2022 Town Meeting Report
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, infections appear to be on a downward trend. On January 18th, the House of Representatives returned to the State House where we hope to be joined by our Senate colleagues after Town Meeting Day. Our work on key priorities continues as we debate bills and consider public investments prior to our anticipated May adjournment. It is an honor to serve as your state representatives, particularly in this time of urgent need and pandemic recovery. Please reach out to us anytime with ideas, questions, and concerns.
2022 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
Investing Vermont's federal stimulus funds to boost recovery and set the stage for a strong future, while building a balanced budget that reflects our values
Tackling the complex and interconnected challenges of housing, workforce, and childcare
Enacting inclusive strategies to combat climate change as we prepare for shifting, and increasingly severe, weather patterns
Addressing Vermont’s multi-billion dollar unfunded pension liability in a way that's fair to teachers, state employees and taxpayers
Here are some legislative initiatives underway that may be of interest:
Building the FY23 Budget
The House Appropriations Committee is working on the FY 2023 budget, which covers the programs of state government and its community partner organizations. The committee is on target to present its proposed budget to the full House in mid-March. As is our Vermont tradition, it will be a balanced budget. Last year, Vermont was allocated $1.049 billion through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Of that amount, over $600 million was directed investments in the current budget, leaving more than $400 million available to be allocated in FY23. We have been advocating for $200 million of investment in home weatherization support for low- and moderate-income Vermonters and for universal, fiber-based broadband internet connectivity.
This infusion of federal dollars will not be sustained over time, nor will state revenue levels which, for now, continue to outpace economic forecasting. In developing the FY23 budget, our challenge is to make strategic use of one-time money to address extraordinary ongoing needs. In recent public hearings on the budget, testimony highlighted issues relating to childcare, housing, recruiting and retaining employees, and food insecurity.
Our goal? To craft a fiscally responsible budget that supports and strengthens Vermont communities and families, protects and lifts up vulnerable Vermonters, and to move beyond surviving COVID to a transformational recovery.
Developing a Vibrant Workforce Workforce development is one of our legislative priorities this year. With 25,000 job openings in Vermont and an unemployment rate of just 2.5 percent, we’re trying to identify and remove the barriers that are preventing people from working or returning to work. We’re also listening to education and training providers to understand how to provide better opportunities for Vermonters to gain postsecondary credentials and degrees of value, which increase earning potential in rewarding careers. As important, the legislature continues to support scholarships and grants that make these opportunities affordable for all Vermonters.
Proposal 5: Reproductive Liberty Constitutional Amendment
The decision of whether or when to become a parent is deeply personal and central to our lives. For many decades, Vermont has recognized these reproductive choices as a fundamental right that should be free from government restrictions. Proposal 5 would enshrine reproductive autonomy and liberty into our state’s constitution. It’s important to recognize that Prop 5 will not change current Vermont practice which is to deny pregnancy termination after viability, currently about 22 weeks.
The passage of Proposal 5 has been deliberate and inclusive, including a four-year legislative process and public hearings in which we received testimony from groups both supporting and opposing the amendment. The House passed Prop 5 with an overwhelming majority, sending the constitutional amendment to Vermont voters for approval. This question will appear on the November 2022 ballot.
Building a Better Nursing Pipeline Before the pandemic, Vermont already had a shortage of registered nurses (RNs) and an aging population in need of more healthcare services. Our nursing shortage has become critical following the so-called “Great Resignation” and the unique pressures put on the healthcare system by COVID-19. To meet this need, Vermont must find ways for more students to gain access to nursing education and careers. The legislature is looking for ways to support Vermont’s colleges in expanding their nursing programs. Due to a shortage of nursing professors, we want to ensure resources are available to attract nursing professors and help current RNs who wish to become instructors. Scholarships and grants, some of which the legislature created in 2021, will continue to make a college nursing education affordable to Vermonters. And by investing in nurse education, Vermont can build a better pipeline for the workforce needed now and in the future.
The Future of Our Forests
In recent years, we’ve witnessed the challenges faced by the forest products industry. How to address them? This year, two bills in the House Natural Resources Committee are taking on that question. One addresses the industry’s immediate needs (H.581); the other creates the Forest Future Strategic Roadmap (H.566). Vermont’s forests occupy 73% of our land base, so it’s important to use that resource wisely and in a sustainable way.
The process will be similar to the work done more than a decade ago with the Farm-to-Plate Initiative. The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund — in collaboration with the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation — will convene meetings with diverse stakeholders to chart a course for the future. They’ll identify bottlenecks and challenges so we can make smart investments that strengthen, promote, and protect this important part of our economy. It’s also an opportunity to develop the forest products industry workforce.
