Rep. Sibilia: Reflections on 2018 ~ Contemplating 2019

~ 2018 Reflections ~ Contemplating 2019 ~

This past year voters elected me to a third two-year term representing you in

 the Vermont Legislature.  Thank you for placing your trust in me. I will continue to work to represent our district with integrity and passion.

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Last session I served for a second year on the newly formed Energy and Technology Committee in the House. The former chair of this committee Rep. Steve Carr has retired and a new chair will be named for 2019. I was also appointed to the Joint House/Senate Information Technology Committee and the House Ethics Panel. There were a number of bills that I introduced or cosponsored, most having to do with education, telecommunications expansions and rural economic development which remain important issues in our district and our state.
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At the time the Rural Electrification Act was passed, electricity was commonplace in cities but largely unavailable in farms, ranches, and other rural places.

The Vermont House and Senate efforts on Net Neutrality and Data Privacy protections combined with the failure of the 2G CoverageCo rural cellular network and increasing declines in land line telephone system are pulling together coalitions and urgent conversations regarding the need to assess our entire telecommunications infrastructure, transmission, content development, privacy and access systems. This will be a significant part of our work in the coming years.

An important reminder about landline phone service: Storms and weather and accidents happen, and when they do we can briefly lose our landline telephone service. When that happens, it is important to let the phone company know you have lost service.
If you start having chronic issues with your landline phone service like significant delays (more then 48 hours) in repair time, repeated failure to solve the problem or repeated failure to schedule a technician or service it’s important to then let your elected officials and those individuals who regulate the phone company know what is happening.
When your land line stops working:
1. Call your service provider and report the problem. Note the date, time, name of the person who has taken your call and what they tell you they will do to solve your issue.
If you still do not have phone service for more then 24 hours after your initial call to the phone company:
2. Send an email to your State Representative with the following information:
    • What the name of the telephone carrier isfcc
    • What the address is where the problem is located
    • What the name of the account holder is at that address
    • The best means for the phone company to contact that person
    • What the problem is
    • When the problem started
    • How many times the phone company has been contacted
    • What they have said/done
2. If you still don’t have service 24 hours later, and there has been no follow up by the company
  • If your provider is Consolidated you can submit comments to the public service quality complaint that has been opened up: Go to the Vermont Public Utility Commission website and open case https://epuc.vermont.gov/?q=node/64/135508/FV-Case%20Summary-Portal and file a public comment by clicking on the drop down menu under “Case Details” and selecting “add a public comment”. Suggested info for public comment is same info included in the email to your State Representative.
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The possession and use of marijuana and a limited number of marijuana plants was legalized early in the past session. We will see proposals for a system to tax and regulate sales in this coming session.
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Several acts to reduce violence in our schools and communities were passed. In a perfect demonstration of a functioning democracy, opponents of the legislation have filed lawsuits and asked the Courts to decide if the Legislature and the Administration acted in a way that violates our Constitution. This is exactly how our system of checks and balances on power is supposed to work. There are at least three additional pieces of gun legislation that I am hearing may be introduced in 2019 – a 48 hour waiting period on gun purchases, a ban on 3-D printing of guns and a gun storage requirement. When and if these bills are introduced and considered, your specific examples of how you personally might be impacted by such laws will be helpful if we end up taking these bills up.
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This past year a special committee examined 50 years of Act 250 The Commission on Act 250: the Next 50 Years is a six-member legislative committee that was established to examine and report by December 15, 2018 on a broad list of issues relating to the State land use law known as Act 250, originally passed in 1970 and codified at 10 V.S.A. chapter 151. The draft report has recently been released. To publicly comment, please email Act250Comments@leg.state.vt.us
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 Education issues for our district and much of the state continue to revolve around Act 46

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River Valleys School Board Chair Rich Werner walks members of the public through expected tax implications on its first budget proposal

implementation.  Stamford continues to make progress on developing an interstate district with Clarksburg, MA.

