Thank you

14956043_10154800053348313_507928364907914517_nThank you to the voters in Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham for supporting my campaign and re-electing me to the Vermont House for two more years.  I appreciate the responsibility for carrying your voices to Montpelier and assisting all of those working to revitalize our region of Vermont.  I encourage you not to hesitate if I can be of assistance to you, your family or your business or if you would like to discuss an existing or proposed law.

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Just after the election, I was pleasantly surprised to be asked by Governor-elect Scott to co-chair his Transition Leadership Advisory Committee.  Having had the opportunity to hear the Governor-elect express his vision for how his incoming administration will interact with and assist Vermonters, I am truly honored to have been asked to help find the people that will be expected to carry out that vision in the new Scott Administration.

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A final note I’d like to share.  I’ve heard from a number of folks about concerns regarding tolerance of all Vermonters in light of the national campaign rhetoric and results.  I wanted to share an excerpt from one note as well as from my response.

Excerpted from a constituent email:

“You have the great responsibility and opportunity to present kindness, empathy, respect and compassion as the indisputable way to treat ALL citizens. Let those ideals guide you as you cast votes and speak with others in positions of power.”

I want to reassure the voters in our district that I will uphold the Constitution, fight bigotry and promote tolerance and acceptance of all Vermonters and Americans. Also be assured, I am not afraid to stand up to ignorance and hatred. Our Constitution provides us with freedoms and responsibilities, and I believe they apply to and for all of our people, no matter who they love, what their religion, color of skin, ethnicity, or sex.

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As always, if you need help or assistance don’t hesitate to call me at 384-0233 or email at lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Please stay in touch, and stay engaged,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham
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Rep. Manwaring endorses Sibilia for re-election

Ann has been a trusted friend and mentor for almost 20 years – I am grateful I was able to serve my first term while she was still in the House and I will miss her in the coming years.  I’m honored to have her endorsement.  Even though we have occasionally disagreed on policy, we have always been a united team in our dedication to high quality education, helping the people of our little valley towns and the great state of Vermont!

September 13, 2016
To the Editor:

Summer is over way too fast and it is now election season for real, and even though many of us believe that our national election can’ t be over soon enough, we do have local elections which are important to all of us.  Early voting has started where we can now ask our Town Clerks for absentee ballots either by mail or by stopping by the Town offices.

Laura and Ann at last weeks legislative issues forum in Dover

Laura and Ann discussing the upcoming session at last weeks legislative issues forum in Dover.

As you consider whom to vote for to represent you in the Vermont House of Representatives for the next two years, I would like to share with you that I support the re-election of Laura Sibilia to serve for another term Representing Voters in Dover, Wardsboro, Searsburg, Sommerset, Readsboro and Stamford and a portion of Whitingham.

Even before Laura was elected to Represent your District two years ago she and I had worked extensively on issues concerning Vermont’s education system, specifically issues that affect our small rural communities.  It won’t surprise any one reading this that Vermont public education and its financing framework is a complex system, and sometimes we were able to shape good things and sometimes the job was to keep bad things from happening. There is so much more work to do, and I have enormous respect for her knowledge, understanding and commitment to keep this issue in the forefront on her time and energy in Montpelier.

But that’s not all.  In addition she takes to Montpelier her considerable experience and skills around economic development in Windham and Bennington Counties.

Laura hit the ground running in her first term, and I believe the voters in her District would be well served by sending her back to Montpelier for a second term.  I am sorry I won’t be returning to Montpelier, but I hope to continue to work with her from home.

Thank your for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ann Manwaring, Representing the neighboring

District of Halifax, Whitingham and Wilmington

Sibilia re-election campaign underway

Dear friends and neighbors,

Serving my first two years as your representative in the Vermont House has been a privilege and an honor.  As an independent freshman legislator serving on the House Commerce Committee, I worked hard, every day, to forge productive relationships with my colleagues and use my experience and voice to assist our district, our neighbors, and our state. I decided to run two years ago to bring a new voice and new focus to Montpelier with a focus on the issues that matter most to our district. It was and is important to me that my time away from my family, and friends and job have results for the folks living in our district. I have included a list of initiatives I undertook in my freshman biennium at the end of this letter.

Next year will see a historical change in leadership of state government  with a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Senate President, and many long time House members retiring.  I am running for re-election to the House to represent Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, and Whitingham and hope to work with fresh leadership on issues important to our district and to Vermont.

