Week ahead: paid family leave, ethics, property taxpayers and marijuana legalization

The coming week, presumably the final week of this year’s legislative session, is loaded with significant bills that will likely generate heated debate on the floor of the House.  My votes on these bills will be made after taking into consideration ALL of the language in the bill, as well as any amendments that may pass, any fiscal analysis that has been done, and what I am hearing from constituents.  I encourage you to monitor the daily calendar for potential legislative activity and to be in touch with concerns or information you want to ensure I’m considering.

H.196 PAID FAMILY LEAVE: The proposed legislation will direct Vermont to develop a state run family and medical leave insurance program for public and private sector employees in the state.  Enrollment by employees is mandatory, even if already covered by a paid family leave plan. The program is estimated to require $5.4M in administrative costs to create.  Self-employed individuals, small farmers with a payroll under $20,000, and federal employees are exempt and will neither pay into, nor collect, any benefit.

Qualifying conditions include:

  • Pregnancy, birth, adoption, foster (both maternal and paternal).
  • Serious illness or non-work related injury of the employee’s close family member.

greeneconomy

Maximum duration of paid benefit: Up to 6 weeks. Compensation: 80% wages up to a cap of 2x the livable wage ($13 per hour), as calculated by the Vermont Joint Fiscal Office.

Employees would have to have been employed for at least 12 of the previous 13 months to qualify for the insurance program.  The insurance program will be financed by a 0.141% payroll deduction (up to $150,000 in wages) paid for by the employee by default with the option for employers to pay all or a portion of the cost.

Employers would need to protect an employee’s job while they are out on qualifying leave unless:

  • The employee works for an employer with fewer than 10 employees.
  • The position was going to be terminated prior to the employee’s request,
  • The employee would have been laid off for reasons unrelated to the leave,
  • The employee performed a unique service and hiring a permanent employee to replace the employee was necessary to prevent substantial economic injury to the employer’s operation

The program would be administered by the VT Department of Labor (DOL).  If the DOL denies an employee claim for paid family leave, employees can appeal in court.

S.8 ETHICS BILL:  The bill requires increased financial disclosures by candidates for stock-photo-info-text-graphic-ethic-145461094elected office and executive branch employees and their spouses as well as a one year time lapse for former legislators or executive branch employees prior to employment as a lobbyist.  S.8 would also establish a State Ethics Commission to implement and enforce State ethics laws for current and former legislators, State Executive officers, and candidates for State and legislative office. The Commission would consist of five members and would be staffed by an Executive Director who would work half-time.  There is some concern by legislators about a potential invasion of privacy of spouses in this legislation; nonetheless, I wholeheartedly support the very modest ethics legislation passed out of the Government Operations Committee.

H.509 AMENDMENT TO SAVE PROPERTY TAXPAYERS 26 MILLION:  Vermont’s school employees receive health coverage through the Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI). Actuarial analysis of current VEHI plans indicates they have among the highest actuarial values of any health insurance plan offered in the State of Vermont. Premiums for VEHI plans are up to nine percent higher than those for a BlueCross BlueShield platinum plan offered through Vermont Health Connect.

In response, VEHI is replacing existing school employee health insurance plans with plans designed to be competitive with Vermont Health Connect.  This change means that, as of January 1, 2018, all school employees will be on new health care plans.  The new health plans cover the same health care services and networks, but they have lower premium costs. The savings associated with lower premiums is estimated to be as high as $75 million.

The new plans also create higher out-of-pocket exposure through deductibles and co-payment requirements. However, because the premiums for these plans are markedly lower, there are opportunities to keep employees’ out-of-pocket costs at current levels while also realizing up to $26 million in savings.

These new plans have made health insurance negotiations more complex. In at least 20 supervisory unions, the parties have declared impasse over the inability to negotiate the transition to new health insurance plans.  The State of Vermont is uniquely positioned to bargain health care benefits and coverage with school employees in a manner that ensures fairness and equity for school employees and delivers savings for property taxpayers.  Governor Scott, the Vermont School Boards Association, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the Vermont Superintendent’s Association have all come out publicly in favor of moving these negotiations to the state level.

Believe it or not, virtually every year the Vermont Legislature tries to enact property tax reforms.  Our education financing system is only able to deliver somewhat predictable outcomes on the tax collection side of the equation which the state controls.  Efforts to cut education spending at the state level are impossible to do if you want to know how individual students, classes or districts will be impacted (even though the Vermont imageConstitution arguably requires us to know those impacts) .  This impossibility is because spending is controlled at the individual district level.   The unique situation that has presented itself with the VEHI change in plans presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for Vermont to act as a state to save ALL property taxpayers and to also know (for once!) that there will not be negative impacts to individual students, classes or districts as a result of that action.

Governor Scott has indicated he will veto the budget if the Legislature doesn’t find a way to capture these significant savings.  I have co-sponsored an amendment that would move teacher healthcare bargaining to the state level.  My final vote on the budget will be dependent on two things regarding this bargaining proposal:

  1. That we approve moving healthcare negotiations for school employees to the state level.
  2. That we return ALL of the savings achieved by taking this action to the taxpayers and do not use the savings to pay for additional programs/costs put into the education fund.  Both the Governor and the Senate have proposed putting additional programs into the education fund this session.


H.170 POSSESSION AND CULTIVATION OF MARIJUANA BY A PERSON 21 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER 
The intent of this bill is to eliminate all penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for a person who is 21 years of age or older while retaining civil and criminal penalties for possession of larger amounts of marijuana and criminal penalties for unauthorized dispensing or sale of marijuana.  This bill allows for cultivation of up to three mature marijuana plants.  This act also retains civil penalties for possession of marijuana by a person under 21 years of age, which are the same as for possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age.  This bill does not allow for the regulation and taxing of marijuana sales.image

In November 2016, voters in Massachusetts and Maine approved possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use by adults 21 years of age or older.  In July 2018, both states will begin to allow retail sales of marijuana and marijuana-infused products through licensed stores.  Canada is expected to act favorably on legislation legalizing marijuana possession and cultivation for adults 18 years of age or older and federal administration officials have cited the summer of 2018 as the date at which licensed retail stores will begin selling marijuana and marijuana-infused products to the public.