Promoting Career and Technical Education
Vermont’s 17 regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers provide critical pathways to improve career readiness for high school students and adult learners. Our goal is that by 2025, 70 percent of Vermonters will possess a postsecondary degree or credential of value, such as an apprenticeship, certificate, or license. Currently, only 51% of Vermonters possess these degrees or credentials. Our CTE centers play a significant role in helping our state meet this goal and in the development of a thriving workforce across all 14 counties.
Setting Strategic Goals for the Vermont State College System
In recent years, the legislature has made historic investments in the Vermont State College system (VSC). As we reimagine postsecondary education in Vermont in partnership with VSC, the system has embarked on a comprehensive transformation plan to achieve financial stability and launch the new Vermont State University, comprised of Castleton, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Tech.
In 2020, a statewide select committee published a report that charts a course to a sustainable higher-ed future. One recommendation is that the legislature set down in statute the state’s high-level strategic goals for VSC. H.377 accomplishes this, requiring VSC to provide an educational environment that is affordable, accessible, equitable, and relevant to Vermont's needs. The bill requires VSC to work with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) to report annually on its affordability progress. It also requests a report on whether Vermont should require completion of the federal FAFSA financial-aid form as a high school graduation requirement. Across the country, the high-school class of 2021 left $3.75 billion in federal aid unclaimed. States that require FAFSA completion (with opt-out provisions) are seeing promising results.
Energy Resilience for Our Municipalities Vermont’s municipalities own and maintain approximately 2,000 old buildings that are expensive to heat and have a large carbon footprint. In order to meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements — and reduce the cost of fossil fuel heating on municipal budgets and taxpayers — H.518 supports communities with technical assistance, design support, and funding to make municipal buildings more energy efficient and to decarbonize the fuels they employ. This bill would direct nearly $50 million to local communities and regional energy planners to identify and implement efficiency measures and lower carbon pathways to heat buildings.
Helping Vermonters Switch to Clean Heat
The Clean Heat Standard is the most significant emissions reduction policy recommended by Vermont’s Climate Council in the Climate Action Plan and puts Vermont on a predictable, sustainable pathway to carbon pollution reduction. More than one-third of Vermont’s climate pollution comes from fossil fuels used to heat our buildings and water. Dependence on fossil fuels — especially propane and fuel oil — is expensive, with unpredictable price swings for Vermont consumers. In the last twelve months, fuel prices have increased 45%, about $1.25/gallon for heating oil.
The Clean Heat Standard (CHS) is a performance standard that obligates companies selling heating fuel in Vermont to lower greenhouse gas emissions over time. It’s similar to our Renewable Energy Standard, which directs Vermont’s electric utilities to annually increase the amount of renewable energy in their electricity mix, and clean fuel standards programs in place in west coast states. The CHS requirements could be met flexibly by delivering a range of clean heat alternatives — greater thermal efficiency, lower carbon-intensity fuels, switching to cleaner electric energy for heating. The CHS prioritizes the lowest-cost, highest emissions-reducing options. Consumers would continue to have a choice on their heating options, with more incentives available to choose cleaner options.
Artificial Intelligence: Maximize Benefit, Reduce Risk
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology presents tremendous opportunities for economic growth and improved quality of life. But it also presents substantial risks, including loss of some jobs, invasions of privacy and other impacts to civil liberties. Vermont can take steps to maximize opportunities and reduce risk, but we need to act now. H.410 addresses the use and oversight of artificial intelligence in state government. The bill establishes a commission to create an inventory of all AI systems being developed, used or procured by the state. It’s an important step, allowing us to confirm that AI is not infringing on a Vermonter’s constitutional rights or being used in a discriminatory fashion. The Commission will also develop data-management and ethics policies related to the use of AI in state government.
Making Progress on Vermont’s Housing Shortage
Vermont is facing a statewide housing crisis. Part of the problem lies in a significant drop in the rate at which housing has been built over the past four decades. In 1980, housing stock grew at an annual rate of 1.8%. By 2019, the rate at which we were producing housing had dropped by 87%, to 0.2% per year. This translates into a reduction in housing units from 3,200 units per year to about 400.
The pandemic exacerbated the shortage. With federal relief funding, the General Assembly has responded with initiatives to address the needs of houseless Vermonters, renters, landlords, and to speed the production of new or rehabilitated housing. A few statistics:
Federal relief funds totaling more than $57 million have helped Vermont renters stay in their homes and helped make landlords whole. For information on your county, go to this link.
Federal relief and General Fund dollars have enabled the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to develop 475 new units of rental housing and to bring a number of projects online that will result in over 1,100 new rental units by 2023.
Federal dollars allowed 1,300 households to exit homelessness in 2021, with continued work to be appropriated in the months ahead.
