The eventful 2018 session has come to an end and my final review of the session follows. Over the summer and fall you can expect to hear more from me on updates to the State’s Act 46 plan, telecommunications and CoverageCo, the scheduling of a public forum on healthcare. I did previously announce my intention to run for re-election and I’m writing a piece about what it is like to run and serve as an independent in Vermont.
As always, please be in touch with your thoughts and concerns through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 802-384-0233
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham
PO Box 2052
West Dover, VT 05356
The final Budget and Tax bills
The total FY 2019 Budget of $5.8 billion is up .5% over current fiscal year. The budget adds beds for mental health care and also increases child care provider reimbursements. It also provides $5 million in revolving state funds for home weatherization and pays off $3.9 million in debt at Vermont Life Magazine, which will no longer be published.
Related to education, the budget and tax bill pay down a portion of the $1.3 billion existing liability in teacher pension fund by $100 million. We have also moved expenses from education fund into general fund (renter rebate, community high school of Vermont, Adult Education, Flexible Pathways). This is something voters in the Valley have repeatedly asked for in the last decade and a half and was part of Speaker Johnson’s education financing proposal at the beginning of the session.
Property Tax Adjustment for education rates will be reduced by lowering the value of house site for those paying property tax based on income. This change effects 16,000 households across the state.
Statewide bargaining for public school employee’s health care contract has been agreed to – Governor Scott had asked for this to happen last year and this issue was the cause of the 2017 budget disagreement.
There is also a commission to study student/staff ratios in public schools, supported by the Vermont School Board Association Board of Directors. This work must be done in conjunction with the twice passed and funded student weighting study if it is to result in tax savings and maintain constitutionally required equity on opportunity.
There were several personal tax changes this year, including some necessitated by increases that would have resulted from the federal tax changes. Vermont will reduce personal income tax rates by .2% and collapse the top two income brackets. The legislature also established Vermont standard deductions ($6,000 single, $12,000 joint) and personal exemption of $4,150.
There is now a 5% tax credit on charitable donations (limited to $1,000), and Social Security Income for low and moderate-income households (under $55,000) is exempted from income taxes.
The Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit has been increased from 32% to 36% of federal level and a Vermont Tax Structure Commission to review current funding sources to support state government has been created.
Tuition reimbursement for Vermont National Guard soldiers, the only remaining New England state not to have offered the benefit, was agreed to.
The budget also included a study on carbon pricing. I support this study, because it will outline issues that will need to be addressed prior to any kind of carbon tax being implemented.
New gig/sharing economy regulations:
- Act 10 creates a registry for all short-term rentals in the state by requiring hosts to
register online and acquire a rooms and meals tax identification number, which they will need to publish on all their advertisements and visibly post that number in their rental units with emergency contact numbers. (AirBnB, Homeaway and other short term rentals)
- H.725 Regulating Transportation Network Companies established insurance requirements for companies like Uber and Lyft to cover drivers and passengers for up to $1 million, plus med pay of $5,000. The companies are also required to vet drivers using background checks and the records are subject to inspection by the Vermont Department of motor Vehicles.
Internet access and security:
- Data Brokers H.764 will provide consumers with greater protection over their personal information by starting to regulate data brokers – those who buy and sell personal information of individuals with whom they have no other business relationship. Those brokers will be required to register with the state and provide the Attorney General with information about the nature of the information they collect and their means of collecting it. The law also requires data brokers to disclose when they experience a breach of personal information.
- Net Neutrality S.289 requires internet service providers (ISPs) that contract with the State of Vermont to adhere to net neutrality standards which includes not blocking content, engaging in paid prioritization of internet services or acting to “throttle, impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service.” As part of the legislation, the Vermont’s Attorney General will:
- determine whether internet service providers in the state follow net neutrality standards and report back prior to the next legislative session
- make the ISP’s public statements about their Net Neutrality function information available to consumers by posting it on a website
- conduct a joint study with the Department of Public Service to determine whether Vermont should put additional net neutrality rules for internet providers in place in the future
Governor Scott signed an executive order in February requiring internet companies that do business with the state to abide by net neutrality principles. I co-sponsored the House net neutrality legislation and secured a unanimous vote out of our committee on an amendment to the Senate bill. Whether or not ISP’s are honoring net neutrality principals will need to be monitored vigorously in the future. The whole world of telecommunications is rapidly changing and evolving and competition for future survival is fully in play at the national level.
- Individual mandate Vermont: With the repeal of the individual mandate federally, Vermont became the 3rd state to require the individual mandate after Massachusetts and New Jersey. Starting in 2020, residents of Vermont will be required to have health insurance or be subject to state tax penalties with the passage of a revised legislative bill H.696. The specifics for how the statewide mandate will exist have not been determined but will be determined by a working group in 2019 prior to the launch of the new requirements starting on January 1, 2020. In the meantime, no state penalties will be imposed on residents who do not obtain healthcare coverage prior to 2020. Vermont residents will be contacted by state officials as part of “educated outreach efforts” to answer any questions and inform residents of the policies and procedures as they are determined prior to going into effect in 2020.
