Sibilia Week 2 of the #Vermont legislative session:

Good morning!

Reports and notes of interest from the second week of the legislature below:

Department of Public Service creates wireless coverage maps and submits challenge to wireless coverage in Vermont

Montpelier—The Department of Public Service created an interactive map that shows the results of a drive test of mobile wireless coverage in the state. After reviewing providers’ maps that purport to show the extent of their coverage, the Department undertook a drive test of all major roads in the state to collect data and assess where mobile wireless service is actually available from a consumer perspective.  read more

Links are provided below to:

challenge map
VTel’s federally funded Wireless Open World (WOW) was to bring 4G/LTE wireless broadband to every un-served home and business in rural Vermont.

A reminder: You’re landline telephone is supposed to be working and providing clear reliable communications, being repaired and new service installed in a timely fashion.  What to do if your land line phone is not working in Vermont

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Help for federal workers

As a result of the partial Federal Government shutdown, the Department for Children and Families, Economic Services Division (ESD) has issued guidance to all of its district offices to screen for and potentially provide benefits to Vermonters who are furloughed Federal employees. These Vermonters may be eligible for financial assistance during this shutdown. ESD may be able to help with the cost of food, fuel assistance, etc. Furloughed Federal employees may apply in person at their local district offices or online at dcf.vermont.gov/esd, or by calling 1-800-479-6151.

In addition to the information from DCF, banks & credit unions are urging anyone affected by the shutdown to contact their financial institution. Most institutions are offering some kind of assistance, such as overdraft assistance, loans, changes in terms of existing loans, to help people weather this hardship.

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VT/NH paid family leave plan

Last week Gov. Scott and NH Gov Sununu proposed a joint voluntary pad family leave program

From VtDigger: Democrats reject Scott’s paid leave plan, pitch mandatory program:

The paid family leave bill backed by Democratic lawmakers would be funded through a universal .93 percent payroll tax split between employees and employers.

Johnson said the plan would be cheaper than the governor’s and yet offer more time and pay: employees struggling with illness, caring for sick family members, or taking care of a newborn child would be able take 12 weeks of leave while receiving 100 percent of their wages.

The governor’s proposal would give employees six weeks of leave and 60 percent of their earnings each week.

“The cost of the program is a little less expensive, but the benefit is almost double, so you get twice the benefit at a slightly lower cost,” Johnson said.

The Democrats’ proposal would cost 70 cents per day per employee, for those earning a median income, according to Johnson.

Under the governors’ plan, Vermont and New Hampshire’s combined 18,500 state workers would receive the paid family leave benefit, administered through a private insurer and funded by the state.

Sharing risk across a bigger pool helps to provide more sustainability and less risk to insurance type programs – so I appreciate the notion of this proposed collaboration. Like every proposal, the details will matter.  I expect this to be a session long discussion in the House.

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CARE (Citizen Assistance Registry for Emergencies)

Emergencies can take many forms, from natural disasters to human-caused events such as a major traffic accident that closes a road or takes out the power for hours at a time. For elders or people with physical or mental disabilities, such events can become life-threatening if they are prolonged and no one is available to help. The CARE Program (Citizen Assistance Registry for Emergencies), administered by the United Ways of Vermont, Vermont 211 and E-911, are working together to identify Vermont residents who would require special assistance in an emergency. If you or know someone who would need special help in a crisis, please complete the linked form below and return it to Vermont 211. Your information will be entered into a database linked to the E-911 system, and the records will be updated each year. All records are confidential and will only be shared with groups involved in helping to keep people safe in an emergency. You must send a new form each year to keep your registration up-to-date. This form may be completed, printed and mailed to: Vermont 211 PO Box 111 Essex Junction, VT 05453

CARE Registration Form

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VSBA Legislative Alert: Act 46 Forced Merger Delay Under Consideration

House leaders have indicated they are open to delaying implementation of forced mergers until July 1, 2020.  These House leaders have heard from school board members and community leaders who are participating in the lawsuit to prevent forced mergers from taking place.  The indication is that everyone agrees that Act 46 mergers should be delayed until 2020.

