The Effects of the Citizens United Decision

Here's a brief video that gives a good explanation of the adverse impact of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on American democracy.

Is Bank of America a Person?

According to the Supreme Court it is, the same as you and I are.

In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the Citizens United case, which essentially endowed corporations with personhood under the Constitution of the United States.  This gave corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money from their coffers to try to influence elections.  This ruling, combined with an earlier ruling that equated monetary expenditures in a political campaign to speech, directly threatens the concept of democracy, that is, rule by the people.

The founders of our nation guaranteed citizens the right to speak freely and voice their opinions in public forums.  This right was given to citizens.  They even looked critically on corporations, limiting their existence in the early years of our nation to 20 years.  This is no longer the case, and corporations, created through and governed by laws, can easily outlive generations of humans.

The Citizens United case slammed the door on provisions in the McCain-Feingold Act that limited the amount of corporate contributions to political campaigns. Granting a non-human entity created by law the same rights as human citizens runs contrary not only to the intent of the Constitution, which was written to protect citizens, but also to common sense.  This ruling effectively drowns out your voice and my voice and the voices of millions of people because the CEO of a corporation can now spend unlimited amounts of corporate cash to influence elections.

If you think this is a problem, you can have an opportunity at Town Meeting in March to register your disapproval.  Petitions are being circulated throughout Vermont to have a resolution on the agenda in as many towns a possible to urge Congress to pass an amendment to the Constitution to declare that corporations are not persons and that money is not speech.  You can find and sign this petition for Charlotte at the Old Brick Store, at Spear's Store, and at the library, Senior Center and Town Office.  You can also print, sign and circulate this petition here.  Then return it to the Town Clerk's office by January 6th.

Let's put Vermont on the record opposing corporate personhood and save our democracy from turning into a corporatocracy.

VT Public Service Commissioner Liz Miller Discusses Energy

Elizabeth Miller, Commissioner of Vermont Department of Public Service appeared with  Rep. Mike Yantachka, Chitt 1-2/ Assistant Treasurer, Chittenden County Democratic Committee, on the Chittenden County Democrats Show to discuss Vermont's energy future as outlined in the Comprehensove Energy Plan.  You can view this half-hour segment here.

Preview of 2012 Session

As we enter the holiday season, Vermont’s state legislators are getting ready for the 2012 session that will open on January 3rd.  While there are a number of issues that will have carried over from this year’s session, the extreme weather events of 2011 will be foremost on the agenda.

House and Senate members were called back to Montpelier on November 10th to hear reports on the status of the Hurricane Irene recovery effort, the Green Mountain Care health system planning, the economy and fiscal situation, and the Comprehensive Energy Plan.  The good news is that the repair of the damage done to state roads will cost a lot less than was originally expected, about $185M instead of $550M.  Also, for the first three quarters of the year state tax revenues were up.  Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders led the effort to restore disaster relief funding in the U.S. Senate, and Congressman Peter Welch organized a bi-partisan coalition in the House to do the same.  The result is that federal funding will reduce Vermont’s share of the restoration to about $40M.  However, the effect on municipal revenues as a result of tax abatements due to property losses compounded by the additional costs to local roads is considerable, and the loss of state tax revenues post-Irene has not yet been determined.  These are factors that we hope will be known by January.  In all probability we will have to budget for both spending cuts and revenue increases.

The 2011 session resulted in a number of significant pieces of legislation that have implications for 2012.  The Green Mountain Care Board has been meeting and is in the process of analyzing and mapping out a strategy that will be presented to the legislature in January.  The Energy Bill of 2011 required two reports, a state energy plan and a biomass evaluation report, to be completed and presented to the legislature by the end of the year.  The Department of Public Service has held hearings throughout the state on its draft Comprehensive Energy Plan.  It is now reviewing more than 2000 public comments that it received and will have the final report ready by January.  The non-governmental Biomass Energy Research Group has been analyzing the capacity of Vermont and nearby states for sustainable harvesting of low-grade biomass to be used as a source of renewable energy generation.  There have been three new biomass electric generation plants proposed for southern Vermont which will require legislative approval before they can be built.  Two plants, one in Ryegate and the McNeil plant in Burlington, have been operational for decades in northern Vermont.

I very much want to know what concerns and thoughts my constituents have, so I will be holding a general information session at the Town Office on Thursday, December 8, at 7:30 PM.  I invite you to attend and let me know what’s on your mind that the legislature needs to address.

If you can’t make the meetings, you can always reach me by phone (425-3960) or by email (

Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan Presentation Nov 30 in Charlotte

Transition Town Charlotte and the Charlotte Congregational Church are hosting a community conversation about Vermont's 20-Year Comprehensive Energy Plan with Representatives Bill Lippert and Mike Yantachka  on Wednesday, November 30, 7:00-9:00 pm, at the Charlotte Congregational Church (map).   The presentation material was developed by the Vermont Department of Public Service and can be found here:  For info contact Kathy Blume,, 802-233-5856.

