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.