As I'm sure everyone knows the Governor vetoed the budget (H518), the state education tax rate bill (aka Yield Bill H509) and S22 the marijuana bill at the end of the regular session. We returned to the statehouse Wednesday to attempt to override the vetoes (which were sustained) then moved on to pass new legislation. Summaries of each are below.
The budget bill (H542) passed yesterday is identical to the version the House and Senate passed on May 18th and vetoed by the Governor, except for three technical amendments. A few highlights of the budget:
Additionally the state education tax rate legislation (originally passed as H509) was added to the budget as an amendment rather than having a separate bill. This bill sets the tax rates for the next fiscal year and has legislation regarding the savings achieved from school employees healthcare plans. Below are the highlights of the passed legislation:
This bill originally began in the Senate so they took up the bill first yesterday. They added language agreed upon with the Governor and voted the bill out. However, rules had to be suspended in the House for us to take up the bill. That vote failed. There is no marijuana legislation this year. I suspect it will be discussed again next session.
So what did I think of the end of session and the veto session? A colleague on the House floor said it well last night "politics got in the way of leadership". I was dismayed at the closed door negotiations the past few weeks and hope that is not a sign of the future. I'm also saddened that teachers were pitted against tax payers. We should be uniting our communities not dividing them. But at the end of the day we have a fiscally responsible budget with tri-partisan support. For that I am very proud of our small state!
If anyone has specific questions or wants to talk, please reach out. 373-0599 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Rep Giambatista and I will be available to meet on June 28th at Nest Coffee & Bakery on Main St from 8:30am to 9:30am. Hope you can join our conversation!
Thank you for allowing me to serve Essex Junction! Have a great summer!
Below is an op-ed by Mitzi Johnson, Speaker of the House, published today. I agree that we passed a fiscally responsible budget that still reflects the values of Vermonters while we prepare for the effects of the Federal budget. I also agree that we need to look at the costs of our education system. To do that right we need a process that ensures our children's needs are the focus while valuing all school workers and respecting all tax payers. What happened at the end of the legislative session is not the right process.
By Mitzi Johnson:
When your state representatives were sworn in Jan. 4, each pledged faithful, honest service to the people and constitution of Vermont.In my opening remarks as Speaker of the House, I asked them to do this by evaluating and prioritizing our state’s needs to support the long-term health and wellness of our state.
Given the vast uncertainty at the national level, and your voices at the local level, your legislators crafted a budget that carefully balances Vermont’s diverse, sometimes competing requests.
We worked across political aisles to find budget reductions. Together we invested in housing, higher education, water quality, economic development, child care and mental health. We put more money into the education fund to reduce pressure on your property taxes and raised NO taxes and fees. We spent less than the projected revenues, building savings that will mitigate uncertainty in federal funds.
The budget invests in Vermont’s future, makes good on our promises, and does so with great fiscal restraint. It passed 143-1 in the House and 30-0 in the Senate. Former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas praised the budget as a “positive step.”
In vetoing the budget, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said no to a morally and fiscally responsible budget, and no to its inclusive, non-partisan process.
In addition to the budget veto, Scott vetoed a property tax decrease in H.509 that would have gone directly to Vermont taxpayers. Two years ago, teachers agreed to move from comprehensive health care plans to high deductible plans with much cheaper premium and much higher out-of-pocket costs.
The teacher health care savings that have been widely discussed come from that already-agreed upon change. It’s happening no matter what the Legislature and governor do. Those savings are already happening in local negotiations. Centralizing those negotiations in Montpelier doesn’t necessarily increase savings — it just makes it easier for Montpelier to raid those savings to spend it elsewhere. We can’t let that happen.
Just how much is the savings on your property taxes? Hundreds or even thousands of dollars? Nope.
Under Scott’s last-minute demands, a home valued at $200,000 would, at most, bring savings to Vermont families of less than $22 each year, less than a tank of gas.
The House and Senate passed various bills that would have guaranteed savings of $25 to $65 a year, but Scott rejected these as well.
A veto of the budget should not be taken lightly. It is the second budget veto in Vermont’s history. If a budget is not in place by July 1, Vermont state government shuts down.