Rep. Yantachka will also be hosting the Live@5:25 Chittenden County Democrats Show on Burlington's public access TV station CCTV Channel 17 on Monday December 5th at 5:25 PM.  His guest will be Department of Public Service Commissioner Liz Miller and the topic will be the CEP.  This call-in program can be streamed live at http://www.cctv​.org/watch-tv/l​ive-at-525.

State Treasurer Beth Pearce Discusses Vermont's Fiscal Situation

Vermont State Treasurer, Beth Pearce, recently appeared on the Chittenden County Democrats show on Burlington's public access TV, Channel 17, with Bob Hooper, Chair of the Chittenden County Democratic Committee, and Rep. Mike Yantachka (Chitt 1-2).  The segment can be viewed at

Hooper started the discussion by commenting that the state pension funds seem to be in good hands.  Treasurer Pearce described the status of the state's pension funds to be growing over the past two fiscal years despite the poor economic conditions.  They earned an interest rate of 18 and 20 percent in 2010 and 2011 respectively.  This fiscal year, which started on July 1st, has proven to be more volatile, but Vermont's pension funds are expected to be in the top five performing state pension funds in the nation.

Another topic that was addressed was the missing property database managed by the State Treasurer's office.  this database lists individuals and organizations that have been identified as having unclaimed property, either cash or objects, that have been turned over to the state.  These may be closed bank accounts, uncashed checks, or abandoned safe deposit boxes, for example, for which the owners could not be found.  Recently, additional proceeds from the John Hancock Life Insurance Company were identified as a result of a state audit, and the Treasurer's office has initiated an ad campaign urging people to check the website to see if their name appears.  Some states have reciprocal agreements, so newcomers to Vermont may find money that they have coming from when they lived in another state.

The Treasurer's office also sponsors a program called MoneySmart which helps parents talk about money to their kids to encourage good money habits.  Finally, Treasurer Pearce talked about the challenge facing lawmakers in the upcoming session to balance the budget in the face of repairing the damage caused by hurricane Irene.

The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan

Since the first Arab oil embargo in 1973, each succeeding decade has put more and more focus on how we use and generate energy.  Political, environmental and economic factors all play a part as we try to figure out how our energy demands will be met and how much it will cost.  During the 2010 session the legislature required by law that a plan be developed for Vermont’s energy future, taking us firmly into the 21st century with less reliance on fossil fuels.  Since January representatives from state agencies, environmental groups, utilities, agriculture, and private industry have been meeting to map out a strategic plan for the next 20 years that will get us there.  Their draft report consisting of two volumes has been released by the Department of Public Service entitled Comprehensive Energy Plan 2011 and is available for public comment until October 10th.

In the first volume of the CEP, the current status of Vermont’s energy consumption as well as future goals and strategies to achieve them are described.  The second volume describes in great detail the supporting analysis and the recommendations for implementing the plan. 

Our energy demands consist of electricity, heat, transportation and land use.  In satisfying these demands Vermont has already made strides in energy efficiency improvements (2% per year since 2008), and increased use of renewable energy sources including solar, biomass, wind and hydro for both heat and electricity generation.  Two-thirds of Vermont’s energy usage is for heating and transportation, depending almost entirely on fossil fuels. Approximately 50% of our electric supply and about 25% of Vermont’s total energy usage presently is from renewable sources.  Greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont have been reduced by 3% per year since 2004, but we are still well behind in reaching the current goal of 25% below 1990 levels by 2028.

The CEP sets a goal of achieving 90% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2050 which will provide these four key benefits: 1) foster economic security and independence by creating jobs, enhancing local economic activity and reducing total costs for Vermonters, 2) safeguard our environment through efficiency and conservation thereby providing an example to the nation and enhancing our Vermont brand, 3) drive in-state innovation and jobs creation through research and development and energy infrastructure development, and 4) increase community involvement and investment by supporting productive energy uses of our working landscapes including our farms, forests and fields.

This strategy for reaching this lofty goal of virtually eliminating Vermont’s reliance on oil by mid-century includes “moving toward enhanced efficiency measures, greater use of clean, renewable sources for electricity, heating, and transportation, and electric vehicle adoption, while increasing our use of natural gas and biofuel blends where nonrenewable fuels remain necessary.”  The implementation will take careful planning over an extended period “to ensure overall energy costs for our businesses and residents remain regionally competitive.”  Key elements of implementation will be greater use of both in-state and external hydropower, wind energy where feasible, sustainable biomass from farms and forests, solar generation, and geothermal systems.  The CEP also recognizes that the least expensive energy is energy that isn’t used; so conservation by thermal and electric efficiency improvements has to be increased at a faster rate than is currently being done.  Transportation concepts will also have to be transformed by greater use of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs) and hybrids as well as mass transportation and blended fuels.

As Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller states in the preface to the CEP, “we view this plan as the beginning of the conversation — not the end... [recognizing] that a successful plan must remain current and responsive to change. As progress is measured, we will revisit the goals set forth in this plan and adapt strategies to achieve our vision based upon experience."

This brief overview cannot do justice to the vision, thought and analysis contained in the CEP.  I hope it will stimulate you to take the time to read it yourself.  You can find it at along with a schedule of public forums for presentation and discussion of the plan.

