It’s good to be back at the Statehouse. Many people have asked me if this year is different from last and I say a resounding yes! Last year with new leadership in the House, Senate and Executive Branch and 30+ new legislatures a lot of time was spent bringing everyone up to speed. This year all committees are diving right into the important work we must accomplish.
This week the house passed the following:
H.593: Unanimous approval of the consumer protection bill. This legislation addresses automatic contract renewals, retainage for construction materials, credit protection for vulnerable persons and use of credit information for personal insurance.
H.554: An act relating to the regulation of dams. Purpose is to protect public safety and provide for the public good through the inventory, inspection, and evaluation of dams in the state under the Dept of Environmental Conversation.
H.568: Amendments to the Charter of the Town of Barre.
H.633: Budget Adjustment Act
It was an interesting week in the Health Care Committee. All committee chairs juggle priority setting - time to address proposed bills and issues that are time sensitive versus time to hear, think and talk more broadly about topics that inform and affect decisions across the entire system, in our case the health care system. This week was more of the later and the focus was access and affordability.
We started the week with the Department of Health discussing Vermont’s health outcomes; specifically focusing on equity and outcomes for Vermonters by subpopulation. It is important for us to remember the systems that shape daily life and the -isms they create related to categories of race, gender, ethnicity, social position, sexual orientation and disability affect our health. Conditions in which people are born, grow, work, life and age are important determinants in the health of oneself and our population. A study from 2007 shows that access to health care contributes only 10% to health outcomes. We also discussed the concept of diseases of despair and disconnection - both becoming prevalent in our society. We have to look at the interplay of all these factors, and lived experiences, to truly affect change in our health care system and the health of all Vermonters. The Department of Health, through surveys, focus groups and data collection, have created a wealth of data on this topic. All is available to the public at www.healthvermont.gov and there is a very interesting presentation on our committee website.
We had a robust conversation with our Healthcare Advocate, Mike Fisher, on affordability of our health care system. We have requested a follow up conversation to better understand the benefits cliff issues in our health care system. Two organizations providing solutions for those unable to afford health care are Pathways Vermont and the Vermont Coalition of Clinics for the Uninsured.
Pathways Vermont provided updates on their five programs: Housing First, Veteran Family Re-housing program, Soteria House, a Community Center and a confidential nonjudgmental peer-to-peer support line (833-VTTALKS). An interesting fact from their testimony is the savings their Housing First program achieves. Based on their data the cost to incarcerate someone is $158/day (remember we have many people remaining in jail because they lack housing), the cost of residential treatment is $98/day, the cost of transitional housing is $58/day and the cost for Housing First - to provide permanent housing and support resources - is $43/day. I am a strong supporter of Pathways Vermont and encourage you to check out their website.
Vermont Coalition of Clinics for the Uninsured (VCCU) is a network of 9 clinics relying on volunteers to provide no charge health and referral services to our most vulnerable Vermonters. Their testimony was a harsh reminder that in our age of health care reform there are still many Vermonters who cannot afford or have barriers to accessing health care. They are also a strong example of a piece of the system that should no longer fly under the radar but must be viewed within the whole system.
Our update on the All Payer Model and the next generation Medicaid pilot further bolstered the point of VCCU needing to no longer fly under the radar. This health care reform effort works with “covered lives” from Medicaid, Medicare and Commercial Insurance. Those served by VCCU are not considered “covered lives”. A large hole in our system.
As we know, we are not immune to the decisions being made in our Federal government. With the removal of the ACA Individual Mandate starting Jan 1, 2019 we need to understand the effects this causes to the stability of our Vermont insurance market. We started that conversation this week and expect much more conversation in the coming weeks.
Our committee also heard testimony from the Secretary of the Agency of Human Services, on their proposal to build a 925 bed campus. This proposal has generated a lot of media attention; however, it is just a proposal that will be vetted thoroughly by several committees. In summary the proposal would not add new net beds to the system other than bringing all out of state prisoners back to Vermont, would result in the closure of the men’s facility in St Albans and the women’s facility in South Burlington, and would be staffed by Vermont state employees. Stayed tuned for more information.
The Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson, has asked all committees to view climate change in the context of their jurisdiction. To that end we heard from Vermont Climate and Health Alliance a fairly new organization intent to show the impact of climate change on humans and animals. One interesting fact they provided is that 87 degrees is the temperature where heat related illnesses rise. Currently we have about 7 days of 87 or higher degree temperatures, but in the future we will rise to 30+ days. This will have an impact on our health care system. We will be continuing our conversation on this topic next week with testimony from the Department of Health.
This is just what occurred in the House Health Care committee. So much more happened in your Statehouse last week. You can find all testimony at www.legislature.vermont.gov
I appreciate the opportunity to serve Essex Junction and am always open to feedback, comments and conversation. Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or 373-0599 or through this website.
This piece was printed in the Essex Reporter as part of a Q&A to all 4 Essex Town/Village legislators.
1. Is there a piece of legislation Essex residents, in particular, should keep their eye on? Why?
Unfortunately we have a lot of priority issues that I recommend Essex residents pay attention to. In healthcare our first priority is to understand and mitigate the effects of President Trump’s decision to eliminate the subsidy reimbursements to insurance companies. By law insurance companies must continue to provide the subsidies, so insurance companies will be seeking a method to recoup the costs – most likely insurance hikes in the future. We need to lessen these effects to all Vermonters.
We have also begun reviewing the many studies that are now coming due from our large mental health bill last year. It is imperative that we eliminate wait times for treatment, ensure our children’s needs are being met, provide treatment to those in our prison system, and implement policy that moves our culture to treat mental health and physical health as one.
