Rep. Sibilia: Reflections on 2018 ~ Contemplating 2019

~ 2018 Reflections ~ Contemplating 2019 ~

This past year voters elected me to a third two-year term representing you in

 the Vermont Legislature.  Thank you for placing your trust in me. I will continue to work to represent our district with integrity and passion.

~~~
Last session I served for a second year on the newly formed Energy and Technology Committee in the House. The former chair of this committee Rep. Steve Carr has retired and a new chair will be named for 2019. I was also appointed to the Joint House/Senate Information Technology Committee and the House Ethics Panel. There were a number of bills that I introduced or cosponsored, most having to do with education, telecommunications expansions and rural economic development which remain important issues in our district and our state.
~~~
18ae79451517819ff26d6e9f247fdd34
At the time the Rural Electrification Act was passed, electricity was commonplace in cities but largely unavailable in farms, ranches, and other rural places.

The Vermont House and Senate efforts on Net Neutrality and Data Privacy protections combined with the failure of the 2G CoverageCo rural cellular network and increasing declines in land line telephone system are pulling together coalitions and urgent conversations regarding the need to assess our entire telecommunications infrastructure, transmission, content development, privacy and access systems. This will be a significant part of our work in the coming years.

An important reminder about landline phone service: Storms and weather and accidents happen, and when they do we can briefly lose our landline telephone service. When that happens, it is important to let the phone company know you have lost service.
If you start having chronic issues with your landline phone service like significant delays (more then 48 hours) in repair time, repeated failure to solve the problem or repeated failure to schedule a technician or service it’s important to then let your elected officials and those individuals who regulate the phone company know what is happening.
When your land line stops working:
1. Call your service provider and report the problem. Note the date, time, name of the person who has taken your call and what they tell you they will do to solve your issue.
If you still do not have phone service for more then 24 hours after your initial call to the phone company:
2. Send an email to your State Representative with the following information:
    • What the name of the telephone carrier isfcc
    • What the address is where the problem is located
    • What the name of the account holder is at that address
    • The best means for the phone company to contact that person
    • What the problem is
    • When the problem started
    • How many times the phone company has been contacted
    • What they have said/done
2. If you still don’t have service 24 hours later, and there has been no follow up by the company
  • If your provider is Consolidated you can submit comments to the public service quality complaint that has been opened up: Go to the Vermont Public Utility Commission website and open case https://epuc.vermont.gov/?q=node/64/135508/FV-Case%20Summary-Portal and file a public comment by clicking on the drop down menu under “Case Details” and selecting “add a public comment”. Suggested info for public comment is same info included in the email to your State Representative.
~~~
The possession and use of marijuana and a limited number of marijuana plants was legalized early in the past session. We will see proposals for a system to tax and regulate sales in this coming session.
~~~
Several acts to reduce violence in our schools and communities were passed. In a perfect demonstration of a functioning democracy, opponents of the legislation have filed lawsuits and asked the Courts to decide if the Legislature and the Administration acted in a way that violates our Constitution. This is exactly how our system of checks and balances on power is supposed to work. There are at least three additional pieces of gun legislation that I am hearing may be introduced in 2019 – a 48 hour waiting period on gun purchases, a ban on 3-D printing of guns and a gun storage requirement. When and if these bills are introduced and considered, your specific examples of how you personally might be impacted by such laws will be helpful if we end up taking these bills up.
~~~
This past year a special committee examined 50 years of Act 250 The Commission on Act 250: the Next 50 Years is a six-member legislative committee that was established to examine and report by December 15, 2018 on a broad list of issues relating to the State land use law known as Act 250, originally passed in 1970 and codified at 10 V.S.A. chapter 151. The draft report has recently been released. To publicly comment, please email Act250Comments@leg.state.vt.us
~~~

 Education issues for our district and much of the state continue to revolve around Act 46

img_2976
River Valleys School Board Chair Rich Werner walks members of the public through expected tax implications on its first budget proposal

implementation.  Stamford continues to make progress on developing an interstate district with Clarksburg, MA.

