Sibilia: Week 1 of the 2019 Vermont legislative session

img_3150
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

 

Advertisements

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.

~~~
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.
~~~
18ae79451517819ff26d6e9f247fdd34
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.
~~~
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.
~~~
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.
~~~
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
~~~

 Education issues for our district and much of the state continue to revolve around Act 46

img_2976
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.
~~~
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.
~~~
 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.

~~~
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.
~~~
Other issues we are hearing will be receiving legislative attention this session: Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave, Water Quality, Climate Change
 ~~~
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.
 
____________________________________
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.
 
________________________________
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 update: Vermont budget development overview, survey results and two constituent events this week

surveyphoto

Thank you to the almost 200 Deerfield Valley respondents who took my 2018 Legislative Session priorities survey.

surveyagephotoThe survey required respondents to give their name and town of residence.  All other questions were optional.

35% of those who responded were under the age of 50.  21% were over the age of 65.

1.5% of respondents were unemployed, 2% were disabled and 22.5% were retired.  88% reported that they owned their home.

surveyemployment

 

survey overall ranking

No specific legislative proposals were presented for ranking.  The actual words that end up being voted on, what the words allow, prohibit or encourage, those words matter and are very often not the same words that were originally proposed.  And so with the ranking part of the survey I am not taking away support or opposition to specific legislation, but a sense of our  districts sense of what the important issues to focus on will be.  Issues areas were ranked according to how much time the respondent thought the Vermont Legislature should spend on them in the January – May 2018 Session with 1 being the most time.  Survey takers were not required to rank all 14 selections.  Healthcare, property taxes, drug abuse and internet/cell access topped the list.  Here are the results of respondents overall ranking of issues they want to see the 2018 Vermont Legislature spend time on.

In addition to asking for this prioritization ranking, three more specific questions were asked about specific legislation we could see this year.  The first was with regard to support for a .05% increase in the Vermont Universal Service Fee paid on telephone bills to increase public dollars available to build last mile internet service.  A similar bill passed the House in 2015 but was defeated in the Senate.  70% of those surveyed indicated they would be willing to pay this fee.  Multiple comments came from those opposed to new taxes and those skeptical the funds would actually reach those unserved. “…as long as it actually funds last mile projects and not more administration…”.

The second specific question was regarding a Vermont only ban on bump stocks.  70% of those surveyed said they would support a Vermont only ban on bump stocks.  surveybumpstocksThere is little to no gray area for voters with gun legislation.  Some commenters promised me they would never vote for me again if I vote for this legislation if it is proposed.  Other commenters promised me they would never vote for me again if I do not vote for this legislation if it is proposed.

The last specific question was regarding the use of Education Fund dollars to pay for increased child care or increased post secondary or work force training.  65% of those that responded were unwilling to have property taxes pay for increased childcare or post secondary.  25% were willing to pay increased education property taxes to pay for increased post secondary/workforce training programs.  Many commenters indicated a willingness to consider using education property tax dollars for child care or post secondary expenses if the education funding formula is fixed.

——————————————————————————

fy19overviewcoverThe governor’s administration has released a high level budget priorities presentation which also provides two opportunities to weigh in with your thoughts on what budget the governor should propose as a budget for FY ’19.   I hope you will consider providing a few thoughts to the governor on what you’d like to see in the next budget.  Vermont is a small state and your voice really does get heard.  A reminder that the budget process requires the governor to propose and then the legislature provide feedback and funding.  The governor can either agree, or veto as we saw last year.

—————————————————————————–

This week I will be hosting constituent listening sessions in Dover and Wardsboro and invite you to attend and share your thoughts.
  • Tuesday November 28th from 6:30-8 at the Dover Town Hall
  • Thursday November 30th from 6:30-8 at the Wardsboro Town Hall
I also plan to attend the Twin Valley, Whitingham, Wilmington meeting with Rep. John Gannon in Wilmington on December 19th at 6 pm.
——————————————————————-
December 15th deadline – Open Enrollment: Open enrollment is the time of year when you can make changes to your Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont or MVP Healthcare insurance coverage. The new plan year begins January 1, 2018. If you want to change plans, you should call the Vermont Health Connect Customer Support Center or log into your account. If you don’t contact them and confirm a plan choice by December 15, 2017, you likely won’t be able to change plans until the next Open Enrollment.

 

I hope that you all had a peaceful Thanksgiving with family and friends.

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