Southern Vermont Summit – May 24, 2017

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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.

House to vote on S.79 ~ An act relating to freedom from compulsory collection of personal information

constitutionA month ago, Governor Phil Scott  announced a series of steps his Administration is taking to protect the rights of all Vermonters, following executive orders from President Trump relating to immigration and refugee resettlement.

Here is a link to read S.79, legislation which directly supports the Governor’s actions and which has passed the Senate unanimously 30-0 .  When the Legislature reconvenes after the Town Meeting week break, the House will take up S.79, which is expected to pass, though not unanimously.  I will support the bill, and have engaged our local law enforcement.  The Governor’s office has prepared a frequently asked questions sheet with regard to Vermont’s actions.  Please call me with any questions you have 802-384-0233.

Public Meeting February 22 on CoverageCo cellular resiliency sites in Whitingham, Readsboro and Halifax

On Wednesday February 22nd, Reps. Laura Sibilia and John Gannon will host a public meeting from 6:30 – 8 pm at the Jacksonville Municipal Center, 2948 Vermont Route 100, in Jacksonville, VT.  The purpose of the meeting will be to hear from the Vermont Department of Public Service about the Vermont EDA  funded Resiliency Project, a disaster recovery project created in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene to provide rural communities with critical, limited, cellular communications and internet.

That project is being implemented by CoverageCo out of Lexington, MA.  Vanu Bose of CoverageCo will be on hand to talk about the project’s purpose, obstacles the company has encountered, hear residents ideas about getting more people using the network, how towns might positively impact the project going forward, and the high level, financial costs and revenues associated with each site.  Residents from Whitingham, Readsboro and Halifax are encouraged to attend.

The pace of things and #WomensMarchVT

The size and window of opportunity that exists when all of Vermont’s legislators come together for the winter months is truly significant. We have the opportunity every day to meet and work with our colleagues from around the state and members of the Administration on solving problems for Vermonters.  This week I have been busy working with my colleagues to establish a Rural Vermont working group, consider appropriate legislative changes to Act 46, travel home to Dover midweek to meet with my fellow Act 46 study committee members to host our second public input meeting, learn more about a rural cell service project that is in jeopardy, talked with multiple perspectives about universal background checks, coordinated a conference call for seven Southern Vermont towns to learn more about financing fiber to the home projects, participated in multiple discussions around school choice, civility and the crushing burdens some state education finance policy is placing on our rural schools.

I am grateful to be able to work full time on these challenges and many more for my district during these four months.  While the long work days are rewarding and invigorating,  I also look forward to my ride back to Dover on Friday night and my weekends at home with my boys.

This weekend I am still in Montpelier.  Today I am going to march with other women in our Vermont capitol.  The specific individual motivations of the marchers here will be varied and numerous.  Mine are to stand with my daughters, people of color, a free press and the LGBT community.  I also stand with those who march today in the right to life parade in Montpelier and their First Amendment right to express their religious beliefs.

First weeks in the Vermont House

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Wednesday January 3rd the 2017 Legislative Session opened.  Among the first items to take place were elections of new leaders for the Vermont Legislature.  In the House, Rep. Mitzi Johnson of South Hero was elected to serve as the new Speaker of the House.  In the last biennium, Rep. Johnson was the Chair of House Appropriations.

Timg_6373he Speaker assigns all members of the house to various committees which is where the bulk of our work is done during the legislative session.  This year a few of the committees were modified, and a new committee focusing on Energy and Technology was created.  This committee will have jurisdiction over both the Public Service Board and the Department of Public Service, energy, IT projects, and telecommunications.   This is the committee I will serve on for the next two years.  I’m really pleased we now have a committee tasked with focusing on state technology infrastructure and Vermonters telecommunications needs.

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Issues that look likely to receive some attention this year include financing water quality improvements, health care finance, universal

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background checks, State Board of Education rule-making authority, marijuana decriminalization, paid family leave, Act 46 timelines, Housing and 10 yr telecom plan.  We’ll know in May which of these or other issues were able to move through the legislative bodies.

I have been spending much of my time on local transportation challenges, broadband and cell access, government transparency and school finance issues in our district, region and state.

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Just after the election I was honored to be asked to Co-Chair an advisory committee for incoming Governor Phil Scott.  This committees charge was to assist in bringing forward names of individuals who shared Governor Scott’s vision of affordability and service to work in his administration.  Hundreds of names were placed into consideration and the new cabinet is filling out.   There are also a number of Boards and Commissions posts to be filled in the coming year.  If you are interested in serving in one of those posts, more information is available here: http://governor.vermont.gov/boards-commissions

img_6379Governor Phil Scott will propose a budget on January 24th.  Just after being sworn in, he signed four executive orders, establishing his strategic priorities, and creating teams in support of his efforts to address the opiate epidemic and modernize state government.

 Executive Order 01-17, “Governor’s Strategic Goals,” directs all State agencies and departments to utilize their powers, duties and programs to establish strengthening the Vermont economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting vulnerable Vermonters, as cornerstones of their strategic and operational goals.