Cleaning up after Irene

The costs of cleaning up Vermont after hurricane Irene are still being tallied, but we know they will be HUGE!  The road repairs alone are estimated at $700M.  And we won't know how much disaster relief we will get from the federal government because of the political environment in Washington -- this despite the fact that besides the dozen states affected by Irene, several more, including Texas, have had major damage due to wildfires.

The Vermont legislature will have a lot of work to do in January to make Vermont whole again.  However, that work has already started.  The House Appropriations Committee, as well as several other committees, is already working with the administration to map out a strategy.  Vermonters all over the state have already pitched in financially and with countless volunteer hours to help neighbors and strangers alike. has a fantastic, lengthy review of the work accomplished in the month since Irene hit Vermont.  We WILL get the job done!

Comments Wanted on Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan

The Vermont Department of Public Service released the draft Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) for the state and is now looking for input on it from Vermonters like you.

This plan, if done right, can provide critical guidance on how the state should pursue an efficient, clean and sustainable energy future. It’s a very broad plan: it touches not only on electricity but also on the energy we use to get around in our cars and trucks and how we heat our homes and businesses. It examines subjects as diverse as the economy and jobs, public transit, land use patterns, natural gas, geothermal energy, wind power, hydropower, and the use of our forests for biomass energy. The final plan is expected to be released in November.

You can read the plan by downloading it from

To comment on the plan you can file written comments by 5 p.m., Monday, October 10, 2011, or attend and speak at one of five public hearings scheduled around Vermont in the coming weeks.

To offer written comments, there are three choices:

The public hearings, which run from 7-9 p.m., nearest Charlotte are
  • September 27th – Middlebury High School (73 Charles Avenue)
  • October 3rd – Colchester High School (131 Laker Lane)

Other hearings around the state are posted on the website.

ANR Advice on Failed Septic Systems and Safe Drinking Water

Although Charlotte and Hinesburg have not been seriously impacted by flooding as a result of hurricane Irene, you may know someone who has been.  The information also applies to any failure of onsite septic systems.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has issued advice and guidance to homeowners who have experienced failures of their septic systems that you can pass along.  It is imperative in such cases to protect drinking water supplies.  The ANR press release can be found at
The press release also provides links for more information about drinking water safety and health concerns after a flood,, and flood clean up and mitigation, .

Vermont Fights Back from Irene

Ten days after hurricane Irene smashed into Vermont, our state is in the process of trying to rebuild.  While the Champlain Valley and northern Vermont was relatively unscathed, central and southern Vermont, the
A makeshift walking bridge allows access to Route 100.
- Photo by Lars Gange
heart of the Green Mountains, saw enormous amounts of destruction that will take months, and perhaps years to recover from.  Heavy rains that fell in just a few hours were funneled down mountains swelling streams and rivers until they became raging torrents overflowing banks and cutting new channels through roads, bridges, towns, farms, businesses, homes and peoples' lives.  Arial photos of the damage caused by hurricane Irene that were taken by Lars Gange & Mansfield Heliflight can be found at

As the flood waters receded from Brattleboro, Wilmington, Brandon, Waterbury, Richmond and so many other towns, neighbors and strangers alike immediately pitched in to start the cleanup and recovery.  National Guard troops from Vermont, New Hampshire and Illinois moved in with supplies by truck where possible and by helicopter where towns were cut off from land-access in every direction.  As of today more states from as far away as Ohio and South Carolina are sending in heavy equipment to help rebuild the hundreds of miles of destroyed roads before construction season ends in December.  President Barack Obama issued a federal disaster declaration for Chittenden, Rutland, Windsor, Washington and Windham counties so far, and assessors continue to work in Addison, Bennington and Orange counties.  FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after leaving Vermont one week before Irene struck, is back to assess and assist both businesses and homeowners who have been affected.

Thousands of volunteers have turned out to help in affected areas and thousands more have contributed to flood relief organizations like the Red Cross and the United Way.  Vermont's rock band Phish is returning for a benefit concert to help flood victims. Workers from the Vermont Agency of Transportation as well as municipalities are working overtime to restore roads, bridges and water systems.

Vermont is still Open for Business

Charlotte Village Winery, Greenbush Rd, Charlotte, VT

There is no question that Vermont's tourism industry will be affected by this event for some time to come.  However, it is important to get the word out that Vermont is still open for business, especially in the northern and western sections.  I-91 and
I-89 provide access from the east, and Route 7 and the Lake Champlain ferries provide access from the west.  Lake Champlain is still a recreational resource unsurpassed in grandeur and beauty.  From Basin Harbor to Burlington and Grand Isle, folks can still come for boating, fishing, camping, and biking.  Excellent restaurants and inns abound with wonderful settings for weddings as well as other celebrations.  The Inn at Charlotte is within a mile of Mt. Philo, Vermont's first state park, that offers panoramic views of the lake and the valley.  For those who appreciate the "finer things in life" there is no dearth of vineyards and micro-breweries, like the Charlotte Village Winery,  Shelburne Vineyard and Magic HatJay Peak in the north as well as the village of Stowe offer more recreational opportunities.  Fall foliage season is merely a month away and should be as beautiful as ever.  And when winter comes and the snow blows, Vermont will still provide the best skiing in the east.