- Drug importation from Canada S 175 directs the state Agency of Human Services to design a program to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada. Drugs included in the program would have to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards and “generate substantial savings for Vermont consumers.” The agency must submit a program proposal to the legislature by January 1, 2019, and a formal request to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by July 1, 2019.
- Rep. John Gannon and I will be hosting a Valley wide info session later this Summer/Fall on both these items as well as giving residents an opportunity to share issues or concerns they are having with regard to healthcare.
Equal Pay H.294 prohibits employers from requesting a person’s salary history prior to making a job offer, a practice which often leads to unequal pay between genders. Employers may still post a salary range, and an applicant may still post salary requirements, but asking for a salary history is now off-limits.
“MeToo”: H.707 I also co-sponsored this tri-partisan legislation which aims to shed some sunlight on habitual harassers and ensure those who were subject to the harassment are not the only ones suffering consequences.
- Companies cannot require people to sign away their right to report sexual harassment as part of a pre-employment contract.
- All supervisors and managers, including those who oversee or contract with volunteers, interns and independent contractors, have an obligation to ensure the working relationship is “free from sexual harassment.”
- Sexual harassment settlements cannot prohibit the person making the complaint from working for the employer in the future.
- The Attorney General’s Office can visit workplaces and require employers to change their practices.
- Vermont will create an online portal for making complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment.
The law took effect on July 1. Read the legislation here. Adults who are at least 21 years old are allowed to possess and grow marijuana: possess up to one ounce of marijuana or for growing two mature marijuana plants and four immature marijuana plants per housing unit.
- The plants must be in a secure enclosure that is screened from public view.
- Marijuana harvested from plants doesn’t count toward the one-ounce limit as long as it’s stored on-site, in an indoor place.
Convictions for possessing more than one ounce of marijuana, or more than two mature and four immature plants, are imprisonment up to six months and fine up to $500. Providing marijuana to a person under 21 years old can result in imprisonment up to two years and fines up to $2,000. It is a misdemeanor crime to use marijuana in a car with a child, with penalties starting at $500 and two points on a driver’s license. Impaired driving remains illegal under the law, and neither drivers nor passengers are allowed to use marijuana in a vehicle. Anyone with an open container of marijuana in a vehicle can be fined $200.
Marijuana use is limited to “individual dwellings” and is prohibited in any street, alley, park or sidewalk. Landlords can ban possession and use of marijuana as part of a lease agreement. Using or growing marijuana at a child care facility is not allowed.
Here is a summary of all legislation which passed in 2018.
Legislation mandating an increase in the minimum wage and paid family leave passed the House (without my support) and the Senate, but did not have enough votes to overturn the governors veto.
Legislation increasing the Vermont Universal Service Fund fee by .05% passed the House with a veto proof tri-partisan vote. This increase would have raised a very modest 1.5 Million a year for internet expansion and would have raised a $100 phone bill by .50 cents. Unfortunately, just like in 2016 when we passed this bill, the Senate refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Rural Economic Development Working Group: I’m a Co-Chair of this tri-partisan and independent group of House members with Rep. Chip Conquest and Rep. Charlie Kimbell. With the support of the Speaker, we held a hearing last fall to hear about issues that were important to rural Vermont. Based on that hearing, the House Rural Economic Development Working Group advocated for three primary issues during the 2018 legislative session:
- Provide regulatory relief for the forest products industry and for additional ways to support their industry.
- Expand high speed, broadband technology into rural Vermont to give communities the opportunity to participate in today’s economy.
- Provide small communities with planning assistance and access to financing to design, build and maintain community wastewater and potable water systems.
Several bills passed the legislature with REDWnG’s support and assistance that provided the following to rural Vermont:
- Gave individual homeowners, including owners of multifamily homes, access to funding for wastewater systems that are close to failing, with very favorable terms.
- Enabled private entities to tap into the state Revolving Clean Water Fund to build wastewater treatment systems.
- Foresters were granted the right to conduct forest harvesting operations without risk of being shut down because of complaints of neighbors provided that they follow best forestry practices.
- Certain forestry machinery was granted exemption from purchase and use tax to make it more affordable to purchase new equipment.
- Funding for the Working Lands Enterprise Fund, supporting agricultural businesses, was increased to $700K.
- Freed up $1.2 million that had been parked in a now defunct telecommunications authority project to be used to support the expansion of broadband and cellular phone connectivity.
- Created a pilot project to fund expansion of the outdoor recreation industry through “model communities.”
- As a result of our advocacy, the Department of Environmental Conservation is working closely with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to remove regulatory obstacles for towns looking to replace or construct properly sized wastewater systems.
2019 Constituent Survey:
The results from last years survey were really helpful to me as I considered policy and the best use of my time during the session. I’m interested in hearing any questions you think might be helpful to ask a broad valley audience