First Public Forum on Act 250 Planned for Springfield ‪on June 27‬

Montpelier, Vermont – June 20, 2018 – The Vermont Legislative Commission on Act 250 is seeking public input through a series of forums and social media outreach to envision Vermont’s future landscape.

The first forum will be held in Springfield, VT on Wednesday, June 27, 2018 from 6:00-8:00 PM at the Nolin-Murray Center at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Unlike typical town hall style forums, this one is designed to invite conversation and engage citizens in small group discussions with facilitators. After a brief presentation highlighting the key points of Act 250, community members will have a chance to talk about what matters most to them. The public input will inform the Legislative Commission’s report and any potential legislation to modernize the statutes. Act 250 grew out of citizen involvement fifty years ago and it will be strengthened through citizen involvement now.

Representative Sheldon of Addison-1, Chair of the Commission on Act 250, states: “I hope Vermonters young and old will take some time to learn about Act 250 and give us their input this summer and fall. This information will give the Commission direction on recommendations for potential future changes.” A survey will be launched in July to gather more input. All materials will be made accessible to the public.

Future forums will be held in Manchester on July 11, Randolph on July 25, Island Pond on August 22, Rutland on September 5, and Burlington on September 12. All forums are on Wednesday evenings from 6:00-8:00 PM. Please visit the website for exact locations.

Website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2018/333 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/act250next50 Twitter:https://www.twitter.com/act250next50

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Time for a Special Session

The Vermont legislature adjourned on May 12th around midnight.  As of the writing of this update, several bills have been vetoed and several more including the budget and school finance bills are promised vetoes. Though the Governor had threatened to veto these bills, the legislature did not schedule a veto session but rather adjourned “sine die” which means without a date to return.  In the second year of a two-year biennium it is typical to adjourn with both a scheduled veto session or if the governor does not veto any legislation, sine die.

Given no veto session was scheduled, without any further action, the legislature would return to session after the November elections on the first Wednesday in January after the first Monday.  In this case, if the governor vetoes the budget and no veto session has been scheduled by the legislature, then the governor needs to call the legislature back for a special session to agree on a budget bill to fund government after July 1, 2018.  The legislature can also take up any bills it would like to in a special session, as opposed to a veto session which deals only with those bills that have been vetoed.

On May 23rd we were called back by the governor for a special session.  It is my hope that this session will be brief and will only deal with those bills needed to ensure the function of services for Vermonters and the funding of schools.  Given that so much hinges on the final passage of the budget and school finance bills, and that the legislature can take up anything during a special session, I am holding off on writing a final legislative update for this session.

Going into this session I’d like you to know that I will not support school finance bills which mandate student/staff ratios or lowering of excess spending thresholds until and if the state is responsible for the running of the schools or we have proper weighting of students which acknowledges that every child cannot be provided equitable educational opportunities for the same per pupil spending.  We can and should address property taxes, but it requires proper student weights to do so in a way that doesn’t harm the students in rural Vermont.  At the end of this Special Session, I will provide a comprehensive legislative update.

 

Current status of S.55

Here is the current status of the bill:

The bill is on the Senate Calendar for tomorrow (Thursday).  The Senate can concur, concur with further amendment or ask for a conference committee with the House to settle the differences.

Here is what the bill currently does:

  • Expanding background check requirements to unlicensed (or private) firearm sales, including a provision that provides immunity to Federal Firearm Licensees that provide background check services in unlicensed (private) sales;
  • Requiring purchasers of long guns to be 21 years or older, unless they have taken a hunter safety course (which is already required to obtain a hunting license), are a veteran, are a law enforcement official, or are in the military. This puts long guns on par with handguns. Under federal law one must be at least 21 to purchase handguns.
  • Banning the purchase and possession of bump stocks effective October 1, 2018; and
  • Banning the purchase of high-capacity magazines while excluding antiques, replicas and long guns with lever or bolt action. Possession of high-capacity magazines that were purchased before the enactment date is grandfathered.

House Journal for March 27th, 2018 which captures all of the amendments and roll call votes.

If you have questions please email or call.

History and my votes:

The House voted on 2nd reading for S.55 on Friday March 23rd.  The vote to support the bill was 85-59.  I did not support the bill because it created a ban on possession and transfer of high capacity magazines.  I spent much of last Saturday detailing the various provisions and how I voted which you can read here.  I voted no on the whole bill on Friday.

