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Speaker of the House Shap Smith Interviewed on Democrats Show

The Chittenden Count Democrats Show, hosted by Bob Hooper and Rep. Mike Yantachka, featured an interview with Rep. Shap Smith (D), Speaker of the House and representing the Lamoille-Washington district.  Smith reflected on the accomplishments of the recently completed session and the outlook for next year.  The interview took place at the Channel 17 CCTV studio in Burlington. 


VTDigger Article about Vermont's Business Climate

Margolis: Despite the kvetching about Vermont being bad for business, the numbers don’t add up
by Jon Margolis

Actual evidence, then, as opposed to impressionistic griping, shows that Vermont is about as good a place to start and run a business as any other state.
Continue reading...


Legislative Report 5/22/2014 - End of Session Report


The 2014 legislative session is finally over, and I am fairly pleased with what we accomplished over the last four months.  Here is a recap of what was accomplished and what opportunities I believe we missed.  I wrote about some of this legislation in previous articles in more detail, and I provide links to those articles in the text below.

The Economy

The $655M Transportation bill marks a heavy investment in Vermont’s transportation infrastructure with support for better roads, safer bridges, and expanded rail without tax increases.  Downtown development was encouraged by loosening Act 250 regulations in designated development centers while discouraging sprawl.  A comprehensive Economic Development bill, S.220, was passed to encourage businesses to be established, to grow, or to stay in Vermont in the face of economic adversity.  It provides up to $3M in lending for entrepreneurial and agricultural investment, establishes a “Made in Vermont” program to increase exports, improves intellectual property safeguards for business, and improves consumer protection from unauthorized lenders.

Working Vermonters

The Minimum Wage bill, H.552, raises the minimum wage in Vermont from $8.73 today in four steps from $9.15 in 2015, to $10.50 in 2018.  Low-earning Vermonters looking to get ahead will be helped by H.790, which addresses the so-called benefits cliff, i.e. the disincentive that occurs when people receiving public benefits go to work and have their benefits reduced by more than their increased earnings. H.790 increases the amount of earned income that will be disregarded from $200/month 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. This bill makes the benefit amount in Reach Ahead somewhat smaller but continues it for a longer period of time keeping a family eligible for a full child care subsidy for an additional year, a very important factor in being able to hold a job.  On the other hand, the House failed to pass the Paid Sick Days bill, H.208, which would have guaranteed up to 6 paid sick days or the equivalent time off for all employees. 

Energy and Conservation

The renewable energy sector was given a boost with the expansion of net metering limits.  Vermont is a leader in green jobs per capita and this bill, H.702, insures that the sector will continue to grow at least until 2017 when the federal tax credits end.  In the meantime, the cost of solar generation continues to decline making systems more affordable for the average homeowner.  S.202 made air-to-air and geothermal heat pumps eligible for efficiency credits, recognizing that thermal energy savings will result in reduced green house gas emissions while saving money for homeowners.  It also provided incentives to recycle construction and demolition debris in order to divert these materials from our landfills. A first in the nation battery recycling stewardship program was established by H.695 with the cooperation of the battery industry, and when it takes effect in 2016 it will help keep some of the 10 million batteries sold in Vermont each year out of our landfills.

Water Quality

The value of our lakes and streams to Vermont’s economy, health and quality of life was the subject of two major bills, the Shorelands Protection bill, H.526, which passed and goes into effect on July 1, and the Water Quality bill, H.586, which died in the Senate.  The Shorelands bill seeks to regulate development along the shores of our smaller lakes as well as Lake Champlain to reduce runoff which fosters algae growth and to create more robust fish habitat.  The Water Quality bill addressed issues related to factors throughout watersheds that contribute to phosphorous levels in Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River.  Although H.586 did not pass this year, these problems will have to be addressed next year to comply with EPA Clean Water standards.

Agriculture

With overwhelming support from most Vermonters the GMO Labeling bill, H.112, was passed and signed into law.  This bill supports the right of consumers to know what is in their food.  Local farmers who produce and sell raw milk will now be able to deliver it to their customers at Farmers’ Markets.  There are still strict regulations to ensure that quality, safety and a direct relationship to the customer are maintained.

Health and Safety

 Highway safety will be enhanced with the passage of H.62, which bans the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving except under certain circumstances.  Victims of Lyme disease now have expanded opportunities for treatment with the authorization through H.123 for physicians to use additional treatment protocols.  S.234 provides for reimbursement of the use of telecommunications for remote monitoring of Medicaid patients’ health, helping to reduce Medicaid costs.  Children’s safety and health were improved through two bills. The Child Safety Act, S.239, which requires manufacturers of products sold to or used by children to notify the Department of Health if their product contains chemicals that can harm children.  H.217 bans smoking in a vehicle when a young child is in the vehicle and requires that if smoking occurs on the premises of a child care facility during times children are not present that the provider notifies families that their child will be exposed to an environment in which tobacco products are used.  It also makes it illegal to sell products containing liquid nicotine (e-cigarettes) in Vermont unless it is in child-resistant packaging.  Noticeably absent this session was the report from the Shumlin administration providing detailed information about plans to fund Green Mountain Care. If details cannot be provided early in the 2015 session, the implementation of GMC by the target date of 2017 will be in jeopardy.  And finally, I had introduced a bill four years ago to license precious metal dealers and require them to keep good records of their transactions for the purpose of shutting down avenues for the fencing of stolen goods.  After passing a weaker bill two years ago, and with the help of legislators in both the House and Senate as well as law enforcement, we passed S.308 this year, which puts those requirements firmly in place and authorizes the Department of Public Safety to enforce them.

Education

Educational issues consumed a significant amount of energy during this session with mixed results. On the positive side, opportunities were expanded at both ends of the age spectrum.  The Universal Pre-K Education bill, H.270, provides up to ten hours of pre-Kindergarten education to every 3 or 4 year old who enrolls in a qualified program, creates a simplified payment system, and clarifies oversight in order to give the best chance for success to every child. Research has shown that children who aren’t able to access high-quality early education for whatever reason are more likely to challenge the resources of our education system throughout their K-12 experience.  At the other end of the spectrum Vermont’s great high school graduation rate is not reflected in the number of students that go on to post-secondary education.   The Economic Development bill, S.220, provides for up to two semesters of free college education in the state college system for Vermont students who satisfy certain academic and post-graduation residency criteria.  The legislature was less successful in addressing the costs of K-12 education.  The Education Governance bill, H.883, which would reduce the number of school districts statewide through consolidation, stalled in the Senate.  The financing formula passed by the House was further modified by the Senate which resulted in a higher property tax rate than anyone wanted.   The discussion of the financing issue along with the large number of school budgets that were voted down has increased the importance of revising the financing system next year to reduce the burden on property taxes. 

 
Now that the session is over, I will begin my campaign for re-election.  I have enjoyed serving you in the legislature and hope you will support me for another term.  I intend to again conduct a person-to-person campaign and look forward to meeting you on the campaign trail.