The River Valley’s Unified District Board for Dover and Wardsboro has approved it’s first budget and projected it’s first tax rate and is preparing to go the voters at the River Valleys Unified School District Annual Meeting on February 12, 2019 at 7 pm at the Wardsboro Town Hall.
Whitingham’s lawsuit challenging the state’s education finance formula continues to move forward.
The Acting Secretary of Education produced a statutorily required plan on the alignment of all of Vermont’s school districts. The State Board of Education took testimony at public hearings, including my testimony, and crafted their Final Report of Decisions and Order on Statewide School District Mergers as required in Act 46.  New lawsuits are emerging from districts who have been recommended for forced merger.
Gov Scott proposed to alter student/staff ratios prior to receiving the statutorily required and funded student weighting study needed to ensure those ratios are implemented and felt equitably throughout the state.  He also successfully advocated for the use of one time funds to artificially lower property taxes for one year.
In 2018 Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb resigned and Gov. Scott appointed Dan French as the new Secretary of Education.  Long time legislator and former Chair of House Education and Vice Chair of Ways and Means Rep. Dave Sharpe retired which will almost certainly effect the tenor and type of education discussions the legislature has going forward.

In 2019 I anticipate there may be legislative proposals to hold some or all non-merged school districts harmless, to delay the effects of Act 46 for some or all non-merged districts or to reject some or all of the findings of the State Board of Education. I expect the Governor to propose major education finance changes, as he has every year. My support for those proposals always centers around two factors – not harming Vermont students and transparently helping Vermont taxpayers, in that order. Our local districts have complied with Act 46, but are still deeply challenged by the combination of our rural demographic challenges and the 20 year flawed education financing system. Locally we have more work to do and need to have that work supported. My efforts in the coming session will center around honoring the incredibly difficult and emotional work our communities have done so far, protecting the educational needs of our students and defending our taxpayers.
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In 2019 the Vermont Legislature will elect a new Adjutant General for the Vermont National Guard who will lead both the air and Army Guard in Vermont.  Legislators will choose between at two candidates. Vermont is the only state where the Adjutant is elected by the Legislature. If you are Guard Family or former Guard and have thoughts you’d like to share in advance of that election I would like to hear them.
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 must originate in the Vermont State Senate and can only be  proposed every four years. This is one of the years changes can be proposed. There will be a push for amendments that will create 4 year terms for Governor as well as establish civil and reproductive rights for Vermonters.
How does ranked-choice voting work?
How does Ranked Choice Voting Work

In addition, Rep. Ben Jickling of Randolph and I are working with Senator Chris Pearson of Burlington and other independents and Progressives on a bill which would bring Ranked Choice Voting to Vermont. Maine has recently utilized and the courts have upheld election results using Ranked Choice Voting. Massachusetts has a healthy public education campaign underway. We are looking forward to lots of public education on the benefits of ensuring candidates receive a majority vote and that all voters are able to have their votes considered in elections.

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The remote worker program has officially opened for applications as of January 1. This program reimburses individuals for some expenses to move to Vermont and work remotely. More information is available at the ThinkVermont website.
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Other issues we are hearing will be receiving legislative attention this session: Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave, Water Quality, Climate Change
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Thank you to all who have taken our 2019 Legislative Survey.
Thus far we have 196 responses but are particularly light in responses from the under 35 crowd.

If you haven’t taken the survey, especially if you are a young person – please take the survey by Friday January 4th. Results will be published prior to the start of the new session on January 9th. The survey is designed to measure the attitudes and priorities of voters in the Deerfield Valley based on general topics and some specific proposals that we think will happen in the legislature this year.
 
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In 2018 I had some proud momma moments included my youngest daughter graduating from the UVM ROTC program as a nurse and 2LT in the U.S. Army and my son working all last winter in order to travel to France and Italy over the summer and then being able to watch him playing in the DIII Vermont high school soccer championship game this fall.  
Both of my daughters spent a fair amount of time in the State House during the debate and passage of

S.55 observing democracy in action and my oldest daughter has agreed to work with me part time during this year’s Session helping with research.
Proud to also share that my little brother graduated from the Vermont Police Academy this Fall and he is now working with Brattleboro Police Department.
 
