It was an interesting week in the legislature: from the Governor’s Budget Address, to the Health Care Access public meeting, to the passage of the House Transportation Committee’s Highway Safety Bill and finally to the “Brain. Science. Addiction. Lets Talk!” community conversation.
The Highway Safety Transportation bill passed by a voice vote of 133-7. Highlights of the bill include: creates civil violations for license suspensions that may be imposed prior to any criminal proceedings for persons under 21 including establishing minimum penalties for using portable electronic devices; enhances penalties for driving under the influence with minors in the car; and establishes primary seat belt legislation. Primary seat belt legislation means police may pull someone over for not wearing their seat belt, even if that is their only violation. In the last four years Vermont highway fatalities have risen steadily from 44 to 69. Last year 52% of fatalities were unbelted. Current Vermont seatbelt use hovers around 85%. With this legislation we expect the percentage to increase by at least 5% based on other states data. Based on Vermont statistics this could save 3 to 4 additional lives and 15 serious injuries each year moving forward. Millions of dollars in medical costs, life insurance premiums, disability payments and lost wages could be avoided, not to mention the physical and mental stress placed on those injured and the family and friends around them. We do know that racial profiling occurs with traffic stops and this caused many legislators to pause on their vote. In Vermont we have Fair and Impartial Policing policies - police must track the race of everyone stopped. That information is made public and reviewed by several committees of jurisdiction. We need to ensure state and local police are eliminating racial profiling while protecting the lives of all Vermonters.
The House and Senate Health Care committees heard testimony from 51 witnesses Tuesday night at a joint public hearing on access to health care. The call from more than 400 people who attended, primarily from the Vermont Workers Center, was for implementing Act 48 with universal health care, with some witnesses urging universal primary care as a next step. Witnesses shared stories of healthcare hardships from being underinsured or not being able to afford premiums. Many people put off going to doctors until there is an emergency. This hearing was a reminder that what we do is not theoretical- Vermonters lives are at stake.
The Governor’s budget address Tuesday proposed total spending for next year at $3.86m which is an increase of $82m reached without raising any new taxes or fees. Just a few of his proposals include: phased in elimination of income tax on social security benefits for low and moderate income seniors, $3.2m to attract people to Vermont by targeting those most likely to live here, $400k to a ThinkVT innovation fund to help small business expand and $625k in incentives to help renovate and upgrade existing housing stock. What is not discussed in the budget address is what programs are proposed to be reduced or eliminated to afford these new or expanded programs. For instance Agency of Human Services has proposed $16m in reduced spending. We need to understand what programs are impacted and whether Vermonters will be better off. All committees of jurisdiction have begun diving into the details with an expected final budget by mid-March.
Lastly, a highlight of my week was the conversation Brain. Science. Addiction. Let’s Talk! Parents and community members came together to discuss substance use disease. We learned how science in the brain both impact and are impacted by substances. I had two big takeaways – youth will seek out risky behavior whether it’s rock climbing or substances. We need to keep our youth engaged in activities that fulfill that need. Also studies show the later you start using substances the less likely one will develop a substance use disease. This correlates directly with the development of the brain. We also heard about the 8th grade curriculum on substances, Howard Center’s First Step and statistics of use in our schools and prevention tips. I look forward to finding a way to continue this important conversation.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or comments: email@example.com or 373-0599. Thank you for the opportunity to serve Essex Junction!
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.