Ongoing challenges that must be prioritized in the next session include ensuring our health reform initiatives are functioning, sustainable and properly budgeted for. We will need to monitor the educational governance changes of Act 46 to make sure the result is the improved and equitable opportunities for all Vermont students that was envisioned and we will need to continue to push for real property tax reform measures, a priority Act 46 lacks.  In addition, we need to prioritize the establishment of a continuous assessment, development, and investment program for telecommunications for ALL Vermonters.  Future opportunity for existing and new Vermonters relies on our ability to sustain and grow as part of a globally connected economy.

Thank you for your support of my candidacy in the past. I am proud of the local support my campaign generated in the last election. Once again I will not be accepting support from special interest groups and because I am not affiliated with a party, I will not be receiving financial support from political parties. However, special interest groups lobbying for national agenda initiatives have already signaled they will once again be funding opposition to my campaign. If you are interested in me continuing as your State Representative, I am going to need your help.

The campaign is approaching a fundraising milestone on July 15th and I would appreciate whatever level of financial or other support you might be able to provide to my campaign.  To donate online go to www.laurasibiliavt.com and click on the yellow donate button. Supporters may also send contributions to Laura Sibilia for VT, PO Box 2052, West Dover, VT 05356.

Thank you for your support, your questions and the knowledge you shared with me, about issues you care about, during the past two years.  As always, please be in touch with questions, comments or if I may be able to assist you in navigating our state government by email to lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.

Best wishes to all for a safe and enjoyable July 4th weekend!  I’ll be out and about at the fireworks on Hayford Field Saturday and the Wardsboro Parade on Monday.

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
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Regulatory initiatives I led or took a shared leadership role in during my first biennium include:

Economic Development:
  • Creation of the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and resources for increased economic development collaboration between Windham and Bennington Counties.
  • Ensuring our towns along the Deerfield River have a representative to the state working group considering a purchase of thirteen TransCanada dams
  • Requesting a federal audit of the 6 year old VTel federal stimulus award to determine why wireless telecom services promised to tens of thousands of unserved Vermonters have yet to be received
  • Working before and during the legislative session to develop a solution to the Independent Contractor misclassification issue. This is a serious issue for business interests in our district who need to hire independent contractors, and for businesses that are following the law competing with business that are taking shortcuts.
Budgets:
  • Began working with a bipartisan group of House and Senate members on developing state budget results based accountability practices and metrics.
Education:
  • Created Small Schools Caucus to ensure rural Vermont towns have a voice in education policy.
  • Ensured that protections for high quality small schools and the identification of the adequate cost of providing an education to Vermont students was included in Act 46.   The adequacy study led to development of significant special education cost savings proposals.
  • Ensuring that education cost containment measures required financial restraint from schools of all sizes, and not just exclusively our smallest rural schools.
  • Worked with students and community volunteers in Wardsboro to educate the rest of Vermont on the appropriateness of having the Gilfeather Turnip be named the Vermont State Vegetable

2015 Session Wrap Up

At 11:15 pm on Saturday May 16th,  the gavel fell signaling the end of 2015 Legislative Session.  Since then I have resumed working full-time at my regular employment job – Director of Economic and Workforce Development for SE Vermont’s Windham Region, attended the last school events of the season for my middle schooler, and celebrated the return home of my two daughters from college.

I’ve found some time to enjoy planting the raised garden beds my husband built this Spring and have been able to attend some wonderful community events like the Whitingham and Wilmington Memorial Day ceremonies, the Plant Sale in Wardsboro (picked up my Gilfeather Turnip seedlings!), Fiddlehead Festival in Dover, the Readsboro Central School play and Readsboro Hometown Redevelopment’s five-year celebration of the Bullock Building.   Last night I attended The Dover School’s wonderful 6th grade graduation ceremony.  It’s good to be back in the district and talking with you all.

As I drove home from Montpelier the evening of adjournment I reflected on the highs and

lows and best lessons from my freshman session. There were a number of interesting and unusual developments from January 8th through adjournment on Saturday, many of which I shared on social media and in earlier posts and some of which I will reflect on further in this update and in future updates. Below are descriptions of where major bills of interest ended, and if there was a vote, how I voted and why.

Budget –The Legislature passed state spending of 5.531 billion dollars, including general fund, education spending, and federally funded programs. Total spending is up 1.1%. Total spending for education is up 2.95% and total general fund spending was up 4.1%.  FY 2015 saw revenue downgrades of $40 million dollars.  I voted in favor of the budget for a number of reasons, but chiefly because the size of the structural budget problem requires a multi-year solution and I believed the, largely new, appropriations committee has actually committed and begun the process of bringing spending and revenue into alignment.  Additionally, this year’s process included multiple transparent opportunities for every Vermont Legislator to provide ideas on cost containment, and for every committee to prioritize the agencies, staffing and initiatives under their subject matter jurisdiction. I’ll be looking for this process to not only continue, but expand next year.
Here is a great easy to read summary on this years final agreed upon budget.