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A final thought on 2018 – During the past four years I’ve been privileged to serve in the Vermont Legislature, I have had the added honor of sitting next to Rep. Kiah Morris of Bennington. Kiah was the only African American women serving in the Vermont House. Kiah has unexpectedly stepped away from serving in the House, and I have been reflecting on what I have learned since meeting her.
Kiah and I came into the House the same year and shared an immediate bond as Southern Vermont moms with young sons still at home. In our first term, we successfully worked together with a number of our colleagues on the creation of the Southern Vermont Economy Zone, a long term economic strategy which is already resulting in new collaborations and projects in Southern Vermont. It was eye opening to me each time I heard racist and discriminatory remarks in devotions, debate or comments in the Vermont House of Representatives including speeches on several civil and human rights measures Kiah had proposed which were so vitriolic they reduced visitors to tears. Watching the two self described local white supremacists harass her – sometimes daily and sometimes hourly over the years she served – equally as shocking. It’s hard to see what we don’t see.
Growing up and living in areas that are largely rural and almost exclusively white had afforded me virtually no opportunities to witness overtly racist acts. Out of sight, out of mind.  Sitting next to Kiah brought home to me the work that is still needed to combat racism and bigotry, even in Vermont. As our entire country continues to feel the demographic shifts of a globally connected economy, retiring baby boomers and lower birthrates, and we in rural Vermont continue to seek qualified employees for existing good paying jobs, people who want to start businesses and live here, enroll their students in our schools and enjoy the beauty, quiet and safety that keep us here, we have to start by asking (as my friend Kiah has asked me) “who deserves to be able to be here and to enjoy those things?”
Thank you for keeping me informed about your hopes, challenges and points of view last year – I hope you will continue in 2019 – Happy New Year!
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2019 survey on the #Vermont Legislative session for the Deerfield Valley

This year I’m collaborating with fellow Deerfield Valley legislator Rep. John Gannon on a brief 16 question survey which is designed for you to weigh in on what areas you’d most like the legislature to spend their time on. There are a few additional questions about issues that could emerge during the 2018 Vermont political discussion. We are hoping you will consider giving some brief input prior to the the legislative session which begins January 9th and will likely go through early May.

This survey is intended for our constituents in Dover, Halifax, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham, and Wilmington but our weekend residents and neighbors are free to weigh in.  The only required questions are name and town of residence. The survey should take you about 5 minutes to complete if you choose to answer all of the remaining questions.

Take the survey

A reminder about the Consolidated Communications hearing in Readsboro Monday November 26th:  After a significant increase in repair and new service complaints this summer, the Department of Public Service petitioned the Public Utility Commission for an  investigation to be conducted. There will be two hearings statewide – one in Readsboro at the school on November 26th starting at 6:30 and another in St Albans at BF Academy on December 6th at 6:30. Please share this information with your neighbors and ask them to attend or file comments with the PUC on case #18-3231 if they have experienced a service quality or new installation issue. It seems likely that Vermont’s policymakers are not aware of the extent of the service quality issues, or the results of the billions of dollars of deferred maintenance. While we all want to see more internet and cellular service, unreliable land line phone service in areas without cell or internet poses significant dangers for vulnerable populations and public safety.

Please stay in touch with issues of concern,

Rep. Laura Sibilia

Final update of the 2018 session

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 lhsibilia@gmail.com or phone at 802-384-0233

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

PO Box 2052
West Dover, VT 05356
cell: 802-384-0233

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 img_1392from 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  guardfunding 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
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    Image credit: Crunchbase

    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 downloadblocking 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.

Healthcare:

  • 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 Flag_of_Canada_(Pantone).svgdesign 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.

Civil Protections:
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.

Marijuana legalization:
The law took effect on July 1. Read the legislation here. Adults who are at least 21 years imageold 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.

Failed efforts:

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Making the case for funding for internet expansion & connecting rural Vermont.