The House voted on 3rd reading for S.55 on Tuesday March 28th.  The vote was 89-54.  I spoke with a number of constituents over the weekend about the problematic magazine section.  I worked with a number of my House colleagues, the Judiciary Committee, our attorneys and the Speaker of the House to amend that provision.  I sent all of the new amendments to a few folks opposed to the bill and asked for more information about how they would be impacted.  We still had questions about transfers.  After 9 pm on Monday night, I had conversations with constituents opposed to the Friday version of the bill, our legislative attorneys and the Speaker to confirm transfer of magazines would still be possible.  I voted yes on the whole bill on Tuesday and sent out this explanation as to why:

As expected, S.55 has passed 89-54. There were 14 amendments on the floor. Some were handed out in paper. They will all be printed out in the journal tomorrow. I look forward to providing a detailed explanation of all the changes to the bill. This is the statement I just read on the floor.

Madame Speaker,

When we left here last week, this bill contained private sale background checks and raising the age for purchase of a firearm by three years, measures that I believe are in keeping with both the Second amendment and my oath of office, and that go hand in hand with Extreme Risk Protection orders, a measure I support. It also contained measures on high capacity magazines that would have made a number of my gun owners criminals upon passage, and so I could not and did not support the bill. The significant work that has been done over the weekend to protect my gun owners has changed my vote. While nothing we do will guarantee 100% safety for our students or are citizens, I believe we have found a balanced way to improve the odds.

No guns are being made illegal by this bill, all high capacity magazines that Vermonters currently own they can keep, Vermonters of all ages will continue to be able to possess and use a firearm.

Fear is a powerful force. Ignorance combined with fear is dangerous. I want to thank all Vermonters who both supported and opposed this legislation that took the time to engaging with us to learn, to research, to be here with us in this building, on the phone, to listen on public radio, to testify here and at hearings around the state. This is how a free people govern themselves in a democratic society.

 

 

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.

Education Finance Public Hearing this Wednesday 2/19

Public Hearing on Potential Changes to the Education Funding System
Wednesday February 21, 2018, 4:00-6:00 p.m.in Room 11
The House Committee on Ways and Means will hold a public hearing on

CTCT-20170330_144109_0

 Potential Changes to the Education Funding System on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. The hearing will be held in Room 11 on the ground floor of the State House in Montpelier from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Materials outlining the potential changes to the education funding system will be available and may be requested ahead of the hearing by emailing Sorsha Anderson at sanderson@leg.state.vt.us.
Witnesses may start signing up to speak at 3:45 p.m. on the day of the hearing. Each witness is limited to three minutes to testify. The Committee will also accept written testimony.
For information about the format of this event or to submit written testimony, contact Sorsha Anderson at sanderson@leg.state.vt.us.
If you plan to attend and need accommodations to participate, please contact Sorsha Anderson at sanderson@leg.state.vt.us by February 20, 2018 so that any accommodations can be made in advance.
Information on the proposal can be found here.
The Ways and Means Committee is expending a lot of time and effort to craft a solution to the perennial cry of high property taxes and should be commended.
I am concerned that this proposal doesn’t address the current lack of accountability to businesses and non residential taxpayers, that it doesn’t address the substantial inequities that exist for our students, and I am deeply concerned that the cost containment measure will add insult to injury for rural students while failing to capture significant needed savings throughout the system.  Nonetheless, I am listening and looking for opportunities to make positive changes for students and taxpayers.  Please be in touch if you submit testimony or plan to testify in person.
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 update: Vermont budget development overview, survey results and two constituent events this week

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

 

 

 

 

Lawmakers Demand Secretary of Education Clarify Position on Education Weighting Study or Face Possible Litigation  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 14, 2017

WILMINGTON, VT – State Representatives Laura Sibilia (I-Dover), John Gannon (D-Wilmington) and Ben Jickling (I-Randolph) sent a letter to Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Education Rebecca Holcomb seeking clarification on the Secretary’s position on completing the mandated weighting study contained in Act 49.  A recent article quoted the Secretary as saying, “We do not expect to initiate or complete the mandated weighting study contained in Act 49 until we have capacity to do so.”  If the Secretary refuses to complete the study, the Vermont General Assembly’s Legislative Council has confirmed that seeking an enforcement action through the courts is appropriate in the absence of some other adequate alternative for enforcement of the Act 49 Education Weighting Study.

The Education Weighting Study called for in Act 49, Section 35 passed the Vermont Senate by a vote of 27-0 on May 5, 2017 and passed the Vermont House of Representatives on a voice vote on May 5th 2017.  Governor Scott signed Act 49 into law on May 23rd 2017.  The weighting study is due to the House and Senate Committees on Education, the House Committee on Ways & Means, and the Senate Committee on Finance by December 15, 2017.  The final weighting study contained in Act 49 included language proposed by Representatives Sibilia, Gannon and Jickling in H.274, An Act Relating to Rural Schools.

