End of Session Report

It’s an honor to represent the Old North End and Downtown Burlington in the Statehouse. Curt McCormack and I worked hard this legislative session to invest in working families, create green jobs, and help make our communities safe and affordable. Here’s a legislative wrap up highlighting some of the legislation we passed. If you have any questions, feedback, ideas, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Minimum Wage Increase
We fought hard for the greatest increase in the minimum wage at the fastest schedule. What was finally agreeable in the final hours of the session will make Vermont’s minimum wage the highest in the country. Here is the schedule:
$9.15 starting in 2015, $9.60 in 2016, $10.00 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018. After 2018, an automatic Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) is applied annually.

Child Care Providers Right to Organize
H.316 offers home-based child care providers an opportunity to decide for themselves if they would like to form a union, which will give them a stronger voice in Montpelier when it comes to negotiations over the subsidy rates the State pays for families whose income falls below 200% of the federal poverty level.This stability will help working Vermonters find the child care they need, and it will help their children stay on a positive path to school readiness.

Vermont and the Affordable Care Act
Vermont, like the rest of the country, had a very difficult rollout of our health care exchange. Legislative committees spent significant time reviewing system challenges and the ongoing work to improve access to health
plans in Vermont Health Connect (VHC). Although the system is still not fully functional for small businesses and is frustrating for people who have needed to make changes to their applications, there are some good signs of improvement. The Legislature passed a provision so that, small businesses will continue to be able to enroll in VHC plans directly through insurers as long as the Feds allow.

Renters Rebate
Once again we were able to stop an attempt to reduce the income tax benefits of the Renters Rebate for households making less than $47,000. Renters are already not treated near as well as property owners by Act 60, so a further reduction in the benefit is not acceptable.

Development in Downtowns & Village Centers
This bill does a number of things to encourage development, especially housing in downtowns, village centers and new compact growth centers and discourages sprawl. Only very large housing developments will need Act 250 permits in “designated” downtown centers. Sprawl, for the first time, will have a statutory definition in Act 250 making it difficult to create or expand sprawled, strip development.

If this legislation is effective in bringing our housing, schools, medical and other economic activities back into town reversing the sprawl trend, it will be the best thing we did to provide some national leadership so sorely needed to stop climate change.

Net Metering
Our net metering law requires electric utilities to buy electricity (as a credit) generated by a qualifying small generator (most often a residence) of solar, wind, hydro or geothermal generated electricity. Ninety percent of them are solar.

The Utilities were only required to give the credit until the total amount of electricity coming from net-metering reached four percent of the utility’s peak demand. We raised this 4% “cap” to 15%. We made a number
of other improvements to the program including raising the maximum size a net metering plant can be and allowing for an even higher limit to encourage the placement of solar collectors on closed landfills.

While this bill advances the program, if we were taking the threat of climate change seriously, there would be NO cap. We also failed to create a state-wide building weatherization program and we put less money into Low-Income Weatherization than we did last year.

Helping Vermonters Move Up the Income Scale
We passed a bill that will help families on Reach Up and Reach Ahead (two parts of Vermont’s public assistance program for families with children). This bill increases the amount of earned income that will be disregarded from $200 to $250 for families in Reach Up. Reach Ahead is the program that provides a continued food benefit to help families sustain themselves after getting off Reach Up and thereby avoiding a return to Reach Up. This bill would make the benefit amount in Reach Ahead somewhat smaller
but continue it for a longer period of time. This in turn would keep a family eligible for a full child-care subsidy for an additional year, a very important factor in being able to hold a job.

Treating the Root Causes of Criminal Activity
One of the most important bills passed by the Legislature this year will build on the justice reinvestment initiative launched in 2007. The most effective criminal justice response to crime recognizes that many offenders have substance abuse or mental health issues that drive their unlawful behavior. Until those issues are effectively addressed, those offenders will keep coming back into the system. By targeting services at critical points in the criminal justice system, we can improve public safety, lower rates of incarceration, reduce recidivism and get offenders on track to lead lawful and productive lives.

S. 295 also includes a number of other provisions, including enhanced penalties for burglary of a home and heroin trafficking. Other provisions relate to medication assisted therapy, increasing access to naloxone (the opioid overdose antidote) and improving substance abuse services in prisons.

Reducing Second-Hand Smoke
Vermonters came forward this year asking for additional relief from second-hand smoke and
other tobacco related concerns. Starting in July, tobacco products and tobacco substitutes will be prohibited in or around childcare centers and smoking in a motor vehicle occupied with a child may result in a $100 fine. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes will be required to use child-resistant packaging to sell liquid nicotine in Vermont.

Recycling
This year, the Legislature took steps to remove two additional waste streams from landfills.

Alkaline batteries: Starting in 2016, consumers will be able to drop off single-use batteries at a variety of locations including solid waste facilities, municipal buildings and participating retailers. The program will help keep the 10 million batteries sold in Vermont each year out of our landfills and allow for the more efficient recovery of steel, zinc, and other materials compared to mining them. This first in the nation program is a win for the environment, a win for the battery manufacturers, and a win for our solid waste districts.

Construction & Demolition Waste: Starting in 2015, contractors will be required to haul discarded drywall, metal, asphalt shingles, clean wood, plywood and oriented strand board to a recycling center if there is one within 20 miles of the demolition or construction project. Chittenden County is fortunate to have the first construction and demolition recycling facility at Myers Containers in Colchester.

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