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:

  1. Provide regulatory relief for the forest products industry and for additional ways to support their industry.
  2. Expand high speed, broadband technology into rural Vermont to give communities the opportunity to participate in today’s economy.
  3. 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.

surveybumpstocks2019 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

Rep. Sibilia 2018 Town Meeting Update

Dear Friends and Neighbors: It’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.  This report is also available online at www.laurasibiliavt.com where it contains live links to supporting documents and sponsored legislation.  Please stay in touch on issues of importance to you: (802)384-0233 or lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us

PROPOSED INCOME TAX CHANGES: H.911 Lowers all income tax rates by 0.2% and collapses top two income tax brackets, creates a VT Standard Deduction, equal to $6,000 for single filers and $12,000 for married couples, creates a Vermont Personal Exemption equal to $4,150 per exemption, expands the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit, from 32% of the Federal EITC to 35%, creates a 5% tax credit for the total amount of charitable contributions up to $10,000. Taxpayers who contribute up to $10,000 will be eligible for a $500 tax credit, provides tax relief to Vermonters receiving Social Security benefits, taxable Social Security benefits below $45,000 for single filers and below $60,000 for married filers will be 100% exempt from State income tax.

EDUCATION and PROPERTY TAXES:

  • Education Finance Proposal: 911 Adds a School Income Tax Surcharge, built upon the reformed income tax system (noted under Proposed Income Tax Changes). Rates are 0.1% of lowest bracket, 0.5% for middle brackets, and 1% on highest income brackets; Raises approximately $59 million for education; Uses the $59 million to reduce average homestead property tax rates (on both property and income) from projected FY19 rates (average reduction of $0.15); Cost containment: future tax rates will rise faster for all spenders; Non-residential property tax rate: stays at current law = $1.591; Homeowner rebate: split into two components: education and municipal; Renter Rebate: maintained and transferred to General Fund; Separates municipal and education tax bills; General Fund transfer to Ed Fund repealed; Dedicates to the EF: 100% of sales tax and 25% of rooms and meals; Transfers adult education, flexible pathways, community high school of VT, renter rebate to GF ($21.5 million); Repeals excess spending penalty. The excess spending penalty is replaced.  I am concerned that this proposal doesn’t address the current lack of accountability to businesses and nonresidential taxpayers, that it doesn’t address the substantial inequities that exist for our students, and I am deeply concerned that the replacement cost containment measure will add insult to injury for rural students while failing to capture significant needed savings throughout the system.
  • Weighting study: A student Weighting Study passed by last year’s House, Senate and signed into law by the Governor has not yet been conducted.  The administration made a request for 300K in this year’s budget adjustment to conduct the study which has been turned down by the House and Senate.  The administration is required to conduct the study and has communicated that they have begun pulling together some of the pieces.  The House Education Committee has included the study and funding in it’s recently passed Special Education bill. An accurate weighting (equalizing) of students is critical for sustained property tax relief that reflects the Vermont Constitution’s requirement for equity.
  • VT/MA Interstate district: Kudos to the Stamford School Board and Interstate Committee for driving to Montpelier in a snow storm to attend an important hearing in front of the House and Senate Education Committees on their Interstate School District proposal with Clarksburg, MA. This proposal has been developed in response to Act 46 requirements.  Several elements of support for this proposal continue to move forward in both the House and Senate.  The proposal has been awarded financial support from the MA Legislature.

HEALTHCARE: The House Healthcare Committee advanced a bill H.696 out of its Committee on Friday that requires individuals to be covered by insurance and establishes a working group to report on administration and enforcement of the Individual Mandate requirement.