Happy Labor Day!

Celebrating Labor Day this year carries mixed emotions as we see the continuing effects of hurricane Irene in central and southern Vermont.  Amidst the emotional and physical turmoil, though, we can see the truly important values being played out in the willingness of both neighbors and strangers to help those that have lost homes, possessions, businesses and crops.  The people of Vermont retain their positive attitude and dignity regardless of the situation.

Another very important value we hold is the dignity of the American worker.  Today we celebrate Labor Day in honor of all the men and women who have contributed to our great country's prosperity through their combined efforts.  I would like to share with you some thoughts from Jake Perkinson, the acting Chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, because I couldn't have said it better than this:

Sen. Bernie Sanders' Labor Day Rally

"For more than a century, the labor movement has fought for landmark worker protections and benefits.  Many of the values we champion as Democrats were born in the labor movement and we continue to be grateful for their activism and leadership on behalf of working Americans.  At a time when the Republican Party seems dedicated to dismantling not only these protections but the labor movement itself, we cannot let this gratitude go unexpressed.

Organized labor, like the Democratic Party, has fought on behalf of American workers for the minimum wage, fair hours, just overtime compensation, and paid vacation leave, so that we all have the opportunity to earn a living and have time to spend with our families.   The labor movement championed equal pay for women and child labor laws, protecting women and children from exploitation.  They fought for healthcare benefits, paid sick leave, workplace health and safety regulations, and workers’ compensation, so that American workers can take care of themselves, do their jobs safely and are protected against loss of earnings if they are injured at work.  With our economy still recovering, we cannot forget that it was the labor movement that pushed for unemployment benefits and pensions to protect American families in times of economic uncertainty and allow American workers to retire. We must not take their hard work for granted!"

Sen. Sanders' Labor Day Rally
In many ways the economic situation we face today in America is similar to that a hundred years ago.  Wealth is being concentrated more and more at the top while those at the bottom of the economic spectrum continue to struggle.  What was once a robust middle class has been decimated  by lost jobs, forclosures, discrimination based on age, race and even unemployment status!  There are those who blame unions and government for the economic downturn, when the real causes have been the export not of products but of production itself from this country; when workers have been squeezed more and more by loss of benefits when they are "lucky" enough to have a job; when the very cuts that are being called for prevent government from exercising its role  as a protector of our clean environment, our food and drug safety, and the security of our financial institutions.

This Labor Day we should all unite to support the right of Americans to work and demand that government at all levels take the steps to break the economic stagnation we find ourselves in.  The opportunities abound to rebuild our infrastructure, encourage research and development and bring jobs  back to the United States!

Let's make this Labor Day the beginning of a new day for America!

Changes Proposed for Charlotte’s Senatorial Representation

If the proposal by the Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB) gains final approval by the legislature in 2012, Charlotte will become part of the Addison County Senate district.  In fact, the six member Chittenden County Senate district will be broken into four Senate districts with two members each. 

This Chittenden County senatorial district is currently the largest in the state, and the idea of breaking it up into several smaller districts had been discussed in earlier reapportionments.  Political considerations never allowed such a breakup to get past the discussion stage.  However, population changes in the last decade have renewed interest in breaking Chittenden County into several more manageable districts. 

The 2010 Census counted 625,741 people living in Vermont, and since there are 30 senators, this means each senator should “ideally” represent 20,858 residents.  According to LAB Chair Tom Little, “The Vermont Constitution also directs that in setting the Senate district lines we should adhere to county boundaries.  (Yet Washington and Windsor Counties are the only Senate districts where the county lines and the district lines are the same.)”  Furthermore, the increase in the population of Chittenden County would add one more member to the district. 

The Chittenden County town of Colchester is presently part of the Grand Isle senatorial district which has one senator, Dick Mazza.  Included in the LAB proposal is expansion of the Grand Isle Chittenden district to include Milton and Georgia (Franklin County) to make a two member district.  The Chittenden Central senatorial district would consist of the city of Burlington; the Chittenden West senatorial district would include Winooski, South Burlington, Shelburne, Williston and Saint George; and the Chittenden East senatorial district would include Westford, Essex, Underhill, Jericho, Richmond, Bolton, Hinesburg and Huntington.  Each would be a two member district. 

So, how did Charlotte end up in the Addison County senatorial district?  Little said that various configurations were considered such as moving Bolton into the Washington County district or putting Hinesburg with Addison.  However, in order to satisfy the criterion for maximum deviations from the ideal population size, putting Charlotte into the Addison district seemed to make the most sense to the LAB members.

It is worth noting that two other minority configurations were proposed to the LAB, one by Progressive Party member Meg Brook, who proposed eleven large districts, and one by Republican Neil Lunderville, who proposed 30 single member districts.  The proposal approved by the LAB on a 4-2 vote consists of 16 mostly two member districts.