Two issues where we are watching federal action is funding for Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and our Federally Qualified Health Centers, like Community Health Center of Burlington. Congress has not yet reauthorized these programs, although they have extended funding for CHIP through March. Both of these are critical programs for the health of our children and for access to primary care.
Outside of our committee, the body is working on education funding, minimum wage, child care programs, tax reform, water clean-up, data privacy and our drug crisis, just to name a few. We do not have a shortage of critical issues that affect Essex and all residents of the state. We need residents to stay engaged and reach out with their comments and suggestions.
2. Several major bills have already been introduced this session, topics including recreational marijuana, water quality and minimum wage. What issue are you most passionate about and why?
I am most passionate about ensuring that we are spending your tax dollars effectively and equitably with outcomes that help Vermonters who need our assistance while providing economic conditions that help all Vermonters prosper and attract non-Vermonters to our beautiful state. This will be the frame I use when voting on all bills this session.
3. Do you plan to introduce or sponsor any legislation this session? Tell us about it.
As I meet with residents we determine together if a policy change is needed to solve their concern. Mostly, so far, all efforts have focused on bills that are already proposed to determine how to make them stronger and more effective. I am currently researching one issue around child support. Now that children can stay on a parent’s healthcare policy until age 26, should we require child support be paid to the parent providing the healthcare until age 21 or higher (assuming income criteria). I welcome all thoughts on this, and any other, issue.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve Essex Junction and for your continued support. I can be reached at: Lhoughton@leg.state.vt.us or cell 802-373-0599 or via my website at www.lorihoughton.com.
Village community members: I want to hear from you as we approach January and the start of the 2018 legislative session. Please join Representative Giambatista and I for a community meeting at 6:30pm on Monday, November 27. We will gather at the Essex Community Senior Center (2 Lincoln Street at Five Corners). All are welcome to attend and participate.
We want to hear your feedback about local and state issues. Do you have an item you'd like to see the Governor and legislators address next year? Is there a policy of concern or particular interest? Please join us and let us know what is important to you.
The November 27 meeting will be the tenth community forum we've held since taking office in January. Throughout the year, participating neighbors have shared their stories about accessing health care, education policy, business development and more. We want to hear from you to make sure your voices are represented when we return to Montpelier.
If you can't make the meeting but would like to connect, please feel free to call or email. I can be reached at (802) 373-0599 or email@example.com.
I look forward to seeing you on November 27.
NEWS RELEASE – October 27, 2017
Press Contacts: Tim Lueders-Dumont (802) 828-1451
Treasurer’s Office Negotiates 51% Administrative Fee Reduction for Supplemental Retirement Plans
Savings Will Accrue to Plan Participants
MONTPELIER, VT — Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce announced today that members of the State (VSERS), Teachers’ (VSTRS), and Municipal (VMERS) retirement systems will soon be able to save more money for retirement under an agreement with a new third-party administrator, Prudential Retirement. The Treasurer’s Office was able to negotiate a 51% reduction in administrative fees plan participants pay for supplemental retirement, saving members an estimated $3.2 million over 5 years.
“As the fiduciary of retirement plans, we work every day to ensure that plan participants can achieve retirement security,” said Treasurer Pearce. “After reviewing multiple proposals, we determined Prudential Retirement would provide excellent value and service to plan participants. Every dollar saved in administering the plans will accrue to the benefit of participating members and to Vermont taxpayers.”
The savings and efficiencies achieved in the switch to Prudential builds upon a successful track record of reducing administrative fees paid by plan participants. In February 2016, the per participant fee for the State 457 Deferred Compensation Plan was reduced by 30 percent. Similar fee reductions have been achieved throughout other plans administered by the Treasurer’s Office.
Prudential Retirement was selected by the Treasurer’s Office after an open RFP was conducted with each of the three retirement systems’ Board of Trustees. Prudential Retirement was selected as the third-party administrator for the seven preexisting optional plan offerings available to VSERS, VSTRS, and VMERS members. The VSERS, VSTRS and VMERS defined benefit plans are not impacted by this change and will continue to be administered by the Vermont Retirement Division and overseen by the Retirement Boards.
The scope of service includes administration of:
State 457 Deferred Compensation Plan
State Defined Contribution Plan
Municipal Employees 457 Deferred Compensation Plan
Municipal Defined Contribution Plan
Municipal Retiree Health Savings Plan
Teachers 403(b) Plan
Single Deposit Investment Account Plan
The transition to Prudential will occur in February 2018. Plan participants will benefit from enhanced services and lower fees. Additionally, plan participants will be able to access a number of account management options and improved financial literacy planning tools.
The Treasurer’s Office and Prudential Retirement will continue to communicate directly with VSERS, VSTRS and VMERS plan participants as the transition occurs.
House Commerce and Economic Development Hearings
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development is a legislative committee that considers matters related to business organizations, including issues related to privacy and data security breaches.
Speaker Johnson has authorized the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development to meet this fall to hold hearings around the State to discuss issues related to privacy and data security breaches. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Financial Regulation, and the Office of Legislative Council will join the Committee in presenting a brief summary of current law and recommended responses to security breaches. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have been invited to join the Committee at these hearings.
The Committee will hear from the public their questions, experience with breaches, concerns, and suggestions. This topic is a continuation of the Committee’s work last session, and of particular interest in light of current events in relation to the Equifax breach.
A list of meeting dates and locations is available below. Sign-up will begin 30 minutes prior to the hearing’s start time.
Thursday, November 9th
12:30 p.m. Springfield Town Offices
96 Main Street
5:30 p.m. Barton Village Office
17 Village Square
Tuesday, November 14th
12:30 p.m. Manchester Community Library
Hunter Community Room
138 Cemetery Avenue
Manchester Center, VT
6:00 p.m. Department of Health
Conference Room 2B
108 Cherry Street
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.