Executive Order 02-17, establishes the Opiate Coordination Council and also creates the position of Director of Drug Policy, who will act as the executive director of the Council to support, coordinate and monitor its progress.

Executive Order 03-17 established the Government Modernization and Efficiency Team (GMET). Executive Order 04-17 created the Program to Improve Vermonter Outcomes Together (PIVOT), which will be tasked with implementing and tracking progress of the

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state http://www.vtvsba.org/#!act-46-map/q4i59

The Vermont School Boards Association maintains a map of progress with links to Act 46 study committees work around the state

recommendations issued by GMET.

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The Dover, Marlboro, Wardsboro merger study committee is in the midst of hosting a number of public meetings.  These are important opportunities for our taxpayers, parents and students to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed merger in advance of a vote at this year’s Town Meeting.  The public hearing dates are open to anyone from the any of the towns:

  • January 12  6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • January 19  6:30pm – 8pm  Dover Town Hall
  • January 23  6:30pm – 8pm  Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 2  6:30pm – 8pm Wardsboro Town Hall
  • February 13 6:30pm – 8pm Marlboro Elementary School
  • February 27 6:30pm – 8pm Dover Town Hall

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I am honored to represent you in the Vermont Legislature.  In order to do so effectively, I need to hear from you about ideas, issues or opportunities.   My cell phone is 802-384-0233 and my email is lhsibilia@gmail.com.

Happy New Year
Best wishes to you and your family for good health and happiness in the New Year.

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– Representative Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

~ some personal reflections ~

This past year I finished my first term representing you in the Vermont Legislature, and was elected to a second term. This was a tremendous honor, and I will continue to work hard to represent you with passion and integrity.

It became abundantly clear that connectivity to our rural areas was not happening as promised. Strong education, healthcare and businesses activity in our district can not happen without much improved internet and cell availability. This will be a major focus for me in my second term, as well as supporting some really dedicated and entrepreneurial volunteers in our towns who are working to organize local connectivity efforts.

This past Spring, my youngest daughter, enrolled as a junior in the UVM nursing program, contracted into the UVM ROTC program and will commission into the U.S. Army in May of 2018.

My long time friend and mentor Ann Manwaring retired after a decade in the Legislature. Her passion, intellect and attitude will be sorely missed by many in the House, especially me!

My son, who still mostly only moves with a soccer ball at his feet, also spent the last 5 weeks of the Legislative Session with me at the State House as a Page – quite a memorable event

Wardsboro students and volunteers were rewarded for two years of hard work and repeated testimony when the native Gilfeather turnip was officially named the Vermont state Vegetable!

After years of hard work and dedication, my eldest daughter graduated from St. Micheal’s College. She is staying in the Burlington area and contemplating law school.

At the end of the session, I came back full time to my job as Director of Economic Development at BDCC and worked with a truly awesome team of folks who are passionate about growing the Southern Vermont region economy and our workforce.

I made it to the Pacific Coast for the first time this past Spring visiting my
world traveling sister in beautiful Seattle.

My husband TJ proved to be a tireless campaigner during my re-election campaign and still kept our son, the indoor soccer team, our puppy Chewbarka, rolling along smoothly through it all.

I was surprised and honored to have been asked by Governor-elect Phil Scott to Co-Chair his Transition Leadership Advisory Committee – helping find candidates to serve in the incoming Administration.

National and State primaries saw some that I voted for winning and some not. Two things are certain: things are going to change at the state and national level, I’m going to to keep you appraised of the changes and work hard, with you, to protect and assist our district, our state and our nation.

Thank you for all of your support and engagement this past year – I look forward to working with you in 2017!

Some eventful photos from the year

Lisa Sullivan of Bartleby’s testifying on the Vermont Downtown Program

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Southern Vermont Zone Committee testifies in Legislature

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Wardsboro students and Friends of the Wardsboro Library’s Anita Rafeal doing a television interview

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Jeff Lewis and Jenn Stromsten of the Vermont Futures Project testify

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Accomplished snowboarder Griffen MacFayden visits the State House for a resolution read in his honor.

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Casey with the other Legislative Pages

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Sammy contracted with the UVM ROTC to commission into the U.S. Army in 2018

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End of an era (beginning of another!) with my friend Rep. Ann Manwaring

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Graduate!

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Seattle with my Yogi sister

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Dover, Wardsboro and Marlboro vote to former an Act 46 study committee

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5 years and still waiting ….

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November 9th!

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Laura Sibilia for VT | 802-384-0233 | lhsibilia@gmail.com |

Encouraged

F576_Laura dover 73114Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are almost certainly right.  Setting high expectations is an optimistic vote of confidence that a goal is achievable.  I’m honored to represent so many people, school districts, businesses and towns that “think they can” and possess the Vermont optimism which allows us to take on big challenges without fear.  I’m honored that these same folks “thought I could” and elected me as their representative two years ago.  Representing a rural district heavily impacted by the recession and Irene, I have been immensely encouraged by the collaborations, recovery and growth we are seeing in our district.  Stamford reaching out to work with Readsboro on improving internet service, Searsburg and Stratton working to partner on Act 46 to keep school choice for their students, Dover working for years with neighboring Wilmington to finally complete the Valley trail connecting villages and resorts or Dover and Wardsboro working together to determine if they can offer their students more opportunities.  And of course the long term efforts of Whitingham and our neighbors in Wilmington to keep and improve their schools.

