The Word in the House 1/3/2019 - Beginning Anew in 2019


Happy New Year, everyone!

The beginning of the year means the beginning of another session of the Vermont Legislature, and in particular this year, the reorganization of the Legislature after the election. The first week, starting January 9th, will be devoted to seating the 40 new members recently elected as well as the returning 110 members re-elected to the House. Governor Scott will be sworn into office for his second term, and we will elect the Speaker of the House. Our current Speaker, Representative Mitzi Johnson of North Hero, is expected to resume her role. One of the first tasks she will perform will be to assign House members to the 14 standing committees of the House, including naming the Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Clerks of the committees. Then we will begin working on the many issues facing Vermont.

There’s no shortage of issues to address as we work to make sure every Vermonter can get a great education, earn a livable wage, receive high-quality affordable health care, and retire with security. We still must deal with the opioid crisis, funding water quality programs and our growing greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. We have to be all-in on these issues because it will take a concerted effort by all Vermonters to implement viable solutions.

Vermont’s legislative sessions typically run 18 weeks, concluding in May. As things move along, a number of bills and topics will end up in the headlines. Less flashy, but equally important, bills will also make their way through committees as they head for votes on the floor. If you have any questions about any topic under consideration at the State House, please reach out to me via phone or email. During this session I will also try to make myself available in person at local venues like the Charlotte Senior Center and the Charlotte Library. I will be at the library on Saturday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to noon, and at the Senior Center on Monday, January 21, for the noon lunch. I will publish subsequent “office hours” via Front Porch Forum and my legislative updates in our local newspapers.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019 and look forward once again to keeping you informed about the legislature while we are in session. I encourage you to let me know your concerns and opinions. I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).

Legislative Report 12/12/2018 - 2019 Legislative Preview


As I watched the funeral services of our 41st President, George H.W. Bush, this past week, I was moved by the remembrance of how this President served our country. He was a man who believed that the purpose of Government is to serve the people, to help people. His Presidency, as his life, was characterized by a concern for others and a desire to help anyone who needed help. We as a nation thank him for his service and his example.

Each of us serving in elected office does so based on the values we hold. As I begin my 5th term serving my community of Charlotte and the southwest corner of Hinesburg, I am grateful for the opportunity and hope that the work I have done and will continue to do will reflect values that make Vermont a better place. Vermont families should be able to earn a livable wage, should have access to affordable basic health care, and should live in a healthy environment. We should be able to provide a good education for our kids that will prepare them to become productive members of society, whether they go on to higher education or become skilled workers. We should be willing to help those who need extra help in coping with their disabilities or who have taken a wrong turn in life and need help in recovering. We also have to look beyond the present and take steps that will help prevent dangerous climatic changes that threaten to change life not only for our children and grandchildren but for all life on earth.

Several bills were passed by the legislature this past year that would raise the minimum wage, allow employees to take time off for family crises, and protect employees and communities from toxic exposures from industrial chemicals. Unfortunately, they did not become law. These bills are being prioritized for passage in the coming session.

Several years ago we passed legislation to clean up our lakes and rivers. A source of sustainable funding for this effort was not included, however. The poor quality issues we have been experiencing with algae blooms have had an impact on Vermont's economy, on the health of people and animals, and on Vermont's reputation as a great place to visit for recreation. The phosphorous load in Lake Champlain and other lakes and ponds have built up over decades, and it will take decades to remediate. Existing funds are running out and it is up to the incoming Legislature to find a sustainable source of funding to continue the cleanup effort over a long period of time.

Climate change is one of the most important policy areas that I will be working on in 2019. The Department of Environmental Conservation issued its report on Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) this summer that showed our emissions to be 16% higher than 1990 levels, primarily due to transportation and heating. Our goal has been to reduce emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2012 and 50% by 2028. Clearly, we are going in the wrong direction. The Legislature commissioned the Joint Fiscal Office to fund a study on how best to reduce GHGs, including the costs, benefits and impacts on Vermonters. This report will be submitted to the Legislature in January, and we will develop legislation to start reducing our dependence on fossil fuels for transportation and heating based on those recommendations.

As the legislative session progresses I will again keep you informed through the articles I write. I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in person contacts.

