2020 Town Meeting

March 2, 2020

The following is the handout we distributed at Town Meeting in Thetford, Norwich, Sharon, and Strafford:

 

It’s an honor to serve as your State Representatives in Montpelier where the Vermont legislature meets from early-January until late-May. We are grateful for your trust and are committed to earning it daily.  We have heard from many of you in recent months and those conversations have helped us initiate policy directly affecting our four towns including:

  • A bill to cap the rates diabetics would pay for insulin prescriptions;

  • Legislation to support cybersecurity training for town employees;

  • Prospective funding to support the remediation of TA’s water system;

  • Change to Act 250 legislation keeping local district commissioners at the center of development decisions;

  • A legislative correction to the school tax rate for Thetford that was made in error;

  • Increasing flexibility for the use of state transportation funds for certain towns.

Below we’ve included brief summaries on a variety of issues that may be of interest. Thank you for participating in Town Meeting!

 

Strengthening Rural Health Systems

Last year’s Rural Health Services Task Force returned to the legislature in January with two main recommendations:  expand telehealth services and address the shortage of health care workers.  The House is working to expand the ability for doctors to be reimbursed for providing telehealth services. Telehealth has the potential to increase access to healthcare for rural VTers, older VTers, and others who face challenges traveling to an appointment. Of course, telehealth access is only available in parallel with high-speed internet access, something we’re also working on.  VT’s health care workforce is currently in need of 70 primary care physicians, with this shortage expected to get worse with 36% of VT’s primary care physicians over age 60.  VT is also short nearly 4,000 nurses putting significant strain on our remaining workforce and impacting the quality of care.  The House is putting forth a variety of plans to address this workforce need including supporting students with scholarships and loan repayment and reducing excessive barriers to licensure.

 

H.688 – Global Warming Solutions Act

The GWSA passed the House by a 105-37 vote and is now in the Senate.  The bill elevates VT’s greenhouse gas emissions goals to statutory obligations consistent with Governor Scott’s Paris Agreement promise and VT’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan:

  • 26% below 2005 emissions levels by 2025 

  • 40% below 1990 emissions levels by 2030

  • 80% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050 

The bill establishes a robust planning process to analyze and prioritize strategies that are both cost-effective and technologically feasible in reducing emissions. The bill allows a citizen to bring suit against the State for failure to achieve the required reduction in pollution. This provision does not allow payment of damages, but rather would allow a court to require the State to do more greenhouse gas mitigation within the confines of the GWSA.

VT has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the Northeast and is the only state whose emissions have increased in the last 30 years. The GWSA’s reduction requirements are similar to other Northeastern states. Massachusetts passed a GWSA law in 2008 mandating less greenhouse gas pollution and has seen a 25% reduction in emissions, a more efficient energy system, and a 25% growth in its economy.

 

Building Strong Communities

With funding through the annual capital bill, the House allocates funding for the Building Communities Grant Programs, a program that helps build community and economic vitality throughout VT.  These grants support small investments in facilities and infrastructure to help communities preserve historic buildings, improve ADA accessibility, and address fire safety in community facilities. These grants require a 1:1 match, helping towns leverage additional investment.  Municipalities, schools, libraries, and nonprofits can find more information and how to apply at the following link:

https://bgs.vermont.gov/commissioner/building-communities-grants

 

Older Vermonters Act

The number of VTers over the age of 65 is projected to jump by 50% over the next decade. Our current demographic makes us the second oldest state in the nation behind Maine.  H.611 establishes a “bill of rights” for the elderly to ensure that policy decisions enhance their self-determination; safety and protection; financial security; optimal health and wellness; social connection and engagement; housing and transportation; and family caregiver support.  The bill also directs the development of a Master Plan for Aging in VT to serve as a blueprint for state government, local communities, private organizations, and philanthropy to build environments and systems that promote healthy aging.  Other features of the bill include an examination of self-neglect in older VTers, as well as formal reporting on adult abuse and neglect investigations.

