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Thank you for visiting my website.  You may subscribe to postings using the "Follow by Email" app at the far right.  You can email me using the  "Contact Info" link in the Site Map to the right of this column.  I welcome your input.

Note: Blog posts entitled "Legislative Report" have been published in The Charlotte News, and those entitled "The Word in the House" have been published in The Citizen.  Since January, 2021, Legislative Reports have been published in both The Citizen and The Charlotte News.

Announcement 5/5/2022 - I am running for re-election to the House

 It has been my privilege to serve as the Charlotte-Hinesburg State Representative for the past 12 years.  I am taking this opportunity to announce that I will be running for re-election this year for another term.

During my time in office, my priority has always been to support policies that benefit Vermonters and make Vermont, and our community in particular, a better place to live and work. I believe in a strong democracy in which all citizens can participate through their right to vote. I have advocated for a livable minimum wage, for mental health benefits for first responders, and for sustainable pension funds for our hard-working teachers and state employees, as well as many other policies to support working families. During the worst days of the pandemic I helped many employees, small business owners and self-employed persons in Charlotte to access state and federal economic assistance programs. Through my work on energy and environmental policy, Vermont has taken significant steps to address climate change. However, much more needs to be done to further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions while helping folks save money on their heating bills and adapt to the changing weather patterns.

One of my most important responsibilities is keeping you informed through my bi-weekly Legislative Reports in our local newspapers and occasional Front Porch Forum posts. You can access those reports at my website, MikeYantachka.com, for a look at what I've been working on throughout my legislative career.

With your support I will continue working to support policies that will benefit the social fabric, the economic vitality, and the natural and lived environment of Vermont. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.


Rep. Mike Yantachka
Chittenden 5 District
 of Charlotte and Hinesburg

Legislative Report 4/18/2022 - Legislature takes responsibility for integrity and pension systems

 

Code of Ethics for state government

Back in 2015 the Center for Public Integrity gave Vermont a failing grade from the State Integrity Investigation ranking Vermont 50th out of 50 states in the category of ethics enforcement because it previously had no ethics body of any sort.  In response Vermont passed Act 79 of 2017, enacting its first comprehensive state ethics laws and creating the State Ethics Commission. This week the Legislature took another important step by passing S.171 which creates Vermont’s first statutory State Code of Ethics. Vermont was one of only five states without a code of ethics. In 2020, all six statewide elected officials, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer and Attorney General, called for passage of legislation to create a code of ethics for Vermont’s public servants in all three branches of government. 

 

The Code of Ethics applies to elected and appointed State officers, the General Assembly, members of the Judiciary and state employees. The Code of Ethics provisions include: 

    • disclosure and recusal for conflicts of interest; 
    • not using a state position, resources or information for personal or financial gain; 
    • limits on gifts to public servants; and 
    • limits on other outside and post-state employment.

S. 171 also provides protection for whistleblowers who report a Code of Ethics violation and mandatory training on the Code of Ethics. By setting out clear rules that public officials must abide by, Vermonters can have confidence in the integrity of our state government.

 

Pension systems find support

In 2021 the sustainability of the public pension systems covering state employees and teachers was called into question. State Treasurer Beth Pearce announced that the state pension funds for teachers and state employees were underfunded by about $3 billion and recommended that action be taken, including painful changes to pension benefits. These included increasing the retirement age, increasing employee contributions, and lowering the payouts. Teachers and state employees reacted immediately to protect the benefits they had earned by contacting legislators to plead their case. After a considerable amount of controversy within the Legislature and between the Legislature and the unions, a task force consisting of the Treasurer, legislators, and representatives of the unions and of the administration was created to address the problem. This task force worked throughout the summer of 2021 and hammered out a solution that all parties agreed to.