The River Valley’s Unified District Board for Dover and Wardsboro has approved it’s first budget and projected it’s first tax rate and is preparing to go the voters at the River Valleys Unified School District Annual Meeting on February 12, 2019 at 7 pm at the Wardsboro Town Hall.
Whitingham’s lawsuit challenging the state’s education finance formula continues to move forward.
The Acting Secretary of Education produced a statutorily required plan on the alignment of all of Vermont’s school districts. The State Board of Education took testimony at public hearings, including my testimony, and crafted their Final Report of Decisions and Order on Statewide School District Mergers as required in Act 46.  New lawsuits are emerging from districts who have been recommended for forced merger.
Gov Scott proposed to alter student/staff ratios prior to receiving the statutorily required and funded student weighting study needed to ensure those ratios are implemented and felt equitably throughout the state.  He also successfully advocated for the use of one time funds to artificially lower property taxes for one year.
In 2018 Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb resigned and Gov. Scott appointed Dan French as the new Secretary of Education.  Long time legislator and former Chair of House Education and Vice Chair of Ways and Means Rep. Dave Sharpe retired which will almost certainly effect the tenor and type of education discussions the legislature has going forward.

In 2019 I anticipate there may be legislative proposals to hold some or all non-merged school districts harmless, to delay the effects of Act 46 for some or all non-merged districts or to reject some or all of the findings of the State Board of Education. I expect the Governor to propose major education finance changes, as he has every year. My support for those proposals always centers around two factors – not harming Vermont students and transparently helping Vermont taxpayers, in that order. Our local districts have complied with Act 46, but are still deeply challenged by the combination of our rural demographic challenges and the 20 year flawed education financing system. Locally we have more work to do and need to have that work supported. My efforts in the coming session will center around honoring the incredibly difficult and emotional work our communities have done so far, protecting the educational needs of our students and defending our taxpayers.
~~~
In 2019 the Vermont Legislature will elect a new Adjutant General for the Vermont National Guard who will lead both the air and Army Guard in Vermont.  Legislators will choose between at two candidates. Vermont is the only state where the Adjutant is elected by the Legislature. If you are Guard Family or former Guard and have thoughts you’d like to share in advance of that election I would like to hear them.
~~~
 must originate in the Vermont State Senate and can only be  proposed every four years. This is one of the years changes can be proposed. There will be a push for amendments that will create 4 year terms for Governor as well as establish civil and reproductive rights for Vermonters.
How does ranked-choice voting work?
How does Ranked Choice Voting Work

