Indys, Ubers and #PeopleOverParty

Last Sunday I found myself in Denver, traveling by Uber with a scientist I had attended a weekend conference with.  My new scientist friend conducted an experiment with our Uber drivers as we traveled to various Denver destinations talking about how much we were enjoying Denver and gathering info about our next destination.  

“We are here talking with people who are worried about politics and government in our country, she started. Can I ask you two questions? Are you registered to vote? And are you affiliated with a party?” They were all registered to vote.  And all independents.

My scientist friend was Dr. Ann Diamond, a family practitioner and independent candidate for the Washington State House of Representatives who had just won a top two primary in her district. If elected in November, she will be the first independent to serve in the Washington House. The conference we met at was the Unite Summit – a gathering of independent elected officials, former Democratic and Republican officials, candidates, strategists, and supporters from across the country meeting to continue building momentum for a better way forward in governing our states and our country.

Screenshot 2018-08-22 17.15.51 (2)The Summit was hosted by Unite America, a national grassroots movement of citizens who think both parties are failing and that our country can do better. I was honored to sit on a panel with  elected independent state legislators from Maine, Alaska and Colorado and talk about the difference a small group of elected independents, working with moderate members of both parties, can make in state legislative bodies.  The seven elected independents in the Vermont House work with our moderate colleagues on both sides of the isle to pull together bipartisan coalitions. In Maine and Alaska, these bipartisan coalitions have come together to overcome serious budgetary and elections stalemates in order to enact commonsense bipartisan reforms.

In Vermont, Maine and Alaska voters are getting used to electing independents. But that is not the case in the rest of the country and certainly not the case with any of our federally elected officials.  Unite America is providing a simple yet productive way to help bring function back to our politics — by helping elect independents to office. If you are an independent, like my Denver Uber drivers and 40% of our fellow Americans, and are looking for a productive way to engage in politics, keep an eye on Unite America as they work to connect independents across our country.

My time in elected office has been spent dedicated to elevating the voice of our district and our district’s issues to Vermont’s policymakers. While that will continue to be my focus, I was grateful for this brief opportunity to share my experience serving as an independent and to be able to encourage others to run to serve the people instead of parties. It left me feeling very hopeful for our country.

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Important primary vote tomorrow

Tomorrow is an important primary vote. For our Windham/Bennington district, a single Democratic Governor candidate will be determined out of four running and a single Republican candidate for Governor will be determined between Gov. Scott and his challenger. There will also be advancement of two of the three democratic candidates running to be Windham County Senator for those of you in Wardsboro, Dover and Whitingham.

At your polling station, any Vermonter can use one of any of the three major party ballots – the Republican, Progressive or Democratic ballot.

You will not see my name on any of the ballots because I am not affiliated with a party and run for office as an independent.

The primaries purpose is to help the parties reduce the number of candidates they will support in the General Election in November. If you are an independent – you can and should still vote tomorrow – choose the major party ballot that holds the contest you most care about.

You can write my name in for State Representative on whichever ballot you decide to use, but it is not necessary. Independent candidates automatically qualify to be on the general election ballot in November.

If you are not currently registered to vote, you can still vote tomorrow – Vermont has same day voter registration. The Vermont Secretary of State hosts a great FAQ page which can help with any other questions you may have when voting in tomorrow’s primary.

Please stay engaged and stay in touch via email lhsibilia@gmail.com or phone 802-384-0233.
Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

Dan French appointed new Vermont Secretary of Education

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New Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French

Governor Scott has announced the appointment of Dan French as Vermont’s next Education Secretary.  Secretary French is very familiar with our districts two supervisory unions: WSWSU and the WCSU.  He previously served as the Superintendent in the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union to our north, and consulted on several Act 46 mergers and on behalf of previous AOE Secretary Holcomb, opportunities for collaboration between our two supervisory unions.

Secretary French is highly qualified and experienced in the function and dysfunction of Vermont’s current education delivery and financing system which includes multiple major reform initiatives currently being led at the local level.  He is also specifically familiar with the Twin Valley mergers and all of the Act 46 efforts currently underway in both of our supervisory unions.  I am cautiously optimistic about this appointment.

Hopefully with this appointment, we will see prompt follow through at the AOE on reexamining the issues of student weight as doubly required by statute.  This is perhaps the most critical component for both lowering property taxes and ensuring equity under the current financing formula.  I hope Secretary French makes the case for additional AOE staffing resources to support Act 46, Special Education, employee healthcare efforts currently underway at the local level by local citizens.  It is my hope that his experience will temper consideration of any additional major policy initiatives in the next two years  – including, especially, mandatory state directed staff ratio adjustments.

