Democracy was in action this week with 3 significant bills passing the House and 1 given preliminary approval with a final vote on Tuesday.
As I’m sure most have heard, the House gave preliminary approval Friday to a suite of gun safety measures (S55) including; 1) a ban on bump stocks, 2) a ban on magazine that has a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition, 3) age restriction on purchasing a gun to 21 unless a hunter safety course was taken, 4) expanded background checks, and 5) the sale of seized and abandoned firearms. We expect amendments on Tuesday prior to a final vote. I voted yes for S55. I feel strongly that this law is not taking guns away from law abiding citizens, but may just save a life. Once we move through final passage of the bill, I will provide a detailed explanation of my vote for each section.
As we talk about gun safety legislation, there is a sentiment by many that we aren’t doing anything else to make our schools and communities safer. That is not accurate, it’s just that the gun safety legislation is at this time getting the attention. Through the budget we have provided additional resources to programs helping those having a mental health crisis. The Capital Budget, that we are voting on this week, as it’s written now has $5m allocated for school safety grants. A group appointed by Governor Scott has been assessing, since March, all of our schools to determine what operational and structural changes may be needed to ensure the schools are safe communities. We expect a report in late April. I don’t expect our efforts to stop with these actions. In next weeks blog I will provide more information on these initiatives.
The House passed a balanced budget of $5.8 billion. The all state funds grew only 1.2%; a rate that is one third of the F2018 forecasted gross state product and almost half the Governor’s growth rate target of 2.36%. Reserves are filled to their statutory levels. Commitments to sound financial planning were kept—one-time money was not spent for on-going needs, avoiding holes in future budgets. This budget addresses the needs of Vermonters and provides for the core services of State Government. It is a budget that helps families and communities thrive with investments in economic development, higher education, in preventing substance use disorders, and in reducing the ravages of mental illness. It fully funds development disability services and protects attendant care services for severely disabled individuals. House bill 924.
The House unanimously passed a bill (H897) fundamentally changing the way we pay for and provide special education services. The legislation changes the funding model from a reimbursement model to a census-based model, which provides more flexibility in how funding can be used, is aligned with the State’s policy priorities of serving students who require additional support across the general and special education service-delivery system, and simplifies administration.
The House also passed H911. The bill collapses the top two income tax brackets and lowers all personal income tax rates by 0.2%. It creates a Vermont standard deduction, personal exemption, expands the Vermont earned income tax credit and exempts taxable social security benefits from State income taxes for single filers with less than $45,000 in adjusted gross income and married filers with less than $60,000 in adjusted gross income. The bill also creates a School Income Tax Surcharge which will be used to reduce average residential homestead rates. There was a lot of good in this bill – changing our income tax structure to move away from the federal system so as things change at the federal level we aren’t tied so closely, as well as, the exemption of taxing social security benefits. However, I didn’t agree with the changes to the education financing portion. Specifically I felt that we were merely shifting pots of money while creating a school income tax surcharge. Although with this particular bill we would reduce property taxes approximately 10% (while adding an income surcharge), going forward our legislative body would now have two available tax sources to raise to fund schools. I also didn’t feel there was cost containment in the bill. This bill still as a long way to go, through the Senate, to conference committee then to the Governor’s desk. He has indicated he will veto the bill as is due to this income tax surcharge. I’m hopeful we will find a path forward to ensure at least the income tax and social security benefit changes can be implemented, but hopefully also with changes to the education financing system I can support.
We are doing a lot of work and providing all the details is difficult in one blog posting. I’m always happy to answer any questions, so please reach out firstname.lastname@example.org or 373-0599. Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve Essex Junction.
I was honored to be asked to speak at the Essex High School student led walk out. A powerful morning seeing hundreds of students filling the bleachers and hearing 7 others speak from their heart. Our students are making change happen!
Below are my remarks,
Thank you to each of you out here today. Because of each of you and your actions I know my 9 year old son will have a brighter, safer future. Thank you!
I was asked to speak to how youth not of voting age can make change?
I say you can do a lot and you already are: today you are showing our leaders that not only are you willing to stand up for what you think is right – you can make change happen. You are moving us forward!
What else can you do if you can’t yet vote? Reach out to those who can. I may have been elected by residents of Essex Junction that are able to vote, but I represent all residents of Essex Junction – all ages. Same goes for Representative Giambatista, your six Chittenden County Senators and your federal delegation – Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Representative Welch. I know some of you don’t live in Essex Junction – find out who your representative is and contact them. Our job is to listen to the wants and needs of our constituents than craft policy. I haven’t heard from a single one of you on what you want and what you feel will make you safer in your schools and community. You need to reach out – call, email, text, write, knock on my door – do it!
