. I also want to thank the Senate for working with my team on the public safety and the school safety packages. And I appreciate the House for also supporting our mental health initiatives. These are just a few examples of where we found common ground thus far this session.”Vermont governor discusses areas of legislative agreement and mifepristone supply during weekly briefing WAMC Northeast Public Radio | By Pat Bradley
Increasing legislative pay
I am hopeful that the House will vote on a bill the Senate recently approved, which would double legislative pay over five years, bringing it in line with the median salary of all Vermonters. Many Vermonters are not aware that Vermont legislators have no office or staff provided, and are not paid for work that happens when they are not in Montpelier. We are paid for 18 of 52 weeks during the year.
Over my time in the House, we have lost some important young and working Vermonter voices when they elected not to run again becasue they were unwilling or unable to make the extremely low wages work. In addition, when I have worked to try and recruit some of our active and community minded Deerfield Valley folks to run for House or Senate seats, the significant pay cut they would have to take has been a factor in their decision making. I support the proposal that has come over from the Senate, and hope I will have the opportunity to vote for it this year. Read more here: Senate Backs Plan to Double Legislative Pay by 2027
Bills that have been enacted into law this session
|H.411||3/23/2023||An act relating to extending COVID-19 health care regulatory flexibility||4|
|H.145||3/3/2023||An act relating to fiscal year 2023 budget adjustments||3|
|H.46||2/24/2023||An act relating to approval of the dissolution of Colchester Fire District No. 3||M-1|
|H.1||2/3/2023||An act relating to legislative oversight of payment reform and conflict-free case management for developmental disability services||2|
|H.42||1/19/2023||An act relating to temporary alternative procedures for annual municipal meetings and electronic meetings of public bodies||1|
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 email@example.com. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia – Dover, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton, Wardsboro