Town Meeting Legislative Update
It’s an honor to represent the Old North End and Downtown Burlington in the Statehouse.
Rep. Curt McCormack and I are working hard this session to invest in working families, create green jobs, and help make our communities safe and affordable. We are half way through the legislative session and wanted to give you an update on our progress. If you have any questions, feedback, ideas, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Rep Jill Krowinski
Earned Sick Days
Curt and Jill are both champions of earned sick days legislation. This bill would allow employees to earn one hour of paid sick time per 30 hours worked up to 56 hours a year while exempting
businesses with four or less employees. Earned sick days will keep our families healthy, curb the rising cost of health care, and make our workforce more productive. The bottom line is people
shouldn’t have to choose between keeping their job and staying home to recover from an illness or taking a sick child to the doctor.
Creating Safe Communities
This session, the Legislature has addressed several issues to help Vermonters stay safe in our communities, homes and on our highways. Some of these actions will help a small number of people while others have broad implications for many. Should these actions become law, they would help by:
• Protecting the rights of the victim who becomes pregnant as a result of sexual assault. This would allow the victim to petition the family court for permanent sole parental rights and responsibilities of the child. This means victims of sexual assault would be able to reclaim control of their own bodies and lives.
• Parental rights and responsibilities of the child, thus giving her back the autonomy she lost due to the violent act of her perpetrator.
• Keeping our eyes on the road and our hands on the wheel by restricting cell phone use to hands-free.
• Making it easier for courts to order the surrender of firearms in Relief From Abuse
Creating Green Jobs and Conserving Energy
Net metering allows consumers to sell the excess power they generate onto the grid. The program has been very successful in Vermont and has in fact tripled in use since 2011. The success of this program has also caused some growing pains. The current cap on net metering forced utilities to turn away customers who wanted to participate in the program. The House recently passed a bill lifting these caps from 4% of power generated to 15% and this now in the Senate. By shaving electric consumption during hot summer days, solar net metering reduces utilities’ need to buy expensive power off the grid. Efficiency measures, combined with net metering have already deferred $400 million in Vermonter’s future transmission costs by lowering our overall demand for energy. This means real savings on everyone’s monthly energy bills.
The Vermont House passed a bill that would create smoke free zones around state owned buildings, ban smoking in hotels, and ban smoking tobacco in a car while a child is present. This bill is a critical step forward in protecting young children and workers. Limiting exposure to secondhand smoke will help to keep non-smokers healthy.
The budget bill is where policy joins funding to demonstrate priorities and create outcomes for Vermonters. Of Vermont’s total budget, 32% goes to education, 28% to Medicaid, community based & in patient mental health, addiction treatment, developmental disabilities services and long-term care, 12% to transportation, and 28% covers a wide range of issues: public safety, commerce, weatherization, housing ,public health, natural resources, agriculture, police and state emergency services, agriculture, and corrections. Pressures on state government have outpaced revenues for a number of years. This year that “budget gap”, as it’s called, is $70M. We close that gap each year by adjusting spending to balance the budget. Sequestration and federal cuts put even more pressure on the state.
There are bright spots in the budget, such as investment in the Working Lands to stimulate agriculture and forest industries, more people transitioning off of public assistance into employment and the opening of the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital. There are plenty of challenges, too. Retired teachers’ health care, currently paid from the retirement fund, needs a separate sustainable fund. Treatment and long term recovery from opiate addiction is a priority, as untreated addiction has incredible social and financial costs. Water quality is critical. Homelessness and emergency housing costs are on the rise, and we need prevention strategies to keep people from losing housing. The caseload of people seeking developmental services and community based long-term care is growing. Many critical IT systems are long overdue for upgrade or replacement. Balancing these and other needs with available resources will be a challenge, but necessary.
Vermont has antiquated and unconstitutional language on the books criminalizing abortion providers. The House and Senate passed a bill striking this old language from the books.
Vermont Health Connect
The Health Care committee continues to keep close watch on the enrollment updates and the technical challenges with Vermont Health Connect. The good news in Vermont is that our insurance carriers, our navigators and our health care providers are working very closely together to be sure that Vermonters don’t see a lapse in coverage because of the technical glitches. The value of this cooperation really can’t be overlooked. Although there are still technical problems with the VHC web site, the insurers are working very hard to do what is right by Vermonters.
As we come to the end of the open enrollment period, it is very important for Vermonters who are uninsured or were on VHAP or Catamount need to get on the Vermont Health Connect website and enroll by March 15 for coverage beginning on April 1. If you have insurance now that renews later in the year, you will still be able to enroll on your enrollment anniversary. If you need help resolving an application that is in process, or if you need to enroll please contact me and I can help you get connected with an enrollment navigator, my phone number is 363-3907.