For those who are concerned we are not reducing spending fast enough, you are countered by, and may have even read op-eds from, a vocal group of folks who are actually calling this an “austerity budget” and have urged policymakers to raise more taxes on the highest earners in Vermont. I think we’re somewhere in the middle.  Next year Vermont is already projected to have an estimated 70 million dollar budget gap to face, and reductions in a number of federal program funds.

Revenue Bill – This is H. 489, the tax bill that raises 38.2M in funds to pay for the budget.  This bill included a lower restaurant fee increase I successfully proposed early on in the session, and raised revenue by removing the itemized deduction for state and local income taxes and caps other deductions at 2.5 times the standard deduction (except medical and charitable), and removing the tax exemption on soft drinks and vending machine items.

This bill DID NOT include a number of proposed tax increases that I had found particularly objectionable including increasing the employer assessment for health care, increasing the meals and rooms tax, adding a room surcharge, elimination of the exemption for candy, satellite tv tax, sugar excise tax, disallowing Vermont companies with a global presence availing themselves of global tax havens.

Again, considering the size of the financial challenges we are facing, I think the final tax proposal was reasonable.  However, I did not vote in favor of the final agreement between the House and Senate.  The capping of the mortgage interest deduction was a significant concern for our district’s fragile real estate recovery, an important aspect of this district’s jobs and economy.

Economic Development – As a first year member of the House Commerce and economic Development Committee, I was proud to be part of developing the final 173 page Economic Development bill, S.138, that passed the House and Senate. Windham County Freshman Senator Becca Balint was also on the final conference committee charged with reaching an agreement between the House and Senate versions of the bill, a big deal for a freshman!  I also had significant opportunity to learn about banking and insurance regulations and a number of emerging consumer protection issues like regulating litigation lenders and online dating services.  The most immediate statewide impact pieces of S.138 are the repeal of the cloud tax, increased licensed lending from 75K to 250K, approval of additional one time funds for Vermont to develop an economic development marketing program, and a first time home buyer tax credit paid out over three years.

I was especially pleased to have worked with Rep. Oliver Olsen of Londonderry and Kiah Morris of Bennington and Senator Becca Balint on language to create a Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone and committee.  This zone is comprised of the two regions covered by the Bennington and Windham Region Planning Commissions and Development Corps.  I’ll be writing more on this topic as the committee is named and begins it’s work over the session, but this is a significant long term opportunity for increasing economic development collaborative action by public, private and non profit entities in Southern Vermont.

Education – Much has already been reported about H.361. As communities begin to try and implement the law, much more will be reported.  The two votes on this bill were the most agonizing for me of the session.   Ultimately I voted in favor of the bill.  I know it may cause significant short term challenges for schools in my district, I know the bill does not address the root cause of the property tax crisis which is the flawed funding mechanism that bases equity on unscaled dollars available to students instead of scaled program available to students.

So why did I vote for it?

Though it wasn’t understood, this bill, particularly the governance consolidation pieces, were a done deal when we arrived in January. There was a literal freight train of education policy makers, boards and associations on the tracks rolling over opposition and alternate views, sometimes in stunning over the top fashion and sometimes just interesting data selection pieces such as the April Fools Day selective data piece published as the House was preparing to vote on H.361.

I voted for it in return for getting changes that I believed would somewhat diminish the impacts to our districts students and taxpayers being driven by the premise bigger is cheaper and provides higher quality.

As a freshman, I was able to highlight the very significant impacts the legislation will have on small schools and created a small schools caucus.  The legislation allows for consideration of capacity at neighboring schools and quality of program to be determinations for maintaining small schools grants, and I was able to get a 300K adequacy study, proposed by a Warren area community effort led by Heidi Spear in response Speaker Shap Smith’s request for proposals, included in the final bill.

NONE of the governance legislation is going to produce structurally sustainable statewide property tax relief.  At least in the next five-ten years.  The other freight train most legislators understood was on the tracks was voter demand for property tax relief.  So some measure that specifically addressed property taxes was going to be included.  In the final days of the session, the cost containment piece that was being proposed was a very significant reduction in the excess spending threshold.  This would have almost exclusively impacted the 5% of schools and statewide budgets attributed to small schools. The final cost containment piece that was included, a variable 2% cap that CAN be surpassed with penalty, hits all schools including those large and extra large schools responsible for 60% percent of the students and the costs.