SALIVA TESTING: The House voted in favor of allowing law enforcement officers to administer a saliva test.  The test will indicate the presence of some drugs, including marijuana.  A person is driving under the influence of alcohol, can be asked to take a Breathalyzer test to measure their blood alcohol level. There’s no roadside test to determine if a person is impaired because of the use of certain drugs. If an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a person is driving impaired, they can be asked to do a series of roadside tests to screen for sobriety.  If a driver failed those tests, and the officer didn’t think that alcohol was a factor, if this bill passes they can ask the driver to take a saliva test. This test would not measure an impairment level, but would confirm the presence of certain drugs in the driver’s system.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: 

  • VUSF Increase: The House passed a bill to raise more than $6 million to build out broadband infrastructure across the state. 582, would temporarily increase a fee on telecommunications services from 2 percent to 2.5 percent for four years, ending in 2022.  The money raised from the increase go to a fund that distributes grants to internet service providers that expand networks in underserved areas.  Readsboro and Stamford town internet committees each have projects that have recently been awarded VUSF funds.  The House approved the measure on a vote of 109-27.  The measure is now in the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Net Neutrality: Two bills in my Committee are seeking to ensure Vermonters have Net Neutral internet access. Senate bill 289, was approved by a vote of 23-5, and requires internet service providers to certify compliance with net-neutrality provisions as a precondition for winning state contracts. I am one of the lead sponsors on House bill, H.680, takes a wider approach to regulation, requiring internet service providers doing business in Vermont to apply to the Public Utility Commission for net-neutrality certification. Governor Scott signed an Executive Order similar to the Senate bill, but with flexibility for State Agencies to grant exceptions to some internet service providers.

PAID FAMILY LEAVE: Passed the House last year.  If approved by the Senate, and signed into law by the Governor, employees over age 18, who work at least 18 hours a week, who do not work for the federal government, who work more than 20 weeks for an employer in a 12-month period, will legally have access to paid sick leave. Covered employees will accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 52 hours they work. An employer may require a one-year waiting period before an employee may take accrued sick time. The employer may restrict the amount of sick leave that may be taken to and to 40 hours a year.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE:  Passed the Senate last month.  If approved by the House, and signed into law by the Governor, employers would be required to increase hourly pay every year through 2024. The first increase would come January 1, 2019, with a minimum wage increase from $10.50 to $11.50 an hour.

MARIJUANA: Recreational use of marijuana and a policy of limited “home grow” was legalized on January 22nd.  I support taxing and regulating marijuana use like we do with alcohol and tobacco.  This was not a tax and regulate bill and therefore I voted against this bill.  Thank you to all who contacted me regarding this legislation.  I expect Vermont will be working to adjust marijuana legislation on an annual basis for the next decade.   Details of the bill can be found on my website.

GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION:  There is a significant discussion about school safety happening throughout Vermont, and a sense of urgency to the conversations happening in Montpelier, led by the Governor, Speaker and Senate Pro Tem.   A memo from Governor Scott to legislators outlining proposals he is open to working on can be found on my website.  New school safety measures as well as legislation increasing regulation of guns are proposed.  Rep. Gannon and Rep. Sibilia are working with school, law enforcement and community groups a public forum for residents, students or employees who work in the Deerfield Valley on Sunday March 18th from 4-6 pm at the Twin Valley Middle/High School in Whitingham.

Legislative update – January 28, 2018

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Photo by Jim Therrien from the January 5th Bennington Banner story “What’s important to local lawmakers in 2018”

The 2018 Vermont Legislative Session began on January 3rd.  We’ve already seen marijuana legalized in the Session and it looks like we will be spending a considerable amount of time on education cost, delivery and equity. I was pleased that both both House Speaker Mitzi Johnson’s opening comments and Governor Phil Scott’s subsequent State of the State address noted the need to ensure rural Vermont is included in economic and community growth, and each made promises regarding addressing the current state of Vermont education – the Speaker on funding and the Governor on spending.  The critical piece that binds those two together – equity for all students – will be significantly served by the completion of the weighting study passed last year.  Here are links to both opening addresses:

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Recreational use of marijuana and a policy of limited “home grow” was legalized on January 22nd.  Given the increased legalization surrounding us, particularly in MA, as well as increased public safety and education costsimage associated with that legislation, I am in support of taxing and regulating marijuana use like we do with alcohol and tobacco.  This is not a tax and regulate bill and therefore I voted against this bill.  Thank you to all who contacted me regarding this legislation.  I expect Vermont will be working to adjust marijuana legislation on an annual basis for the next decade.   Details of the bill can be found here: Marijuana Rules signed into law on January 22, 2018 and effective July 1, 2018

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fy19overviewcover2019 Vermont State Budget detail

Community-Based Public Hearings on the Governor’s recommended FY 2019 State Budget

The Vermont House and Senate Committees on Appropriations are seeking public input on the Governor’s Recommended FY2019 State Budget and will hold community-based public hearings on Monday, February 12, 2018, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. at the following 5 locations.