The final redistricting proposals for both the House and Senate have been delivered to the respective House and Senate committees, which will begin reviewing them in September.  Those committees will approve or modify the proposals.  The Senate will have the final say on its redistricting proposal.  However, any committee modifications to the House redistricting plan will get one more review by affected Boards of Civil Authority which, with some restrictions, will have the final say.  As I wrote in my June report, Charlotte will retain its single House seat and will be a district unto itself.  The two slices of Hinesburg that are currently part of the district will be rejoined to the Hinesburg district. 

More information, maps and details can be had at the LAB’s website:

Legislative Report - Energy Assurance Exercise - 7/11/2011

A few weeks ago, at the same time Vermont was experiencing its own weather emergency, I was privileged to take part as a member of the Vermont legislature in the Northeast Regional Energy Assurance Exercise along with two members of the Vermont Department of Public Service and a representative of the Vermont Emergency Management Agency. 

The conference was organized by the U.S. Department of Energy to review and apply state emergency management plans to ensure the availibility of energy resources during crisis events.  Twelve states participated, sending representatives from state government and energy related industry groups.  Federal government representatives from the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, Transportation, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Argonne National Laboratories also attended. 

Prior to the exercise, participants were provided with a descriptive scenario setting up the conditions for the exercise that would develop over a day and a half.   In this imaginary scenario, a major oil refinery in the Virgin Islands had been shut down by the first hurricane of the season.  A second hurricane, Bret, had just made landfall in North Carolina and had taken out power to 5 million residents of NC and SC.  Gasoline shortages had caused the price of diesel fuel to approach $5/gallon causing an independent truckers’ strike in the south.  In preparation for the exercise, each state’s Energy Assurance Coordinator was asked to summarize their state’s emergency management plans with respect to a set of questions that would be considered at the conference.

Three extraordinary event scenarios were considered as part of the exercise, each building on the preceding scenario.  The first scenario projected hurricane Bret to continue moving up the east coast.  After NOAA and the U.S. Energy department gave a detailed description of the scenario, the attendees were divided by states into six discussion groups in which interdependencies, responsibilities and responses to the scenario were considered, including wide area power disruptions, seaport closures, fuel transport disruptions, and the ripple effects induced by those conditions.  Participants discussed their evaluation of the resulting impacts and their proposed responses.

The second scenario built on the first one.  In this scenario, a geomagnetic solar storm had been detected and was heading toward earth.  Lead time from detection to impingement on earth’s atmosphere for this type of solar weather is between 20 and 90 hours.  NOAA and Argonne Labs scientists briefed the conference on the potential effects on telecommunications and power distribution.  Not only would satellite-based communications be affected, but airline travel, rail travel, manufacturing, and cellular communications could be as well.  Ground-induced currents could literally fry the huge transformers used by utilities for power distribution.  Current fluctuations in lines could also develop that could impact electronic devices.   

The third scenario was the extension of the truckers’ strike nationwide to demand suspension of state taxes on gasoline.  The obvious effect of fuel delivery disruptions was further exacerbated by the blockading of bridges and tunnels by the truckers.  Other impacts on construction, food transport and spoilage, and agriculture were also considered.

The exercise included a lot of discussion, brainstorming and reassessment of current emergency plans.  The exchange of ideas among the states provided valuable insights for all the participants.  Each state delegation was assigned the task of developing an after-action report that includes lessons learned and proposed changes to their plans, and I expect to be involved in these discussions as well in the coming weeks.  With effective planning, Vermont will be ready to handle and recover from a wide variety of possible emergencies.

Legislative Report - Redistricting - 6/11/2011

As happens every 10 years following the United States Census, legislative districts are being reviewed and modified as needed to reflect the principle of “one man, one vote”.  This concept means that each legislator represents approximately the same number of people.  A Legislative Apportionment Board consisting of two Democrats, two Republicans, two Progressives and a chair have been appointed by the Governor to review the current district map and modify it based on changes in population. 

The 2010 Census counted 625,741 people living in Vermont, and since there are 150 legislators in the Vermont House, this means the “ideal” House district would have 4172 residents.  Moreover, each district should conform to three standards to the extent possible:
 (1) preservation of existing political subdivision lines;
 (2) recognition and maintenance of patterns of geography, social interaction, trade, political ties and common interests; and
 (3) use of compact and contiguous territory.
Of course, it is pretty unlikely that any district would have exactly 4172 residents, so Vermont law also allows some deviation from this number.  A deviation of up to 10% is generally considered acceptable.  Also, boundaries can be drawn so that a House district can have two legislators representing approximately 8344 residents.  No district can have more than two legislators, however.

The current reapportionment board considered two methods of district modification.  One was to keep the current districts and modify the boundaries as necessary to add or subtract residents.  The other was to create 150 single-member districts conforming as much as possible to the legal criteria.  The latter approach won out on a vote of 4 to 3.