Sen. Sears I believe correctly classified efforts like mine and others as “attempts to make a bad bill better”.  This was the strategy I employed on H.361 rather then just voting no.  There are some meritorious items in the legislation that districts should pay attention to like incentive opportunities for some districts who are ready to consolidate governance or buildings.  For some districts in the state, this legislation will also provide a very compelling reason to have long term strategic discussions about how to maintain quality education in their rural communities.  Those are very very important discussions which will greatly impact the future of Vermont.

The Agency of Education, the State Board of Education, Vermont School Boards Association and others are all participating in planning for further implementation and providing districts with more assistance and guidance on the final 144 page bill which can be found here. As opportunities are put forward I’ll be communicating those out to the district.

Citizens and boards within our district continue to engage in the statewide conversation on education reform and connect with others throughout the state.  Interested folks can connect on their Facebook site – Concerned Citizens from Small and Rural Schools(education funding) Another citizen led state group to connect with is the Vermonters for Schools and Communities.

Healthcare – The healthcare legislation that passed is most noteworthy in how small in scope, scale and cost it is.  Significant legislation to expand premium subsidies and medicaid payments to doctors was proposed early in the session, but a host of tax proposals to pay for it were unsellable to legislators.  These included the Governor’s proposed payroll tax, increasing the employer assessment on businesses that don’t provide healthcare, a sugar excise tax, an increase in the room and meals tax and a lodging fee.  The final legislation was paid for by an increase in the cigarette tax.  I voted for the final, extremely modest, proposal.

The expansion of medicaid eligibility under the federal affordable care has, as intended, increased the number of Vermonters on medicaid.  There has been no corresponding revenue raised and we are expected to meet a 40 million dollar shortfall in January.

Other significant healthcare bill included S.108 Preserving End of Life Choices – the bill that passed, effectively said that Vermont will leave its existing law and protections in place. I voted in favor of this bill.  Finally H.98 Reportable Disease Registries and Data included a repeal of the vaccine philosophical exemption for students attending public schools.  I voted in favor of this legislation, and shared my own experiences as a parent who questioned vaccine schedules here.

As a new Independent Legislator, representing our district well and with integrity is an honor and tremendous responsibility that I didn’t and don’t take lightly.   Many have asked if serving in the Vermont Legislature was what I expected.  Yes and No.  This was an especially contentious, challenging and adversity filled year starting with the 113 million dollar budget gap, the Legislative vote for Governor, the protests over single payer, the session long education reform debates, gun debate, and the arrest of Senator Mcallister.

I didn’t expect quite that volume of contentiousness.  Unlike a number of Legislators, I also need to maintain year round employment, and I got a new (and thankfully, flexible) boss just before the session started.  My sense is I had a unique opportunity to gain significant experience having navigated those numerous unique challenges this first year.

I also didn’t expect, and was so pleased to find, so many others working with integrity and doing their best to represent their constituents and Vermont – even though I didn’t agree on policy with them all.  That discovery was the most hopeful to me.  I’m looking forward to next year and using all of the knowledge I gained this session.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me about the session, challenges you are facing or ideas you have.  The best times to call me are in the evening after work,or on the weekends at 348-7131.  Email can be sent anytime to lhsibilia@gmail.com.

www.laurasibiliavt.com  

In the news:

Vermont schools at the tipping point

House gives preliminary approval to expanded economic

Local lawmakers reflect on governor’s decision

Gilfeather Turnip visits Official Twitter Offices

Education reform bill, money woes top issues in 2105 session

All of the pieces are coming together

Gilfeather Turnip!

Gilfeather Turnip!

House vote on H.361

This past week the House approved H.361, this year’s education bill by a vote 0f 88-55. The final bill that passed the house is: H. 361 Section By Section Summary.
This bill seeks to create “Integrated Education Systems”. This is an important and understandable goal, particularly if you understand that Vermont has a growing challenge, especially with smaller high schools, where the disparity in educational opportunities for students in big and small districts is not only unfair, but could also be ripening the environment for litigious action. This is primarily caused by the flawed funding mechanism. Vermont is supposed to be an educational “equity” state, offering substantially similar educational opportunities. What we actually offer is substantially equal taxing capacity for districts, which has led to a growing disparity in programmatic offerings, despite an ever increasing cost. This is not an easy problem to fix, as not everyone agrees on the solution needed.
This bill does not to lower or manage property taxes, an issue that is of critical importance to Vermonters, including my husband and I.

H.361 Word Cloud

H.361 Word Cloud

This legislation also does not mention poverty (not once), an issue facing a number of students in very large schools and some smaller schools, and the overwhelming focus of concern at this years statewide two day summit the Green Mountain Imperative.  We have a school in our region approaching 70% poverty.  Poverty levels in that range have to be addressed more broadly then just in our schools, that is a community wide issue.

