In defense of the most politically diverse legislative body in the country #vtpoli

It feels like our nation is collectively holding its breath waiting for election day and praying for some check on this dangerous Presidency.

In the whole course of history, it has never been true that one party had a monopoly on good ideas, common sense, or the pulse of the people. One party controlling the House, Senate and Executive Branch does not make for good government for all Americans. Particularly when that party elects to work in a partisan manner, because they can, and disregards a large portion of the electorate. Including, especially, the 40% of independent Americans who don’t consider themselves partisan at all. We desperately need a check on the Republicans in Washington D.C. who have failed to limit the self-proclaimed nationalist occupying the Oval Office and so count me in as hopeful we will see a strong blue wave roll into D.C. on November 6th.

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The Deeper Dig: In search of a supermajority  Oct 26 2018 By Mike Dougherty

Americans and Vermonters don’t like how things work under an unchecked super-majority. They want leaders who will compromise, collaborate and work to solve problems, but our country’s two-party system does not readily reward that type of governing. Nonetheless, Vermonters historically have been comfortable taking a different way than the rest of the country, and thus far we seem to have staved off the worst of the increasingly alarming partisan dysfunction.

In the last election Vermonters sent divided government to Montpelier: a moderate and

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Modeling bipartisanship for Vermont students: Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and Republican Representative Heidi Scheuermann breaking from last year’s heavily contested budget debate (for multiple false fire alarms) give an impromptu bipartisan civics lesson.

courageous Republican governor, a Progressive Democratic Senate and the most politically diverse legislative body in the country,  the Vermont House of Representatives led by a Democratic Speaker of The House who operates on the premise that including all voices and parties ensures better problem solving. Speaker Mitzi Johnson has presided over a body that included the most elected centrist independents in the country, independents like Ben Jickling of Brookfield and Ed Read of Fayston who help the Democratic majority craft and pass more balanced legislation, and moderate Democrats like Rural Economic Development Working Group Co-Chair Chip Conquest of Newbury and socially moderate/fiscally conservative Republicans like Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe and Fred Baser of Bristol as well as seven elected Progressives. There is no other legislative body in the country that houses this many different political parties and elected centrist independents.

The resulting implementation and creation of Vermont policy is managed by a governor willing to buck the national Republican party and also willing to veto the democratically controlled legislature and a House of Representatives with a political prejudice towards the center.  This divided government set-up, while uncomfortable for the most partisan Vermonters and party leaders, and more reliant on the threat of gubernatorial veto than would be needed with a more politically diverse Senate, actually works fairly well. There is always room for improvement, but not by wiping out bipartisan collaboration.

Which brings us back to the national election and that big blue wave that looks like it could be a tsunami in Vermont. Vermonters are also Americans and Americans are scared about where we are headed with our national politics. We are seeing voluminous early voter turn-out in the Green Mountain state and reports from door to door canvassing that there is a strong desire to punish national Republicans for not providing a check on our self-proclaimed nationalist president. Hopefully Vermonters direct their anger precisely and not generally. If you are currently being represented by a centrist independent, a moderate Republican or Democrat, think long and hard before opting to punish our president by punishing those moderates who commit to bipartisanship function and political courage in Vermont. It takes courage to run and serve without a party and it also takes courage to tell your party no.  Hopefully the “blue wave” is able to bring a check to Washington without taking out moderates in Vermont. We need balanced and knowledgeable legislators to get things done. This is a reminder that your vote is not just symbolic.

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The entire telecommunications industry is suing #Vermont for taking action on #NetNeutrality

The lawsuit follows below.

The question is whether or not Vermont’s governor and legislature are federally preempted from taking action on issues of connectivity as it relates to the Net Neutrality issue.

