Week 5: Legislative Update
Being back in the Statehouse has been remarkably normal and strange all at the same time. I would have expected a longer adjustment period after being remote for 2 years, but we haven’t missed a beat in continuing our work on behalf of Vermonters. Remember all committees and floor action have live streaming and are recorded for later viewing on YouTube. Agendas and streaming links are available on all committee pages at https://legislature.vermont.gov/
Please reach out to me or Rep. Dolan with questions, concerns, and ideas. Contact information: Rep. Lori Houghton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rep. Karen Dolan (email@example.com).
ESSEX JUNCTION INDEPENDENCE UPDATE
House Government Operations voted H.491 out of committee 11-0. We thank everyone who testified and wrote the committee. Now House Ways and Means will hear testimony starting Tuesday. You can see the agenda and watch via livestream at:
LEGISLATURE PASSED PROPOSAL 2
The House passed Proposal 2, prohibiting slavery and indentured servitude, by a roll-call vote of 139-3. Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777 when it ratified its first Constitution. But the wording is not absolute. As currently written, only persons over the age of 21 cannot be held in slavery. Additionally, a Vermonter over this age can be bound into slavery if they consent to being a slave.
Proposal 2 would amend Article 1, Chapter 1 of the Vermont Constitution, replacing this original section with language stating plainly that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”
Changing the state constitution is a four-year process. The proposed language must be approved by the legislature in two successive biennia, a step that with Friday’s vote is now complete. The proposed amendment will now be placed on the ballot for all Vermont voters to consider in November 2022.
Some may question the need for this change because slavery has been outlawed in the United States since 1865. But the unfortunate reality in 2022 is that forms of modern slavery, such as sex trafficking and the labor of undocumented immigrants, still exist in this country and Vermont is not immune.
“Language is powerful,” said Rep. Hal Colston (D-Winooski) in presenting Prop 2 on the floor. “And the truth shall set us free.”
UPCOMING VOTE CHANGES TO VERMONT TAX SYSTEM and ADVOCATE INFO
The House Calendar provides what bills are up for action the next legislative day and those that are on notice. The House Calendar and bill language can be found here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/.../CALENDAR/hc220208.pdf
Up for action Tuesday is H.510 a bill that would create a new refundable Vermont child tax credit of $1,200 yearly for each child aged six and under in Vermont. This credit will not count as income for the purpose of eligibility for benefits such as Reach Up and SNAP.
H.510 also expands Vermont’s social security exemption. Since 2018, Vermont has exempted Social Security income from taxation for single taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) below $45,000 and for married filers with AGI below $60,000. These exemptions phase out over the next $10,000 of income. H.510 would increase those thresholds by $5,000, to $50,000 for single filers and to $65,000 for married filers, with the same $10,000 phase-out.
The Vermont Taxpayer Advocate offers free guidance to help taxpayers with problems they are unable to resolve on their own; works for fair treatment of taxpayers; and educates taxpayers so they know and understand their rights. Information can be found here: https://tax.vermont.gov/taxpayer-advocate
HEALTHCARE COMMITTEE UPDATE
We continue to hear testimony related to workforce. Last week we heard obstacles and potential solutions from nurse educators and next week we will hear from the mental health field. We are working with the House Commerce Committee who is charged with creating workforce legislation.
UNIVERSAL SCHOOL MEALS TASK FORCE REPORT
The Universal Meals Task Force was created to investigate how to provide free universal school lunch for public school students no later than the 2026-2027 school year. Their report was submitted to the legislature and a link is below. The report contains 10 legislative recommendations that can be found on page 19.
ESSEX DELEGATION COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
Please join us during the legislative session for monthly updates on bills, committee work, caucus activities and more. We welcome your concerns, questions, and a spirit of open, respectful dialogue. Our next conversation will be Thursday February 17th at 7pm. A zoom link will be accessible on FPF, Facebook and via email a few days before the date.