In addition, Rep. Ben Jickling of Randolph and I are working with Senator Chris Pearson of Burlington and other independents and Progressives on a bill which would bring Ranked Choice Voting to Vermont. Maine has recently utilized and the courts have upheld election results using Ranked Choice Voting. Massachusetts has a healthy public education campaign underway. We are looking forward to lots of public education on the benefits of ensuring candidates receive a majority vote and that all voters are able to have their votes considered in elections.

~~~
The remote worker program has officially opened for applications as of January 1. This program reimburses individuals for some expenses to move to Vermont and work remotely. More information is available at the ThinkVermont website.
~~~
Other issues we are hearing will be receiving legislative attention this session: Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave, Water Quality, Climate Change
 ~~~
Thank you to all who have taken our 2019 Legislative Survey.
Thus far we have 196 responses but are particularly light in responses from the under 35 crowd.

If you haven’t taken the survey, especially if you are a young person – please take the survey by Friday January 4th. Results will be published prior to the start of the new session on January 9th. The survey is designed to measure the attitudes and priorities of voters in the Deerfield Valley based on general topics and some specific proposals that we think will happen in the legislature this year.
 
____________________________________
In 2018 I had some proud momma moments included my youngest daughter graduating from the UVM ROTC program as a nurse and 2LT in the U.S. Army and my son working all last winter in order to travel to France and Italy over the summer and then being able to watch him playing in the DIII Vermont high school soccer championship game this fall.  
Both of my daughters spent a fair amount of time in the State House during the debate and passage of

S.55 observing democracy in action and my oldest daughter has agreed to work with me part time during this year’s Session helping with research.
Proud to also share that my little brother graduated from the Vermont Police Academy this Fall and he is now working with Brattleboro Police Department.
 
________________________________
A final thought on 2018 – During the past four years I’ve been privileged to serve in the Vermont Legislature, I have had the added honor of sitting next to Rep. Kiah Morris of Bennington. Kiah was the only African American women serving in the Vermont House. Kiah has unexpectedly stepped away from serving in the House, and I have been reflecting on what I have learned since meeting her.
Kiah and I came into the House the same year and shared an immediate bond as Southern Vermont moms with young sons still at home. In our first term, we successfully worked together with a number of our colleagues on the creation of the Southern Vermont Economy Zone, a long term economic strategy which is already resulting in new collaborations and projects in Southern Vermont. It was eye opening to me each time I heard racist and discriminatory remarks in devotions, debate or comments in the Vermont House of Representatives including speeches on several civil and human rights measures Kiah had proposed which were so vitriolic they reduced visitors to tears. Watching the two self described local white supremacists harass her – sometimes daily and sometimes hourly over the years she served – equally as shocking. It’s hard to see what we don’t see.
Growing up and living in areas that are largely rural and almost exclusively white had afforded me virtually no opportunities to witness overtly racist acts. Out of sight, out of mind.  Sitting next to Kiah brought home to me the work that is still needed to combat racism and bigotry, even in Vermont. As our entire country continues to feel the demographic shifts of a globally connected economy, retiring baby boomers and lower birthrates, and we in rural Vermont continue to seek qualified employees for existing good paying jobs, people who want to start businesses and live here, enroll their students in our schools and enjoy the beauty, quiet and safety that keep us here, we have to start by asking (as my friend Kiah has asked me) “who deserves to be able to be here and to enjoy those things?”
Thank you for keeping me informed about your hopes, challenges and points of view last year – I hope you will continue in 2019 – Happy New Year!
Advertisements

Rep. Sibilia: Voting, PUC hearings on Consolidated Communications

Good evening/morning,
Election day is Tuesday, November 6th. You must be registered to vote in the town you currently reside in. In Vermont you can register the day of the election. Information on Vermont’s voting laws is available on the Secretary of State’s website.
This year, we have contested elections for U.S. Senator, U.S. Congress, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor and State Senate. I am running uncontested for re-election to represent you in the House of Representatives and ask for your vote. You may write in a name for any office. Just about every election in Vermont we are reminded that the individuals vote counts a lot. Many races have been won with one or two votes and a number of statewide elections have not resulted in a candidate receiving a majority of the votes and required the legislature to choose the winner. Please vote!
Dover Town Hall                              7:00 AM