The House Committee in Energy and Technology on which I serve spent much of the last session working on this legislation.

www.americancable.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/181018-Complaint-with-Exhibits-1-5-ECF-Stamped.pdf

Update from Rep. Sibilia :: Public forum in Stamford, Healthcare forum next week

Tuesday October 9 Tue 6:30 PM at the Stamford Elementary School we are hosting another public forum.  Thus far these forums have been excellent opportunities for me to hear from and respond to small groups about specific constituent concerns. Act 46, workforce, healthcare, telephone and internet service, carbon taxes and climate change have been the most frequent topics brought up – please come and lets talk about how Vermont government can better respond to Vermonter everyday challenges.
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Next Tuesday October 16th Rep. John Gannon and I will be hosting a single issue forum on Healthcare with Vermont’s Healthcare Advocate Michael Fisher in Whitingham at the Twin Valley auditorium from 6-7:30
Ambitious health care reform that changes how providers are paid is currently being implemented across the state. Come participate in a discussion to better understand how these changes will impact your premiums and access to care. We will also discuss passage this past year of an individual mandate requiring Vermonters to be covered by insurance as of January 1, 2020. This legislation was passed in reaction to the repeal of the individual mandate federally this past year. Deerfield Valley State Representatives Laura Sibilia and John Gannon want to ensure residents, employees and employers in the Deerfield Valley communities can weigh in on the current state of healthcare and what choices they face with an individual mandate. complete release here
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Open enrollment period is November 1 through December 15th more info 
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I attended the Vermont State Board of Education hearing on September 19, 2018 at Green Mountain Union High School, Chester, VT.
This hearing was for the State Board to hear from districts prior to deciding what to do with those that didn’t opted to merge voluntarily.
The 95 districts that didn’t merge submitted alternative plans, or Section 9 proposals, to the Agency of Education for consideration. Stamford/Clarksburg Interstate group testified.
In June, Acting Education Secretary Heather Bouchey recommended 18 forced mergers. She recommended the remaining districts not consolidate – due to mergers being impractical or legally impossible – or that they continue with processes already underway. The state board has a final plan due on Nov. 30.  I provided testimony to the state board which can be read  here.
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16th Annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival & Contest

October 27, 2018  Wardsboro  Saturday 10 to 3
Rain or Shine
Main Street and Town Hall
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29 days till the election!  Got one of these? Want one?
 
This year there is not a contested election but a number of folks have asked me about putting signs out – thank you! If you have a campaign sign please put it out – if you’d like one, please let TJ or I know and we will get one to you.
If you are able to offset year round communications and travel obligations through a token financial contribution, it’s appreciated.

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.

Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

Time to eliminate the Venn of Doom

“By the 1930s nearly 90% of U.S. urban dwellers had electricity, but 90% of rural homes were without power. Investor-owned utilities often denied service to rural areas, citing high development costs and low profit margins. Consequently, even when they could purchase electricity, rural consumers paid far higher prices than urban consumers.” – from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives  Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives

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Vermont has state-of-the-art communication technologies. We have cell service throughout much of our state and wireless internet solutions in areas where the topography works. We have middle mile fiber, cable and dsl that connects residents and businesses to the global economy, their doctors and public safety and even provides phone service through VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocols).  Modern life is possible in much of Vermont. Still it’s no secret that access to wired and wireless phone and internet is unevenly available in the Green Mountain state. What may not be as widely known is that in some of the most rural parts of Vermont this situation is not static, it’s deteriorating. We have a negative relationship of conditions which has developed; a Venn diagram of doom if you will.

An early morning call from one of my constituents this summer drove this point home. She lives in a community which is almost exclusively limited to dial up or satellite for internet, sadly VTel’s federally taxpayer funded wireless network is still not available in her town. The only cell service in her town, CoverageCo limited 2G, is non operational and has been for some time.  She recently had serious surgery and is also handicapped. It takes over 30 minutes to get the State Police to her town, at least 30 minutes for an ambulance assuming a volunteer and driver are able to respond immediately and the hospitals are 30 minutes away (when the roads are open and not closed with snow accidents or washed out roads). She called because her landline phone line was not working and the repair date she was given – more than a week – had her worried for her safety.

This summer I received an unusually high number of complaints about phone service repairs and installations. There has been a corresponding increase in complaints about repair times to the Public Utility Commission which regulates landline telephone service and other public utilities like electricity.  Because of this, it would not surprise me to see an investigation opened up and action taken against the rural landline telephone provider. The irony here is the regulated landline telephone provider is the ONLY provider required to supply service to those Vermonters who reside at the intersection of the “Venn of Doom” – the place where no cell service, no internet service, and long distances from emergency response and emergency healthcare meet.

