Legislative Report 5/16/2016 - End of Session Summary

As the final installment of my Legislative Reports this year, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the important work the Legislature did over the two years of the biennium.
Water Quality
In 2015 legislation was passed that will help prevent agricultural runoff from farms, roads and other impervious surfaces by controlling discharges that could violate our water quality standards. The Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) that all farms must follow are in the final stages of development and should be released in September, 2016. The Agency of Agriculture will provide technical and financial assistance to help farmers comply and there is funding in the budget to help towns comply with water treatment and road runoff mitigation.
Legislation was passed this year that will allow voluntary regional collaboration by municipalities around a range of services, including ambulance, solid waste, fire protection, and land use planning to achieve economies of scale. The law promotes transparency, local municipal voice, and treatment of municipalities as equal partners. The Legislature relaxed the requirement on how often municipal plans need to be updated from every five years to every eight years to allow more time for plan implementation. We also passed a bill that automatically registers eligible Vermonters to vote when they apply for a state driver’s license making it easier for our citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
Human Services
The Legislature continues to focus on efforts to keep our children safe. At the end of 2015, there were 1052 children in state custody placed in foster or adoptive foster homes or in foster homes of relatives. In the past two years, reports of child abuse and neglect have surged and the state has experienced an 82% increase in the number of children under six who are in the state’s custody. In 80% of these cases, families are struggling with problems related to opioid addiction or other serious substance abuse. In addition, the tragic death of a DCF social worker allegedly by a parent this past summer has continued to place our state’s child protection system under pressure. The number of case workers added last year has not kept pace with the increase in cases, and more social workers will be hired along with substance abuse screeners to address this ongoing problem. More is being done to address the opioid addiction problem as well, including treatment, education, prevention, and increased market-constraints such as increased fees on pharmaceutical manufactures to help fund mitigation programs. A key provision is a requirement for health care providers and pharmacists to register with the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System (VPMS) and to query the system upon prescribing or dispensing a controlled substance to help eliminate prescription fraud and the diversion of controlled substances.
Natural Resources & Energy
Over the past decade, Vermont has led the nation with its energy efficiency programs, lowering both electricity costs and rates. In 2015 the Renewable Energy Standard Act was passed which will eliminate the double-counting or Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and is helping Vermonters transform their energy use in the heating and transportation sectors. This year we recognized Vermonters’ concerns over the proper siting of solar and wind projects and passed legislation that will give municipalities a greater voice in these decisions if they develop energy plans to address the state’s goals for renewable energy in collaboration with their Regional Planning Commissions. We also required the Public Service Board to develop noise standards for wind projects in recognition of complaints about existing projects. We passed legislation this year that will preserve and maintain the health of Vermont’s forests, and we ensured that conservation easements that were always meant to be perpetual will continue to be so by removing the 40 year renewal requirement and ensuring that the easement remains with the property if a tax sale of the property occurs.
Working Vermonters
Legislation passed this year guarantees working Vermonters the right to earn paid sick leave up to three days per year, increasing to five days in subsequent years. We also increased subsidies for child care facilities to provide high-quality, affordable child care for working families. Because of Act 176 of 2014, the minimum wage in Vermont is $9.60/hour and is scheduled to increase to $10/hour on January 1, 2017. 
The Legislature continued to address the increasing cost of education by encouraging school district consolidation under Act 46 passed in 2015 and made some changes early in 2016 to address budgeting issues being faced by school boards. Several districts across the state have already voted to merge and more, including Chittenden South, are expected to vote in the next couple of months. Chittenden South will hold its vote on June 7th, and I encourage everyone in Charlotte to take the time to vote in person or by absentee ballot. You can find information about the proposal at act46.cssu.org. I strongly recommend reading the Final Report to inform your vote.
I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).  I wish you all a wonderful summer and hope to see you around town.

Legislative Report 5/2/2016 - Persistence Pays

If you’re old enough to remember the 80’s TV show “The A-Team”, you might remember what their leader, Hannibal Smith (George Peppard), used to say after a successful mission: “I love it when a plan comes together!” That’s how I felt last week when a bill that I’ve been working on for the last five years passed overwhelmingly.
Between my first and second years as State Rep, I was talking with Lambert Lussier, proprietor of Spear Street Mowers. He was telling me about a bill that Rep. Martha Heath had introduced a couple of years before that would have helped small equipment dealers like himself to obtain fair reimbursement for warranty work they had to perform under contract with their product distributors. Often he had to work on equipment that was purchased somewhere else, including big box stores. It was common for the manufacturer to set the reimbursement, usually below his normal labor rate, as well as dictate the amount of time expected to do the diagnosis and repair. I told him I’d try to help and introduced the bill the following session. Nothing happened to the bill, and I had to reintroduce it the following year in the new biennium. Working with the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association (NEDA), we pushed hard to get it through the House Commerce Committee. However, in the process the scope of the bill grew to include snowmobile and ATV dealers, and the manufacturers pushed back hard. Again, it failed to get out of committee.
I introduced the bill again in 2015 with a Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Harvey Smith of New Haven. Again there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in taking it up until three things happened. Last autumn, I invited the Chair of the Commerce Committee, Rep. Bill Botzow, to visit Charlotte, and I in turn visited his town of Pownal. One of the stops we made was to Spear Street Mowers. Lambert told his story and Bill promised that the warranty bill would be considered. Then, as the session approached, NEDA hired a good lobbyist to shepherd the bill through. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Rogers of Orleans County, and was taken up by the Senate Commerce and Economic Development Committee. Although the manufacturers pushed back and even tried to delay work on the bill, the Senate passed it as S.224. Since the House Commerce Committee was already familiar with it, they made some tweaks and passed it out unanimously, 11-0. It subsequently passed the House on a voice vote with no opposition. I expect the Senate to concur with the changes made by the House and send it to the Governor. This bill recognizes the value of Vermont's small equipment dealers to our local economies and agricultural communities and provides much needed protections for them as they negotiate contracts with large manufacturers who have the resources to dictate terms that can be detrimental to small dealers. I love it when a plan comes together - even if it does take five years!
On another note, the Charter language creating a two-step approval process for the town budget, which passed by an 1148 to 403 vote at Town Meeting in March, became House bill H.881. After testimony from myself, Selectboard Chair Lane Morrison, Town Meeting Solutions Committee member Lynne Jaunich, and Town Clerk Mary Mead via email, the House Government Operations Committee voted 9 to 1 for it, and it was subsequently passed by the House on a voice vote. It should get through the Senate before adjournment and then signed into law shortly afterward.
I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I will be running for re-election in the Democratic Primary on August 27th and hope that you will support me. I always welcome your thoughts and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).