2013 Legislative Town Meeting Report - 3/5/2013

Since the 2013 session of the Vermont Legislature began on January 9th, all committees have been busy working on legislation that will keep Vermont moving forward despite the turmoil in Washington and the continuing challenge of a slow economic recovery.  We are responding to this challenge keeping in mind not only the burdens of taxation but also the financial struggles facing hard working families, the threats to our environment posed by climate change, and the desire to ensure that Vermont is a great place to live and to do business.  Here are some of the results of our work so far.

The Budget

The House passed the Budget Adjustment bill in January to address a shortfall of $25M based on actual versus projected revenues and expenditures since July.  Most of the changes are in response to the reduced revenues and increased spending resulting from the slow recovery from the recession.  For the past month, the Appropriations Committee has been working on the FY14 budget. Fiscal pressures continue to be felt in every committee as the legislature tries to maintain programs vital to Vermont’s people, environment and economy.  This work is expected to extend to near the end of the session in May.

Health Care

The Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare, requires all individuals to be covered by health insurance starting January 1, 2014.  Each state is required to established a “health care exchange” that will help individuals and families purchase insurance with federal subsidies. Vermont’s individuals, families and small businesses will have access to a new insurance marketplace called Vermont Health Connect starting in October of this year that will allow them to make apples-to-apples comparisons of their health coverage options. It will serve as the place where they can access the tax credits to help pay their health care premiums. Information packets on how Vermont Health Connect will work can be found today at my Town Meeting table and can also be found at http://healthconnect.vermont.gov/sites/hcexchange/files/Town%20Meeting%20Day%20Informational%20Packet.pdf.

In 2017 the federal government will allow states to apply for a waiver from the Affordable Care Act exchanges that would allow Vermont to create a universal health care system. Once this system is in place, Vermont could save $500 million per year compared to our current system. In order to embark on a new health system, Vermont needs to do more work to be sure our health care is affordable, offers high quality and contains growth. The Green Mountain Care Board continues to work with health care providers on quality and cost containment initiatives to make Vermont's health care delivery system the most efficient and highest quality in the nation.

Energy and Environment

Most Vermonters heat their homes with oil and other fossil fuels. This leaves us vulnerable to constant price increases, feeds our greenhouse gas emissions, and makes our homes less and less affordable.  House bill H.216 aims to improve the thermal efficiency of our leaky housing stock. It bolsters low-income weatherization, takes steps to keep the price of oil as low as possible for people who receive heating assistance, and streamlines services for higher-income Vermonters who can more easily finance their retrofits. As the pace of home improvement picks up, we also anticipate local job growth for contractors, auditors, and other heating professionals. 
Leftover paint is considered a household hazardous waste.  The Chittenden Solid Waste District has a paint recycling program that is very effective, but other parts of Vermont do not.  House bill H.262 will establish a paint stewardship plan for the collection, reuse, and recycling of paint in Vermont.  This bill has been developed with the cooperation of the American Coatings Association representing paint manufacturers, Vermont’s solid waste districts, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.  The cost of the stewardship program will be borne by the paint manufacturers and will fund collection centers that will be conveniently located throughout the state.


A safe and efficient transportation system is integral to our economy and quality of life.  Vermont’s roads, bridges, airways, railways, and transit systems have served this need. A perfect storm of considerable pressures are bearing down on our transportation system due to increasing costs, crumbling, aging structures, decreasing state revenue, climate change with increasingly dramatic weather events, and the uncertainty around federal assistance. The need for increased revenues comes at a time when Vermont and the nation is emerging from a deep recession.  Balancing these pressures is what Vermont leaders are weighing as we consider options for transportation funding. The impacts and consequences of a system in disrepair are vast, affecting the lives of every Vermonter.  The Legislature is exploring several options to invest in the health of a system that is integral to our prosperity and well-being.

Combatting Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Crime

Several committees are studying aspects of drug abuse and its consequences and looking for potential solutions. House bill H.331 is one effort to create a systemic response to the problem of opioid addiction. It will work to maximize the effectiveness and appropriate utilization of the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System (VPMS) while still protecting the privacy of individuals who appropriately use medications.

The State is beginning to implement a “Hub and Spoke” System to provide care for Vermonters with addictions. A Hub is a specialty treatment center and a Spoke is the ongoing care system comprised of physicians and other addictions professionals, including counselors. One “Hub and Spoke” System in Chittenden County is in operation and others will begin operation in the near future. There are plans for five systems in the state.

Drug abuse also fuels property crime in Vermont. Ensuring public safety in our communities is a high priority for the legislature.  Home and vehicle break-ins are occurring at a high rate, in large part fueled by opiate addiction.  The spoils of these illegal activities are easily converted to cash at many places around the state.  Some precious metal dealers who are not complying with the retention period are prompting discussion of increasing penalties as well as increasing the retention period. House bill H.202 which I have co-sponsored seeks to address this problem.

Methamphetamine use does not appear to be as large a drug problem as prescription drug abuse. However, the degree of violence in combination with the highly addictive qualities associated with meth use prompts a more detailed review of state policies.  The Judiciary Committee is considering a proposal that would require pharmacists to check a real-time database to ensure that people have not already purchased meth ingredients at another pharmacy in the state within a 30-day period.

Pension Forfeiture

Public employees must not betray the trust placed in them by the public.  If this trust is broken, there is a mechanism that may be used to make taxpayers “whole” and restore the public trust.
House Government Operations and House Judiciary worked on House bill H.41 defining the consequences for a public employee convicted of financially-related felonies.  In addition to a jail sentence, the public employee’s retirement benefits may be subject to forfeiture, “in whole or in part.” The House passed this bill in February and sent it to the Senate.