The bill does have some promising pieces which I think will help inform future reform efforts.  The first is an adequacy study to be done this Summer which was proposed by a group of folks from Central Vermont led by Fayston School Board Chair Heidi Spear.  Representative Ann Manwaring also crafted language to create a joint over site board for education which will be led by the chairs of the education, finance and appropriations committee.  Representative Mitzi Johnson also proposed legislation that would allows towns to designate up to three high schools.
I was part of a small group legislators, including four from Southern Vermont – Rep. Komline from Dorset, Rep. Olsen from Londonderry and Rep. Long from Newfane, that put together a compromise, the “Buxton amendment”, which replaced the individual spending cap with a statewide spending trigger, protected our students from choice towns who are going to school out of state, requires the Agency of Education to publish criteria by which small schools will be able to keep their small schools grant a year in advance, and requires unfunded new mandates, imposed by the Governor or Legislature, be paid for out of the General Fund.
For those who have known me any length of time, you know that compromise on this issue was a gut wrenching decision.  As you would expect, I was prepared with multiple amendments to the bill, and armed with enough information from 15 years of studying/fighting the issue to make a good run at eviscerating the bill on the floor.   But, in the end, this bill was going to pass the House, the only question was what would be in it.  The decision I made was based on what I believed would be the most effective at mitigating the immediate threats to students, and ensuring a longer conversation.  I will continue to work with the small and rural schools caucus I have formed in the House and with the groups around Vermont that are starting to come together  on the additional challenges, and opportunities, consolidation efforts may pose.  My communicated intention, to work with House and Ed Committee leadership to make sure our rural and small communities challenges are heard and addressed through this process, has been welcomed.  The bill has to go to the Senate where it is almost guaranteed to be significantly altered.  You should definitely reach out to our Senators if you support or if you oppose the bill.  After making it’s way through the Senate, a the bill has to come back to the House, where the alterations may or may not be agreed to. The bill that left the House was held together pretty tenuously with the compromise amendment.  This bill will only become law if and after the House and Senate agree to a final version.  At that time I will send out an email with how your students, districts and towns will be impacted.
Thank you to all who have reached out and weighed in on this incredibly important topic, central to Vermont’s future.  Whether you agreed with me or wrote to beat me up, you’re improving the thinking all around the issue by speaking up.  Please don’t hesitate to email me at lhsibilia@gmail.com or to call my cell phone 802-384-0233 during the week, and my home phone on the weekend 348-7131, with ideas or concerns.

THE BIG BUDGET BILL: I voted with the majority in the House on this bill (H.389) as passed. Progressives wanted a lot more taxes, and I voted against the many amendments proposed by them to increase the amount and type of taxes we collect. Like the fee bill earlier in the session, I made a decision to do something for our region and my constituents instead of just voting no and getting the tax increase anyway. In this case I voted for NOT reducing tourism and marketing and for protecting the veterans in the veterans home while a longer term financial plan is established.    

WATER QUALITY: A Water Quality Bill (H.35), was passed by the House last week and is now in the Senate.  The bill establishes standards for the agricultural and forest industry; for development and for impervious surfaces; and for the state and town highway system. It looks to provide additional staffing to the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Agriculture, along with funds for municipalities and local nonprofits to address the requirements of Lake Champlain’s pollution as required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.  The 8M financing of the bill calls for an increase in the property transfer tax.  I voted for this bill because doing nothing was not an option.  The EPA would have imposed their own solution on Vermont, perhaps at a higher price.

 

Rep. Sibilia 2015 Town Meeting Legislative Update

Town Meeting Legislative Update  

March 3, 2015

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

It is an honor to represent you in our State Legislature and communicate the activities of the General Assembly to you in this newsletter. I have been busy since the beginning of the session working in my committee, researching issues and developing legislation. There appears to be growing consensus that we have to look at structural changes in how we govern ourselves and provide for our people as the budget challenges we are facing in this and the coming few years are serious, and so is the mood in Montpelier.

Thank you to all who have reached out to me with suggestions, concerns and encouragement. There are so many issues and opportunities being considered by the Legislature that it can be difficult for me to understand how every one might impact you, your family, town, school or business. When you contact me about specific policy concerns, it helps me understand what the policy implementation is looking like. Even if I do not share your opinion on an issue, I do want to understand your concern or hope and perhaps assist in finding alternative solutions.