Vermont – and all other state’s – have limited ability to regulate the build out of wireless (cell service) and wired internet (cable) due to federal preemption. These for profit providers compete in an extremely dynamic marketplace, with rapidly innovating technologies, in Vermont’s densely populated areas. They compete with each other and they also compete with the regulated telephone providers who must provide service and repairs of critical infrastructure to all Vermonters, not just those they can make a profit selling a high end product to. Guess which type of provider is losing landline customers in the easy – and cost effective to provide service to – densely populated service areas? Guess who still has to provide essential telephone service even when they lose landline customers? Guess who Vermont can penalize for poor service or lack of coverage?

This declining situation is not acceptable.  My colleagues in the legislature have heard me declare more then once that we aren’t just going to roll up rural Vermont and put it away – real people, families, students and businesses live there. Real businesses and towns are unable to participate in Vermont’s economy and services. We have allowed a situation to develop that is increasing risk and vulnerability in rural Vermont.

The time for patiently waiting for this situation to improve has passed. Concerns about vulnerable rural Vermonters landline access have been communicated to the Public Service Department. An RFP to find a provider to replace the CoverageCo cell service has recently been released – which is important to many towns and schools in our district. These short term actions will help. But going forward we need a shift in how we think about telecommunication access and the market for communication products, who is responsible for ensuring critical infrastructure is accessible everywhere in our state, we are going to need to develop a plan for empowering communities or regions to manage and finance connectivity expansions. In each of the last two bienniums the House has overwhelmingly passed funding measures to address parts of this challenge – we will need our Senate colleagues to join us in this next biennium. In the administration we need the DPS to have more resources and partners trying to solve this public safety, education, healthcare access, economic issue. As a state, and with our private sector providers, Vermont must take a long hard look at the regulatory structures that have produced this outcome and ensure our regulatory environment going forward supports reliable affordable essential communications infrastructure availability for all Vermonters.

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House to vote on S.79 ~ An act relating to freedom from compulsory collection of personal information

constitutionA month ago, Governor Phil Scott  announced a series of steps his Administration is taking to protect the rights of all Vermonters, following executive orders from President Trump relating to immigration and refugee resettlement.

Here is a link to read S.79, legislation which directly supports the Governor’s actions and which has passed the Senate unanimously 30-0 .  When the Legislature reconvenes after the Town Meeting week break, the House will take up S.79, which is expected to pass, though not unanimously.  I will support the bill, and have engaged our local law enforcement.  The Governor’s office has prepared a frequently asked questions sheet with regard to Vermont’s actions.  Please call me with any questions you have 802-384-0233.

The pace of things and #WomensMarchVT

The size and window of opportunity that exists when all of Vermont’s legislators come together for the winter months is truly significant. We have the opportunity every day to meet and work with our colleagues from around the state and members of the Administration on solving problems for Vermonters.  This week I have been busy working with my colleagues to establish a Rural Vermont working group, consider appropriate legislative changes to Act 46, travel home to Dover midweek to meet with my fellow Act 46 study committee members to host our second public input meeting, learn more about a rural cell service project that is in jeopardy, talked with multiple perspectives about universal background checks, coordinated a conference call for seven Southern Vermont towns to learn more about financing fiber to the home projects, participated in multiple discussions around school choice, civility and the crushing burdens some state education finance policy is placing on our rural schools.

I am grateful to be able to work full time on these challenges and many more for my district during these four months.  While the long work days are rewarding and invigorating,  I also look forward to my ride back to Dover on Friday night and my weekends at home with my boys.

This weekend I am still in Montpelier.  Today I am going to march with other women in our Vermont capitol.  The specific individual motivations of the marchers here will be varied and numerous.  Mine are to stand with my daughters, people of color, a free press and the LGBT community.  I also stand with those who march today in the right to life parade in Montpelier and their First Amendment right to express their religious beliefs.