Legalization and legal markets adjacent to Vermont will increase costs in Vermont enforcement of impaired driving; particularity in areas close to the MA border and with large amounts of tourism traffic; like our district.  Whether or not Vermont acts to legalize, there is no increased revenue to offset the costs associated with the expected increase in impaired driving, or youth prevention.

The Senate has passed a full tax and regulate with home grow policy.

The House is expected to vote on H.170 in this final week.  It has been improved to prohibit use in child care establishments (over 50% are home based).   I am currently working on an amendment to require a Commission be established to produce a full tax and regulate policy.  Regardless as to my personal belief on marijuana legalization, I do believe Vermont needs to be able to address the impacts of legislation in adjacent states and countries.

This last week will likely be very busy and also have periods of very little activity as we wait for the senate or conference committees to act.   The very best means of reaching me this week, in addition to emailing lhsibilia@gmail.com, is likely through text (please tell me who you are!) at 1-802-384-0233.  I may only receive late in the evening or very early morning.   Alternatively, you can call the Sergeant at Arms office at 802-828-2228 and ask them to have me call you.

AND, speaking of the Sergeant at Arms, a reminder for any students who will be entering eighth grade next year – you can apply to be a (paid!) legislative page next winter by September 30th 2017.  The details on this 6 week program can be found at http://legislature.vermont.gov/the-state-house/civic-education/become-a-legislative-page/ .  For any parents of students who are interested, I am happy to answer questions on the process and experience.  I would highly encourage mature 8th graders with an interest in civics and how our government works to apply!

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura H. Sibilia

 

 

 

 

 

Budget, Taxes and Act 46 public hearing

“We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major responsibility of it is participation”
~Wynton Marsalis
April 1, 2017  
Public Hearing on possible changes to Act 46: The Senate has passed S.122, which would make modifications to Act 153 and Act 46.  The bills stated purpose is to provide increased flexibility for school district mergers.

The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on S.122 on Tuesday evening, April 4, 2017.  The hearing will be held in room 11 at the State House in Montpelier from 5:30-7:30 PM.Witnesses may begin signing up at 5 PM for time to speak.  Testimony will be limited to three minutes per person with witnesses speaking in the order of sign up.  The Committee will also accept written testimony.  Testimony and questions may be directed to:

Marjorie Zunder, Committee Assistant, House Education Committee
mzunder@leg.state.vt.us

802-828-2258

This is an important opportunity for boards and members of the public to share information that can assist the House Education Committee as they consider the changes the Senate has suggested and whether or not to accept those changes and whether or not to make additional changes themselves. 

This is an important hearing. Testifying is easy.  Consider writing out your three minutes of testimony, and also consider framing it the form of a suggestion.  What could the legislature do that would make the job of improving opportunities for students easier?  If you do plan to come up and testify, please send me an email or text to let me know so I can plan to meet up with you.

*********

Important Wardsboro Meeting also happening on April 4th:

Wardsboro has scheduled a re-vote on the Dover/Marlboro/Wardsboro Act 46 merger articles to be held on May 1, 2017.  The board has warned the following meetings:

April 4, 2017 @ 6:30 p.m. at Wardsboro Elementary School – regularly scheduled school board meeting which will be attended by Brad James and Donna Russo-Savage from the Agency of Education.  Brad is a long time AOE staffer and Donna literally wrote Act 46 when she was employed as one of the lawyers for the legislature.  This will also be a good opportunity for Wardsboro residents to get answers to questions they have prior to the re-vote.

April 24, 2017 @ 6:30 p.m. at the Wardsboro Town Hall (public forum specifically for Act 46 reconsideration vote)

An abundance of information, previously posed questions and answers, and the proposed merger articles can be found at http://wcsu-committee.blogspot.com/

**********

This past week the House passed the tax bill unanimously – raising virtually no new taxes, but banking on increased enforcement for a small amount of funding. There was nearly unanimous support for the budget which increased by 1%.  The budget was largely uncontroversial with the exception of a study on education spending.  Rep. Heidi Scheuermann from Stowe and I, both proponents of property tax reform, spoke at length in opposition to this proposed study which calls for identification of cost drivers in education and legislative proposals to address the cost drivers.  Rep. Scheuermann spoke to dozens of studies which have been done on cost drivers in the past and called for action on the funding formula.  I spoke to the statutory definitions that make per pupil spending the definition of equity of opportunity called for in Brigham and also called for action on the funding formula.  Our request to strike the study received tri-partisan support but was was ultimately defeated 86-42.

**************

Thank you to all who have been contacting me on issues impacting or interesting you individually and our communities collectively.  I want to take a moment to share a few thoughts on particular bills I have heard from a number of folks on:

H.422 An act relating to removal of firearms from a person arrested or cited for domestic assault.  This bill passed the House 78-67.  This bill was initially troubling for me.  I am a strong supporter of our Constitution, but also know very well the danger and unpredictability in domestic violence situations.   Ultimately I voted against this measure because the law basically changed only one thing, whether or not a judge was contacted prior to removing a firearm after a crime had been committed which did not convince me made anyone safer and did infringe on due process for the accused.

H.170 An act relating to possession and cultivation of marijuana by a person 21 years of age or older.  Voters may recall I voted against last years (very different) marijuana legislation.  I’m convinced legalization will happen, but as long as it is still illegal federally, Vermont legislation needs to thoroughly consider taxation, regulation, impaired driving and youth prevention in order for me to consider voting for it.  This past week H.170 came to the floor for a vote.  I made a motion to send it to the Human Services Committee for additional considerations on youth prevention, which was agreed to.  My sense is the bill may yet emerge for a vote in the House.  If a vote passes the House it is expected to pass the Senate which overwhelming approved last years bill.

H.316 An act relating to renewable energy goals for Vermont’s total energy consumption.  This legislation seeks to put Vermont’s renewable energy goals into law, that is that we will provide 90% of our energy by renewable resources by 2050.  I am not opposed to this legislation, which was also introduced in the Senate.  The bill is in my committee for consideration this year or next, along with about 30 other bills.  We have taken zero testimony on this bill, and that will definitely happen prior to us taking it up.  Given that the session is 3/4 over, the chances for this bill this year are pretty slim.   I was surprised to be contacted by a number of constituents asking me for action on this bill, notifying me that VPIRG had been persistently contacting them and urging them to contact me.  VPIRG is the largest nonprofit consumer and environmental advocacy organization in Vermont.  They are in the statehouse every single day, and in my committee more days then not.  To the best of my knowledge, they never even asked our Committee Chair, never mind me, if he would take this legislation up this year.  VPIRG does some good work including grassroots outreach.  Unfortunately, this is not my first experience with them misleading my constituents – unnecessarily I might add.  Thank you to the folks who reached out to me to ask me about this!