I have recently heard from a number of non income sensitized property owners that they were surprised by the size of the increase in this year’s property tax bill.  It remains a priority for me to successfully address property taxes and maintain accessible high quality education for students in our communities.  We can do both if we are willing to look at the major cause of our inability to control the tax rate or ensure equity for all Vermont students – disconnected state funding and local decision making systems.

Please stay engaged and stay in touch via email lhsibilia@gmail.com or phone 802-384-0233.

Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham
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GOVERNOR PHIL SCOTT APPOINTS DAN FRENCH AS EDUCATION SECRETARY

The two affirm their joint vision for improving education quality, efficiency and equity from cradle-to-career

Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott on Thursday announced Dan French, Ed.D. as the new Secretary of the Agency of Education.

French started his career in education as a high school social studies teacher, K-12 principal and superintendent in Canaan, Vt. After living and working in the Northeast Kingdom for 15 years, he moved south to serve as superintendent for the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union from 2007-2016. In 2009, French was named Vermont Superintendent of the Year, and he served as president of the Vermont Superintendents Association from 2010-2012. From 2016-2018, he was the coordinator of the School Leadership Graduate Program at Saint Michael’s College where he taught graduate courses in school leadership, the legal and financial management of schools and using data to improve schools.

Per Vermont statute, the State Board of Education initiated a search for the next Secretary of Education in April. Of the candidates that applied, the State Board forwarded three candidates to the Governor. The Governor interviewed all three candidates this summer, ultimately selecting and appointing French.

French, 54, currently lives in Manchester Center. He starts his new role at the Vermont Agency of Education on August 13.

Governor Scott provided the following statement:

“I want to thank the State Board of Education for their diligence and urgency in advancing three highly qualified candidates. Secretary French has tremendous understanding of Vermont’s education system and the opportunity we have to strengthen and transform it from good to great. We’re very excited to have someone with his expertise in this critically important post within state government.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history of public education in Vermont. As we know, the biggest single investment we make as a state – approaching $2 billion – is in our kids through funding education. And the fact is – like many other areas – the education system is being weakened by our changing demographics and an increasingly inefficient system that’s diverting budget dollars away from kids.

“As most Vermonters know, the K-12 system was built to educate more than 100,000 students. Today, we’re educating less than 80,000. In fact, we’re educating about 27,000 fewer than 20 years ago, and declines continue at an average rate of about three students per day. Our student-to-staff ratio has decreased from about six kids for every one adult to about four to one. 

“These trends have contributed significantly to the affordability crisis many families face, persistent inequality between districts, and expanding inefficiencies that divert millions of dollars away from our kids. 

“Think of it this way: We are now spending about $1.7 billion to educate fewer than 80,000 students. According to the National Education Association, we have the largest per-student investment in the country, spending twice the national average. We have a good graduation rate, but our student test scores are only two percentage points higher than the national average. We are not making substantial gains in improving outcomes for disadvantaged students. And only about half of our high school graduates go on to receive a technical or trade credential or earn a college degree. 

“Outcomes and funding from school to school remain unequal. We have some schools offering a wide range of foreign languages, environmental studies and cutting-edge science, technology and engineering programs. And we have other schools that can’t offer any of these opportunities.

“The fact is, it’s time to have the courage to admit we can do much more for our kids, achieve better outcomes and attract more families – and that is why I am appointing Dan to be our next secretary of Education.

“Dan sees the opportunity and the necessity we have to transform our system from good to great. And he has the expertise to work with districts and local education leaders to re-center the system’s focus on expanding opportunities and improving outcomes for our kids in a way that’s sustainable and affordable for taxpayers.

“Finally, I want to thank Acting Secretary Heather Bouchey for her leadership, and all the staff at the Agency of Education for their hard work through this transition. Over the last four months, Heather has been a valuable and relentlessly positive member of my Cabinet and has worked closely with the staff to manage the day-to-day operations at the Agency without interruption. We are fortunate to have her at the Agency of Education.”

Secretary Dan French provided the following statement:

“I want to thank Governor Scott for the opportunity to serve as Vermont’s next Secretary of Education. Although we have challenges in our education system, we are fortunate to have significant talent and capacity for innovation at all levels. Because of this capacity, I am optimistic about our future.

“Many of our challenges in education can be seen as systems or organizational challenges. Act 46 has been very successful in moving us down a path toward rightsizing our governance structure. We must now leverage this work to transform our system into a world class education system, a system that offers expanded learning opportunities for every Vermonter, and a system that contributes to broader social and economic development of our state.