In Vermont 17-year olds can vote in the primary election provided they turn 18 before the general election. This year that means if you will be 18 on or before the General Election on Nov 6th you can vote in the primary election Tuesday Aug 14. So some of you 17 year olds can vote this year. I have two challenges for everyone that votes:
Educate yourself – how does government work? What is the process for a bill to become a law? Democracy is messy and it’s definitely not easy but it’s our system and one can be more effective navigating the system when they understood the system. Come to the statehouse (Dylan and I would be happy to help make that happen), take a government class, talk to elected members of our community.
Understand the issue - Spend time reading and listening to reputable publications. Seek out differing opinions. You may learn something that strikes a chord with you, a viewpoint you never thought of. Find the experts. Follow legislation. Right now there are several gun safety bills moving through the statehouse – find out what they are, read them and let your representative know how you feel about them. But safety is not just a gun issue – what else as a community do we need to address – is it more counselors, reform of school discipline, anti-bullying, something no one else has thought of? You all have grown up in the digital age – you know you can find anything online – be careful of what you believe as fact, but use it to understand all you can.
Learn the art of conversation – put down your phone, look the person in the eyes - ask questions, listen and respond respectfully and honestly. I read recently, “Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange.” This is so true – don’t shy away from it. Yesterday I read an article about kids from Chicago being invited to meet with kids from Parkland, FL. Two groups that couldn’t be more different – one that deals with gun violence daily and one that was one of the safest places to live. Economically, racially diverse kids – but they talked. I’m sure their conversations were messing and full of awkwardness – but they talked. You can do it here - Engage someone who has a different opinion than yours, engage someone you’ve never talked with, engage the new person in school, engage the one sitting by themselves at lunch. Policy change by itself doesn’t often achieve the long lasting outcome we seek for complex problems. A cultural shift is needed for change to truly take hold and it all starts with conversation.
Lead by action – Anyone can talk or complain, action shows you are committed to a cause. For instance, April 2nd the school district is holding a safety forum – if this is an issue important to you – come - engage. Write or call your representative, create a petition for an issue that is really important to you. Become active in local organizations that have a mission that speaks to you. Have an idea but don’t know where to begin? Ask around – you can always reach out to me. Action leads to progress and change.
And one of the most important - Know yourself - Self-discovery continues throughout our lives but you are all in the thick of it now. Pay attention to your heart, to what is important to you, to what values you hold dear. They might be different than what is important to your friends or even your parents. That’s okay. Be true to yourself and commit to those actions and issues that are important to you.
Remember the future is yours – INSIST ON IT!
We made it to crossover. Crossover is the date set by both parties when all bills must be voted out of policy committees to be considered for a full vote in their respective chamber and to then crossover to the other body this year. Crossover for money bills is March 15th.
Many good bills came out of committees in this last week, but gun violence prevention legislation took center stage.
The gun violence prevention legislation passed by the House on Friday included four critical parts: 1) It would put current practice into law which gives the judge discretion to require any individual who is a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as a condition of pre-trial release, 2) Empowers a State’s Attorney or the Attorney General’s office to petition a court to issue an order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others (commonly called a 'Red Flag' bill), and 3) Provides protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person, 4) Creates a felony charge for the possession of a firearm on school grounds with intent to harm.
The red flag bill passed by the House differs from the Senate’s passed extreme risk protection bill in two key ways: 1) the House requires preponderance of evidence while the Senate version requires clear and convincing evidence and 2) guns may be kept for up to a year in the House version and 60 days in the Senate version.
These two bills, known as H675 and S221 will be reconciled between the two bodies in the coming weeks. Additionally the Senate passed S.55, which requires mandatory background checks for private gun sales and raises the minimum legal age to purchase a gun from 16 to 21. This legislation will now head to the House.
Gun violence prevention discussions are often emotionally charged. After listening to the House debate this week, I believe no one is taking their role lightly. I urge readers to reach out to their Representatives and Senators with questions and concerns.
In the healthcare committee, on which I serve, we focused this first half of the session on changes made at the federal level that would impact the stability of the Vermont healthcare insurance market as well as needed legislation around the Green Mountain Care Board, our Health Information Exchange and the All Payer Model. However, we voted out a bill Friday that will now head to the House floor that I’m very passionate about - breast cancer screening. Currently screening by a mammogram is considered preventative and no co-pay or deductible is charged. However, if a person has a mammogram and is called back for further review or comes in for that initial mammogram because they have symptoms those are now considered a diagnostic exam and co-pays and deductibles are charged. We heard testimony that people are not coming back for additional screening due to the costs. Our bill will require breast cancer screening be covered without co-pays and deductibles. Representation Betsy Dunn sponsored this legislation and myself and 45 other representations co-sponsored. I look forward to the vote on the House floor.