 

S.286, as passed by the Senate, implements the final recommendations of the task force which are expected to reduce Vermont’s long-term unfunded retirement liabilities for state employees and teachers by approximately $2 billion by prefunding other post-employment benefits (retiree healthcare), modifying the pension benefit structure and making additional State and employee contributions into the retirement systems. The bill contains a $200 million one-time General Fund appropriation to the state employees and teachers’ pension systems to pay down unfunded liabilities. An additional $13.3 million one-time Education Fund appropriation for FY 2022 is made to the Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefit Fund to begin prefunding health care benefits for retired teachers. S.286 was voted out of the House Government Operations Committee and sent to the Ways and Means Committee for review. It is expected to pass and be sent to Governor Scott by the end of this week. 


As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).

Legislative report 4/4/2022 - Security requires being prepared

Having finished our work on bills initiated in the House, committees turned their attention to bills coming from the Senate and to other matters of importance. The Biden Administration recently issued a nationwide alert for Americans to elevate their cybersecurity posture in anticipation of a Russian response to economic sanctions imposed by the West because of the invasion of Ukraine. Vermont is vulnerable to such an attack on many fronts, and it is imperative to be prepared to both minimize vulnerabilities and respond quickly if an attack is successful. The House Energy and Technology Committee started taking testimony on the state of preparedness of critical IT infrastructure in both the public and private sectors. 

"It's not if, it's when, our systems get breached" is a line the House Energy and Technology committee heard repeatedly during our two days of testimony on Vermont’s cybersecurity defenses. Cyberattacks can take many forms: phishing scams, malware, spyware, data breaches, ransomware, and others. It is the responsibility of every entity that relies on a computer system connected to the internet to take the best precautions possible to prevent a cyberattack in the first place and to have a plan of action in case a breach is successful. In addition to hearing from leadership at the Agency of Digital Services and the Departments of Public Safety, Public Service, and Financial Regulation, we heard from UVM Health Network about lessons learned from the ransomware attack they experienced in October 2020. We also heard from representatives from Vermont utilities and banks about their cybersecurity efforts to prevent loss of confidential information, financial resources, and service. We explored how these organizations are working together to share best practices, intelligence on cyber threats, and how they are coordinating with state and federal governments to protect Vermonters’ data and infrastructure.

Banks and other financial institutions, regardless of size, are required by the federal government to maintain strong security measures for their systems and to have incident response plans in place.  The Vermont Bankers Association told us that inter-bank competition stops at the cybersecurity door, that there is excellent sharing of information among its members.  Vermont’s electric utilities are subject to National Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection requirements. Also, the Vermont Public Utilities Commission requires Vermont utilities to report annually on their cybersecurity programs.

Be alert and be aware

The testimony we heard gave us considerable assurance that strong protections are in place.  But it also brought to our attention that we as individuals also have a part to play. We need to know how we can be used and how to protect ourselves. The entry point for a breach is often accomplished by “phishing” a user, that is, sending an email or text that seems to be from a legitimate website, colleague, or company with a link or attachment to open. The result is the surreptitious installation of malware or spyware on the user’s computer or asking a user to verify a userid and password or other personally identifiable information to allow the hacker to bypass security in a system.  With the possibility of attacks coming from many directions, protection of our data and the systems we depend on is both a collective and a personal responsibility.  Here are some steps we can all take:

  • Never click on a link or open an attachment unless you are expecting it or can verify that the sender is who they purport to be.
  • If the email is from a company you have an account with, go to the website and log in there instead of clicking on a link.
  • Use two-factor authentication if possible. This is an option that requires not only a password, but a verification code sent to your phone or email account to successfully log in.
  • Maintain different passwords for different accounts.  Password managers like Lastpass, Keeper or Zoho can remove the anxiety of having to remember multiple passwords.

As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).  

