The 2017 legislative session has, so far, been one of great uncertainty. We have new administrations in Montpelier and in Washington, DC, both of which have signaled significant priority shifts from their predecessors. We are proud to join with a tri-partisan group of elected officials to stand united against some of the most egregious proposals from Washington, pushing back against the President’s illegal and immoral immigration proposal.
While we monitor closely what potential budget cuts the federal government may pass down, we face serious budget challenges with our own state budget. The spending plan Governor Scott proposed to the legislature is not in balance. It raises property taxes and is built on a concept that will be challenged in court. We are not willing to vote for an unbalanced budget. Instead, we will lead by sending the Senate a balanced budget that works towards our vision of a strong, healthy future for Vermont.
Your feedback is critical to our work in Montpelier. Thank you for making your voice heard at Town Meeting, and for continuing to stay involved.- Reps Jill Krowinski & Curt McCormack
Strengthening Vermont Families
Despite our growing economy, families are still struggling to get ahead. The House is currently exploring different policies to help. We are the chief sponsors of legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and are co-sponsors on a bill to institute a paid family insurance program that would help create economic security for working Vermonters.
Raising wages enables Vermonters to better participate in our local economy, which will contribute to the health of our small businesses. It also helps in areas where people are struggling, like with the cost of childcare and housing.
It’s important to recognize the workforce has changed significantly over the past 50 years. Working families must make do with workplace policies that were implemented with the expectation that a woman would stay home to provide care for children or elderly family members. More than 70 percent of Vermont children under age six have all parents in the labor force. The share of adult children providing care to aging parents has tripled over the past 15 years. A Family and Medical Leave Insurance program would allow Vermonters to have access to paid leave to take time to bond with or care for a new child or care for a family member or themselves with a serious long-term illness or injury. A paid family insurance program could ensure that working families can balance work and family needs while maintaining economic security.
Water Clean-Up Funding
The legislature is currently hard at work finding an equitable way to pay for water clean up around the state, an important way we can secure Vermont’s future. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) are requirements limiting the amount of pollutants allowed to pass through our waterways and into our lakes. Almost the entire state is under a Federal TMDL requirement, including the Lake Champlain Watershed, the Memphramagog Watershed and the Connecticut River Watershed.
The Clean Water Report, issued by the State Treasurer’s office on Jan. 15, is the document that guides our work. We are hearing from many witnesses saying they agree with the “all in” concept and expect a well-coordinated approach. Draft proposals continue to be updated in committee, which upon completion, will be presented to the House Ways and Means Committee for their consideration. Because the information necessary to properly implement a per-parcel fee based on acreage and/or impervious surfaces on the parcel will not be ready for a few years, we are looking at creating a working group to report back to the legislature on or before Jan. 15, 2018, on the best way to implement such a fee. Once established, other funding sources that are used in the interim will expire. The latest iteration of the draft has deleted the sunset on the property transfer tax, allowing this funding to continue.
The Committee is also actively working on tactical basin planning, where some projects have been prioritized and are ready to go, as well as the importance of having a Clean Water Fund Board that prioritizes projects based on available science.
Now in its tenth year, Farm-to-School focuses on increasing student access to healthy food, increasing students’ farm/food “literacy” and establishes schools as local markets for Vermont farms. Every dollar spent by schools on locally produced food and food products has contributed an additional $0.60 to the local economy. Farm-to-School administrators have been working toward the goal of having locally sourced food comprise 50% of food in schools by 2025.
Farm-to-School has a program that gives grants of up to $15,000 to Vermont schools so they can develop working relationships with local farmers and producers as well as enrich the educational experience of students. Farm-to-School also works to improve the health of Vermont children and enhance Vermont’s agricultural economy. The legislature is reviewing legislation (S.33) to update the requirements and goals of the program in part by adding registered or licensed child care providers to the list of organizations who can apply for the grants. Bringing Farm-to-School into child care centers will provide Vermont kids with knowledge about healthy food and farms at a younger age.
Strengthening Sexual Assault Laws
Last month the House voted in support of a package of legislation to protect victims of sexual assault. Despite significant progress in strengthening Vermont’s laws against sexual assault, too many victims of sexual violence are not ensured access to justice, health care, and social services.
The package of legislation reinforces the State’s sexual assault laws by setting forth procedures and notification requirements related to medical forensic examinations of sexual assault victims. Each year, Vermont’s certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners perform approximately 250 sexual assault forensic exams. The forensic exam kits are, in turn, analyzed by the Vermont Forensic Laboratory. Currently, Vermont law enforcement officers have been trained to deliver all kits to the crime lab within 72 hours. However there are discrepancies across jurisdictions. To date, there are between 50 and 75 kits which have been completed in Vermont hospitals but have not found their way to the forensic lab. This bill will guarantee that such discrepancies are less likely to occur and survivors will be assured that their kits are promptly handled.
The legislation also ensures victims know their rights and the resources available to them by receiving a copy of these rights and resources in writing. Most importantly, it ensures that victims will receive a medical forensic examination, including any related toxicology testing, at no cost, regardless of where the crime occurred and whether they have health insurance. The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Preparing for Federal Cuts
Rarely before has a new administration in Washington DC left Vermont with such uncertainty. Between President Trump’s campaign pledges to cut program funding and his new agency secretaries who are promising sweeping regulatory changes, your citizen legislators in Montpelier are very concerned. Some of the changes we hear about could impact special education money, free lunch for Vermont school children, housing vouchers and environmental protection funds. House Leadership has assigned a point person to keep tabs on changes being signaled from Washington DC. This leadership appointee is collaborating with Vermont House committee chairs, advocates and staff of our Congressional delegation to watch what is coming ahead. When a new Executive Order or guidance on funding changes comes out, your Vermont House leadership will be ready to bring the right people around the table to minimize negative impacts on Vermonters. About 35% of Vermont’s budget, including money for Dr Dynasaur, food stamps, safe drinking water investments and transportation funding, are reliant on federal grants. We know a strong healthy Vermont will require us to act quickly in the event of major changes to these programs. The House will be prepared to protect our strong economy and our Vermont future by responding quickly to changes.
Analyzing worker classifications, wages, benefits, flexible education opportunities lead our current goals in the House Commerce Committee. Other constructs that go into the process of successful economic development are also top priorities.
The lack of an available labor and talent pool is the largest impediment to economic growth in Vermont. Many mature adults over 50 are underemployed or are unable to find jobs that utilize their experience. At the same time, Vermont high school graduates who chose not to pursue postsecondary education or training typically do not have the skill set or aptitude to fill job openings that provide them with a livable wage and meaningful career path. The Commerce Committee is always analyzing all the available data to gain a greater perspective of this dilemma, and to find solutions, from more affordable college to better postsecondary options that fit nontraditional students. We are working on legislation to address these issues, focusing on building the workforce and meeting the needs of employers.