Readsboro Central School            10:00 AM
Searsburg Town Clerks Office     10:00 AM
Stamford Elementary School          8:00 AM
Wardsboro Town Office                  9:00 AM
Whitingham Municipal Center     10:00 AM
All polls close at 7:00 PM
Results will be posted as they come in at the Secretary of State’s elections results web page.
————
Consolidated Communications hearings
 
Southern Vermont: READSBORO November 26th 
Northern Vermont: SAINT ALBANS December 6th
Time and locations TBD 
 
The Vermont Department of Public Service has petitioned the Vermont Public Utilities commission for an investigation into the service quality provided by Consolidated Communications, Inc. In seeking the investigation, the Department noted that the number of consumer complaints received from Consolidated customers related to service outages between July and September of 2018 has increased by 2,760% over the same period in the previous year and that the number of complaints related to installation delays between July and September of 2018 has increased 500% over the same period in 2017. The Department has been conducting an informal inquiry into the complaints and Consolidated is cooperating with the inquiry.
Please share: I personally have received multiple reports of elderly, handicapped or geographically isolated customers safety having been compromised by service quality issues (5 and 10 day repair times for instance). It is important for state regulators to understand the magnitude of the service quality challenges. If you have experienced poor quality telephone service, lengthy repair or installation times please consider testifying in person or you can provide testimony online at the Vermont Public Utility Commission Online Portal for case #18-3231-PET
————
Act 46 news 
The State Board of Education has recently accepted the Secretary of Education recommendations for the Searsburg and Stamford Interstate District Alternative Structure proposals. Many many thanks for the countless hours both groups have put forward on behalf of their students and taxpayers in order to fulfill their districts obligations under Act 46.
Congratulations to the new River Valleys Unified School District board  for their recent award from BCTV: Municipal Partner of the Year.

“River Valleys Unified School District Board was created last summer following the unification of Dover and Wardsboro School Districts under Act 46. The River Valleys USD Board turned to BCTV to video its bi-weekly meetings as a way to engage and provide transparency. And, in fact, thanks to the board’s promotional efforts, most of the meetings have received hundreds of views.

‘It’s gratifying to get so many views, and critical that those who can’t attend can get the full flavor of the somewhat complex process,” said Board Chair Richard Werner. “In addition, it’s been a benefit to all of us to be able to review the videos as work progresses.'”

————
Open enrollment period is November 1 through December 15th more info 
————
Highlights from this summer/fall
 
Ditch School in Wardsboro with Gary Urbanati
 
Readsboro meeting w/Agency of Digital Services & Department of Public Service
 

Community forums in Wardsboro, Dover, Readsboro and Stamford & healthcare forum in Whitingham

Toured Great River Hydro Facilities 

Attended dedication of 
Gold Star Families Memorial
State Board of Education Act 46 Alternative Structures Hearing
 
Grew a contender for World’s Smallest Gilfeather Turnip


A Historic Gathering of Independents at the #UniteSummit
Attended and spoke at: A Historic Gathering of Independents at the #UniteSummit in Denver


Listened to this excellent VPR Podcast series on Jack Sawyer and Vermont’s gun debate


—————
These posts have been made to my website and to social media since the end of the 2018 session

 Opportunity: #Vermont Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) program

 ————–
Please stay engaged and stay in touch via email lhsibilia@gmail.com or phone 802-384-0233. If you’d like to receive updates from my blog as they are posted please check out www.laurasibiliavt.com.
Laura
Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

First Public Forum on Act 250 Planned for Springfield ‪on June 27‬

Montpelier, Vermont – June 20, 2018 – The Vermont Legislative Commission on Act 250 is seeking public input through a series of forums and social media outreach to envision Vermont’s future landscape.

The first forum will be held in Springfield, VT on Wednesday, June 27, 2018 from 6:00-8:00 PM at the Nolin-Murray Center at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Unlike typical town hall style forums, this one is designed to invite conversation and engage citizens in small group discussions with facilitators. After a brief presentation highlighting the key points of Act 250, community members will have a chance to talk about what matters most to them. The public input will inform the Legislative Commission’s report and any potential legislation to modernize the statutes. Act 250 grew out of citizen involvement fifty years ago and it will be strengthened through citizen involvement now.

Representative Sheldon of Addison-1, Chair of the Commission on Act 250, states: “I hope Vermonters young and old will take some time to learn about Act 250 and give us their input this summer and fall. This information will give the Commission direction on recommendations for potential future changes.” A survey will be launched in July to gather more input. All materials will be made accessible to the public.