In Vermont we do things differently than in Washington, D.C. We work together, solve hard problems, and help out our neighbors. Our economy and our communities do not need MORE uncertainty. Given that there were other options on the table, $22 is not worth the veto that rolls back the investments we made and throws our state into weeks of uncertainty.
So how would the investments in vetoed budget have helped Vermonters? The $2.5 million increase in child care services for working families could have helped parents get back to work and build a workforce for small businesses. Higher education is a key component of a strong, healthy future, but it is out of reach for many Vermonters. The Legislature’s budget allocated an additional $3 million that would have improved access to the Vermont State Colleges.
The Democratic Legislature earned an “A” grade from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which applauded the Legislature’s no new taxes as well as the expanded investments that would have gone to economic development throughout the state in Small Business Development Centers, micro business development, economic development marketing, downtown infrastructure development (known as “TIFs”) and career and technical education.
Appreciating the importance of agriculture and forestry in rural economic development, the Legislature made additional investments in working lands, the farm-to-school program, and the logging sector.
The vetoed budget included a $35 million housing bond that would have generated a $100 million in construction of affordable and middle-income housing.
The Legislature listened to Vermonters underserved by an overwhelmed, underfunded mental health system and made significant investments that would have supported community mental health care and developmental services. We reinforced funding for our home and community based services, including adult day centers and Meals on Wheels. We budgeted significant funds to clean up our state waters.
This is an excellent budget that is the culmination of years of difficult decisions and strong work this session across party lines.
While legislative leaders will continue to work with the administration to find our way through to agreement that restores these critical investments and property tax savings, Vermonters can be very proud of the Legislature’s budget, its tripartisan support and the solid, fiscally responsible investments their Legislature made in our communities, economy and future.
I thought this would be my last legislative update of the session, but we are heading back. The parties are still negotiating the budget and we have a few other important bills to pass. As you may know the House passed a budget that didn't increase revenues or taxes, hence no increase to property taxes or any other tax. The Senate passed a budget that would increase property taxes. The Governor wants his plan for a statewide contract to move forward. We will be meeting Wednesday of this week and hope to conclude by the end of the week. This is still within our budgeted schedule.
As a freshman, last week was definitely interesting. Seeing firsthand how the process worked was great learning experience. A quick recap of the process - as bills pass the House they are sent to the Senate and vice versa. In keeping with the House started the process, the Senate would determine whether to take up the bill. If they do, they will hear testimony, potentially make changes, vote and pass the bill back to the House. The House may concur with any changes and the bill moves forward. If the House doesn't concur they can either try to reach an agreement with the Senate by working informally. If the differences are just too vast, then a committee of conference will be assigned. This committee is made up of three parties of each committee of jurisdiction. They meet and hopefully agree to a final bill. That bill then is presented to both chambers for a yes or no vote - no changes can be made by either body at that point.
I am proud of the work we've completed through the session and last week. I supported S135, a large economic development bill, that improves the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program (VEGI), expands the state's apprenticeship and internship programs, and creates a voluntary public retirement program - The Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan - to ensure Vermonters have a simple and affordable option to save for retirement.
I also supported S103 a toxic and hazardous substance bill that will further protect our children and H233 that amends the criteria and jurisdiction of the State land use law to protect forest resources in order to support the forest economy, water quality, and habitat.
S16 passed expanding patient access to the medical marijuana registry by adding Crohn's and Parkinson's disease. Post traumatic stress disorder is now also included as long as the person is also undergoing psychotherapy or counseling with a licensed mental health care provider.
There are many more bills that passed. A full listing can be found on the "vote" page.
I look forward to the coming days and will keep you posted.
There have been a lot of soundbites in the media regarding the savings of $26m if we move teachers healthcare to a statewide contract. Unfortunately things are not always as they initially appear.