“I am excited about this work and the opportunity to help modernize our education system to better meet the future needs of our students, their families and our state.”

About Secretary French:

Daniel M. French started his career in education as a high school social studies teacher, K-12 principal, and superintendent in Canaan, Vt. He then served as the superintendent for the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union from 2007-2016. In 2009, French was named Vermont Superintendent of the Year, and he served as president of the Vermont Superintendents Association from 2010-2012. From 2016-2018, he was the coordinator of the School Leadership Graduate Program at Saint Michael’s College where he taught graduate courses in school leadership, the legal and financial management of schools and using data to improve schools.

French also provided consulting services to Vermont school districts and the Vermont Agency of Education with a focus on assisting districts with improving their organizational performance as a result of merging. He has been very active in the development of major Vermont education policy initiatives including Act 153, Act 156, Act 77 and Act 46. 

French obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Connecticut in 1985, his master’s degree in educational administration from Plymouth State University in 1996, and his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Vermont in 2014.

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Public Comment request on Health Insurance Premium Price Increases

Good morning,

Public comments are an important way to provide input. If you do submit comments, please email me a copy at lhsibilia@gmail.com

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia

——

The Green Mountain Care Board is reviewing proposed health insurance premium price increases for Individual and Small Employer plans including Vermont Health Connect plans. (Small Employers have less than 100 employees.) These plans cover almost 80,000 Vermonters.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont is asking to increase premium prices by 7.5%, on average, for 2019. MVP Health Care is asking to increase premium prices by 10.9% on average. The price increases vary significantly by plan.

The Green Mountain Care Board will decide whether to change the premium prices for 2019. You can tell the Board what you think they should do and why. The Board must consider public comments when setting the 2019 premium prices. The public comment period ends next Wednesday, July 25, 2018. You can find information on how to submit a public comment here. (https://www.vtlegalaid.org/sites/default/files/HCA-Flyer-Individual-VHC-Public-Comment.pdf)

If you have questions about health insurance, health care, or about how you can give a public comment, contact Vermont’s Office of the Health Care Advocate for free help (800) 917-7787 (https://vtlawhelp.org/health).

Vermont email scam alert

Please share this latest scam alert from the Vermont Attorney Generals office, and don’t forget to check in with your more vulnerable family members and neighbors. These scammers are extremely manipulative and prey on the good will and fear of others who don’t expect these kind of flagrant in your face cons.

At the end of this email is a link to sign up for alerts on currently reported scams.

From the AG’s Office:

“An e-mail password hacking and extortion scam is targeting Vermonters

We are getting increased reports of e-mail extortion scams claiming you have been hacked, and that the scammers have compromising information about you.

The e-mail lists a current or former password you may have used, claims that the sender has access to your computer and webcam, and may claim to have compromising video, pictures or web browsing history. The sender threatens to release this information unless you send them money.

These e-mails are scams. If you receive one of these e-mails, DO NOT send money. If you find that your current password is listed in the e-mail, change your passwords from another computer and run virus scans.

We need your help! You can stop these scams from hurting your community by sharing this information with people you know.

Call us at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or

need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam. ”

Sign up here:

https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/forms/sign-scam-alerts

Final update of the 2018 session

The eventful 2018 session has come to an end and my final review of the session follows.  Over the summer and fall you can expect to hear more from me on updates to the State’s Act 46 plan, telecommunications and CoverageCo, the scheduling of a public forum on healthcare.  I did previously announce my intention to run for re-election and I’m writing a piece about what it is like to run and serve as an independent in Vermont.

As always, please be in touch with your thoughts and concerns through email at lhsibilia@gmail.com or phone at 802-384-0233

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

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

The final Budget and Tax bills

The total FY 2019 Budget of $5.8 billion is up .5% over current fiscal year.  The budget adds beds for mental health care and also increases child care provider reimbursements. It also provides $5 million in revolving state funds for home weatherization and pays off $3.9 million in debt at Vermont Life Magazine, which will no longer be published.

Related to education, the budget and tax bill pay down a portion of the $1.3 billion existing liability in teacher pension fund by $100 million.  We have also moved expenses img_1392from education fund into general fund (renter rebate, community high school of Vermont, Adult Education, Flexible Pathways). This is something voters in the Valley have repeatedly asked for in the last decade and a half and was part of Speaker Johnson’s education financing proposal at the beginning of the session.