COMMERCE:
Working with all of our colleagues in Southern Vermont’s Windham and Bennington region, as well as a number from the Northeast Kingdom, Rep. Kiah Morris (D) of Bennington and I introduced legislation last week that would require the Administration and Legislature to give significant deference to regional planning and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) when dealing with the impacts of a significant loss of jobs. The bill is intended to ensure that our local and regional voice and work is honored, and it’s was inspired by the years of work residents, towns, non-profits and business invest in regional land use and economic development planning.

EDUCATION:
The section by section summary of H.361 (the education bill that passed out of the education committee last week) is linked at http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/document/2016/10/Date/2-27-2015.  There are significant implications for small communities and schools, school choice, governance and a 2% spending cap that could possibly work more like a club then a scalpel the smaller your district is. This is NOT a major overhaul of our education system or a sustainable mechanism to fix property taxes AND provide equitable opportunity. However, there are some elements here to help districts that are struggling to provide opportunities for their students. I will be working closely with a number of colleagues to ensure communities have all of the resources and assistance needed to seriously consider and implement these and any other mandates that are eventually enacted.

To that end, I have introduced legislation that would require the Agency of Education to project both the 5 year savings and 5 year improvement in educational opportunities for all districts that currently receive a small schools grant, if those communities consolidated there school district. I have also introduced legislation that establishes a joint education and commerce working group to work with towns and their school districts to plan steps that can mitigate the impacts of a proposed or induced small school closure. Similar work is already required in New York State.

This year, half the cost of Dual Enrollment programs, part of the Flexible Pathways initiative, are required to be paid for by individual districts. There is discussion about having these funds come out of the Education Fund instead to share the costs throughout the state instead of just on districts. There is data about current usage of this important program which can be found at http://education.vermont.gov/laws/legislative-reports .

WATER QUALITY:
The governor identified water quality, particularly that of Lake Champlain, as an area of major focus in his Inaugural address. A Water Quality Bill (H.35), was passed by the House Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources Committee 7-2 late on the afternoon of February 20th and is now in House Agriculture.  The bill establishes standards for the agricultural and forest industry; for development and for impervious surfaces; and for the state and town highway system. It looks to provide additional staffing to the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Agriculture, along with funds for municipalities and local nonprofits to address the requirements of Lake Champlain’s pollution as required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.  The financing of the bill calls for a .5 cent increase to the rooms, meals, and liquor taxes (sunset after 3 years), a 2 cent gas tax, and new fees on agriculture.

TAXES:
The Ways and Means Committee is responsible for all revenues coming to the state. Currently the committee has recommended considering changes to the state’s Current Use program.  This is the program that taxes property on its use right now, not its potential use.   Nearly half the land in the state is enrolled in Current Use, and these properties are assessed an average reduction in property tax of 88%.  This is a total cost to the education fund of $45 million and cost to the municipal taxpayers of $15 million. There is legislation underway to change Current Use by assessing land pulled out of current use at its actual value instead of a diffused value.

Ways and Means has moved a bill to the House floor already, the Fee Bill. The fee bill is an annual event for the Administration and the Legislature.  Every year, up to one third of all fees that Vermont assesses for a host of different licenses and inspections are reviewed. This year’s proposal was to increase fees by over 2.8 million.  The biggest percentage increases were on small restaurants which were looking at increases in the 70% range.  I originally told House Leadership I would not support the bill because of the impacts to our districts business community, but was encouraged by Rep. Oliver Olsen (I) Londonderry to try and do more than just vote no.

Working with Legislative Council, and with the assistance of Rep. Jim Condon (D) from Colchester and Rep. Patty Komline (R) of Dorset, I drafted an amendment that reduced the proposed fee increases on small restaurants by 100K.   The Ways and Means Committee agreed to the amendment and the House passed it.  I’m glad to have been able to work with others to do something for small businesses other than just vote no.

BROADBAND
H.117 expands the Department of Public Service’s telecommunications division into a Division of Telecommunications and Connectivity and assigns the functions and assets of the former Vermont Telecommunications Authority to that division. A new advisory board has been established to work with the Commissioner and telecom providers to improve broadband speeds and incent build out in higher cost areas. We are going to need significantly more public investment than we are currently budgeting for if we want to be able to leverage high speed connections for economic growth in our rural state.
UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS
S.31, an act relating to possession and transfer of firearms, appears to have stalled in Senate Judiciary where it had the support of the President Pro Tem John Campbell. A similar bill, H.250, was introduced into House Judiciary on February 20.
SUPPORTING THE GILFEATHER TURNIP
In addition to our efforts on a number of other issues, Rep. Barbara Murphy of Fairfax (another freshman Independent) and I were asked by constituents to introduce support H.65 by folks interested in the history of this uniquely Vermont vegetable.  We are pleased that the Wardsboro 5th and 6th grade classes will be able to testify to the House Agriculture Committee and learn about both the Legislative process and the Vermont heritage of this native vegetable.