**********

We are starting to hear talk of coming back in October to address federal impacts on the Vermont budget.  There may be significant impacts to healthcare, education and environmental programs.   As soon as more is known definitively, I will share that information.

**********

I am honored to represent you in the Vermont Legislature.  In order to do so effectively, I need to hear from you about ideas, issues or opportunities.   My cell phone is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Please stay in touch, and stay engaged,

 

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

2017 Town Meeting update

Town Meeting Update March 2017

presentation1It’s an honor to represent you in our State Legislature and to communicate the activities of the General Assembly to you in this Town Meeting update.

BUDGET: Governor Scott has provided a 7.93B budget to the Legislature which outlines his priorities for the state.  Included were increases for early childhood education, higher education, workforce training and housing.  The Governor proposed paying for cradle through college services through the state’s education fund, proposed increased efficiencies and effectiveness opportunities through combining the agencies of Commerce and Labor as well as the Liquor and Lottery Commissions.  These proposals have been met with varying degrees of pushback in the Legislature,including a significant increase proposed to the property tax and some concerns about ensuring worker protections.  I have voiced my opposition to both the Governor’s office and to our house leadership regarding increases to the property tax resulting from added services being paid for out of the education fund. The House Appropriations Committee has been working through the proposals and has hosted public hearings around the state to gather feedback.  We will vote on the House’s proposed budget in the coming weeks, and then the process will move to the Senate.

EDUCATION:  Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb has been reappointed by Governor Scott to lead the Agency of Education.  ACT 46 Many legislators in the House support consideration of a number of changes to Act 46, including clarity around alternative structures and increased time for districts, through H.15.  There has been resistance by the education committees toward making any changes to Act 46 prior to Town Meeting when a number of merger votes will take place, but the Senate Education Committee has been working on a bill that would increase Act 46 timelines if certain criteria are met and provided more flexibility in establishing a side by side district.  Education Finance I have been named to an Education Finance Committee Speaker Mitzi Johnson has established.  We have been told that our goal is to produce options for changes to the financing mechanism for next year.  This year, we have at least six different education finance proposals.  Along with Rep. Olsen, Rep. Long and Reps. Gannon, I have co-sponsored H.183  which proposes a temporary funding solution for school districts with declining student enrollment like Twin Valley and Leland and Gray.  I have also proposed H.274 which asks the Agency of Education to make a recommendation on the addition of a school district population density factor to the weighting factors used to determine equalized pupil counts, an outline of the minimum high schools located in rural Vermont should be required to have, and an opinion on the consequences of schools in rural Vermont closing.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: New Committee  This year the house created a new committee, Energy and Technology, to provide greater focus for both telecommunications and IT projects.  This is the committee I have been placed on for the next two years.  Act 248a We have been working on H.250 which reauthorizes Act 248a for three more years.  248a was enacted to provide an easier means of erecting telecommunications technology then Act 250.  My colleague Rep. Yantachka has written a helpful brief history of Act 248a.  Telecom Plan I’ve also introduced H.347 which seeks to have the Vermont 10 year Telecommunications Plan developed in consultation with Education, Healthcare and Public safety agencies, in addition to Commerce.  Locally I have been working with the Department of Public Service and CoverageCo, a company contracted to delivery limited cellular services to communities isolated during T.S. Irene.  Both Readsboro and Whitingham have these sites operational, though in some cases the placement has not been optimal.  Wardsboro was to have two sites which to date have not been installed.  We are working with the company to do some Town Meeting surveying to better inform next steps.  Along with Rep. Chip Conquest, I’ve introduced H.459, a bill looking to help municipalities finance telecommunications infrastructure projects.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Much of this year’s focus in economic development is on workforce training and recruitment needs and career and technical training.  There are also a number of communities who are looking to lift the limit on the number of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) Districts in the State.  TIFs are a municipal infrastructure financing tool, used widely throughout the country.  In Vermont, almost all TIFs exist in Chittenden County, and there is a ban on establishing any new districts.  In my committee we have been looking at what impact energy storage can have both on helping us achieve our renewable energy goals and on providing more stability to the energy grid.  Our neighbors are getting ahead of us in developing storage which could have negative impacts for Vermont ratepayers in the future.

ON THE HORIZON:   Paid family leave insurance program, $15 minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, and a fight over how to pay for the cleanup of Lake Champlain.

FEDERAL IMPACTS ON STATE:  There are a number of federal impacts to workforce, education, healthcare that are being carefully monitored by both Governor Scott’s Administration and the Vermont Legislature.  It is not clear how our budget, heavily dependent on federal funding, may be impacted by changes to healthcare.   Working with Governor Scott, both the House and Senate have bills which address possible over reaches by the federal government with our law enforcement personnel and with the collection of personal information.  H.228 has passed the Senate 30-0 and is likely to be voted on in the House this week.  More information on what these bills do and do not do can be found on my website www.laurasibilivavt.com 

I look forward to seeing folks at town Meeting and over the town Meeting week legislative break.  As always, don’t hesitate to call me 802-384-0233 or email if I an answer questions or be of assistance.

Kind regards,

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

 

Govenor Scott’s budget recommendations

Governor Scott released his first recommended state budget for Vermont today.  He prefaced his comments by pointing to Vermont’s shrinking workforce as our single largest obstacle – I wholeheartedly agree.  His budget proposed a massive realignment of our education system to include early education and childcare as well as post secondary education, and innovative realignments at the Agency of Comerce and Department of Commerce.  True to his word, he delivered a budget without an increase in taxes or fees, and which takes a fresh look at how government is best organized to serve Vermonters. It is the second part that I most appreciate, because we can’t level fund and protect the most vulnerable if we don’t examine how we are currently operating for opportunities to innovate.