The final word is not in, however, since the plan has to be reviewed by local Boards of Civil Authority of the municipalities that have boundary changes, and the BCAs can recommend changes to the proposal.  Finally, the Vermont legislature can change the district map before it is voted into law.  It is the latter step that has political implications since several current 2-member districts are represented by legislators that live within the same, new, single-member district, in which case one would lose his or her seat in the next election.

So, what are the implications for Charlotte and Hinesburg?  It turns out that there would be very little change.  The Chittenden 1-1 district consists solely of Hinesburg minus 2 small segments that together with the entire town of Charlotte make up Chittenden 1-2, which I represent.  Based on the plan approved by the Reapportionment Board, Charlotte would become its own district and Hinesburg would reabsorb the segments that were part of 1-2.  Charlotte’s population of 3754 residents would deviate from the ideal district by almost exactly 10%.  Hinesburg’s population of 4396 would deviate from the ideal by about 5%.  Regardless of any subsequent changes to the redistricting map, these two districts would probably remain as proposed pending the approval of the Boards of Civil Authority of both towns and the legislature.

On another note, on Tuesday, June 21st, the Republican and Democratic Town Committees of Shelburne will host a forum with Vermont House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche (D) and Vermont House Minority Leader Donald Turner (R), who will each present their synopses of the last legislative session and their visions for the next session.  The forum starts at at the Shelburne Town Offices and is open to the public.

Legislative Report - 5/15/2011

The 2011 legislative session has ended, and I would like to share with you my thoughts about my experience as a freshman legislator.  While I had a general idea of how the legislature works, I was surprised at how much of the work is done off the floor of the House. 90% of the work gets done in the 14 committees of the House.  Since each representative is assigned to only one committee, I found that it is a lot like being in a castle with only a single, narrow window to look out of.  Although every bill is announced on the floor as it is assigned to a committee, it is virtually impossible to know what they all contain, which ones will actually come out of committee, and how much they’ll change if they do get voted out.

House Natural Resources & Energy Committee
Front: Sarah Edwards, Bill Canfield, Mark Mitchell,
Margaret Cheney, Betty Nuovo, Rebecca Ellis. 
Back: Mike Yantachka, Kurt Wright, Tony Klein,
Michael Hebert, Tim Jerman

Two things helped me deal with this situation.  One was getting to know at least one or two people on each committee that I could go to if I had a question about a particular bill.  The other was the caucus system where each party’s members met regularly to share information on key legislation and which provided weekly written summaries of committee work.  From a personal standpoint I found that many issues which seemed cut and dried to me at the start had multiple facets that had to be considered before they could be dealt with effectively. 

For example, promoting alternative energy development to reduce fossil fuel consumption and create jobs is a laudable goal.  However, it has to be done in a way that will minimize increases in electric rates so that we don’t lose more jobs than are created.  It also has to provide enough of an incentive to maintain the jobs that have already been created.  Another example is the goal of providing universal access to affordable health care.  We started with the Governor’s proposal of a single payer system that covers all Vermonters.  However, the Health Committee determined that the complexity of the health care system requires a great deal of analysis to ensure that providers are fairly compensated, that costs are managed carefully, that it interacts properly with existing programs like Medicare, retirement health insurance programs, and self-insurance programs of employers.  This will definitely modify the original concept to account for all these variables.

The philosophy that government has a responsibility to provide opportunities for individuals to become productive citizens in a growing economy, a vibrant community, and a healthy environment is shared by most of my colleagues in the House.  Education, mental health services, environmental regulations, law enforcement, infrastructure, and commercial development are all parts of the complex puzzle that are vital to today’s societal structure.  Accomplishing these goals while managing a projected $176 million revenue shortfall was a daunting challenge, but this legislature managed to do it.  As a result, we had to accept more cuts to those essential programs than we wanted to, although not as much as were originally proposed. 

A lot has been accomplished during this legislative session, and I am proud to have been a part of it.  I refer you to the May 15th issue of the Burlington Free Press for an excellent summary of all the legislation that was passed as well as some that was held until we go back in January, 2012.  Throughout this session I have tried to keep the lines of communication open between you, my constituents, and me.  I hope these columns have kept you informed.  I will continue to welcome your input by phone (425-3960) or by email (

State Roads Update - 5/4/2011

For Immediate Release  
Contact:  Sue Minter  802-828-2657
May 4, 2011
State Roads Update:
VTrans Working To Keep Roads Safe

The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is working to stay ahead of the weather to keep roads open and safe for the travelling public. Lake Champlain has reached historic levels following continued precipitation throughout April and melting snow pack from the very snowy winter, and numerous rivers and streams are at flood level across the state. VTrans has maximized its resources to shore up roads wherever possible, and implement detours where needed, in order to keep the travelling public safe.

In an effort to keep the public aware of the road conditions across the state, the Agency of Transportation reports the following state road conditions across Vermont (note that this report does not cover the status of town roads):

State Road Closures:

Route 129 in Isle La Motte, (just ahead of
West Shore Road
) is closed due to water over the roadway and possible culvert damage. Motorists are advised to avoid this section of roadway.

Route 36 in St. Albans, between
Georgia Shore Road
Bronson Road
(1 mile west of St. Albans) is closed due to flooding. Motorists are advised to avoid this section of roadway.