A bit of background on this issue. The Governor's proposal relates to a change happening to teacher health plans throughout the State. This change is not dependent upon, nor due to the Governor in any way. It is a byproduct of the Affordable Care Act requiring that we move away from Cadillac plans. The four new healthcare plans (originally there were 26) being offered to teachers are already set. Teachers must pick a plan by mid-November. They are cheaper because they are less generous plans with lower premiums and higher out of pocket costs. The administration asked VEHI (the organization that administers the healthcare plans) to provide a few cost models that put potential cost savings at $75m. Then VEHI was asked to estimate the costs if districts provided out of pocket coverage that covered an average of $400 per person. The cost was estimated at $49m - leaving us with the potential statewide savings of $26m. The healthcare contracts begin on January 1, 2018. That means that only half the fiscal year would be included. In other words, the FY2018 potential savings is not $26 million but $13 million.
The Governor's plan, that was in front of the Senate and failed by a vote of 19 to 10, was to divide this potential savings into thirds. One third was to cover the teachers retirement fund, one third went to the general fund and one third went to property tax relief. The relief would be distributed evenly across all school districts no matter how much each individual school board saved.
The amendment in the House (referred to as the Beck amendment), which failed with a tie vote, was a bit better. It allocated all the savings to the education fund, but again, the savings would be evenly distributed across all school districts no matter how much each individual one saved. That is why I voted no.
What the House passed, and what I voted for, was a provision that makes no change in bargaining, but directs 100% of the savings that actually occur in teacher healthcare to be directly returned to the local community in the form of reduced property taxes. The money saved would be returned to the local community only after budgets were voted upon and approved. It can go to only one place, and that is to directly reduce Essex property taxes.
All of the savings, rather than just the 30% in the Governor’s plan would come back to your property taxes. And there will be savings but no one, not even the Governor, knows how much.
Personally, I believe the $26 million is inaccurate. Where do the “savings” come from? We have been told that because these plans are high deductible plans with HSAs or HRAs, teachers and their families will use fewer healthcare services. One could argue whether that is a good idea or bad idea, but the underlying question is whether data on this issue is generalizable to teachers. Here we have a highly educated group. The have been, and will continue to be, their own risk pool for pricing insurance plans. They are a low usage group for healthcare service, that is why their plans are already cheaper than exchange plans. I am extremely skeptical that there will actually be the decrease in utilization predicted.
I voted to keep the savings in Essex.
The leadership and Governor are now working on a path forward.
This past week I heard some variation of the following sentiment - Perfection, No. Progress, Yes. Although in most instances the conversation was concerning pending legislation, we could also have been discussing updating my website! I realize I haven't been perfect, but considering this is my first time with a website I think I'm making progress. Please know that I can always be reached by email and phone if you aren't finding what you need here or have other questions.
Much has happened over the past few weeks. The House has passed comprehensive criminal and racial justice reforms making Vermont safer and addressing implicit bias in all aspects of society. We passed legislation giving emergency responders access to worker's compensation benefits for mental health injuries further reducing the disparity in treatment of physical and mental health. We voted unanimously to allow Executive Order 06-17 to go into effect which will unify the state's information technology operations and forms the Agency of Digital Services, transferring most IT positions to the new agency. Unfortunately we did not give approval to the executive order to merge the Liquor and Lottery agencies. I voted no on the executive order as I didn't believe the administration had a well thought out change management plan, but would have voted yes on the proposed legislation to form a work study group to achieve the merger. For me this was really a question of policy vs oversight vs implementation and what role does each stakeholder play; especially when revenues from the lottery agency feeds the education fund. Overall I do think this was a missed opportunity and hope this legislation is revived next year.
This pass week we gave preliminary approval to H333 requiring that all single-user bathrooms in public buildings be labeled as gender-free ensuring that fundamental equalities are preserved.
We also gave preliminary approval to S127 a transportation bill related to vehicles and vessels. This bill covers everything from license plates, workforce infractions, temporary registrations to much more. A few notable pieces of the legislation include distracted driving and inspection rules. Distracted driving will have higher point penalties depending on the location of the distraction. For instance, points go from 2 to 4 when ticketed for distracted driving in a work or school zone. As many Vermonters know our vehicle inspection process has been computerized. While the rules haven’t changed many previously unequally enforced rules, such as the check engine light, are now equally enforced. The check engine light rules states a car cannot receive an inspection sticker if the light is illuminated. The amendment offered on S127 would extend the time a conditional inspection sticker can be given with the check engine light infraction. This additional time will allow the legislature to potentially review the rules.