The Governor has proposed a radical relook at our education system.  He has proposed funding school districts at their FY 2017 district spending levels and holding median property tax bills to their current FY 2017 levels.  I know at least one of my rural districts, currently looking at a .50 property tax increase despite cutting their budget by 750K, would very much like for this proposal to be possible.  The Governor has also asked school boards, a number of whom have already finalized their budgets, to go back and sharpen their pencils in order to come back with level funded budgets.  In order to accommodate that work, the Governor has proposed that all school budgets be voted on on May 28th, four months from today’s budget address.  I hope to meet with the Administration in the coming days to understand how they envision this working with the myriad pending Act 46 votes and whether or not they are supporting an extension of any of the Act 46 deadlines as a result of this proposal.  

Governor Scott has also proposed significant additional programs for Vermont’s property taxpayers to fund.  We do not currently have an education system that can be easily modified to do what the Governor has recommended and maintain equity.  The system we do have is in the process of a massive and historic reorganization.  Here is a link to the Governor’s budget recommendations. I will be reading these recommendations with an open mind, remembering that Vermont students have equal protection under the law provided for them in the Vermont Constitution and that the property tax burden is largely considered to be untenable at current rates.

The Governor has also proposed that non-Medicaid eligible clients be able to bypass the Vermont Health Connect system to enroll with the healthcare provider of their choice, needed increases in funds for opiate treatment, investments in workforce housing, closing the Windsor work camp, a scholarship program for Vermont National Guardsman, and an entrepreneurial reorganization of Vermont’s Commerce and Labor entities.

The House Appropriations Committee has announced a series of public hearings on the Governor’s proposed budget. The full schedule is linked here, but the Southern Vermont hearing will be Feb 13th in Bellows Falls at the Windham Antiques Center at 6 pm.  After reviewing the Governors recommend budget, consider either attending this hearing, or submitting written comments.  Do you love the Governor’s proposals, or think you have a better idea?  It actually does matter and your voice will be considered.

First weeks in the Vermont House

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Wednesday January 3rd the 2017 Legislative Session opened.  Among the first items to take place were elections of new leaders for the Vermont Legislature.  In the House, Rep. Mitzi Johnson of South Hero was elected to serve as the new Speaker of the House.  In the last biennium, Rep. Johnson was the Chair of House Appropriations.

Timg_6373he Speaker assigns all members of the house to various committees which is where the bulk of our work is done during the legislative session.  This year a few of the committees were modified, and a new committee focusing on Energy and Technology was created.  This committee will have jurisdiction over both the Public Service Board and the Department of Public Service, energy, IT projects, and telecommunications.   This is the committee I will serve on for the next two years.  I’m really pleased we now have a committee tasked with focusing on state technology infrastructure and Vermonters telecommunications needs.

**********

Issues that look likely to receive some attention this year include financing water quality improvements, health care finance, universal

img_6406

background checks, State Board of Education rule-making authority, marijuana decriminalization, paid family leave, Act 46 timelines, Housing and 10 yr telecom plan.  We’ll know in May which of these or other issues were able to move through the legislative bodies.

I have been spending much of my time on local transportation challenges, broadband and cell access, government transparency and school finance issues in our district, region and state.

**********

Just after the election I was honored to be asked to Co-Chair an advisory committee for incoming Governor Phil Scott.  This committees charge was to assist in bringing forward names of individuals who shared Governor Scott’s vision of affordability and service to work in his administration.  Hundreds of names were placed into consideration and the new cabinet is filling out.   There are also a number of Boards and Commissions posts to be filled in the coming year.  If you are interested in serving in one of those posts, more information is available here: http://governor.vermont.gov/boards-commissions

img_6379Governor Phil Scott will propose a budget on January 24th.  Just after being sworn in, he signed four executive orders, establishing his strategic priorities, and creating teams in support of his efforts to address the opiate epidemic and modernize state government.

 Executive Order 01-17, “Governor’s Strategic Goals,” directs all State agencies and departments to utilize their powers, duties and programs to establish strengthening the Vermont economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting vulnerable Vermonters, as cornerstones of their strategic and operational goals.

Executive Order 02-17, establishes the Opiate Coordination Council and also creates the position of Director of Drug Policy, who will act as the executive director of the Council to support, coordinate and monitor its progress.

Executive Order 03-17 established the Government Modernization and Efficiency Team (GMET). Executive Order 04-17 created the Program to Improve Vermonter Outcomes Together (PIVOT), which will be tasked with implementing and tracking progress of the

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state http://www.vtvsba.org/#!act-46-map/q4i59

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state

recommendations issued by GMET.

**********

The Dover, Marlboro, Wardsboro merger study committee is in the midst of hosting a number of public meetings.  These are important opportunities for our taxpayers, parents and students to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed merger in advance of a vote at this year’s Town Meeting.  The public hearing dates are open to anyone from the any of the towns:

  • January 12  6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • January 19  6:30pm – 8pm  Dover Town Hall
  • January 23  6:30pm – 8pm  Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 2  6:30pm – 8pm Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 13 6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • February 27 6:30pm – 8pm Dover Town Hall

**********

I am honored to represent you in the Vermont Legislature.  In order to do so effectively, I need to hear from you about ideas, issues or opportunities.   My cell phone is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Legislative updates and upcoming candidate forums

October 3, 2016

Dear friends and neighbors,

A few legislative updates and some upcoming candidate events:

Act 46
I recently posted an update about Act 46 and education reform taking place in the Valley.  This post includes links to the law, guidance from the AOE, and updates from other parts of Vermont, and so I am posting it again to maintain that link to information for voters, taxpayers and parents.  Readers may have recently read in this past weeks Deerfield Valley News that the draft articles of agreement submitted by the WSSU have been sent back for further development. I have been in touch with the Agency of Education, the Vermont School Boards Association and elected and contracted supervisory leadership regarding next steps for the districts.   There are significant untapped resources that are still available to provide assistance to the districts as they work to comply with the requirements of Act 46. I am working to help the supervisory union’s districts access them. Please stay involved in these historic and important conversations about the future of education in the valley.

