Seven years

Marking the seventh anniversary day of our communities awaking to devastation. Honoring the overwhelming and sustained courage of our people that has rebuilt, repaired and rebirthed what was lost. The years since Irene have seen us gain resilience, camaraderie, character and investment that would not have been possible without such a great test.

‘You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.’ Eleanor Roosevelt

The banks are healing, but the scars the Rock River left are still visible.
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Vermont email scam alert

Please share this latest scam alert from the Vermont Attorney Generals office, and don’t forget to check in with your more vulnerable family members and neighbors. These scammers are extremely manipulative and prey on the good will and fear of others who don’t expect these kind of flagrant in your face cons.

At the end of this email is a link to sign up for alerts on currently reported scams.

From the AG’s Office:

“An e-mail password hacking and extortion scam is targeting Vermonters

We are getting increased reports of e-mail extortion scams claiming you have been hacked, and that the scammers have compromising information about you.

The e-mail lists a current or former password you may have used, claims that the sender has access to your computer and webcam, and may claim to have compromising video, pictures or web browsing history. The sender threatens to release this information unless you send them money.

These e-mails are scams. If you receive one of these e-mails, DO NOT send money. If you find that your current password is listed in the e-mail, change your passwords from another computer and run virus scans.

We need your help! You can stop these scams from hurting your community by sharing this information with people you know.

Call us at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or

need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam. ”

Sign up here:

https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/forms/sign-scam-alerts

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

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.