Property Tax Adjustment for education rates will be reduced by lowering the value of house site for those paying property tax based on income.  This change effects 16,000 households across the state.

Statewide bargaining for public school employee’s health care contract has been agreed to – Governor Scott had asked for this to happen last year and this issue was the cause of the 2017 budget disagreement.

There is also a commission to study student/staff ratios in public schools, supported by the Vermont School Board Association Board of Directors. This work must be done in conjunction with the twice passed and funded student weighting study if it is to result in tax savings and maintain constitutionally required equity on opportunity.

There were several personal tax changes this year, including some necessitated by increases that would have resulted from the federal tax changes. Vermont will reduce personal income tax rates by .2% and collapse the top two income brackets.  The legislature also established Vermont standard deductions ($6,000 single, $12,000 joint) and personal exemption of $4,150.

There is now a 5% tax credit on charitable donations (limited to $1,000), and Social Security Income for low and moderate-income households (under $55,000) is exempted from income taxes.

The Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit has been increased from 32% to 36% of federal level and a Vermont Tax Structure Commission to review current  guardfunding sources to support state government has been created.

Tuition reimbursement for Vermont National Guard soldiers, the only remaining New England state not to have offered the benefit, was agreed to.

The budget also included a study on carbon pricing.  I support this study, because it will outline issues that will need to be addressed prior to any kind of carbon tax being implemented.

New gig/sharing economy regulations:

  • Act 10 creates a registry for all short-term rentals in the state by requiring hosts to
    gig-economy-032116
    Image credit: Crunchbase

    register online and acquire a rooms and meals tax identification number, which they will need to publish on all their advertisements and visibly post that number in their rental units with emergency contact numbers. (AirBnB, Homeaway and other short term rentals)

  • H.725 Regulating Transportation Network Companies established insurance requirements for companies like Uber and Lyft to cover drivers and passengers for up to $1 million, plus med pay of $5,000.  The companies are also required to vet drivers using background checks and the records are subject to inspection by the Vermont Department of motor Vehicles.

Internet access and security:

  • Data Brokers H.764 will provide consumers with greater protection over their personal information by starting to regulate data brokers – those who buy and sell personal information of individuals with whom they have no other business relationship. Those brokers will be required to register with the state and provide the Attorney General with information about the nature of the information they collect and their means of collecting it.  The law also requires data brokers to disclose when they experience a breach of personal information.
  • Net Neutrality S.289 requires internet service providers (ISPs) that contract with the State of Vermont to adhere to net neutrality standards which includes not downloadblocking content, engaging in paid prioritization of internet services or acting to “throttle, impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service.” As part of the legislation, the Vermont’s Attorney General will:
    • determine whether internet service providers in the state follow net neutrality standards and report back prior to the next legislative session
    • make the ISP’s public statements about their Net Neutrality function information available to consumers by posting it on a website
    • conduct a joint study with the Department of Public Service to determine whether Vermont should put additional net neutrality rules for internet providers in place in the future

Governor Scott signed an executive order in February requiring internet companies that do business with the state to abide by net neutrality principles. I co-sponsored the House net neutrality legislation and secured a unanimous vote out of our committee on an amendment to the Senate bill.  Whether or not ISP’s are honoring net neutrality principals will need to be monitored vigorously in the future.  The whole world of telecommunications is rapidly changing and evolving and competition for future survival is fully in play at the national level.

Healthcare:

  • Individual mandate Vermont: With the repeal of the individual mandate federally, Vermont became the 3rd state to require the individual mandate after Massachusetts and New Jersey. Starting in 2020, residents of Vermont will be required to have health insurance or be subject to state tax penalties with the passage of a revised legislative bill H.696. The specifics for how the statewide mandate will exist have not been determined but will be determined by a working group in 2019 prior to the launch of the new requirements starting on January 1, 2020. In the meantime, no state penalties will be imposed on residents who do not obtain healthcare coverage prior to 2020. Vermont residents will be contacted by state officials as part of “educated outreach efforts” to answer any questions and inform residents of the policies and procedures as they are determined prior to going into effect in 2020.
  • Drug importation from Canada S 175 directs the state Agency of Human Services to Flag_of_Canada_(Pantone).svgdesign a program to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada. Drugs included in the program would have to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards and “generate substantial savings for Vermont consumers.” The agency must submit a program proposal to the legislature by January 1, 2019, and a formal request to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by July 1, 2019.
  • Rep. John Gannon and I will be hosting a Valley wide info session later this Summer/Fall on both these items as well as giving residents an opportunity to share issues or concerns they are having with regard to healthcare.