This year in our annual budget adjustment, the House included $50 million to support more mixed-income units, multi-family rentals and to increase shelter capacity, with priority given to populations who may be displaced from the hotel/motel voucher problem or are currently without housing. (As Town Meeting Day approached, this bill was still being negotiated with the Senate.) Between now and the end of the session, we expect to allocate up to $25 million to rehabilitate 400 existing units that are offline because of code violations, as well as a pilot for middle-income buyers.
Redrawing Vermont’s Legislative Districts
Every ten years, after the U.S. Census is taken, Vermont must adjust legislative districts to accurately reflect any changes in population. Our state Constitution spells out the criteria for reapportionment: Districts must maintain equality of representation, have one or two Representatives, and make sense geographically. With input from our local towns and Boards of Civil Authority, our legislative district, Windsor-Orange 2, will likely be unchanged.
Vermont Senate district lines are also being redrawn this year. The Senate is considering changes to various Senate districts including the possibility of moving the towns of Thetford, Strafford, and Norwich into different configurations of an Orange County and Windsor County districts.
Ensuring the Stability of State Employee Pensions
In the past year, the legislature has focused on putting Vermont’s public pension system on a path towards long-term sustainability so that teachers, troopers, and state employees can rely on a well-funded, solvent system when they retire. Over the summer and fall, a group that included legislators, government officials, and union representatives worked together to address the issue. They reached compromises that balance our commitments to state employees and teachers with the interests of Vermont taxpayers. The Senate is currently working to incorporate those compromises into legislation, which the House will take up after Town Meeting.
Addressing Firearm Violence
The legislature has sought to improve public safety by passing S.30. This bill prohibits guns in hospitals, a request made by doctors and nurses throughout our state. When someone gets terrible news, in the form of a medical diagnosis for themselves or a family member, it can be an emotional and volatile time. Doctors and nurses told us that guns have no place in that moment. To protect our frontline healthcare providers and all Vermonters, the legislature passed S.30 early this session. This bill would also close the Charleston Loophole. Currently in Vermont, someone can purchase a firearm if their background check has not been completed in three days. This resulted in 28 firearms being sold over the last two years to people who were ineligible to own guns. Under S.30 this loophole would be eliminated.
S.30 was recently vetoed by Governor Scott. Lacking the votes to override that veto, the legislature may pass an altered version of this legislation before the end of the legislative session.
Preserving Vermont Forests
In H.606, the legislature would establish the significant goals of conserving 30 percent of the land of the state by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. The Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources would be required to develop a plan to meet these goals using Vermont Conservation Design (VCD) as a guide. VCD identifies the highest priority areas of the state for maintaining ecological integrity. Conservation goals would be met through a combination of private, state and federal land.
To further help these biodiversity and conservation goals, we are doing additional work on Vermont’s Current Use tax incentive program. H.697 would extend the Use Value (Current Use) program to include reserve forestland under certain conditions. Reserve forestland is land that is managed for the purpose of attaining old forest values and functions. This bill encourages the management of land for old forests.
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Our Transportation Sector
As a rural state, Vermonters drive a lot resulting in 40% of Vermont's carbon emissions. With unprecedented federal funds (requiring a state match), the legislature and governor will be directing approximately $40 million to support a state highway EV charging network, grants to install off-highway EV charging locations, and incentives for EVs as well as electric bicycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. The House “Transportation Innovation Act,” H552, proposes investment in electric buses; support for municipal grant programs and innovative mobility programs; funding for transportation programs for lower income Vermonters; and to continue zero-fare public transit.
Federal Funding for Roads and Transit
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law by President Biden in November 2021, offers major federal funding opportunities for Vermont’s transportation sector. The IIJA offers both “formula funds” (which are guaranteed) and competitive grant programs to which Vermont can apply. Here’s a partial breakdown of the IIJA dollars for Vermont:
$1.4 billion through federal-aid highway formula funds (over five years)
$225 million for bridge replacement and repairs (over five years)
$21 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure (over five years), which equates to 110–130 fast chargers
$83 million for public transit (over five years)
$28 million for airport infrastructure development (over five years years)
Creating a Vermont Child Tax Credit
The federal child tax credit puts money directly into the wallets and checkbooks of families with children. It’s credited with helping people pay rent and buy food, and reducing food insecurity by 25 percent. For parents with more income, the credit has helped with mortgage payments and student loan and car debt.
H.510, which passed the House in February, would create a Vermont version of the child tax credit. This payment — $100 a month for every child age six and under — will lift families with young children out of poverty. It will also encourage young families to move to Vermont, or to stay in Vermont and thrive. Our laser focus on young families addresses two important goals: reducing poverty for young children and meeting our demographic challenges.
H.510 also includes an increase in the Social Security tax exemption to expand changes we made three years ago. Anyone living exclusively on Social Security already receives their benefits tax free, while this bill allows moderate-income Social Security recipients to deduct food and other living expenses for tax purposes. As of early March, this bill is being considered by the Senate.