I look forward to passage of both these bills.
On Friday the healthcare committee voted 11-0 on S.133 an act relating to examining mental health care and care coordination. Our committee worked closely with the Department of Mental Health, Agency of Human Services and many other stakeholders to ensure the work we are generating with this bill will provide the data needed to not only strengthen our mental health care and coordination but to further ensure mental health and physical health are one system. We will be presenting our amendments to the full House this week and with passage the bill will return to the Senate for final vote. I look forward to continuing our focus on mental and physical health care in next year’s session.
We are nearing the end of the session. I promise to be more timely in updates! Don't hesitate to reach out. Thank you for the privilege to serve Essex Junction.
Last week we shifted from committee work to a busy week on the House floor as we moved passed crossover. All of our Healthcare committee bills were passed including H230 which gives LGBTQ children a safe path to seek mental health counseling, H507 which requires specific reporting of the one year Next Generation Medicaid Pilot to ensure the legislature is kept apprised of the progress and success, and H145 which creates a Mental Health Crisis Response Commission responsible for analyzing situations that resulted in serious bodily injury or fatality between a person’s demonstrating symptoms of mental illness and law enforcement. The goal of H145 is to recommend policies, practices, and services that will encourage collaboration and increase successful interventions between law enforcement and persons acting in a manner that created reason to believe a mental health crisis was occurring.
Other bills passed include H422 that allows for removal of firearms from a person cited or arrested for domestic assault. H422 gives families and police another tool to help prevent domestic violence situations from escalating with a 5 day cooling off period. Another important bill H326 helps families on Reach up by easing the benefit cliff issues. We will continue to spend more time on the House floor as we also begin hearing testimony on Senate bills that passed over to the House.
I will admit to a big sigh of relief when the AHCA did not make it to a vote in Congress last week. The effects would have been devastating for many Vermonters. I hope now Congress will prevail with thoughtful changes to the Affordable Care Act that ensure affordability and quality for all.
The next community conversation with myself and Representative Giambatista will be Monday April 17th at 6:30pm at the Essex Senior Center located at 2 Lincoln St adjacent to the village offices. Hope to see you there or in the community soon!
Please reach out with questions or comments!
On Friday March 17th an act relating to paid family leave was voted out of the House committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. In a nutshell, the bill will allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of a serious illness for themselves or a family member, the employee's pregnancy or birth of a child, and placement of a child under 16 into foster care. The funding will come from a 0.93% payroll tax on employees. For instance, if one makes $50,000 a 0.93% payroll tax will be $465.
This link takes you to the last draft of bill H196 and this link takes you to a study by the Vermont Commission on Women's feasibility study.
Many believe this benefit will help attract younger workers to Vermont and also provide a needed benefit to our aging workforce.
I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. Please provide comments here or feel free to email me at email@example.com
It was a busy week as we all worked towards crossover on March 17th. Crossover is the day bills in both bodies must be voted out of their committee in order to be voted on the floor and passed to the other chamber. The budget bills are due March 24th.
House Healthcare heard testimony on those bills we deemed most important to vote on this year; while realizing there are other important bills we will continue discussing. One notable bill, H.145, creates a Mental Health Response Commission housed in the Office of the Attorney General. This bill grew out of the work of the Grenon group after Phil Grenon was killed in his home in Burlington. The commission will conduct reviews of law enforcement interactions with persons acting in a manner that created reason to believe a mental health crisis was occurring and resulted in a fatality or serious bodily injury. The commission will recommend policies, practices, services and training that will lead to successful interventions in the future.
H.230 allows a minor to give consent to receive outpatient treatment related to sexual orientation or gender identity from a mental health professional. We heard testimony from some very brave youth during LGBQT day at the statehouse.
Another important bill is H.184 which passed in the full House March 17th. Suicides in Vermont account for more deaths annually than those of motor vehicle accidents, homicide and drownings combined. This law directs the Agency of Human Services to identify and collect all information related to each death by suicide to help inform suicide prevention activities.