The WCSU elementary school study committee has a website to track materials being considered, agendas and minutes http://wcsu-committee.blogspot.com/

Draft all-payer waiver agreement

On Wednesday of last week the Shumlin Administration announced they had reached an agreement with the federal government on a draft all-payer model for delivering healthcare.  In the current healthcare system, providers get paid for each service they give.  In an all-payer system, doctors will be paid monthly based on the health of the people they treat.
This is not the same as “single-payer” which references the number of entities (one public entity) paying healthcare providers.
On Friday the locations for three public forums were announced for this coming week, with Gov. Peter Shumlin, Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen and Al Gobeille, Chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, to present a draft of the All-Payer Model. The draft proposal is under review and is expected to be amended before it receives the final approval of the Governor, Secretary Cohen, Chairman Gobeille, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) . The hearings are designed to present the plan to the public and those involved in Vermont’s health care system, and to take questions and comments from the audience.
  • Monday, Oct. 3, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Montshire Museum of Science Nonprofit Community Room, One Montshire Road, Norwich
  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 4-6 p.m. University of Vermont Recital Hall, 384 South Prospect St., Burlington
  • Tuesday, Oct. 11, 4-6 p.m. CVPS/Leahy Community Health Education Center, Rutland Regional Medical Center, 160 Allen Street, Rutland
When these dates for public comment were announced on Friday at 2:40 pm, I placed a call to the Governor’s office inquiring about the lack of notice, and also accessibility to Southern Vermonters.  If any new dates should be noticed, I will send those out.  If recent history has taught us anything it is that we should be thorough and thoughtful about changes to Vermonters healthcare.

Meet with Laura

It has been wonderful talking with you as I have been going out door to door during this campaign season, thank you for the time you are taking to tell me your concerns and hear from me about why I want to be re-elected as your state representative.

I have been out making my way through the district, and have also scheduled additional times for voters to talk with me in person. This is a great opportunity to ask questions and also tell me about issues or priorities you, your business or your town may have.

Questions at recent sessions have ranged from marijuana legalization to community policing, healthcare, school choice and taxes.  Next meet up sessions are:Wednesday October 5th in Wardsboro at 7 pm – Wardsboro Town Hall

Wednesday October 12th in Stamford at 7 pm at the Stamford Elementary School gym

Candidates Forums

 

The Deerfield Valley Rotary and the Wardsboro Public Library have arranged two candidate forums where both I and my challenger will appear and answer questions from the audience.  This is an important opportunity to ask questions and hear the answers from both candidates.  Voters from Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham should feel welcome to attend either or both of these forums.

  • Thursday October 20th 7 pm at the
    Dover Town Hall
  • Friday October 28th 7pm at the Wardsboro Public Library
Support Laura’s re-election

Thank you very much for the financial, volunteer, sign hosting and letters to the editor support to date as I seek re-election to continue representing Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro and Whitingham.

I have had to turn campaign contributions away because as your independent state representative I continue to choose not to accept support from special interests, political parties or political action committees.

Unfortunately, special interests, political parties and political action committees are once again funding opposition to my campaign. And that is going to increase now with the end of the campaign in sight. I appreciate any level of support my constituents might be able to provide – every $10, $25 or $50 helps a lot! Donating is easy online here:https://laurasibiliavt.com/help-send-lauras-voice-to-montpelier/

Letter’s to the Editor are also a great way to show support and tell other voters why they should re-elect me.  Most of our towns read the Deerfield Valley News where support letters go to editor@vermontmedia.com with the exception of Stamford where folks would send support letters to the Berkshire Eagle directed to news@berkshireeagle.com

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

Kind regards,
Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham
The Official Vermont State Vegetable!

October 22, 2016  — Saturday
14th Annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival     

All Day   Live entertainment in Town Hall and outdoors

and Gilfeather Turnip Contest

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

9AM  Gilfeather Turnip Art show opens at the Library, 170 Main Street, closes at 1 PM

10 AM  Festival Opens – Indoor & Outdoor Vendors Booths, Farmers Market
10 AM  Turnip Cart Selling Fresh Turnips
10 to 11 AM  Coffee & Donut Kiosk
10 AM to Noon  Register Turnips for the Turnip Contest
11 AM  Cafe & outdoor kiosk open for lunch & soup take-out
Noon   Deadline to Enter and Judging of Turnip Contest
1 PM   Turnip Contest Awards announced in Town Hall

Act 46 update– Rep. Laura Sibilia

Many will recall that Acts 60 of 1997 and Act 68 of 2003 were the result of the Vermont Supreme Court having struck down the previous state-funding system and directing the legislature to come up with a new system that would eliminate the inequities among the local school districts.  The legislature did this by establishing a statewide property tax to pay for the education of all students.  The rationale was that towns with wealthy grand lists – lots of businesses and second home owners – could spend more on their students then towns with very few businesses or second home owners on their grand list.  The financing mechanism created by Act 60 put in place put an equalized property tax of all properties in Vermont, income sensitized it for residents and over time the legislature has enacted policies to narrow the gap between education spending per pupil between communities, with the goal of promoting greater equity.

act46 bridgeAct 46, the “Unification” plan for school districts was passed during the 2015 session and its general premise was to reduce inequities across the state by asking individual districts that operate the same grades, to partner with their neighbors and form bigger units.  If you and I join our school boards together, now your students and my students become “our students” and we will ensure that “our students” have the same opportunities.  There are obvious questions here about why the massive increases in education spending spurred by Act 60 did not fix the inequity of opportunity problem that spawned the Brigham lawsuit.   While that discussion has by no means ended, it is not the subject of this column.   With this update I intend to provide parents, residents (full time and weekend) and businesses with information about how to keep track of the Act 46 education reform which is taking shape through our valley.

To start, I am maintaining a page with links about the law Act 46, guidance provided by the Agency of Education and the Vermont School Boards Association on my website at https://laurasibiliavt.com/act-46/

act 46 map

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains an interactive map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state http://www.vtvsba.org/#!act-46-map/q4i59

Act 46 implementation progress across Vermont is happening unevenly – since the passage of Act 46 there have been a number of district merger votes, but none yet in southern Vermont and only a few successful votes in the Northeast Kingdom.  This is likely due to a number of factors including topography, distance, population, economy, more variations in how schools operate and more variations in choice then in the Champlain Valley.  Though there have been no votes in southern Vermont, work is being done, and in our valley work has been underway since the passage of Act 46.