New Legislative Maps Approved

 The Vermont House and Senate districts will be changing for the 2022 election.  H.722, the House redistricting bill passed earlier this month, came back from the Senate with their proposal of amendment which added the Senate redistricting proposal. While the Charlotte and Hinesburg House districts are only slightly modified with the Charlotte-Hinesburg district (Chittenden 5) enlarged by one census block of Hinesburg (Chittenden 4), the six-member Chittenden County Senate district was split into three districts: Chittenden North, Chittenden Central, and Chittenden Southeast. Charlotte, along with Bolton, Hinesburg, Jericho, Richmond, Shelburne, South Burlington, St. George, Underhill, Williston, and part of the city of Burlington, will be in Chittenden SE with three senators. Burlington, Winooski and part of Essex will comprise Chittenden Central with three senators, and Milton, Westford, Fairfax and the rest of Essex will make up Chittenden North with one senator. Population shifts over the last decade added one Senate seat to Chittenden county.  The House and Senate redistricting maps can be found at the following sites.

House:

https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/SmallMaps/2022/Phase_II/Statewide%203_3.pdf


Senate:

Legislative Report 3/21/2022 - Reaching crossover, Environmental bills score big

 

As the Legislature hit the crossover date last week, House committees were busy finalizing work on the dozens of bills they had been working on since January. The once-a-decade legislative reapportionment bill was finalized and passed, and the Charlotte-Hinesburg district, Chittenden 5, again contains all of Charlotte and a slightly larger portion of Hinesburg, running along the west side of Baldwin Road from the Monkton line to Burritt Road. (Map)

 

Among the many bills that passed and were sent on to the Senate, were several that touched on the environment and our efforts to address the climate change crisis. The Municipal Efficiency Resilience Initiative (H.518) passed unanimously to help municipalities assess the energy efficiency of their buildings and apply for grants to weatherize, reduce operation and maintenance costs, enhance comfort, and reduce energy use by improving heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. The Clean Heat Standard bill (H.715) also passed with a strong 96 to 44 vote to help homeowners, renters and commercial properties reduce their dependence on fossil fuels for heating.

 

The Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee sponsored several important bills including H.500, which prohibits the sale, starting in 2024, of four-foot linear fluorescent lamps in Vermont for which LEDs are available. All fluorescent lamps contain mercury and can create an immediate public health and environmental hazard when they accidentally break during installation, use, transportation, storage, recycling, or disposal. Light-emitting diode (LED) replacements for fluorescent lamps do not contain any mercury. Another bill, H.523, seeks to reduce hydrofluorocarbon emissions. Hydrofluorocarbons are potent greenhouse gases and enter the atmosphere as leakage from cooling systems. Products that contain hydrofluorocarbons for use in refrigeration systems and auto air conditioners are prohibited starting in 2024. Alternative refrigerant products are available.

 

Forests play an important role in Vermont’s working landscape, and in its tourist and recreation economy. Currently only actively managed forests are

A view of Camels Hump from Niquette State
Park.   Photo by Mike Yantachka

 eligible for enrollment in the Use Value Appraisal (Current Use) program. Forests that exhibit old forest characteristics can provide unique contributions to biodiversity, contribute to the climate resilience and adaptive capacity of Vermont’s working landscape, and serve as ecological benchmarks against which to measure active management of Vermont’s forests. The House passed H.697 which creates a pilot program to extend eligibility for current use for forest parcels that are left wild and meet certain criteria with the approval of the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

 

This forest program will complement nicely another bill, H.606, the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act. Nature is facing a catastrophic loss of biodiversity, both globally and locally. In addition to its intrinsic value, biodiversity is essential to human survival. According to the United Nations one million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction, and human activity has altered almost 75 percent of the Earth’s surface, squeezing wildlife and nature into ever-smaller natural areas of the planet. The health of ecosystems on which humans and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, affecting the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide. The causes of the drivers of changes in nature rank as: (1) changes in land and sea use, (2) direct exploitation of organisms, (3) climate change, (4) pollution, and (5) invasive species. According to the Nature Conservancy Vermont plays a key role in the conservation of biodiversity regionally.  H.606 sets a goal of conserving thirty percent of Vermont’s total land area by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050, including state, federal, municipal, and private land. It requires the Agency of Natural Resources to develop a plan by the end of 2023 with public input from all stakeholders. These bills and many others now move to the Senate.


As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).