  • Johnson – Johnson State College
  • Rutland City – Rutland Public School
  • St. Johnsbury – St. Johnsbury House
  • St. Albans City – St. Albans City School
  • Winooski – Community College of Vermont

Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. in Montpelier.

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Reforming our education system for students and taxpayers:

I wrote an OpEd in December which outlined the challenges we are facing with Screenshot 2018-01-27 17.32.26regard to a proposed 7-9% increase in property taxes.  Here is what has been transpiring with regard to the situation since the beginning of the Session:

  • Weighting Study – the Weighting Study passed by last year’s House, Senate and signed into law by the Governor has not yet been conducted.  The administration made a request for 300K in this year’s budget adjustment to conduct the study which has been turned down by the House and will likely be turned down by the Senate.  The administration is required to conduct the study.  An accurate weighting (equalizing) of students is critical for sustained property tax relief that reflects the Vermont Constitution’s requirement for equity.
  • Governor’s List – Governor Scott issued a memo to the legislature outlining 18 possible cost containment initiatives to work on collaboratively with the legislature.  Without accurate weights, I’m opposed to a number of these initiatives, but not to all.   Proposals to cap per pupil spending or implement staffing ratios need accurate weights and scaling in order to not harm students and achieve the most savings.
  • Ways and Means – has been looking at the current funding source for education and developing a proposal to move towards lowering property taxes by shifting to partial income tax, as well as replacing the general fund transfer and separating municipal and .  The latest working draft can be found here and will likely undergo numerous edits prior to ever coming to the floor.  Keep an eye on updated work the Ways and Means Committee is doing here.

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New bills I have introduced and roll call votes I have taken can be found here.  Please let me know if you have questions about either. Legislation I have been working on in January:

Stamford, VT and Clarksburg, MA Interstate District – Next month representatives

from the two districts will travel to the statehouse for a joint hearing with members of the House and Senate Education Committees on developing legislation to form the VT/MA interstate agreement.

H.581 and H.582 – I’ve introduced two bills to increase funding for build out of last mile service.  H.582 temporarily increases the Vermont Universal Service Fee by one half of one percent to raise approximately $1.5M annually to be used in partnership with providers and municipalities to build our telecommunications infrastructure in undeserved areas.  This proposed increase was supported by roughly 75% of the 200+ respondents to my 2018 Legislative Survey and has encountered limited opposition during testimony to date.

Net Neutrality – The recent history on this fight centers around a 2015 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to re-classify internet service providers (ISPs) as Common Carriers and a December 2017 FCC voted to reclassify ISPs as information service providers; unregulated in a competitive market. In addition, in 2017 the FCC prohibited states from regulating Net Neutrality.

  • A common carrier is classified by what they do.  Landline telephones and utilities are common carriers.
  • Common carriers have to serve everyone who wants to use the service.  Everyone has the same right to pay to use the service.
  • Common carriers have to charge everyone the same price for the same service.

In our district, and in much of rural Vermont, it’s difficult to recognize the benefits of an unregulated competitive telecommunications market. The more that modern life relies on being connected for healthcare, education, safety, the less acceptable it is for our rural citizens to not have access because of the lack of a competitive market. For this reason I began working on a Net Neutrality bill prior to the session. We are currently taking testimony on H.680. IF you are interested in testifying, please contact me.

Sexual Harassment – I’ve also co-sponsored H.707 which would prohibit employee agreements that prevent an employee from disclosing sexual harassment or seeking rights or remedies related to sexual harassment. The bill requires settlements to be registered with the attorney general and other provisions and has broad support from all parties and independents in the House.