We have two Supervisory Unions for the greater Deerfield Valley area.  Windham Southwest Supervisory Union (WSSU) includes the joint contract districts of Wilmington and Whitingham which provide K-12 education for all of their students, Halifax, Readsboro and Stamford which maintain K-8 schools and offer school choice for students in 9-12 and Searsburg which has choice for students K-12.  Windham Central Supervisory Union (WCSU) includes Leland and Gray Union High School whose member towns Jamaica, Newfane, Brookline, Townshend and Windham all send their middle and high school students to.  Each of those sending schools also maintain a K-6 elementary school.  Also in Windham Central Supervisory Union are Dover and Wardsboro school districts which maintain K-6 schools with school choice for students 7-12, and Marlboro which operates a K-8 with choice fro grades 9-12.

The WSSU has submitted articles of agreement to the Vermont Agency of Education for Stamford, Readsboro and Halifax school districts to merge governance (boards and budgets).  If the Agency approves those articles, they will then be put to a vote in each town.  The WSSU vote is currently slated for this November.  You can monitor the WSSU activity at http://www.windhamsw.k12.vt.us/

Over the summer, two study committees have formed in the WCSU.  One is considering combining all of the boards and budgets of the Leland and Gray Union towns and the other is considering the consolidation of boards and budgets in Dover, Marlboro and Wardsboro.  These study groups are working towards a timeline that would have a vote in the towns at or around Town Meeting day in March 2017.  You can monitor the WCSU activity, including videotaped study committee meetings, at http://www.windhamcentral.org/home

In the WSSU and the WCSU there are also two non-operating districts, Searsburg and Stratton who have been engaged in discussions with other non-operating districts in other Supervisory Unions about consolidating their boards and budgets.

School districts that do not merge with another school district are required to propose they operate as an alternative district.  The State Board of Education has recently provided guidance for districts that are considering this path forward.  The requirements for proposing an alternative structure are stricter then proposing a merging of boards and budgets.  The guidance for districts that do not voluntarily merge can be found here http://education.vermont.gov/documents/edu-sbe-guidance-alternative-structures-act46-7-2016.pdf

With regard to the various levels of school choice that currently exist in the Valley, Section 4 of Act 46 specifically states that compliant districts cannot be forced to give up their existing school choice and that nothing in the Act is intended to take away school choice.  It is important to note that a school district’s voters still have the ability to decide to change or alter school choice.  The State Board of Education has elected to begin looking at the existing rules which allow independent and private schools to access public dollars.  The Vermont School Boards Association, of which I am a board member, has testified that independent schools should be required to be held to a number of the same standards as public schools.   A change in the rules of how independent/private schools can access public funding would require public meetings.   To monitor this discussion, watch meetings, read materials and minutes presented at meetings go to http://education.vermont.gov/state-board

Very important conversations and votes about how we think about and provide for the education of students in the Valley are happening.  There is no greater reflection of our community’s vitality and values then how we provide for our children’s education.  Please join me in participating in as many of these conversations as possible and ensuring the Valley maintains high quality education for all of our students.

 

2016 End of Session Report

Dear friends and neighbors,

This year’s session ended Saturday, which also marked the completion of the 2015/2016 biennium.  The last days of the second year of a biennium are incredibly chaotic, as any legislation introduced in 2015 or 2016 Sessions must pass or start the process all over again next year.

Below are some summaries of how key legislation, and legislation important to our district ended up:

Possible state purchase of TransCanada Dams:
Glory Hole Empty May 2009A seven-member working group was formed by the Governor, the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem to determine whether the state should try to buy 13 dams TransCanada has put on the market.  Windham county legislators were successful in our efforts to include a regional representative of impacted municipalities.  You can monitor this working groups progress here on the Agency of Administrations website.

On April 27th 2016 members of the Windham and Bennington County delegation met with Vermont Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson and Windham Region Commission Executive Director RC Chris Campany regarding the possibility of a State of Vermont purchase of TransCanada assets. Secretary Johnson outlined three items the state was currently working on:transcanada
1. Scope of work for an RFP to get a consultant to look at work done by the state 12 years ago when the possibility of acquiring power generation assets had previously been considered.
2. Develop legislative language that is modeled to set up authority to run dams needed; however, the Secretary indicated he didn’t see how the state would do this without without a partner.
3. Valuation of some of the dams under state ownership.

Marijuana legalization:
The House had three votes on marijuana policy.  The first vote on the Senate proposal to legalize marijuana failed by a vote of 121-28.  The second vote to hold a non binding referendum during the August Primary elections failed 97-51.  The third vote, to decriminalize home cultivation of two plants failed 77-70.  It seems likely that legalization will occur in the coming years.  Since marijuana is illegal federally, I believe thoughtful regulation needs the input of many more legislative committees than have been involved to date, and will require more time then one year.  Given the session’s time constraints and resulting lack of vetting, as well as the fact that we have very large healthcare and educational reforms happening during a historical state leadership transition, I voted against all three measures.

Budget:
The Senate and House agreed to approve total budgets of 5.76B which is a 2.4% increase over last year.  I voted to support this budget largely because of the process by which it was created. Every legislator had multiple opportunities to participate in its development, voters were provided additional multiple public forums to participate in, and the House Appropriations Committee required every Agency and Department to prioritize and justify its programs with outcomes.  Read the summary here: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/appropriations/fy_2017/2017_budget_summary_COC_May_2016.pdf

Taxes: The tax and fee bills to support the budget included an increased fee on mutual fund providers and an assumption of increased rooms and meals tax collection as a result of tax compliance initiatives aimed at internet based lodging providers like AirBnB.  The original House tax bill had included an employer health care assessment which included an assessment on some employees or dependents who had health care through their partner or spouse.  I vote against the original House tax bill because of that potential double coverage penalty and given the number of employers who dropped their health care coverage, made their employees eligible for Green Mountain Care, and paid the amounts previously spent on premiums to their employees for their deductibles – as recommended by state officials.  With the employer assessment gone, I voted to support these bills.

It is important to note that Healthcare reform initiatives remain the single biggest increased cost driver in our state budget challenges.  By a lot.  We have significantly increased the number of Vermonters who are eligible for publicly funded healthcare but have not significantly increased taxes to pay for that care.  We are going to have to kick people off of publicly funded healthcare, dramatically reduce other programs, or raise more money in order to sustain this current system.