Stay in touch!

Rep. Laura Sibilia
Representing the towns of  Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

PO Box 2052
West Dover, VT 05356
802-348-7131

Southern Vermont Legislators Propose Bill to Address Major Economic Development Challenges

For immediate release: February 24th, 2015

Additional info contact: Laura Sibilia lhsibilia@gmail.com 802-384-0233
Kiah Morris
kiahmorrisvt@gmail.com 802-688-3300

Southern Vermont Legislators Propose Bill to Address Major Economic Development Challenges

Laura Sibilia (I) of the Windham-Bennington district and Kiah Morris (D) of the Bennington 2-2 district recently announced the introduction of H.271; an act relating to giving deference to regional planning and planners in mitigating adverse economic impacts of major employers.

The bill comes as a result of announced job losses in the two counties and directs the Executive and Legislative branches to give deference to an approved regional plan or a federally prescribed comprehensive economic development strategy in the event a major employer announces a plant closure, relocation or other significant change in activity that will impact the number of jobs or wages in the region.

“Laura and I have both participated in regional economic development planning efforts through our work.  Comprehensive economic development strategies (CEDS) and regional plans created to help communities proactively plan for both economic growth and potential downturn.” Morris said, “Both plans require significant research and public input to develop strategies that are responsive to the needs of the areas affected. This bill is proactive to changing tides and empowers local efforts to remain resilient.”

Leaders from Bennington and Windham Counties have worked collaboratively for a number of years to develop clear objectives and plans that will strengthen the economy of the southern corridor. The regional plans include recommendations around business recruitment, needed improvements to local infrastructure and a regional marketing campaign. The proposed bill will put pressure on the administration to listen to those recommendations and increase communication between state and local leaders on those efforts.

The pair solicited 37 other House members to sponsor the tri-partisan legislation, including the entire Windham and Bennington County House delegations.  Sibilia says the pair have heard from a number of legislators who are concerned about the job losses at Vermont Yankee and Plasan North America.

“With limited staffing at the state level, we are fortunate that Vermont contracts with both regional planning commissions and regional development corporations to develop and support regional plans that address strategic economic planning.  As legislators, we often hear from our communities a belief that the administration does not hear our voices, and is not aware of the growing needs of our region.  This bill effectively doubles the human resources that can be brought to bear on unified solutions and ensures that municipal, local business and non-profit voices are a part of the boots on the ground strategy development.”

Sibilia and Morris say they were pleased with the preliminary reception and input they received from the four Senators that represent the two counties.  The next step for the duo is consulting with other house members on the possible formation of a regional caucus to enact and expand on existing development strategies they share.

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“Fee Bill” amendment scales back increases on small restaurants

feebill2015

This is part of a chart which detailed the original difference in the fee increases proposed by the Governor and the House. We reduced it by 100K on Friday. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Last week, working with a small group of bipartisan legislators, I successfully amended the annual fee bill.  I’ve since been told that can be tough to do.

The fee bill is an annual event for the Administration and the Legislature.  Every year, up to one third of all fees the Vermont assesses for a host of different licenses and inspections are reviewed.

This year’s proposal was to increase fees by over 2.8 million.  The biggest percentage increases were on small restaurants which were looking at increases in the 70% range.  When the majority vote counter came checking on my vote for the fee bill, I said heck no, my folks would have my head. Later on as I was recanting the conversation with Rep. Oliver Olsen (I) of Londonderry he encouraged me to think about how I might be able to do something more then just vote no on a bill that seemed certain to pass even without my vote.

The Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that collects data and publishes research studies on tax policies at the federal and state levels. further explains: “A tax has the primary purpose of raising revenue,” said Joseph Henchman, Tax Foundation Vice President of Legal Projects. “By contrast, a fee recoups the cost of providing a service from a beneficiary.”

Wile speaking with several members of the Ways and Means Committee, one of them explained that they too had been concerned about the increases on these small businesses and had inquired what the increased fee revenue was to be used for.  This particular fee was to pay for Health Inspectors.  It seems that in past years, the fee assessed did not cover the cost of having Health Inspectors, and the general fund has made up the difference.  This year there is a 112 million dollar budget deficit, and all of the “beneficiaries” of the service provided by the fee were slated to see hefty increases to cover the gap.