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The Vermont House Rural Economic Development Working Group (REDWnG) held a public hearing in Montpelier on November 7th.  Below are four main areas that received a lot of input and provide a clear focus for legislative initiatives:

  • Extend high speed internet/broadband to every corner of Vermont.
  • Assist small towns and villages to establish community water and wastewater systems.
  • Strengthen the market and demand for Vermont forestry products.
  • Strengthen the integration of Career Technical Education in secondary schools

I co-chair this group which is comprised of House members from across the state and representing every party and independents.  This group meets weekly to track legislative initiatives related to these areas.

 

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Public Hearing regarding Vermont Firearms Laws

The Senate Committee on Judiciary of the Vermont General Assembly is holding a public hearing about Vermont firearms laws on Tuesday, January 30, 2018.  The hearing will be held at the State House in Montpelier, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The hearing will be held in the House Chamber, second floor.  Witnesses may start signing up to speak at 4:30 PM.  Witness testimony will be limited to three minutes.  The Committee will also accept written testimony.  Due to space constraints, please consider viewing the live feed channel and submitting written testimony. https://youtu.be/vhfhCLYrgNk

For information about the format of this event or to submit written testimony, e-mail testimony@leg.state.vt.us

If you plan to attend and need accommodations to participate, please contact testimony@leg.state.vt.us by January 20th, so that we can arrange those in advance

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Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lhsibilia@gmail.com.
Kind regards,
Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

 

2017 Session perspectives

Happy late summer!  I’m looking forward to seeing you all at a number of events in the coming weeks and months in the valley.

An update on the end of the 2017 session: This year I served on a new committee focusing on Energy and Technology which was created by Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson.  There was previously no single committee responsible for state IT projects and telecommunications was a a commerce function. This committee has jurisdiction over both the Public Service Board (now the Public Utilities Commission) and the Department of Public Service, energy, IT projects, and telecommunications.   I was also appointed to the House Ethics Panel.

Highlights from 2017 bills:

Telemarketers Legislation: After hearing from many constituents about fraudulent calls, Bennington County Senator Brian Campion and I introduced mirror bills in the House and Senate and with support from the Attorney Generals office, this bill passed.  S.72 An act relating to requiring telemarketers to provide accurate caller identification information and established a data broker working group.  Unfortunately this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of dealing with what at best are nuisance calls and at worst criminal fraud activity.  Enforcement will present its own challenges.

The Attorney Generals office maintains a Consumer Assistance line to resolve problems you may be having with a business and to also report suspected scams.  I’d strongly encourage residents to call and sign up for their scam alert system 800-649-2424 (toll-free in Vermont) or 802-656-3183. Please consider checking out the “Stopping Scams” page at https://www.uvm.edu/consumer to better understand the tactics being used and how to protect yourself and your family.

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Rural Economic Development Infrastructure districts: Allowed the formation of Rural Economic Development Infrastructure Districts  Working with the Rural Economic Development Working Group, Rep. Chip Conquest and I introduced legislation to form REDI Districts . These special municipal districts can finance, own, and maintain infrastructure that provides economic development opportunities in rural and under resourced areas of the State, in designated areas within one or more municipalities.

Highlights from the Energy and Technology Committee:

  • Our committee recommended House agreement of an Executive Order establishing the Agency of Digital Services. The executive order elevated the Chief Information Officer to a cabinet level post charging the Agency of Digital Services to join IT personnel, software and hardware across state government to achieve the overall objective of improving the coordination and effectiveness of providing services to the public.
  • Reauthorizing Act 248A: Act 248A provides an ease in permitting for telecommunications facilities.  In addition, we passed legislation providing authorization for the Department of Public Service to issue administrative citations for alleged violations of statutes and approvals related to in-state energy and telecommunications facilities.
  • Energy Storage Bill: The House passed legislation I sponsored which requests a report from the Department of Public Service relating to fostering energy storage on the Vermont electric system and authorized the Clean Energy Development Fund to fund energy storage projects that support renewable resources.  Given Vermont’s abundance of renewable energy, our rural nature and our MA neighbors investments in energy storage, energy storage infrastructure is critically important for electric grid stability, protecting existing rate payers and efficient use of renewable energy.
  • 10 Year Telecommunications plan: The plan is being rewritten and requires a survey of residents and businesses as part of its development.  I successfully advocated for adding specific surveying requests from our healthcare, education and public safety sectors.  As many in our district know – our challenges with broadband and cell service can become life threatening when police, rescue or social service personnel are unable to utilize modern communications to assist citizens in need.  Representatives from Dover School, Grace Cottage and Rescue Inc. testified in support of this needed change.

