2018 Town Meeting Report Part 2

2018 Town Meeting Report Part 2

Below is part two of our 2018 Town Meeting Report!

Making Paid Family Leave Possible for all Vermonters
Here are the things we, as legislators and politicians of all stripes say: We want to attract young people to the state. We want Vermont to be affordable. We want to help people who are on the financial edge of our benefit cliffs. We want more children to be born, and to be healthy, and to be ready for school. Here is what else we know: we have an aging workforce, we are living longer and we have family members who are trying to age in their own homes. We have family situations where more and more grandparents are assuming parenting and care duties of their grandchildren.

We believe H.196 addresses these concerns in fundamental ways. It proposes to enhance Vermont’s existing Parental and Family Leave Act (and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act) by adding a financial component to an employee’s right to take leave under certain criteria. These can include the birth of a child and the immediate time after for bonding and/or dealing with any medical emergencies, or time needed to take care of a family member. Studies from other states have shown and increased productivity and job loyalty from those who have used it to keep themselves and their families healthy and well kept.

The proposal allows for six weeks of paid leave at 80% of an employee’s gross salary at the cost of .141% of an employee’s income. This can be combined with unpaid leave, or leave funded by combined time off, if the employee has any. The total combined leave cannot exceed 12 weeks. The benefit is capped at the net equivalent of twice the livable wage ($1,042 in 2017).

The legislation passed in the House and now under consideration in the Senate. When we pass Paid Family Leave into law, the State will be able to offer working Vermonters a benefit that is both compassionate and sensitive to the needs of young families and families taking care of their elders.

Consumer Protection
Who didn’t freak out last year when one of the biggest credit reporting agencies admitted that their servers had been breached and the personal and financial information for millions of Americans and thousands of Vermonters had been stolen? We did. With so much commerce and information stored online, we think the promise to protect it should be upheld. And so, in our “Data Brokers” bill, we are requiring those companies that sell this information to follow the same protocol that “data collectors” are required to do. We are requiring them register with the Secretary of State, to provide their opt-out provisions, and we’re rescinding the fees currently charged to place and lift security freezes when a person’s information has been compromised. This is a pure consumer protection bill, and will provide security for Vermonters in a way they deserve.

Corrections and Mental Health Facilities
The House has been deeply involved in decisions determining the immediate and long-term future of the Vermont’s Mental Health and Corrections facilities. We know that Vermont’s immediate needs are: 1) the replacement of the current eight-bed Secure Residential Treatment facility in Middlesex with a 16-bed facility;  2) how best to determine the future of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex Junction; 3) how we can continue to support the number of beds needed at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin; and 4) the desperate need for more beds within our Mental Health, Corrections and systems. There are many moving parts, from the uncertainty of Medicaid funding, the pressure on our bonding ability, the uneven movement of individuals within and among these facilities, which  has resulted in a critical strain on the emergency departments of our hospitals and inappropriate or inefficient care within our Corrections and Mental Health facilities. These questions link policy questions across the House, and we’re working to provide us all with the resources that can fix these long-term issues.

Setting Priorities in our State Budget
Following the Town Meeting break the House Appropriations Committee will continue the process of hearing recommendations from policy committees, weighing them against the needs of the State, and narrowing the requests of committees, our colleagues and Vermonters. We continue to follow the principle of creating a budget which works for all Vermonters, their communities and their families, not just a select few.

Existing government obligations (payment of bills, salaries, health care, pension and debt obligations, etc.) increase on the order of about 2.5%. The Governor’s budget construct of restricting the growth of state government to less than 3% required reductions of expenditures throughout state government. New initiatives require offsetting reductions.

Highlights of initiatives proposed by the Governor in the budget include: investments in community supports for people suffering from mental illness; an economic development plan to encourage people to move to Vermont; services to infants and families affected by opioid addiction; and, benefits for Vermonters serving in the military.

Examples of the Governor’s proposed budget reductions include: cost sharing benefits to help working Vermonters pay health care premiums; eliminating attendant care services for profoundly disabled Vermonters; reducing services to Vermonters with disabilities by $4 million; reducing Agency of Human Services grants by $4 million; and, reducing payments to primary care doctors and hospitals.

The House Appropriations Committee expects to vote on the proposed FY 2019 budget on March 19th. The House will consider the budget on March 22nd and 23rd.

Helping Crime Victims
We have spent many, many years making sure that crime victims be treated with respect, from the time a crime has been committed against them until they have had their time in court. While we are proud of the strides we have made, we have found a serious lapse in our commitment. Did you know that a crime victim can be fired for attending the trial or the court dates they need to attend in order to attain justice? Our employment law allows for an employer to fire an employee without cause, and in a few cases, we have found that crime victims had to fight or were refused paid or unpaid time off in order to attend to their case in the court system. This seems terribly unfair and cruel. H.711 addresses this by giving protected class status in employment law for victims of crimes, and it addresses their standing in our existing, if inadequate, family leave laws. This bill is relatively simple in its construction, but complex in its effects on how crime victims are treated at work at a time when they need understanding and the space to resolve difficult personal issues.

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