 

Act 250

As VT has evolved over the past 50 years, so have the development challenges facing our state. H.926 updates Act 250 improving the permitting process while maintaining the local system run by District Coordinators and Commissions. The bill supports development in downtown areas by lifting jurisdiction in certain designated growth areas where Act 250 review may be duplicative of local regulations.  Proposed environmental and working lands protections include:

  • Expanding jurisdiction to address development near interstate interchanges;

  • Adding criteria to protect forest blocks and increase protections for wildlife habitat; 

  • Addressing climate change through added criteria on transportation and energy efficiency, and incentives to concentrate new development in town centers; 

  • Enhancing protections for river corridors and flood plains to increase resiliency in the face of more frequent, intense flooding events brought about by climate change; 

  • Supporting the forest products industry through greater flexibility in permitted hours of operation and wood delivery.

H.926 has passed the House and is now in the Senate for consideration.

 

Renter Rebate

The House has unanimously passed H.934 to reform the renter rebate program supporting low-income VTers. Renter rebates have long been a source of frustration for many.  H.934 simplifies the program aiming to reduce rebate error rates (currently at 66%!) and targeting the program to those most in need. The redesigned program simplifies income definition, makes application more straightforward, eliminates landlord certification, and assesses benefits based on county income and rental rate statistics.

 

Cannabis Tax & Regulate

Personal cultivation and procession of cannabis was legalized in in VT in 2018.  Last week, the House passed S.54 to regulate cannabis businesses and tax cannabis sales to adults 21 years and older.  Before a cannabis retailer may operate in a town, that town must permit the operation of the retailer by majority vote by Australian ballot at a town meeting warned for that purpose.  S.54 would establish a Cannabis Control Board to develop comprehensive rules governing licensing, financial disclosure, security, lab testing, health and safety, labeling, employee training, and seed-to-sale tracking. The Board would license retailers, growers, product manufacturers, wholesalers, labs, and integrated licensees. Cannabis would be tested by independent licensed laboratories for contaminants, potency, and quality in accordance with rules adopted by the Board.  Certain products would be prohibited, including cannabis flower with greater than 30% THC, cannabis concentrates with greater than 60% THC, flavored vapes, and cannabis products containing nicotine or alcoholic beverages. Cannabis producers would not be regulated as “farms” and cannabis would not be considered an agricultural product or crop.  Retail sales will be subject to a 14% cannabis excise tax and VT’s 6% sales tax.

 

Vetoes: Paid Family Leave, Minimum Wage

In January, the legislature passed an employee-funded Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance bill which would have guaranteed up to 12 weeks of paid leave post-childbirth and up to 8 weeks of paid leave to care for a sick family member.  While the Senate overrode the governor’s veto, the House override attempt failed by one vote.  The legislature also passed a bill raising the minimum wage from $10.96 to $12.55 over the next two years. This bill was also vetoed by the governor, but this veto was overridden in both chambers with the House override attempt succeeding by a one vote margin.

 

 

Vermont:  Healthy, Safe, Working, Educated

  • Four straight years, United Health Foundation has ranked VT the healthiest state.

  • At 3.2%, Vermont’s uninsured rate is one of the lowest in the country. National average = 8.8%

  • U.S. News ranks VT the 2nd safest state for both violent and property crime. USA Today ranks VT the 3rd safest state to raise children.

  • U.S. News ranks VT #1 for economic equality.

  • VT’s unemployment rate (2.3%) is the lowest in the nation.

  • Vermont ranks in the top-10 for both NAEP Math and Reading scores.

 

Best State House beard award definitely goes to Rep. Martin LaLonde of South Burlington.  Martin is the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee and was a key player in getting the legal and constitutional aspects of Global Warming Solutions Act worked out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 7th was essentially a snow day at the State House with the snow/ice storm that came through.  With the Capitol building mostly empty, the State Police brought in their newest recruit: Loki, a two-month old Plott hound puppy.

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