Future forums will be held in Manchester on July 11, Randolph on July 25, Island Pond on August 22, Rutland on September 5, and Burlington on September 12. All forums are on Wednesday evenings from 6:00-8:00 PM. Please visit the website for exact locations.

Website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2018/333 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/act250next50 Twitter:https://www.twitter.com/act250next50

Time for a new session

This week I’m packing to head back up to Montpelier for the legislative session which starts on January 5th and will likely go through some unknown date in May. I’ve also been catching up with folks who have reached out to me on various issues they care about or problems they are trying to fix.

Being your Representative in the Vermont Legislature is a thought provoking and curious job.  Often the requirement is helping empower and inform citizens on how to better navigate their government. There are just as many times I’m learning from constituents who possess deep background and knowledge on specific issues and who are trying to make their town, their school, or their industry work better.  Thank you to all who have taken the time to reach out for assistance or to help me better understand their interest.

Topics of concern or specific issues ideas I have been hearing from you about since the end of last year’s session include numerous challenges with implementing the school governance reform Act 46, Vermont education finance, the clean-up of Lake Champlain, last mile challenges (in most of my towns!) with broadband and cellular, ATV access to state land, the uses of Act 250 fees, AirBnB regulation, emergency response times, Gilfeather Turnips!, the reliability of an eventually enacted state energy plan with 90% renewables, licensing of art therapists, a carbon tax and of course I have heard from folks both opposed and in favor of marijuana legalization.

In addition to the aforementioned issues and a host of other policy initiatives and ideas, Vermont is again facing a current year and project FY 17 deficit.  This is largely associated with Medicaid and is a direct result of having increased the number of Vermonters who are eligible for benefits through both the federal and state health care actions, but not increasing taxes to pay for the newly eligible recipients.   The situation is even more urgent due to inadequate reimbursement rates for healthcare providers.  Last year the Governor proposed a .08 payroll tax to pay for the increased eligibility demands, but the tax was not supported by the Legislature.   This year he is saying he will not propose new taxes but will reduce other services in order to pay for the medicaid expansion.  The solution almost certainly will involve either cutting benefits, raising taxes, or some of both.

In December I spent the day in Montpelier attending the pre session legislative briefing put together by the Joint Fiscal Office

The Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) was created in 1973. The primary mission of the office is to provide non-partisan financial analyses to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the House Ways & Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, the House and Senate Transportation Committees, and the Joint Fiscal Committee. The Office also provides additional non-partisan staff support to committees in a variety of fiscal areas including health care, education finance, institutions and general fiscal analysis.  There is a tremendous amount of financial information on there website, a great resource for Vermonters.

The chief economist for the legislature, Tom Kavet, gave his assessment of the current economic and demographic trends in Vermont.

Education Secretary Holcomb during the December 1 briefing

We were also briefed by members of the Governor’s administration including the Secretary of the Administration and the Commissioner of Finance on how the current year budget is doing (there is a 48M+ shortfall), and how the upcoming years budget will look if revenues and expenses stay the same (another potential 58M+ shortfall). The Governor’s Secretary of Education gave an update on implementation of Act 46.

On December 1st the Commissioner of Taxes released forecasts related to education tax rates for the upcoming fiscal year, FY2017. The statutorily required forecasts are a joint effort between the Agency of Education, Department of Taxes, and Joint Fiscal Office. This year the forecast shows that the projected average homestead property tax rate will rise by 1 cent to $1.535 per $100. The projected average nonresidential property tax rate will rise by three tenths of one cent to $1.538. The projected average income rate will go down slightly from 2.74% in FY2016 to 2.72% in FY2017 (which begins on July 1, 2016). The average tax bill for all three types of payers is projected to increase 1.12%.  Read more on this here

This year I hope to increase the number of updates from the State House – feel free to let me know if you are hearing too much or too little!  You can also monitor the work my committee is doing and check in on how I am voting on issues by going to the legislature website www.http://legislature.vermont.gov/

As always, I encourage folks to weigh in on issues that you care strongly about.  The best way to reach me is email at lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell at (802) 384-0233.  And if you are in Montpelier on business or to testify, give me a call and let me know if you’d like to try and meet.