This past Friday marked the departure of the first class of Legislative Pages. Through the session we have three groups of pages – each group staying 6 weeks. Pages are vital to our work. One of their most important roles is to deliver messages from our constituents in a timely and confidential manner.
Their departure also signals that we are about 1/3 of the way through the 2019 session. Crossover – the date policy bills must be voted out of their respective chamber to cross over to the other chamber – is March 15th with the budget following a week later on March 22nd.
The Health Care committee has been busy during the last two weeks taking testimony on several issues relating to the stability of the health insurance marketplace. We talk a lot about the need for a “stable risk pool,” which basically means that the more people who purchase health insurance in the same market, the lower and more stable each member’s rates will be. The President has removed the national financial penalty for not purchasing health insurance, and we are discussing whether if and how we should enforce the health insurance mandate at the state level. We have continued to discuss health insurance options for small businesses, as well as, mandating coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. This coverage is required by the Affordable Care Act but is not a state statute.
February 14th was suicide awareness day at the statehouse. Vermont suicide deaths are above the national average and are also increasing at a faster rate than the national average. One of the issues is that many doctors in Vermont do not have the training to provide adequate support for someone with suicidality. Regarding guns and suicide: access to guns does not increase the number of suicide attempts, but it does increase the deadliness of those attempts and therefore the number of deaths by suicide.
The General, Housing and Military Affairs committee voted out the paid family and medical leave bill. In its current form the bill proposes up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave financed through an insurance premium, shared equally by employers and employees. The committee made changes to expand the definition of family, expand the foster care age to 18 and to clarify language throughout. Further iterations on the financial modeling and tax income ramifications will be developed in the next two committees - Ways and Means and Appropriations. The administration has also proposed a paid family leave plan.
We had a lively group at our community conversation Sunday. Our next conversation is March 17th from 2:00 to 3:30pm at the Nest Café on Main St in the Village. This is a time to talk with your Essex area representatives about issues of importance to you. Hope to see you on the 17th.
Feel free to reach out at anytime with questions or comments!
Activity in committees and on the house floor picked up this week. House bills that passed out included:
Wednesday was Mental Health Advocacy Day and in the health care committee we had various organizations provide testimony on what is happening in our communities. Mental health will be a continued focus of our committee this year with an emphasis on community based programs. On Friday we watched the movie "Faces of ACEs". I came away with a new understanding of how the trauma we experience as a youngster effects our adult life. We must integrate this learning in all health care discussions.
In the health care committee we ended the week hearing testimony from the Individual Mandate Working Group. In 2018 Act 182 established an individual mandate for Vermont residents to maintain minimum essential health insurance coverage beginning January 1, 2020. The act created a working group to develop recommendations regarding the administration and enforcement of an individual mandate. We will continue hearing from the working group on their recommendations to determine how we move forward to ensure the stability of the Vermont health care market.
Public Hearing has been set for Wednesday Feb 6th on H57 an act relating to preserving the right to abortion. In Vermont we follow Roe vs Wade but that law is not codified in state law. H57 will codify Roe Vs Wade into state law. This hearing will take place at the Statehouse from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. If you wish to provide testimony sign ups will begin at 4:00pm. We are expecting a large crowd so please arrive early.
As always, please reach out with questions, comments or concerns.