Telecom: The House overwhelmingly passed a bill which required providers to provide mapping data on their coverage areas or lose access to public funds, made changes to Act 248(a) which deals with equipment siting, funded restoration of services to the blind, and raised the Vermont Universal Service Fund fee by half a percent to raise 1.6 million annually to expand broadband in unserved areas.  The Senate refused to take the bill up.  Rep. Sam Young (D) Glover led an effort by the Ways and Means Committee to attach the entire telecom bill to another bill sent to the Senate which provided long awaited reforms to the estate tax, but in the end, the Senate still refused to take up the bill.  This represents a temporary set back for towns and areas, previously thought to be covered by VTel, which are working to expand service, as their will be less state funding this year then expected.The Senate did include one claw back provision regarding VTel which received over 2M in state funds to purchase equipment meant to provide cell service to under-served areas.  Unless evidence of 2000 cell customers covered is provided, VTel will have to repay those funds in 2017.  Additionally the State Auditor has requested copies of VTel’s federal grant to develop a wireless network to provide service to unserved Vermonters and expand it’s existing fiber to the home.

Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone: This year’s Economic Development bill included50K in funding to support the development of regionally based economic development collaboration in

Rep. Carolyn Partridge (D) Windham Chairs the House Agriculture Committee

Bennington County.  This process is needed to support future plans to develop a comprehensive economic development plan with Windham County.  I’ve championed this zone initiative, which began last year, along with Rep. Oliver Olson (I) Londonderry and Rep. Kiah Morris (D) Bennington.

Gilfeather Turnip: Wardsboro’s Gilfeather turnip will officially become Vermont’s state vegetable on May 24th when the Governor signs the bill in Montpelier.  Kudo’s to the Wardsboro students and Wardsboro library volunteers who worked so hard, over two years, making the historical case for this to happen.

Rep. Carolyn Partridge and Senator Bobby Starr were instrumental in the bills passage, and in patiently explaining to Wardsboro’s students how long the process would take.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch on issues of importance to you.  The best means of contacting me is email lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.

Warm regards,
Rep. Laura Sibilia

We can’t leave 30K Vermonters behind

April 17, 2016 For Immediate Release:

Last week the Vermont House passed a bill which will raise additional funding to expand internet to approximately 30,000 unserved and underserved Vermonters.  H.870 will increase the universal service fee on phone bills by half a percent, raising roughly $1.6 million per year.  The language was approved in the House by a 96-31 vote.

VTel arra

Map of original VTel wireless project area

A resolution, also approved by the Vermont House of Representatives last week, underscores the urgent need for that preliminary funding. House Resolution 19 asks the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to conduct a financial and performance audit of a combination 116 million dollar federal grant and loan that the Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) received in 2010.  The resolution was drafted in response to finding whole parts of communities completely unserved and was co-sponsored by a large tri-partisan contingent of House Members. Senators from Southern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom  introduced a version of the resolution in the Senate, S.R.13.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, VTel was awarded an $81.7 million grant and a $35.2 million loan to fiber to the home in the Springfield area and to build 119 towers and antennas to set up a system of wireless broadband which would cover 33,000 unserved Vermonters in our state’s most rural areas. The 2014 Vermont Telecommunications Plan described the wireless project as “central to the state’s broadband efforts.”  While the fiber to the home project is completed and an asset to the Springfield region, VTel President Michel Guite has recently acknowledged that five and a half years later, the wireless project only has 1,000 subscribers.  VTel insists that the construction of the wireless system has been mostly completed.  While it may be mostly true that most of the planned towers have been erected, it’s also clear the wireless system was to have covered far more than the 1,000 subscribers Mr. Guite now reports.  Surely the goal of the funding was coverage for Vermonters, not just construction of towers.

After many years of hopeful waiting there is now a growing understanding that tens of thousands of Vermonters, Vermonters previously thought to have a plan in place for internet access under VTel’s wireless project, remain unserved (see 4/1 coverage unserved list by town here).  Their grand lists have not been growing, home values have not been rising, and they did not have a “plan b”.

The Department of Public Service is now working with these rural communities to develop “plan b” for universal coverage in their towns. VTel’s wireless project has been removed from the states broadband maps, thus opening up funding for other providers to serve what were previously considered VTel areas. It is imperative that we provide those communities with resources for this work.  In addition to the increase in the Vermont universal service fee, H.870 contains changes to act 248(a) to improve co-location and tower siting,  a requirement that providers, like VTel, who utilize public dollars for build out, also provide mapping data to the Department of Public Service and a financial penalty for failure to provide that mapping data by withholding high cost funds.

Access to the internet is an essential part of modern life and required in order for Vermonter’s to participate in our state, national and global economy, stay connected with family, and to become and stay educated.  It is the most important infrastructure investment we can make to encourage low impact economic growth and recruit workforce.

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

Final weeks of the session coming up

Act 46 and School Choice updates: Last week I participated in a regional panel discussion on Act 46 sponsored by Marlboro Colleges Center for Creative Solutions alongside Brad James from the Agency of Education, Superintendents Ron Stahley and Dan French,  Wilmington student Peyton Eisler and Whitingham student Kassidy Walkowiak.  It is inspiring to have students voices engaged in the discussion about what the future education delivery system in our region should be.

educationpanel

At the Marlboro College Center for Creative Solutions Act 46 discussion

Dover has recently voted to move forward and study becoming part of a side by side study with one or more districts.  This means working with one or other districts to see if educational opportunities for kids can be improved by joining forces with another district.  Though yet undetermined, the most likely districts for Dover to work with are Wardsboro and or Marlboro.  Dover and Wardsboro operate pre-k through 6th grade and Marlboro operates pre-K through 8th grade.  Any merged district is required to operate the same for all students under one unified budget, so in this case, if all three school districts merged, all students would likely retain school choice beginning either in the sixth or eight grade depending on the results of the study and the articles of agreement agreed to by the districts studying the merger.  The final decisions to merge and approve the articles of agreement rest with the voters of each district.  Searsburg, which does not operate a school and has complete school choice, is continuing to try to work with another geographically reasonable non-operating district to fulfill the requirements of Act 46.  Readsboro and Stamford, which both operate pre-k through 8th grade, are part of a study committee with Halifax which also operates a pre-k through 8th grade.  In all cases, in our district, school choice as it exists now is able to be preserved under the original language of Act 46 if the voters choose to do so.