Working with Legislative Council, I proposed a reduction in the fees, and with the assistance of Rep. Jim Condon (D) from Colchester and Rep. Patty Komline (R) of Dorset, drafted an amendment that reduced the proposed fee increases on small restaurants by 100K.   The Ways and Means Committee agreed to the amendment and the House passed it.  I’m glad to have been able to work with others to do something for small businesses other then just vote no.  It’s fair to say I never thought the first time I’d be speaking on the floor of the House would be to ask to amend the fee bill – on Friday the 13th.

There is a lot of work to do.  Town Meeting is coming up, and I look forward to talking with, and hearing from voters, on how we can best go about that work.

Please feel free to reach out to me on any issue, including this one, via email at lhsibilia@gmail.com, or on the weekends by phone at 348-7131.

First days in the House

In my first report to the district, I’d like to give you a brief overview of the first week of the session and the environment in which I find myself working.

The first thing I learned is that are a number of things you miss out on as a freshman if, like me, you are not affiliated with a party – on your own picking a “good” seat in the House Chamber, on your own setting up housing, and no name tag on your first day! These are really small problems in the grand scheme of what is ailing Vermont; nonetheless, I appreciated the many legislators of all, and no, parties that went out of their way to give me helpful advice.

Several weeks prior to the session, Speaker of the House Shap Smith asked all legislators to list their top five committee choices and why you chose them. In order I listed Education, Commerce, Ways & Means, General Housing & Military, and Government Operations. I’m pleased to have been put on the Commerce Committee which is chaired by Representative Bill Botzow of Pownal and vice chair Mike Marcotte of Coventry. You can follow along with what that committee is doing, who they are hearing from, and what legislation they are introducing here: http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2016/11

The choosing of a seat in the chamber is a big deal – there are seats in political “neighborhoods”, there are seats to get in and out of the chamber without drawing too much attention, there are seats for “being on tv”. Freshman legislators are asked to wait out in the hallway and then by lottery are called in one by one to choose a vacant seat. If you are lucky, as I was, you get called towards the beginning and are able to find a seat you prefer instead of one that is left. I am sitting directly in from of Representative Botzow, and have freshman legislators Alyson Eastman of Orwell and Kia Morris of Bennington on either side of me.

On the second day of the session, legislators had to cast their ballots for Governor. This was due to the fact that the Vermont Constitution requires the Governor to be elected by at least 50 percent of the vote. Legislators were able to choose from the top three vote getters in the November election; Peter Shumlin, Scott Milne and Dan Feliciano. This was a secret ballot, though many, including me, declared who they would be voting for in advance. I was encouraged to respect the results of the statewide election and vote for Peter Shumlin. I was contacted by many folks throughout the state and asked to recognize that more people voted for someone other then Peter Shumlin and to cast my vote for change. I believe I was elected because voters trust my judgement on issues. In this particular case, it was my judgement that I needed to respect the vote totals in my district towns. It is so incredibly important as an American, a Vermonter, and as a resident of your town to vote, and my vote reflects that belief. Peter Shumlin received my vote because I was not inclined to overturn the majority vote from my towns. Even though that required me to vote differently then I did in November.

There are a number of issues that I know will be of particular interest to folks in the district including education reforms, property tax reform, healthcare reform and new legislation on universal background checks. I want to encourage voters in the district to be in touch with concerns, issues and ideas. You can reach me best via email at lhsibilia@gmail.com or by phone at 348-7131. I also hope to be active on social media and on my website http://www.laurasibiliavt.com

Sibilia: Voting is optimistic!

On November 4th, I hope I’ll have your vote.   For me, voting is one of the most optimistic things you can do.  Particularly these days, when government dysfunction and partisan game playing can be so discouraging.  I vote because I believe we can do better, we can do more and what we have in our towns, state and country is worth it.

If you elect me to represent our towns, I’m going to continue working on what I have been working on for our community and our region.  We can solve the self-imposed property tax crisis and provide high quality education in our communities.  We can come together and prioritize projects that make our communities more attractive for job creation.  We can work with other states and the federal government to ensure access to quality healthcare for all of residents.  We can stop prioritizing legislation that asks more and more from our mom and pop small businesses and expects less and less from our citizens.   Our future requires leaders to stay connected to the big picture of sustaining and growing our home communities and Vermont, how we balance paying for things with what we want to provide our citizens and how policy encourages or discourages the job creation our future requires.

It has been such an incredible experience getting out in our communities and talking with voters during this campaign.  I have learned so much and I’m excited to represent our local interests in Montpelier.  I hope you will vote in favor of our local communities and responsible solutions.  Thank you for all of the support, encouragement and input!

Sincerely,

Laura Sibilia
Dover