Sibilia said: “There are a whole host of conversations that are connected to this study that we could and perhaps should be having, including the chronic under staffing of the Agency of Education by multiple Administrations, the obvious need for additional human and research resources when reorganizing the entire governance structure of education in Vermont, or the fact that our rural towns are struggling with a lack of resources themselves.  But now is not the time for those conversations or arguments about the merits of the study or resources needed.  Now is the time to figure out how the study that was mandated by the Vermont Legislature and signed by the Governor into law gets done.”

Gannon said: “If the Governor did not want the weighting study conducted, he could have simply vetoed the legislation. Thus, I can only conclude that the Secretary’s actions appear to be deliberate effort by the Scott administration to challenge the authority of the legislature.

Jickling said: “The challenges facing rural Vermont schools are unique and systemic. The administration’s refusal to follow through on legislative action is counterproductive and stifles progress towards a more sustainable and fair funding model.”

CONTACT

Rep. Laura Sibilia

(802) 384-0233

Rep. John Gannon

(802) 490-4327

Rep. Ben Jickling

(802) 595-5285

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Rep. Laura Sibilia 2018 session survey

Goose City

Greetings from Goose City!

We are winding down from soccer with our son and looking forward to the holiday return of our girls.   I’m thinking more and more about the coming legislative session, and there are a number of public input sessions I want you to know about further on in this email.

This year I’m hoping you will consider giving some brief input prior to the the legislative session which begins January 3rd and will likely go through early May.  I’ve compiled a brief 10 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.

This survey is intended for my constituents in Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro and Whitingham, but our weekend residents and neighbors are free to weigh in.  The only required questions are name and town of residence.

Take the survey

I have scheduled two meetings with constituents in Dover and Wardsboro and hope to see you there:

  • Dover Town Hall November 28th 6:30-8
  • Wardsboro Town Hall November 30th 6:30 – 8

In addition I will be attending the Stamford School District meeting on November 14th from 7-9 pm.

And the Twin Valley, Whitingham, Wilmington meeting with Rep. John Gannon in Wilmington on December 19th at 6 pm.

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Upcoming statewide hearings of interest:

Rural Caucus Hearing: The Rural Development Caucus will hold a Public Hearing at the State House from 5–7 pm on Tuesday, November 7 to hear from municipal, business, education, and nonprofit interests in rural Vermont about what the most pressing issues are for rural Vermont. The press release and instructions on how to testify are available here.

Equifax data security breach: The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development will meet to hold hearings around the State to discuss issues related to privacy and data security breaches. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Financial Regulation, and the Office of Legislative Council will join the Committee in presenting a brief summary of current law and recommended responses to security breaches.

The Committee will hear from the public their questions, experience with breaches, concerns, and suggestions. This topic is a continuation of the Committee’s work last session, and of particular interest in light of current events in relation to the Equifax breach.  A list of meeting dates and locations is available below. Sign-up will begin 30 minutes prior to the hearing’s start time.

Thursday, November 9th

12:30 p.m. Springfield Town Offices Selectmen’s Hall 96 Main Street Springfield, VT
5:30 p.m. Barton Village Office 17 Village Square Barton, VT

Tuesday, November 14th

12:30 p.m. Manchester Community Library Hunter Community Room 138 Cemetery Avenue Manchester Center, VT
6:00 p.m. Department of Health Conference Room 2B 108 Cherry Street Burlington, VT

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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.

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Education:

As you may recall, former Rep. Oliver Olsen and I have been fighting for years to commission a study of pupil counting, as we believe that the current system unfairly harms rural districts with small population densities, and we fought hard to have this study included in an act of the General Assembly.  We were finally successful in the 2017 session.
There is a fight brewing with AOE on whether or not this study will be done.  Right now they are refusing.
The chronically flawed funding formula which does not scale for size, the failure to capitalize on last year’s unique opportunity for significant savings through establishing statewide equitable healthcare benefits for education staff, increases in healthcare costs, the pending Act 46 incentives and other non-locally voted on expenses are going to result in yet another increase in property taxes this year.
Without changes to the way we count students, it is a virtual certainty that rural districts will be asked to make more substantial cuts then more population dense districts, once again unfairly and unequally hurting kids.  This study is the next important “tweek” needed for Vermont’s broken education financing mechanism.  It has been needed for many many years.  There is near universal consensus this formula does not work.  I am frustrated with the lack of transparency at all levels of state government about the non-local drivers of education property taxes.
Perhaps with last weeks news out of Whitingham there is light at the end of this very long tunnel for our taxpayers and our students.
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Some positive economic development progress stories from our district:
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As always, thank you for providing feedback and suggestions. 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.
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Congratulations to all of the organizers and volunteers of this year’s Gilfeather Turnip Festival in Wardsboro – beautiful weather and record breaking turn out!

