Legislative Updates

3/8/2019

Legislative Update - Town Meeting Week

Dear Community, Thank you for your trust in us. It’s an honor to serve as your State Representatives. Our work in Montpelier unfolds at a time when chaos in Washington DC impacts Vermonters, as evidenced by the partial government shutdown earlier this year. With this as our backdrop, our focus has been on building a Vermont that works for all of us, not just the select few. As you’ll see in this newsletter, there are a number of bills under consideration at the State House. We are presenting you with just a few. We’re focused on advancing policies that will enable our families and communities to thrive. Every Vermonter should get a fair shot, contribute their fair share, and play by the same set of rules.

House Education Committee: Update from Representative Caleb Elder The committee has passed three bills so far this session. They are: H.3 - An act relating to ethnic and social equity studies standards for public schools. This bill was initiated at the end of the 2017-2018 session, so it was the first on our docket this biennium. H.3 would form a diverse, statewide working group to meet for a period of 3 years and to make recommendations to the State Board of Education regarding the adoption of ethnic and social equity standards. These standards would support local educators in the development of more inclusive curricula and lesson plans at the local level. We heard compelling testimony from Vermont high school students as well as from educators and administrators regarding this bill. There was widespread enthusiasm for this bill and the ongoing process it would initiate. I’m hopeful H.3 will be passed soon by the Senate. H.39 - This bill was one of many introduced in response to the State Board of Education’s Order from November of 2018, requiring certain school districts to merge per the final stages of Act 46. The proponents of H.39 advocated for a 1-year delay so that school districts required to merge under the Board Order would have more time. This was a contentious issue to wrestle with, but ultimately, the Education Committee amended the bill so that some school districts got a 1-year delay, while others are still required to merge by July 1, 2019. Related issue: There are 33 school districts currently suing the State, challenging the legality/constitutionality of forced mergers under Act 46. A court decision is expected later this year, maybe as soon as this spring. H. 140 - The purpose of this bill is to rework the membership of the existing State Advisory Panel so that its makeup and its charge conform with Federal requirements. This group has existed for decades in VT, but Federal requirements pertaining to this advisory body have changed over time. H. 140 is particularly important as we approach the implementation of Act 173. Background: Act 173 was passed in 2018 and will change the way Special Education funds are distributed to school districts, as well as the way the funds can be spent by the districts.

Health Care Committee - Representative Mari Cordes The General Assembly is committed to ensuring that as many Vermonters as possible can access quality health care through having health insurance that is both available and affordable. At 3%, Vermont has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country. This compares favorably to many other states, which can range as high as 7-10%. In addition to minimizing the number of uninsured Vermonters, we are working to decrease the number of underinsured Vermonters. To do this, we must also address considerable market instability caused by recent federal actions toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act. My committee has heard a significant amount of testimony from stakeholders about how the current system impacts them and the people they represent. We are drafting legislation intended to protect Vermonters from pre-existing condition exclusions, and to reduce personal health insurance costs and benefit “cliffs”. In longer term work, the committee is also exploring a regional approach to universal publicly financed health care. House Health Care also spent a significant amount of time creating a plan that strongly supports increasing the mental health workforce, and resources for organizations in the community that provide much needed and excellent mental health services, such as Pathways, SASH, the WRAP program, and more. We are also working to support and increase the work being done in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.

Other work Transportation/Roads Fuel tax receipts netted over $6 million in additional funds for FY2019. The Administration has proposed adding $1.8 million to district leveling (paving) to restore cuts made last year, $3 million to maintenance to help with the tough winter plowing/salt conditions this year, and the remaining balance of $1.6 million to DMV’s transition to a new automated system to track and collect commercial fuel tax apportionments. In addition, Cordes and Elder have cosponsored a bill that allows towns with no Class 1 roads the flexibility to use the annual Class 1 state road maintenance grant for Class 2 and Class 3 roads.

Climate Change/Environment In Vermont, the majority of carbon emissions come from poorly weatherized homes, and transportation. House Transportation Committee is discussing ways to leverage monies received from lawsuits against VW and Fiat-Chrysler to enhance an EV incentive program put forward by the Scott administration, including a focus on low income individuals. Additionally, the Department of Environmental Conservation and VTrans are proposing spending VW settlement monies on EV charging infrastructure grants, an electric school bus pilot program, and more. Representatives Elder and Cordes have co-sponsored legislation that would significantly increase weatherization for low income households and seniors, and legislation that would create a state-wide framework for voluntary energy labeling of buildings.

Cordes has also introduced a bill banning use of glyphosates, and cosponsored a pollinator bill banning use of neonicotinoids.

Broadband Vermont has a statutory goal of ensuring that “by the end of the year 2024, every [address] has … Internet access with service that has a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps and is symmetrical.” But today, 25% of Vermont households still have slower than adequate internet connections, and 5% lack even basic service. This year, the House Energy & Technology Committee has given priority to increasing access to high-speed broadband internet service. Different communities may need different solutions. The House is developing a broadband connectivity bill that will empower communities to determine the solution most suited to their area, and begin to implement that solution.

Paid for by Mari Cordes and Caleb Elder. No tax payer dollars were used to print or distribute this report.

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