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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.


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Commentary – Two Faces of Vermont - 9/01/2018


I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who gave me a vote in the recent primary election. I do not take your support for granted and I appreciate the confidence you place in me to do a good job representing you in Montpelier.

This election contained many surprises not the least of which included the above average turnout.  Almost 24% of Charlotte voters either took advantage of voting early or took the time to vote in person on election day.  Voters showed strong support for Governor Scott in the Republican Party and Christine Hallquist was the overwhelming choice among Democrats.  This speaks well for Vermonters who affirmed polls showing that a strong majority, regardless of party, favors reasonable gun regulations.  It also showed that Vermonters can look past a candidate's gender identity and vote for the person they think will do the best job.  This is Vermont at its best, continuing the tradition of championing civil rights and civil discourse.

Recent events, however, also revealed that there are dark undercurrents to Vermont's facade.  Bennington Representative Kiah Morris, one of our few Black legislators won her primary, but chose a few days later to step down as a result of the racist harassment she and her family have experienced over the last two years, which included threats and online trolling.  Kiah is a strong, intelligent woman and an effective legislator with whom I have had the pleasure of serving and working for the last four years. She was not only a leader, but also a valuable contributor on the Judiciary Committee.  No one should have to endure conditions that make them unable to perform their job or live in fear for their own or their family's safety. I am glad to see that Attorney General TJ Donovan is now investigating this case.

This speaks to the conditions that have led to increased intolerance and divisiveness not only in Vermont but across our nation.  To be sure, bigotry has existed throughout our history and continues in spite of the civil rights movement, the passage of civil unions and subsequently marriage equality, and the election of Barack Obama.  It is our collective responsibility to call bigotry out when confronted by it. What can't be excused is the permission that was explicitly given by the person holding the highest office in the land to a small but significant minority to vent their hateful rhetoric and actions. 

In contrast, our nation just lost one of the beacons of integrity and civility in Washington, Senator John McCain. He spoke courageously in the Senate against the intolerance and divisiveness coming from the top when others in his party would not.  Let us hope that his passing will jog the consciences of his colleagues and encourage them to finally do the same.

Commentary - Climate Change Demands Action Now 8/3/2018


It is not an exaggeration to say that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.  While there are many who still think that climate change is a hoax, we need only to look at melting polar ice caps, extreme storms with significantly heavier precipitation and flooding, rising global atmospheric temperatures, more frequent and intense heat waves not only in the U.S. but across the globe, and the devastating wildfires in the western U.S. that have increased in both frequency and scope.  This phenomenon will continue to create heavier and heavier economic and social impacts moving forward. We have to ask ourselves what we can do to combat this phenomenon; and to do that we have to consider the cause.

Indeed, there are many who will reluctantly acknowledge that climate change is happening, but attribute it to natural cycles rather than to human influence.  This uninformed view ignores the fact that today's atmospheric CO2 level of 400 parts per million is now 1.3 times higher than the average peak concentrations of about 300 ppm over the last 400,000 years as measured by ice cores. This data is known as the Keeling Curve and is recorded and maintained by the Scripps Oceanographic Institute of the University of California San Diego and can be seen online. This breakout from the historical trend has occurred during the last century as the human race extracted and burned unprecedented amounts of fossil fuels which contain the energy of the sun stored over millions of years.

So, the answer has to be to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Renewable energy development since the turn of the century has provided an alternative to traditional sources of energy such as coal, oil and gas. The costs of solar and wind technology, still in their relative infancy, are already on par with oil and coal. In 2011 Vermont set a goal of becoming 90% renewable over all types of energy use by 2050 and to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. Two years ago 189 countries, including the U.S., adopted the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce GHG emissions. Unfortunately, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of that agreement and instead has been encouraging more fossil fuel extraction. Vermont, along with hundreds of state and local governments, has resolved to continue working to achieve our own goals and those of the Paris agreement. So, how are we doing?

Sad to say, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources recently released the 2015 Greenhouse Gas Inventory and the numbers are disheartening. Instead of seeing a reduction of GHG emissions since 2011, the state has exceeded the 1990 baseline by 16%. The full report can be found at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation website.  While progress has been made in electrical energy generation, the largest GHG increases came in the transportation and heating fuel use components. The latter two components are where we need to concentrate our efforts going forward.  