You may have heard or seen that school choice is under threat from Act 46.  Act 46 very  stated that no town could be forced to give up school choice.  Some towns in Vermont have recently given up school choice by vote of the residents.

Yield bill: The House passed H.843 which set the property tax yield at $9,701 and the income yield – for those that pay using income sensitivity – at $10,870. The penny rate is still used to calculate the nonresidential property tax for commercial property and second homes. Under the current education tax proposal, the rate would be reduced from $1.59 to $1.53 per $100 of assessed property value.  H. 843 also changes the excess spending threshold from 121 percent to 119 percent.  This is the old cost containment piece that almost exclusively impacts small and rural schools.  Rep. Oliver Olsen (I) Londonderry, working with Rep. Ann Manwaring, myself and others, led an effort to postpone the re-engagement of

Talking Yield with Rep. Olson and Rep. Manwaring

Talking excess spending penalty with Rep. Olson and Rep. Manwaring

the excess spending thresholds until a study could be done to determine if changes needed to be made in other aspects of the funding system.  He read from the course catalogues from several of Vermont’s high schools, highlighting the current inequities in opportunities between rural and more urban high school districts.   This is the exact issue my constituents have have been raising for years.  The House was determined to pass the excess spending thresholds, and so as a result, turned down Rep. Olsen’s amendment.   However the next day, for the final reading of the bill, I led efforts to resurrect Rep. Olsen’s study language on how pupils are counted in an amendment that will study whether we need to be looking at a heavier weighting for students in lower population density areas.  This amendment passed!  Though the study will not be completed until 2017, it has the potential to FINALLY begin to assess whether or not equal funding is providing equal educational opportunities for students in districts of all sizes.

Independent Contractors: On March 11th, after 52 hours of testimony and almost as many witnesses, the House Commerce Committee voted out H.867, an independent contractor bill on a bipartisan 11-0 vote.  On March 31st, the bill was sent back to our committee for additional work without the bill ever hitting the House floor for discussion or vote.  Three amendments, sponsored on behalf of labor organizations, were proposed.  Additional amendments are being worked on, including by a group of legislators I am working with.  We have been told by House leadership that the narrowest opportunity still exists for a bill to make it through the House and Senate and to the Governor’s desk.  The issue at hand: Currently in Vermont, nearly every person who is working is potentially required to be treated as an employee of someone else for the purposes of workers comp insurance.  Even if the individual is an entrepreneur, and in business for themselves.  At the same time, the owner(s) of a business can waive the requirement to purchase workers comp insurance for themselves.   This situation is creating instability in the labor market with businesses and general contractors afraid to hire independent contractors for fear they will be charged with paying the independent contractors workers comp premiums through a state audit, and independent contractors having to forgo the benefits of being in business for themselves as most are required to be someone’s employee.  This unpredictable and dated model does not support the entrepreneurial business climate we need to promote in Vermont.   I hope we will be able to introduce modern independent contractor reforms that protect workers in this session.

Telecommunications Bill: This week our committee’s telecommunications bill, H.870 will be voted on in the House.  This bill provides new funding for internet upgrades or expansions for schools, adds funding for news services for the blind, modifies Act 248a for telecommunications tower siting, and increase the Universal Service Fund tax by .05 cent.  Additionally,  telephone providers who wish to access high cost funding from the USF, will need to comply with telecommunications mapping data  requests from the Department of Public Service.  This is an exceptionally important provision for rural Vermont, including much of our district. 

Whitingham connectivity meeting: A community wide public meeting with the Vermont Department of Public Service, Telecom and Connectivity Division and interested Whitingham  citizens has been scheduled for April 18th at 5:30 pm in the main hall of the Jacksonville Municipal Center.  The purpose of the meeting is to share data about existing broadband availability and broadband and cell projects and upcoming deployments happening in the Whitingham area. This public meeting will help inform the next steps in determining how Whitingham may choose to participate in expanding cell and broadband services in the town. The Connectivity Initiative Program run by the Department of Public Service, seeks to provide funding for hard to serve areas. More information on the DPS and their various programs is available at: http://publicservice.vermont.gov/topics/connectivity. The meeting is open to the public.

I am continuing to work to understand what has transpired with the 5 1/2 year old VTel Wireless project, WOW and why folks that were to have been covered by this project remain uncovered.  If you are currently a VTel customer in Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro or Whitingham, I would very much like to hear from you as our towns begin to consider developing a “Plan B” for connectivity.

Tax and Budget bills: The preliminary budget, tax and fee bills have passed the House and gone to the Senate.  These bills are required to originate in the House every year.  It is very likely what passed the House will be changed, added to or subtracted from in the Senate.  The bills will then come back to the House where we will either agree with the Senate changes, or ask for a conference committee to negotiate the differences.  At that point the House and Senate will both vote yes or no on the recommendations from the conference committee.  These will almost certainly be the last bills voted on before we adjourn.  I voted in favor of the  preliminary House budget, but not in favor of the preliminary tax bill.  My budget vote explanation below:

“Mr. Speaker: I campaigned and arrived for my first biennium deeply concerned about the relationship between Vermont’s revenues and Vermont’s budget. I am still concerned. However, I believe there are not an abundance of easy or inconsequential choices to cut in front of us.

I voted to support this budget process, the inclusivness extended to the public and all members of the House, the commitment to examining each aspect of the budget to assess if it was serving Vermonters and how well, and the request for all committees to examine the programs within their jurisdiction and prioritize them. I voted for this budget because of the process and progress I believe the committee is making. Clearly there is still work to do. And clearly a budget needs to be paid for.

My vote on the tax bill this afternoon reflects lingering specific concerns I have with some of the specific tax increases. I am hopeful with amendments those concerns may be alleviated.”

Completely related to the budget and tax bill is a recently passed independent audit of Vermont Health Connect: No single issue has contributed more to our current budget situation then our Healthcare reform efforts and the expansion of medicaid.  We want more access for Vermonters then we have been willing/able to pay for.  Additionally, many legislators for many years have been calling for an independent review of Vermont Health Connect, the healthcare exchange access point which continues to plague Vermonter’s with challenges.   Last week the House approved a $400K independent audit of the exchange and assessment of whether or not it should be abandoned.  This independent will come back next December, in time for a new Governor, new Lt. Governor, new Speaker and many new legislators to utilize in determining how best to move forward.