All signs indicate a move to adjournment between May 6th and May 13th. That means any bills that are to make it across the finish are in their final stages and the budget has moved to conference committee. Next week much of our time will be spent on the House floor as we debate and vote on several bills including: S.100 an act relating to universal school meals, S.286 an act relating to amending various public pension and other postemployment benefits, and S.287 an act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight. The House Calendar with bill language can be found here:
Please reach out to me or Rep. Dolan with questions about this week’s actions or anything else that is on your mind. Rep. Lori Houghton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rep. Karen Dolan (email@example.com).
ESSEX JUNCTION INDEPENDENCE
H.491 was signed by the Governor on Wednesday April 20th. When signing H.491, Governor Scott issued the following statement: “I know this issue has been the subject of debate for decades, and I’m happy to see a resolution. Congratulations to the people of Essex Junction on the establishment of Vermont’s newest city.
We officially become the City of Essex Junction on July 1, 2022.
This week the house passed S.197 which acknowledges the tremendous toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the social, emotional, and mental health of Vermont’s school communities. The bill taps into $3 million in federal stimulus funds to establish a two-year grant program that will provide COVID-19 recovery supports for teachers and school staff ($500,000); and provide grants to expand mental health and wellbeing services for children and youth ($2.5 million).
The student-focused grants could be used for a wide variety of programs, such as expanding school-based counseling or funding afterschool or summer programs. Applicants must use evidence-based strategies and collect data to prove effectiveness, while working closely with teachers, school counselors and trained staff to provide one-on-one or small-group sessions that address important topics like resilience, substance abuse, suicide prevention, social isolation, and anxiety. Grants will target geographically diverse and underserved regions of Vermont. From here, the bill will head to the Governor.
HEALTHCARE COMMITTEE UPDATE
The House Healthcare Committee has been exploring a wide range of topics over the last few weeks. The Vermont Association of Hospital and Health Care Systems and Department of Mental Health presented the Emergency Room Mental Health Wait Times Report. Wait times are extended in large part due to staff shortages. The Vermont Program for Quality in Healthcare (VPQHC) presented a model that is underway in North Carolina of having access to psychiatry via telemedicine in the ER, with promising outcomes for patients. They are exploring applicability in Vermont.
We also received highlights of the Vermont Household Health Insurance. Results reveal that 3% of Vermonters do not have health insurance. This is one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country. Unfortunately, however, 40% of Vermonters are “underinsured.” This means care might be delayed due to fear of debt, leading to increased illness and more expense in the long term. The survey results can be found here:
Much of our time last week was spent taking testimony on S.285 which proposes initiatives related to healthcare reform and redesign in response to the concerns raised in last year’s Hospital Sustainability Report. The testimony from Jessica Holmes, a Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) board member, provides a good summary of the problems facing us.
S. 285 contains many components, including requiring the GMCB to develop a process for establishing and distributing a new payment system that would move hospitals from a fee-for-service model to a model with predictable income streams from all payers to hospitals. The bill also requires development of a subsequent all-payer model agreement between AHS and CMS, directs the Health Information Exchange Steering Committee to continue work on creating one integrated health record for each person in Vermont, and recommends funding increases for the Vermont Blueprint for Health. The Blueprint is an Agency of Human Services program that designs community-led strategies for improving health and well-being of Vermonters. We passed S.285 out of committee and it is now in House Appropriations.
ESSEX DELEGATION COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
Please join us Sunday May 15th at 2pm for updates on our end of session activities. We should have adjourned by May 15th and can provide updates on the passed budget and other key legislation. We welcome your concerns, questions, and a spirit of open, respectful dialogue. The zoom link will be available via Facebook, FPF or requested through email a few days before the event.
It was a full week with important legislation passing to the Senate including but not limited to H.293 creation of a Youth Council, H.96 creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, H.728 addressing opioid overdose response services, and money bills provided in more detail below.
Please reach out to me or Rep. Dolan with questions about this week’s actions. Rep. Lori Houghton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rep. Karen Dolan (email@example.com).
TIME TO VOTE
All active registered voters should have received their ballot in the mail. Ballots can be returned to the ballot box at the Town Office 81 Main St before Monday April 11th or in person Tuesday April 12th from 7am to 7pm at the Essex High School. If you did not receive a ballot, contact the Town Clerk’s office, or vote in person on April 12th. Please do not rely on the mail service to return your ballot in time to be counted.
We are voting on many important articles with links to information below. I also encourage everyone to research the Trustee and School Board candidates. Essex High School SJU is hosting a school board candidate forum tonight (Sunday) from 6pm to 8pm at Uncommon Coffee in Essex. All are welcome!
ESSEX JUNCTION INDEPENDENCE UPDATE
Senate Government Operations will continue a review of the charter legislation Tuesday March 29th at 1:15 pm. The testimony can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1m7i4gqDGgM8PnVVjWc_jQ/featured
Friday the Senate appended their redistricted map to the House legislation and voted the bill out 28-0. Our House District, CHI 8-2 (soon to be CHI-22) is with the new 3 - seat Senate Chittenden-C district along with most parts of Burlington, Winooski, CHI 8-1 (soon to be CHI-23). The bill now comes back to the House for final passage.
