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 (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).

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: 511vt.com. 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 (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).