Legislative Report 2/21/2018 - Energy & Technology

The Energy & Technology Committee (E&T) on which I serve has three areas of responsibility over Vermont's infrastructure: energy, telecommunications, and information technology (IT). In the six weeks of this session, we've been pretty active in each of these areas.

The House has already passed two of our bills dealing with energy this session. H.410 extends Vermont's appliance efficiency standards. A similar bill enacted last year adopts the current federal appliance efficiency standards for Vermont if the current federal Environmental Protection Agency decides to rescind them. Those standards have saved consumers billions of dollars in energy costs and offset millions of tons of CO2 emissions. With H.410 Vermont will adopt additional standards for products like commercial kitchen items, air compressors, computers and computer monitors, and water appliances like faucets, showerheads and toilets. These include standards developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, those adopted by the Energy Star program and other industry standards that manufacturers have already adopted.

The second bill, H.616, authorizes the Burlington Electric Department to use the waste heat from the McNeil biomass electric generation facility for a district heat project that will pump hot water through highly efficient pipes to the UVM Medical Center, the UVM campus and the new Burlington Center redevelopment project. This project will not only increase the plant's efficiency but will offset greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuels used for heating.

E&T also voted to require that the Agency of Natural Resources use the $18.7M from the Volkswagen settlement solely for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and for conversion from fossil fuel vehicles to EVs as allowed under the terms of the settlement.

Again, two of our bills dealing with telecommunications were passed by the House. Both seek to get high speed broadband out to rural areas where population density is too low to justify private investment. H.581 specifies that Connectivity Initiative grants funded by the Vermont Universal Service Fund (USF) can only be used for new broadband infrastructure projects and not for ongoing operational expenses. H.582 would increase the USF fee from 2% today to 2.5% starting in 2018 and ending in 2022. While this will increase the cost of a $100 phone bill by 50 cents per month, it will raise $1.5M annually and will be allocated to the Connectivity Initiative to expand broadband in rural areas.

Information Technology
Last year the Agency of Digital Services (ADS) was created to consolidate the state government's IT infrastructure and services which were distributed throughout the agencies. Our committee has been reviewing the status of the reorganization and the IT projects the agency now oversees as well as the forward focus of the agency. To date, the reorganization is proceeding well with development personnel working in the same agencies and departments as before while reporting directly to ADS. The highest priority of ADS now is cybersecurity. In the last 12 months more than 4 million cyber attacks on state systems were detected. Plans are in place to partner with Norwich University to identify weaknesses and strengthen monitoring and remediation.

E&T has also been investigating steps the state can take to enforce net neutrality within our borders. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. The recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission to reverse Obama administration rules ensuring net neutrality puts content providers in the position of having to pay tolls to allow users to access their products thereby disadvantaging smaller content providers. While the Governor recently issued an executive order requiring state agencies and departments to write net neutrality into contracts with ISPs, E&T will continue investigating this subject in hopes of developing even stronger net neutrality rules for consumer protection.

As always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).

Legislative Report 2/8/2018 - Vision Reflects Values

The President's State of the Union address is a tradition of our democracy that allows the head of the executive branch of the government to express his vision for America. It usually addresses a broad range of issues at a high level and is short on detail. Whether or not you agree with what is said, at least you get a pretty good idea of where the speaker is coming from. This got me thinking about my own communications, so I thought I'd try to deliver my own vision of what I try to accomplish as I serve as your Representative in Montpelier.

Let me start by saying that, as wonderful as Vermont is, we all want to help make our state a better place to live, work and play. We want Vermont to be affordable, not just for those at the top of the income bracket, but for everyone. Every family should have the opportunity to thrive, to be able to earn a living wage. While our minimum wage is above average, I believe that it should continue to rise gradually over time until it becomes a livable wage. Likewise, no employee should have to worry about losing their pay or even their job if they have to take time off to care for a sick child or elderly parent. That is why I voted for paid family leave last year, a bill that is awaiting action in the Senate. For those who are stuck in low wage jobs, we need to continue to increase access to training, career and technical education so that every Vermonter has a fair shot at success.

We have a great education system, but the cost of education continues to place a heavy burden on property taxes. With the additional demands placed on our schools from addiction, mental illness, and poverty, great public schools in all our communities are more important than ever in giving all children a bright future. During this session we are proposing a system of education funding that is simpler, still progressive, still subject to local control, and that will significantly reduce property tax burdens. Nor can we forget about the need to support pre-K and post high school educational opportunities.

Another core value is healthy families in healthy communities. The cost of health insurance and housing are the biggest challenges faced by many Vermonters. While Republicans in Washington are dismantling the Affordable Care Act and cutting funding for Medicare and Medicaid we need to make health insurance more affordable and ensure that Vermonters have access to treatment without barriers for drug addiction and mental health. A key to maintaining individual health is affordable housing, We need to support affordable housing development in downtowns and in village centers that also provides access to jobs, shopping and public transportation.

Finally, we need a healthy environment. We can't put off efforts to clean our lakes and streams. We have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels which has become a major contributor to climate change. Extreme weather events as well as adverse health effects. Lyme disease, algae blooms, heat waves, and extreme cold are the result. We can't afford to do nothing,

These are some of the values that frame my work in the legislature. I hope that my work will lead to a better Vermont for us and for our children and grandchildren.

I'll end by reminding you that I will be hosting an informational forum on the topic of Pricing Carbon Pollution at the Charlotte Senior Center on Monday. February 12, at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.

As always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).