Two years ago I decided to run to make sure all of that collaboration and effort happening locally also had a hard working champion in Montpelier.   Whether it was working to have southern Vermont  identified as a special economic development zone in need of additional investment and re-population measures, challenging the federal government to ensure it’s broadband stimulus funds were actually providing internet service to our towns, or negotiating in protections for our small schools and having anti choice provisions stripped from Act 46, my efforts, every day, have been laser focused on helping our district.  As the State Representative for Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro and Whitingham it has been my intent to provide you with the type of representation I expect for myself: ethical, transparent, responsible, accountable, and non-partisan.  I ask for your support of my re-election as your State Representative, and your continued belief and effort to working together and continue to move our Deerfield Valley forward.

Forum on Regional and Municipal Energy Planning

Survey Available Now to Help Inform Draft Standards

Montpelier ­– The Department of Public Service invites all interested Vermonters to provide input on the standards the Department must create per Act 174 of 2016 for determining consistency of regional and municipal plans with state energy policy. The Department will host a forum to gather input on August 30, from 9 a.m. to noon, in Montpelier at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (Noble Hall). For those who prefer to provide input in writing, the Department has published an online survey, available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WMTZFF2. Responses to the survey are due September 5, and those received by August 25 will help inform the discussion at the forum on the 30th. The Department expects to release an initial draft of the standards later in September for additional public comment.

Act 174 is intended to improve regional and town energy planning and to enhance community input into the siting of energy projects. The legislation provides regional planning commissions and towns with a greater voice before the Public Service Board when their plans have been determined to be consistent with state energy policy. The Department of Public Service must issue final standards by November 1, 2016.

For planning purposes and in order to provide participants with additional details and parking permits, the Department is asking those wishing to attend the August 30 forum to RSVP. Please RSVP by August 16 by sending an email with your name, contact information, and the subject line “August 30 RSVP” to PSD.PlanningStandards@vermont.gov. For more information on the Department’s activities pursuant to Act 174 recommendations and determination standards, please visit http://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/act-174-recommendations-and-determination-standards.

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Vermont Public Service Department

112 State Street

Montpelier, Vermont 05620-2601

Visit the Department at: http://publicservice.vermont.gov/

Racing to the end :: Connectivity, cannabis and contractors

A short update as we head into what is likely to be a very long final week of the session. Hopefully we will be able to finish the people’s business and adjourn by late Friday or early Saturday.

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My son Casey has spent the last four weeks with me at the Statehouse as a Page

From a freshman legislator’s perspective, the past two weeks have been fascinating to watch unfold. The Vermont Legislature functions in two year bienniums. This means that bills proposed in January 2015 had all of last year’s session and until the end of this year’s session to pass. Bills that don’t pass need to start the process all over in a new biennium with new legislators. So in these final weeks we are seeing a lot of creative procedural moves as legislators try to get theirs bills voted on by both the House and Senate.

Two bills that my committee, House Commerce and Economic Development, worked on this session appeared to be dead.

A bill brought having to do with the proper classification of employees and a statutory definition of independant contractors passed out of our committee unanimously, but met fierce resistance from organized labor and was recommitted to our committee wall.  After having spent months taking testimony on the bill, many of my fellow Commerce members and I worked with others for weeks to find a compromise position, but to no avail. We were told there would be no more work done in committee on the bill this year.

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This happened!

The second Commerce bill that appeared to have come to a stop was this year’s telecom bill. Significant parts of the bill include reforms to the siting process, penalties for not providing mapping data to the Deprtment of Public Service and a .5% increase in the Vermnt universal service fund to fund build out to tens of thousands of Vermonters who had previously been presumed to have been served. This bill passed BUHS House by large margins and was sent to the Senate weeks ago. Despite significant advocacy efforts by Windham County Senator Becca Balint, it seemed unlikely the Senate would take up the bill this year.

Thanks to creative procedural efforts, both of these bills came back to life late last week and will see further action this week.

The same is now true for marijuana legislation. The Senate passed S.241 legalizing possession, sale and supporting commercial growing. That bill died in House Judiciary which replaced it with a study. House Ways and Means added legalization of small amounts of marijuana and the ability to grow two plants to the Judiciary bill and sent it to House Appropriations where it seemed it might never leave to come to the floor for a vote by the entire body.

The Senate has also engaged in creative procedural efforts and so the House will debate and vote on marijuana legalization this week.

One thing is for certain – it will be a long and interesting week debating and voting on these and other bills as well as the final budget and tax bills.  Looking forward to it!

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch on issues of importance to you.  The best means of contacting me is email lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell 802-384-0233.