Civil Protections:
Equal Pay H.294 prohibits employers from requesting a person’s salary history prior to making a job offer, a practice which often leads to unequal pay between genders.  Employers may still post a salary range, and an applicant may still post salary requirements, but asking for a salary history is now off-limits.

“MeToo”: H.707 I also co-sponsored this tri-partisan legislation which aims to shed some sunlight on habitual harassers and ensure those who were subject to the harassment are not the only ones suffering consequences.

  • Companies cannot require people to sign away their right to report sexual harassment as part of a pre-employment contract. 
  • All supervisors and managers, including those who oversee or contract with volunteers, interns and independent contractors, have an obligation to ensure the working relationship is “free from sexual harassment.”
  • Sexual harassment settlements cannot prohibit the person making the complaint from working for the employer in the future.
  • The Attorney General’s Office can visit workplaces and require employers to change their practices.
  • Vermont will create an online portal for making complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment.

Marijuana legalization:
The law took effect on July 1. Read the legislation here. Adults who are at least 21 years imageold are allowed to possess and grow marijuana: possess up to one ounce of marijuana or for growing two mature marijuana plants and four immature marijuana plants per housing unit.

  • The plants must be in a secure enclosure that is screened from public view.
  • Marijuana harvested from plants doesn’t count toward the one-ounce limit as long as it’s stored on-site, in an indoor place.

Convictions for possessing more than one ounce of marijuana, or more than two mature and four immature plants, are imprisonment up to six months and fine up to $500.  Providing marijuana to a person under 21 years old can result in imprisonment up to two years and fines up to $2,000. It is a misdemeanor crime to use marijuana in a car with a child, with penalties starting at $500 and two points on a driver’s license.  Impaired driving remains illegal under the law, and neither drivers nor passengers are allowed to use marijuana in a vehicle. Anyone with an open container of marijuana in a vehicle can be fined $200.

Marijuana use is limited to “individual dwellings” and is prohibited in any street, alley, park or sidewalk. Landlords can ban possession and use of marijuana as part of a lease agreement. Using or growing marijuana at a child care facility is not allowed.

Here is a summary of all legislation which passed in 2018.

Failed efforts:

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

Legislation mandating an increase in the minimum wage and paid family leave passed the House (without my support) and the Senate, but did not have enough votes to overturn the governors veto.

Legislation increasing the Vermont Universal Service Fund fee by .05% passed the House with a veto proof tri-partisan vote. This increase would have raised a very modest 1.5 Million a year for internet expansion and would have raised a $100 phone bill by .50 cents. Unfortunately, just like in 2016 when we passed this bill, the Senate refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.

Rural Economic Development Working Group: I’m a Co-Chair of this tri-partisan and independent group of House members with Rep. Chip Conquest and Rep. Charlie Kimbell.  With the support of the Speaker, we held a hearing last fall to hear about issues that were important to rural Vermont.  Based on that hearing, the House Rural Economic Development Working Group advocated for three primary issues during the 2018 legislative session:

  1. Provide regulatory relief for the forest products industry and for additional ways to support their industry.
  2. Expand high speed, broadband technology into rural Vermont to give communities the opportunity to participate in today’s economy.
  3. Provide small communities with planning assistance and access to financing to design, build and maintain community wastewater and potable water systems.

Several bills passed the legislature with REDWnG’s support and assistance that provided the following to rural Vermont:

  • Gave individual homeowners, including owners of multifamily homes, access to funding for wastewater systems that are close to failing, with very favorable terms.
  • Enabled private entities to tap into the state Revolving Clean Water Fund to build wastewater treatment systems.
  • Foresters were granted the right to conduct forest harvesting operations without risk of being shut down because of complaints of neighbors provided that they follow best forestry practices.
  • Certain forestry machinery was granted exemption from purchase and use tax to make it more affordable to purchase new equipment.
  • Funding for the Working Lands Enterprise Fund, supporting agricultural businesses, was increased to $700K.
  • Freed up $1.2 million that had been parked in a now defunct telecommunications authority project to be used to support the expansion of broadband and cellular phone connectivity.
  • Created a pilot project to fund expansion of the outdoor recreation industry through “model communities.”
  • As a result of our advocacy, the Department of Environmental Conservation is working closely with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to remove regulatory obstacles for towns looking to replace or construct properly sized wastewater systems.

surveybumpstocks2019 Constituent Survey:

The results from last years survey were really helpful to me as I considered policy and the best use of my time during the session.  I’m interested in hearing any questions you think might be helpful to ask a broad valley audience

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