H.740, the FY23 State of Vermont budget, passed by a roll-call vote of 135-4. The budget totals a record $8.1 billion, an increase of $231 million over FY22. Every year, we pass a balanced budget that reflects careful stewardship of our state’s financial resources, while investing in programs that reflect and bring to life our deepest values. This budget is focused on protecting the most vulnerable while striving to support all Vermonters, their families and communities. Our goal is to emerge from the pandemic a stronger and more resilient state.
Information can be found at the following links.
H.740 As Introduced
H.740 Web Report
H.740 One-Time General Fund and ARPA State Fiscal Recovery
H.736, the annual transportation bill funds the entirety of the Agency of Transportation’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It reflects increases in funding to meet the demand for infrastructure projects while drawing down the influx in federal money. This $866 million bill prioritizes improving our roads and bridges and supports local investments in safety. It funds programs to help lower- and moderate-income Vermonters buy electric or highly efficient cars and invests in EV charging equipment, safer walking and biking infrastructure, zero-fare transit, and the Mobility and Transportation Innovations Grant Program to quicken our transformation to a clean transportation system. The current investments in climate solutions are a necessary first step to advance the carbon reduction policies as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act. Vermonters can expect a busy construction season and a robust re-investment in the coming years for improved travel whether it be by car, bus, bike or foot.
H.703, a broad workforce development bill that aims to address some of Vermont’s most critical workforce needs and help the state’s workforce recover from the pandemic. The bill passed by a 139-0 roll-call vote. This omnibus bill makes significant investments to increase the capacity of Vermont’s nursing programs, increase opportunities for career and technical education, help Vermonters pay for education, and help employers connect with and retain employees. H.703 is an exciting bill that invests in our workforce across the state and across economic sectors.
ESSEX DELEGATION COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
Please join us Wednesday April 13th at 6pm for updates on bills, committee work, caucus activities and more. We welcome your concerns, questions, and a spirit of open, respectful dialogue. The zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86563725077
I hope everyone enjoyed time outside in the warm sunny weather Friday and will enjoy watching the snow fall today. As I watch the snow fall, I am responding to all the inquiries I received from you this week. Your community engagement is inspiring and encouraging. Thank you!
Please reach out to me or Rep. Dolan with questions, concerns, and ideas. Rep. Lori Houghton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rep. Karen Dolan (email@example.com).
ESSEX JUNCTION INDEPENDENCE UPDATE
Our next stop on this journey is Senate Government Operations. We will let everyone know when a hearing is scheduled.
House Government Operations has finished their thoughtful work on redistricting house seats. Thank you to our Town and Village Board of Civil Authority who also spent a great deal of time considering our community values and boundaries to provide recommendations. The below links provide the final maps and the legislation that will be voted on by the full house Wednesday March 16th.
Due to the population growth in Essex Junction and the constitutional requirements for representation, the House District 8-2 unfortunately can no longer follow our municipal boundaries. The maps linked below will show the areas of the Village municipal boundary that will be Town represented in 2023. Residents still live in the Village, but their state representative will be from the Town of Essex. Chittenden 8-3, encompassing Westford and the Town of Essex currently represented by Representative Alyssa Black, has been separated into two districts.
Districts have also been renamed as follows:
Chittenden 22 was formerly Chittenden 8-2.
Chittenden 23 was formerly Chittenden 8-1.
Chittenden 24 is a new district within the Town of Essex.
Chittenden 25 is a new district with Westford and part of Milton.
The Senate continues their reapportionment work.
If you have any questions, please reach out to Rep. Dolan or me.
This week the House gave final legislative approval to H.679, a bill that balances the FY22 state budget at mid-year while making important one-time investments in our state’s COVID-19 recovery. The bill now moves to Gov. Scott for his signature. With a combination of one-time General Fund and federal ARPA stimulus dollars, H.679 supports programs that provide vital services to Vermonters during the ongoing pandemic — while laying the groundwork for economic recovery and a vibrant future in all 14 counties. Key appropriations include:
• $60 million in workforce retention bonuses for essential community healthcare and social service providers, at $2,000 per FTE. PLUS: $6 million for retention payments for childcare staff and $4.9 million for recruitment and retention payments at the Department of Corrections
• $55 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for housing and increased shelter capacity
• $50 million in additional one-time funds — for a total of $200 million — to help reduce our unfunded pension liability
• $6 million to Vermont Foodbank to feed hungry Vermonters and reduce food insecurity
H.679 also includes funds for higher education (critical occupations scholarships at VSC and workforce training at UVM), supplemental grants to our 17 regional career and technical education centers, and much-needed money to stabilize our adult day service providers, and more. To read more see the links below.
VERMONT HOMEOWNER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) is now accepting applications from Vermont homeowners who are behind on their housing expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Funded through the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, this program provides grants for eligible Vermont homeowners for missed payments on their mortgage, utilities (water/sewer, electricity, home heating), property taxes, and homeowner's or condominium association fees. To learn more and apply, visit https://vermonthap.vhfa.org/ or call (833) 221-4208.
A separate rental assistance program is available through the Vermont State Housing Authority at erap.vsha.org or call 1-833-488-3727.
ESSEX DELEGATION COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
Please join us Saturday March 19th at 9am for updates on bills, committee work, caucus activities and more. We welcome your concerns, questions, and a spirit of open, respectful dialogue. A zoom link will be accessible on FPF, Facebook and via email a few days before the date.