It is not clear whether there will be an opportunity for those affected by this decision to testify.  If you have an opinion about whether or not the General Assembly should delay implementation of Act 46 mergers ordered by the State Board of Education, now is the time to let us know. Because it isn’t clear whether board members in affected districts will be invited to testify, please consider sharing your perspectives with these officials in order to ensure the decision is well-informed.

Speaker of the House: Speaker@leg.state.vt.us
Chair of House Education, Rep. Webb: KWebb@leg.state.vt.us
Vice Chair of House Education, Rep. Cupoli: lcupoli@leg.state.vt.us

Senate President Pro Tem:  timashe@burlingtontelecom.net
Chair of Senate Education, Sen. Baruth: PBaruth@leg.state.vt.us
Vice Chair of Senate Education, Sen. Ingram: DIngram@leg.state.vt.us

Single Education District concept floated:

In a draft policy memo dated Jan. 1, administration officials, led by Education Secretary Dan French, outline a new concept for Vermont’s schools: consolidating all school districts into one, abolishing the State Board of Education, and establishing four regional administrative entities, each with its own school board and superintendent, to oversee schools in the area.
Administration’s Education White Paper
Vermont School Board Association Response 

Coming up:

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Click here to monitor the bills I introduce, my committees work and my votes on roll call

View on Monday night arrivals

votes on the legislative website. You can also see what the House and Senate will be taking up each day and listen to proceedings live on VPR.

In the news:
Legislative Cheat Sheet and Lobbying
Rainville endorses Knight in adjutant general race

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

 

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Sibilia: Week 1 of the 2019 Vermont legislative session

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Vermont House of Representatives Oath of Office

A few brief notes on the start of the 2019 Vermont legislative session. Our district is the Windham/Bennington district, and so I try to work on regional Southern Vermont issues with members from the Windham and Bennington county districts.  There are several new southern Vermont legislators: Rep. Sarah Coffey of Guilford, Rep. Emiliee Kornheiser of Brattleboro and Rep. Nadar Hashim of Dummerston, Rep. Nelson Brownell of Pownal, Rep. Chris Bates of Bennington, Rep. Jim Carroll of Bennington, Rep. Kathleen James of Manchester and Rep. David Durfee of Shaftsbury.

The first short week is taken up with many formalities: we technically elect the Speaker of the House who assigns all members to committees of jurisdiction; this is where different subject matter legislation is first taken up and witnesses heard prior to votes by the entire House and Senate. This year I have been returned to the House Committee on Energy and Technology with new Chair Tim Briglin of Thetford. I am pleased to have been appointed by the Speaker to serve as the Vice Chair this year. Our committee will begin taking up telecommunications issues next week.

Other committee assignments of note, fellow Deerfield Valley Rep. John Gannon remains on the Government Operations Committee which deals with issues of elections and town governance. New Rep. Kathleen James is the only Southern Vermonter on either the House or Senate Education Committees. New Reps Kornheiser and Carroll and  img_3149returning Rep. Tristen Toleno of Brattleboro and Windham County Senator Becca Balint serve on the House and Senate Commerce Committees.

 

All Vermont Legislators take the oath of office, receive sexual harassment and safety training, and new legislators are seated in the House chamber. A large group of 40 new representatives was elected in the 2018 election. There are now 95 Democrats, 43 Republicans, 7 Progressives and 5 independents serving in the Vermont House.

Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson’s opening remarks and Governor Phil Scott’s Inaugural address each called for increased vigilance in how we treat one another and work together as we go about the people’s business. Each also spoke to the need to include all parts of Vermont in the economy as well as the need to expand telecommunications. Both the governor’s administration and the Speaker have been engaged in conversations throughout the Summer and Fall with individuals and groups working to address the telecommunications shortfalls once and for all.

VPR’s Pete Hirschfield provides a good early high level analysis here about 6 Issues to Watch During the 2019 Vermont Legislative Session

Coming up: The governor’s budget address will take place on Thursday January 24th at 2PM. Rep. Gannon and I hope to release the results of the 2019 Deerfield Valley Legislative Survey this week – be on the lookout.