Additional local interest items – Marijuana legalization:
Voters in our district have communicated passionately on this issue – both for and against.  In the past I have been a no vote on full legalization, and voted no for a home grow only proposal at the beginning of this past session.  With recreational use being legalized just over the border in MA, we are going to see an increase in legally acquired marijuana in traffic stops and possibly impaired drivers in our district.  For this reason I voted yes for a taxed and regulated recreational market.  We can’t ask Vermont law enforcement to deal with stops where drivers possess legally acquired marijuana, and may be under the influence, are increasingly crossing over the border without increasing funding for them to do so.  My sense is that there will be agreement on legalizing recreational marijuana sales and use in Vermont and we may see full legalization in the coming year.  It might have been possible to get agreement between the governor (who vetoed a legalization bill, but then provided a means for agreeing) and the legislature during the June veto session, but that would have required the legislature to be in session for a week, incurring additional costs .

Education
Between advocating for needed changes to Act 46, continuing to try to illuminate that the funding mechanism is creating inequities in our rural districts, working with Rep. John Gannon and others to try and secure Act 46 benefits for Twin Valley and other districts that merged prior to Act 46, and advocating for a statewide employee health benefit, no issue consumed more of my time this year then education.  I’ll be writing more about education and what I see on the horizon for impacts in Southern Vermont before the next session.

State Budget
The final budget passed by the House and the Senate and signed by the governor this year did not raise taxes or fees. Given the federal budget uncertainties, this was especially good news.  The Legislature invested $8.3 million in Vermont’s mental health care system, $2.5 million in child care services for working families and $3 million to the Vermont State College system. Some programs of value to rural Vermont were prioritized including working lands, Farm-to- School programs, and the logging industry.  There was no additional funding for telecommunications infrastructure build out.

Ethics
Though I noted my appointment to the House Ethics Panel, there is no state Ethics Commission for all of state government.  Vermont is one of only a handful of states without an Ethics Commission which can be an important factor in government accountability. Vermont’s first ethics law, S.8, establishes an independent State Ethics Commission which prohibits legislators, statewide office holders, and executive officers from becoming lobbyists for one year after leaving office, imposes restrictions on no-bid contracting and requires financial disclosures for legislative and statewide candidates and executive officers. It requires the creation of a state code of ethics and each municipality to adopt a conflict of interest policy for all its elected officials, appointees, and employees.

Next session:

  • A payroll tax increase on every Vermont employee passed the House year.  The tax will pay for a new paid family leave program.  Employees who currently received paid family leave are not exempted.  I expect there will be a big push to pass this in the Senate next year.
  • Push for a $15 minimum wage continues. Some Burlington area lawmakers, surrounded by national chain establishments, have explained they see this push as adding revenue to Vermont.  Wages are rising which likely relates to Vermont’s continued shortage of workers, employers have to pay more to get qualified staff.  It’s my hope that we will spend equal or more energy trying to bring in new workers as we will spend trying to raise the minimum wage.

Be assured that I’m carefully monitoring the EB-5 Regional Center conversations and have been maintaining communications with federal and state officials and Mount Snow on both federal and state support for the local projects.

As always, thank you for providing feedback and suggestions.  I plan to hold several public forums later this fall and hope you will consider coming out and sharing your thoughts.  Please don’t hesitate to call or email with questions or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Kind regards,

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