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 (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).  I expect the session to end the first or second week of May.  My website will remain active.