Click here to monitor the bills I introduce, my committees work and my votes on roll call votes on the legislative website. You can also see what the House and Senate will be taking up each day and listen to proceedings live on VPR. I hope to send out a brief update every Friday afternoon or Saturday morning during this years legislative session.

Rep. Sibilia in the news:

Shutdown may delay feared FCC rule change

Local reaction varies to governor’s address

Will New England States Bolster Ranked Choice Voting in 2019?

Local media outlets collaborate over growing concern

Lawmakers to propose ranked-choice voting in upcoming session

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

 

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!

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

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.

Register to vote and details on paid sick leave

Town meeting is next week! 

I hope to see many of you at your town meeting.  It’s not too late to register to vote.  Register by this Wednesday, February 24th, to vote in the Presidential primaries and your town ballots.  The link above will allow you to register online.

Wardsboro Connectivity meeting

stevievoting

A community wide public meeting with the Vermont Department of Public Service, Telecom and Connectivity Division and interested Wardsboro citizens is being scheduled for March 2nd at 7 pm at the Wardsboro Town Hall.  The purpose of the meeting is to share data about existing broadband availability and broadband and cell projects and upcoming deployments happening in the Wardsboro area. This public meeting will help inform the next steps in determining how Wardsboro 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.  In addition, State Rep. Laura Sibilia lhsibilia@gmail.com  and Wardsboro’s Peter Sebastian pds@myfairpoint.net  would like to hear from citizens who are interested in working on developing long term connectivity solutions for Wardsboro.  Residents and businesses are encouraged to come with specific questions, ideas and concerns regarding broadband and cell service in Wardsboro.

Sick Leave passes

Late last week the House voted to concur with the Senate’s amendment to a paid sick leave bill.  The vote was 81-64.  Vermont is now the fifth and smallest state in the US mandating paid leave, and the second state NOT to include a small business exemption.  Proponents of the bill spoke about a desire for “economic justice”.  Opponents spoke to the myriad categorical  holes in the bill regarding who is and isn’t covered as well as the impact on our smallest Vermont businesses.  I voted against this bill, again,  as I did last year when the house originally took it up.  It is largely an urban and suburban box store protection bill.   It is also now the law of the land.  The particulars of the bill follow:

As of January 1st, 2017 –

  • Employees in Vermont will have access to paid sick leave for a maximum of 24 hours (3 days) per year for the first two years after implementation (2017 and 2018). Following this two year phase in, employees will have up to 40 hours (5 days) per year.
  • Eligible employees must work more then 18 hours per week, more then 20 weeks per year and be 18 years or older.
  • Employers may require a waiting period for new hires of 1 year. During this probationary period employees may accrue sick time.
  • Temporary and seasonal employees are excluded from the law.
  • Full and part-time employees must earn the equivalent of at least: 1 hour of paid time for every 52 hours worked.
  • Employees are permitted to use this time to: Recover from or receive treatment for an illness or injury, care for a family member when they are ill, obtain diagnostic, routine, preventive, or therapeutic health care, take necessary steps for their safety as a result of sexual abuse, domestic violence, or stalking.
  • All employers already offering equal or more generous paid time, combined time, paid sick time are considered compliant.
  • Employers’  policies determine the time increments by which workers may use their sick time.  For example, if an employer has a policy requiring workers to take at least half a day of time when they are absent, that policy stands for the purposes of this legislation.
  • Tipped employees will be compensated at the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.
  • Employers may require employees to make reasonable efforts to find a replacement for planned absences and avoid scheduling routine or preventive health care during work hours.
  • If unused hours are carried over from a previous year, an employee may earn the balance between the unused portion and the maximum allowed.
  • If an employer chooses to pay an employee for unused time at the end of an annual period, the amount for which the employee was compensated does not carry over into the next year.
  • Employers are not required to cash out unused paid sick time when an employee leaves the job.
  • Act will take effect on January 1st 2017, except for businesses with 5 or fewer employees, for those employers the law will take effect beginning January 1st, 2018.

You can read the details of the original House and amended Senate bills here.