Renewable electricity is now the cleanest source of energy in Vermont. Moreover, since no fossil fuel is sourced in Vermont, 80% of the cost of fossil fuels leaves the state.  It makes sense to transition as much of our energy used in transportation and heating to cleaner electric energy as we continue to develop in-state renewable electricity generation. This can be encouraged by factoring into the price of fossil fuels the social and economic costs of climate change. By putting a price on carbon pollution in a revenue-neutral way, Vermonters can actually benefit economically by driving and heating more cleanly. This is not a new idea and has been proposed by conservative leaders like George Schultz, Henry Paulson, and James Baker. In a June 20th op-ed in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/opinion/climate-change-fee-carbon-dioxide.html), former Senators Trent Lott (Republican) and John Breaux (Democrat) made the case for a climate change fee on carbon-based fuels. And Vermont would not be alone in adopting such a strategy.  In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill requiring the state to implement a carbon-pricing strategy by 2020. In Vermont legislators introduced a carbon-pricing proposal called the Economy Strengthening Strategic Energy EXchange (ESSEX) Plan that would channel revenues raised from the carbon fee to offset electricity costs.  To reduce the impact of the fees for low income and rural Vermonters, those consumers would get a greater share of the revenues.

It is well past the time to tackle this world-changing problem.  It is important to understand that we are not doing it alone and that we need to do our part.

Legislative Report 7/11/2018 - Session Epilogue


I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July and successfully survived the record-setting heat wave that accompanied the holiday. My final Legislative Report usually occurs in May. Last year, the veto session led me to write a report in June. This year, because of another budget veto, the special session of the legislature lasted until the last week of June before the budget controversy, which included two vetoes, was resolved. While still disagreeing with the fiscal policy of the legislature, which had been supported by many Republican lawmakers, Governor Scott allowed the final budget passed by the legislature to go into law without his signature. Because the Republican minority chose to uphold the Governor's vetoes rather than stand behind their original support for the budget, the special session required lawmakers on the Appropriations, Ways & Means, and Education committees to try to negotiate a compromise with the administration over several weeks. When those efforts failed in the House, the Senate Finance committee, with the unanimous support of the Senate, drafted language that incorporated essentially what the House had presented on its third attempt at compromise, but which had been again rejected by the administration. With the deadline approaching for a government shutdown on July 1, this version passed both the House and Senate giving the Governor 5 days to make a decision. Fortunately, he decided to let the budget become law without his signature rather than plunge the state into default.

While the legislature ultimately agreed to use about $30M of one-time (windfall) money to keep the residential property tax rate level and hold the non-residential rate to a 4.5 cent increase, the budget keeps Vermont on a fiscally responsible path. Revenue we can count on receiving annually is used to pay for ongoing expenses. Windfalls, like receipts from the recent tobacco settlement, are invested in paying down state debt and building our savings. This protects us from the uncertainty brewing in DC, the possibility of a recession, and ensures we can continue to make the kind of investments that support our working families.

Everyone is aware by now that the price of gasoline has increased about 50 cents/gallon during June and has remained around $3 per gallon since. In one of my reports back in January, I introduced the ESSEX (Economy Strengthening Strategic Energy EXchange) Plan, a proposal to put a price on carbon pollution to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and promote energy transformation. The plan was criticized for placing an additional burden on hard-working Vermonters. That proposal would have raised the price per gallon by 40 cents over 8 years at the rate of about 5 cents per gallon per year. 100% of the revenue raised would be returned to Vermonters as a credit on their electric bills with larger rebates aimed at low income and rural Vermonters. Now, prices have risen in a single month more than the maximum projected carbon tax, and that same amount, 40 cents, leaves the state into the pockets of the oil companies. Higher prices, whatever the cause, will probably reduce consumption. Unfortunately, the current increase will not provide any revenues to help Vermonters insulate their homes, convert to electric vehicles, or take other measures to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Perhaps we should send letters of protest to the CEOs of the oil companies. Do you think they would listen? Probably not; but, as always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com)