Route 125 near Chimney Point between Route 17 and
Town Line Road
is closed approximately 13 miles west of Middlebury. Route 17 remains open following VTrans’ action to add fill to flooded areas.

Maid Stone State Highway
is closed due to flooding. Motorists are advised to avoid this section of roadway.

Route 73 in Brandon, along the Otter Creek is closed. Motorists are advised to avoid this section of roadway.

Smugglers Notch, Jeffersonville to Stowe, remains closed, weather pending.

Areas of Ongoing Concern:

With continued precipitation, VTrans, in association with Vermont Emergency Management, continues to monitor several problem areas, particularly roads along Lake Champlain and swollen rivers. These roads are not currently closed but may be reduced to one-lane traffic.

I-89 South bound in Milton will be one-lane traffic due to instability of the right lane.

Route 2 Causeway (Milton) is open to traffic.  VTrans is working to keep this road open with gravel and stone.  Road may be reduced to one-lane travel to accommodate VTrans activities. Motorists advised to proceed with caution.

Route 2 in Alburg, between routes 78 and 129, Wagner Point. Some water in the road but both lanes are open. Motorists are advised to reduce speed and exercise caution.

Route 118 between Montgomery and Belvidere. There are multiple locations (on 118) that are reduced to one-lane traffic due to slope slides. These are extended events that will last until further notice.

Route 122 in Lyndon, between the Interstate and
Wheelock Road
. One-lane traffic due to slope failure. This will be an extended event that will last until further notice.

Route 114 between Canaan and Island Pond, through Norton. Motorists will experience several single-lane areas due to multiple slope failures.

For more information please call 802-828-2648 () or 211 (Vermont Emergency Management). Road condition information is also found at: This site is updated throughout the day between the hours of .

Legislative Report - 5/1/11

The 2011 legislative session is within a few days of ending.  We are anticipating a May 7th adjournment.  Bills passed by the Senate have been presented in the House, and have been either amended or adopted.  Those that were adopted without changes are sent on to Governor Shumlin for his signature, and those that were amended are assigned to a conference committee to work out the differences before being re-presented to both bodies with no further possibility of amendment for either approval or rejection.  This process has been mirrored in the Senate for bills that originated in the House.

A bill that directly affects Charlotte is H.298, which standardizes ballots used for statewide elections.  One of the provisions of H.298 requires towns with more than 1000 registered voters (Charlotte has around 2900) to use vote tabulating machines for statewide races in general elections.  These would be the November elections in even-numbered years that have races for Congress, Governor, etc.  Federal money from the “Help America Vote Act” would pay for the machines, for their annual maintenance, and for half the cost of programming them for an election.  Considering Charlotte’s record of rejecting vote tabulating machines in favor of hand-counting ballots, and upon the recommendation of the Selectboard and our Town Clerk, I introduced an amendment to allow a town to opt out of using the machines if the town’s Board of Civil Authority votes to do so.   The amendment was defeated 128 to 10 and the bill was passed and sent on to the Senate.  If it is enacted into law, the machines will be used in the 2014 election.

Another bill which is of interest to many Charlotte residents is the Propane Fees bill (H.185). This bill prohibits: 1) the imposition of a minimum usage fee for propane that is not actually delivered to a consumer, 2) requiring a consumer to purchase a minimum number of gallons of propane per year except as part of a guaranteed price plan that meets certain requirements, and 3) any charge for removing a propane tank that a consumer has had for over a year.  Furthermore, if a consumer has received propane service from the seller for less than 12 months, any fee related to termination of service may not exceed the disclosed price of labor and materials.  This bill passed the House and is currently in the Senate Finance Committee.

Other bills that are a high priority include the Tax bill, the Transportation bill, the Health Care bill, the Energy bill, and S.78, the Telecommunications bill.  The version of the tax bill passed by the Senate last week contains seven amendments to the House version, including an increase in the cigarette tax of 53 cents compared to the House’s 27 cent increase.   The Senate version of the Energy bill combines with few changes three bills which passed the House: the Energy bill, the PACE bill, and the CEDF bill, all of which I wrote about in earlier reports.  The Telecommunications bill will take Vermont forward in establishing a statewide broadband network for internet access as well as make improvements in cell phone service.

This session cannot end until the Appropriations bill, which sets the 2012 budget, is passed by both the House and Senate.  This bill, known as “The Big Bill”, passed the Senate with only one dissenting vote and resolves a $176 million budget gap with the largest cuts to human services.  If tax revenues between now and the end of the year come in higher than expected, some of the cuts may be restored by the budget adjustment bill next January. 

I welcome your input by phone (425-3960) or by email (

Legislative Report - 4/17/11

In the last report, I wrote about the Health Care bill, H.202, and mentioned a forum that was held in Shelburne on April 5th.  That forum was attended by around 100 people, including many Charlotters.  It was reported in the Burlington Free Press as well as in the Shelburne News, both of which can be found online.  I thought it would be a good idea to review some of the other important legislation that was passed by the House in the last few weeks. 