On another note, the full House voted 110-24 on S.79 which protects Vermonters from collection of or dissemination of personally identifiable information for purposes of establishing a federal registry or database.
There were many important bills voted out of House committees during crossover week that are being discussed and voted on this week. Many more than space available here. Issues addressed include enhancements to existing Parental & Family Leave Act (PFLA), a CTE grant pilot program, transparency with the Next Generation Medicaid Pilot, access to treatment courts, and reforms to Vermont’s bail and probation laws. If there are questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My contact is firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-373-0599 or leave a comment below.
I am honored to serve our community and look forward to hearing from you.
Week 9 of the session was active both on and off the floor as committees worked towards “crossover” on March 17th. This is when all bills we want to pass to the other chamber must be voted out of committee and put on the calendar for vote. This week 4 bills were introduced and 11 passed. H. 171 received the most attention on the floor as we debated shortening the length of time a person convicted of a nonviolent crime can seek expungement as well as adding two crimes to the list. After two amendments failed we passed the bill 88 to 51. I voted yes for the final bill. All bill information for both the House and Senate can be found at www.legislature.vermont.gov under bills and resolutions.
In the House Health Care committee we continue to focus on mental health issues and passed out unanimously H.197 an act relating to mental health parity for workers’ compensation. We agreed that mental health conditions incurred during service should be treated equally to physical injury in the workplace. The bill also states that post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed in police, rescue/ ambulance workers or firefighters by a mental health professional is presumed to have incurred in the line of service and shall be compensable. With this bill our job was to determine if the mental and physical should be treated equally. This bill will now move to the commerce department and be considered within workers compensation guidelines.
Secretary Al Gobeille also briefed us on a public/private committee created to analyze the mental health care situation in Vermont. They are specifically looking at flow and funding with an eye towards a short term plan to start rectifying our issues in the near term. We will continue to be briefed on their findings and action plan.
The next community conversation with myself and Representative Giambatista will be Monday March 20th at 6:30pm at the Essex Senior Center located at 2 Lincoln St adjacent to the village offices. Hope to see you there or in the community soon!
The last two weeks the House has been working hard on crafting a budget as well as continuing to hear testimony on a vast array of issues. The Governor's proposed budget, although laudable in recommending additional funding for many important issues such as higher and early education, was not balanced ($50m out of balance) and would have raised property taxes. Therefore, House Appropriations is creating a budget with recommendations from all the policy committees. They also held seven public hearings around the state with more than 150 people attending. They heard strong support for trying to address the urgent needs for mental health treatment and for funding for higher education and early education, as well as support for programs like the working lands initiative. By working together we will produce a balanced budget that meets the needs of Vermonters.
Also over the past two weeks I voted in support of a package of legislation to protect victims of sexual assault. Despite significant progress in strengthening Vermont's laws against sexual assault, too many victims of sexual violence are not ensured access to justice, health care and social services. The package of legislation reinforces the State's sexual assault laws by setting forth procedures and notifications related to medical forensic examinations of sexual assault victims. The legislation also ensures victims know their rights and resources available to them by receiving a copy of these rights and resources in writing. Most importantly, it ensures that victims will receive a medical forensic examination, including any related toxicology testing, at no cost, regardless of where the crime occurred and whether they have health insurance. The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.
My committee, Health Care, has heard testimony on many proposed bills including H.145 an act relating to establishing a Mental Health Crisis Response Commission. The bill evolved from the Grenon Group, an ad hoc group that former Senator Jim Leddy formed following the police shooting in Burlington of his friend, Phil Grenon, a 76-year-old man undergoing a psychiatric crisis. This bill proposes to establish a commission to review fatalities and serious bodily injuries that occur during interactions between law enforcement and persons demonstrating symptoms of mental illness. This bill has broad support from the police and mental health communities.
We also continue to hear testimony from Department of Vermont Health Access and One Care regarding the Next Generation Medicaid pilot. This is the 1-year pilot testing the All-Payer model for Medicaid patients. Our committee intends to remain very close to this pilot to fully understand the successes and the challenges and how Vermont's healthcare landscape will be altered. There has been quite a bit of news about this pilot, so feel free to reach out if you have specific questions.