Session end in sight

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As the final weeks of the 2017 Session wind down, legislative changes are moving quickly through both the House and Senate.    Several items of interest to our area include changes to education legislation and increased tools for rural infrastructure and telecommunications.  Two education bills most likely to impact our district are the Senate miscellaneous education bill S.130 and the Senate bill providing increased flexibility for achieving the goals of Act 46.  Rep. Gannon and I have proposed amendments to each.  Notable aspects of S.130  include:

  • the creation of an Approved Independent Schools Study Committee to consider and make recommendations on the criteria to be used by the State Board of Education for the approval of an independent school,
  • moves assessment of Vermont public schools by Secretary from every two years to annually 
  • House Education committee has added a weighting study which has to do with how the equalized number of students are calculated for each district.

We will propose an amendment to the weighting study that would do two things – first it would require the work be done by those who have the technical knowledge to make assessments about the current weighting system: Agency of Education, Joint Fiscal Office and the Office of Legislative Council.   Second, consideration of an additional population density weighting would require utilizing research being conducted nationally by research and education intuitions.

Notable aspects of S.122 are flexibility in the creation of side-by-side districts, an extension on alternative structure proposals to six months after the Agency of Education has finalized the rules, decreasing the minimum number of students in a districts from 1100-900 and requiring the State board of education to list what districts it considers geographically isolated by September 30th of this year.  Rep. Gannon and I have worked with a number of legislators from five other joint or union school districts which came together in advance of Act 46 through either joint contracts or by becoming union districts but lost their small schools grants as a part of the process.  In our area this includes Whitingham and in our neighboring supervisory union this also includes Brookline and Newfane.  The other districts are Rupert, Bridgewater, Elmore, Fairlee, Pomfret, Vershire and East Fairlee.  These districts are being asked to further comply with Act 46 despite their purposeful merger actions prior to the state mandaes included in Act 46.  Small school grant eligible districts that merge under Act 46 are able to keep their small schools grants as incentives.  We are asking for these 10 districts to be afforded the same incentive if they take the further steps necessary to comply with Act 46.

In addition to these contemplated pieces of education legislation, Governor Scott has made a proposal to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statewide spending cut.  As a result of the Affordable Care Act or “Obama care”, all teachers in the state of Vermont are about to see a change in the healthcare plans available to them.  The Governor has proposed that Vermont take this unique opportunity to have healthcare benefits for teachers negotiated at the state level.  The purported annual savings are 26 million dollars a year.  The Vermont School Boards Association and Superintendents Association have both offered support for this proposal.  It is virtually impossible to propose statewide cost cutting measures in education that don’t produce wide varieties of impacts for students and learning opportunities.  This proposal is one of the first I can recall.  Impacts from this proposal would include teachers unions having to bargain locally and as a statewide unit.  The savings this proposal might produce are currently being considered as part of a means to increase funding for higher education and childcare.

There are a number of very important votes coming up.  In Wardsboro there will be a revote on the Act 46 merger with Dover and Marlboro on May 1st 2017.  In Windham Southwest Supervisory union all districts will be voting on Act 46 proposals on May 31st.

Representatives Chip Conquest (D‐Newbury) and I introduced House bill H.459 which provides a process for creating flexible, inter‐municipal districts that may finance, build, acquire, own, and operate community‐based infrastructure to enhance local economic opportunities. These are known as REDI (Rural Economic Development Infrastructure) districts.

Originally conceived as a better way to obtain financing for high‐speed broadband networks in areas too small or too fragmented to consider forming communications union districts enabled in Act 411, it is apparent that REDIs may also be used for other economic development projects in agriculture, local food systems, alternative energy, and other sectors.  This language has been incorporated into S.135 which is an omnibus economic development bill.  We are hopeful for passage this year.

The legislature appear to be on track for a May 6th adjournment.  Thank you to all who have reached on to communicate on issues regarding domestic violence, marijuana, and automobile inspections.  Please stay in touch!  My cell phone number is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.  I am posting updates on other legislative actions we are taking at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com.