The Appropriations bill (H.441) establishes the $4.7 billion balanced budget that Vermont will follow for FY12.  The Appropriations Committee reviewed reams of documents designed to help them understand what the requested money is for, how each agency is meeting its outcomes and goals in the present year and for next year, and how they plan to meet those outcomes with less money and still carry out their mission. This year, after several years of budget reductions, the loss of Federal stimulus money, and continued caution regarding the pace of Vermont's own economic recovery, agencies had to state that in many cases, the level of service they provide to Vermonters would be reduced.  If revenues improve, some of the cuts may be restored in next year’s budget adjustment bill. 

The Transportation bill (H.443) has at its core the generation and distribution of nearly $553 million of transportation funds. The towns are supported strongly within this budget, and it includes a municipal sidewalk grant program.  The policy section of the bill also includes clearing the budget book of some expired bridge and road projects based on input from Towns, Regional Planning Commissions and VTrans.  No bonding was included in the 2012 fiscal plan. However, authorization to bond was approved if a federal grant is awarded for the Western Rail Corridor improvements.

The Hospice and Palliative Care bill (H.201) also passed.  It encourages, but does not mandate, health insurers to provide coverage for a terminal care program and an “enhanced hospice access” benefit where members may access hospice care without being required to first discontinue curative therapies.  A national insurance company has found that such coverage saves them money. Vermont will apply for a waiver so that such coverage could be available to recipients of our State health care programs and allow individuals who have been admitted to hospice to apply for the Choices for Care program as well, which helps pay for in-home services.

A bill (H.42) prohibiting the use of credit reports and credit history in most employment decisions was passed last week.  It strikes a balance between reducing arbitrary barriers to employment for Vermont workers and addressing the screening needs of employers in certain circumstances.

A provision of the Vermont Energy Bill of 2011 (H.56) that financed the Clean Energy Development Fund through a 55-cent monthly electric fee was deleted at the last minute before the bill was passed.  Instead, an alternative suggested by the Shumlin administration that would free up some CEDF money that is currently committed to commercial solar tax credits was approved. It would allow those companies qualified to take the tax credits the option of accepting an up-front grant worth 50% of their projected tax credits.  The amount of funds that would be freed up is expected to equal roughly the amount that would have been raised through the 55-cent monthly fee.  A little more than $2 million, this amount is enough to keep vital, job-supporting CEDF grants going for another year.

I will not be holding any more “Representative Meetups” this legislative session, however, I welcome your input by phone (425-3960) or by email (  I expect the session to end the first or second week of May.  My website will remain active.

Legislative Report - 4/3/2011

Bills have moved quickly during the last two weeks through the Vermont House, including passage of some very important bills: a Hospice and Palliative Care bill, the Miscellaneous Tax bill, the Appropriations bill, the Transportation bill, the Capital Construction bill, and the Unified Health System bill, the last being probably the most controversial of all.  Because of its importance, and because there are so many misconceptions floating around abut it, I will devote this report entirely to H.202, the Unified Health System bill.

When the bill was introduced at the beginning of the session, it was given the title, “An act relating to a single-payer and unified health system.”   The Health Committee spent weeks taking testimony from many different stakeholders in order to gain as many perspectives as possible.  After a lot of revising, the resulting bill was brought to the floor and debated for 18 hours over two days before it was passed on March 24th.

H.202 is the beginning of an process to provide health coverage for all Vermonters.  It will do 3 things:
1) create a Health Care Exchange, which will set standards for health coverage and allow Vermonters to compare and choose an insurance plan from the various plans being offered in Vermont;
2) create the Green Mountain Care Board which will set goals for universal coverage including primary, preventative, chronic and acute care, and will determine the costs of providing that care, and develop methods for controlling costs and funding the health care system, and will report its findings to the legislature; and
3) create the Green Mountain Care program, which will eventually, after the details have been worked out, provide health benefits to all Vermonters. 

The legislature will have to vote in subsequent years to accept the findings and to move to the next phase if warranted.  The last phase would be to approve the funding to implement the plan and start enrolling Vermonters, and this would not happen before 2015.  At each step, the legislature has the option of exiting this strategy.  H.202 does not go all the way in getting the job done because it basically sets the stage for designing the system in a rational manner. 

Some may ask why the Green Mountain Care program is included in the bill if it won’t be needed for several years.  There are several reasons including:
·         if we are serious about reform, we need to make a commitment to it;
·         we are more likely to be successful if we provide clarity about the direction we want to go;
·         it is easier to explore and receive federal waivers if we have a commitment in statute.

Finally, it is important to clarify what the bill does NOT do.  It does not include a payroll tax; the method of financing will be determined during the planning phase.  Nor will it supplant Medicare or employer retirement health plans, but will be secondary to them.  

By the time this article is published, a forum on H.202 will have been held in Shelburne.  I tried to get the word out via the Front Porch Forum, my website, emails, and posters.  If you were not able to attend, there are plans to hold a similar forum in Hinesburg in the coming weeks.  Keep an eye on this website for a notice.  You may also find answers to some frequently asked questions here.