Legislative Report 3/19/2020 - Vermont COVID-19 Ongoing Response

The ubiquitous news regarding the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to pervade our consciousness.  The Vermont Department of Health, Vermont Emergency Management, and the various health care providers around the state continue to take steps to monitor the situation and adopt a coordinated response. Vermonters are advised to keep abreast of the Health Department's status reports at https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/infectious-disease/2019-novel-coronavirus or dial 2-1-1.  My earlier report on the initial Vermont response can be found at https://www.mikeyantachka.com/2020/03/the-word-in-house-3122020-vermont.html.

I am writing this a day after the Vermont General Assembly adjourned for a one-week hiatus to essentially “distance” members from the Statehouse out of concern that business-as-usual might increase chances for spreading the virus. It is also a day after a state of emergency was declared at both the national and state levels by President Trump and Governor Scott respectively. In order to expedite action on legislation responding to the crisis, three House committees, Commerce and Economic Development, Health Care, and Human Services, worked on amendments to existing bills in order to vote on a COVID-19 response package by the end of the week. As Governor Scott was holding a press conference announcing his declaration, the Vermont House passed two bills and a resolution to provide some economic relief to Vermont employers and employees impacted by the virus and to our health care providers.

An amendment to H.681, a bill dealing with employment insurance, will hold employers harmless from unemployment insurance rate increases if an employee voluntarily leaves to care for a family member diagnosed with COVID-19 or if the employer must cease operations at the request of a health official or voluntarily if workers were exposed to COVID-19 at the workplace. The affected employee(s) must be rehired by the employer when the employer resumes operations or when the individual has completed quarantine. Help for employees is also included. Employees who leave employment voluntarily do not normally qualify for unemployment compensation. However, an employee who leaves to care for a family member diagnosed with COVID-19 will be eligible for unemployment compensation.  Because of the legislature’s care in past years to build up the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, money is available to provide this relief.

The House also amended H.742, a bill to fund training of Emergency Medical Personnel, to assist health care providers during the COVID-19 emergency.  During the state of emergency, in order to preserve the ability of providers to continue to operate, the Secretary of Human services is authorized to waive, modify or postpone the provider tax assessed on hospitals, clinics and others provided that the Secretary obtain the approval of the Joint Fiscal Committee and, if necessary, the Emergency Board. If the normal operation of health care, long term care, home- and community-based, and childcare services are impacted because patients or clients are not seeking services due to the virus, the Agency is authorized to provide payments to sustain the services and enable continued operation during the emergency. In addition, the bill provides for issuing temporary licenses to retired medical professionals or those with valid licenses from other states to join the workforce to supplement the potential loss of workers due to the virus.

Finally, a resolution was passed urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to suspend implementation of the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Rule that revokes the valid immigration status of individuals receiving public assistance.  It also urges the Department to refrain from arresting individuals at hospitals, health care facilities, or coronavirus testing sites for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and to issue a statement to that effect. This is a necessary step to encourage persons, regardless of immigration status, to seek necessary care that will help control the spread of the virus.

When the General Assembly reconvenes, this COVID-19 package can be acted on quickly by the Senate. Additional details about any forthcoming relief from the federal government will also inform further action. We are all working in harmony to put the very best package forward to help Vermonters weather this crisis.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

The Word in the House 3/12/2020 - Vermont Prepares for COVID-19

Note: This article did not appear in the March 12, 2020 issue of The Citizen as planned It will be replaced for publication on March 20th by an updated version written on March 13th as the Legislature adopted COVID-19 economic relief provisions before taking a 1-week recess to reduce exposure of members to the virus.

As Town Meeting discussion turned to the Advisory motions last Tuesday, the question of what Vermont is doing in the face of the novel Corona virus (COVID-19) was asked.  The Vermont Department of Health is monitoring the situation and is actively planning for any outbreak of the virus in the state, but at this time there is no appropriation in the budget to address the virus specifically. After speaking with a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have been advised that the appropriations for the Department of Health has funding for such emergency situations. As the budget makes its way through the House in the next two weeks and through the Senate after that, any funds allocated by the federal government to address the situation will be included.  In the meantime, Vermonters can keep abreast of the Health Department's evolving COVID-19 response at https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/infectious-disease/2019-novel-coronavirus.

The Health Department website states that it is closely monitoring the developments in the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus and is prepared to respond to protect and support Vermonters. More than 200 people are being monitored by the Health Department throughout Vermont.
On March 8th one known case of coronavirus was confirmed in the Bennington area, and the patient is being treated at the Southwestern Medical Center Hospital in Bennington.

Governor Phil Scott in a press conference on Friday, March 6th, announced that the State will ensure that anyone who meets the medical requirements for testing for COVID-19 can be tested at no cost. Vermont health insurers are directed to waive any out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing, and those insured by Medicare and Medicaid will also be covered.  Also, the cost of testing for the 3% of Vermonters who do not have health care coverage will also be absorbed by state government. For more information, contact Stephanie Brackin, Department of Financial Regulation, at 802-828-4872.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, reminds us that the most important thing for Vermonters to do is to take action to help prevent the spread of respiratory illness:
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue, not your hands.
  • Stay home when you’re sick, especially with a fever, except to get medical care.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • And get your flu shot – flu is still widespread in Vermont.
Also, prepare yourselves and your families for the possibility that you might need to stay home for a few weeks. The situation is fluid, so use the local news media and the Health Department website to stay informed.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

Legislative Report 3/5/2020 - Legislature Moves to Regulate and Tax Cannabis

The week before Town Meeting was intense as the legislature spent long hours debating, amending, and passing two major bills: the regulation and taxation of legal cannabis and revisions to Act 250. Both are very complicated pieces of legislation, so I will focus this article on the 53-page cannabis bill, S.54.

The history of cannabis, a.k.a. marijuana, in Vermont law dates back more than 100 years.  Vermont outlawed marijuana in 1915 as part of a movement to restrict its usage throughout the United States in the early 20th century.  Its presence in Vermont was well-known, however, during the “back-to-earth” movement in the 1970s and, truthfully, never left. It was approved for medicinal use with “a note from the doctor” in 2004 by a bill that Governor Jim Douglas allowed to become law without his signature. In 2013 the legislature decriminalized possession of up to an ounce; i.e. it became a civil infraction. Finally, in May of 2017, the legislature passed a bill legalizing adult possession of one ounce and possession of two mature plants per household, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Scott. However, the following January the House passed an amended version, the Senate followed, and Governor Scott signed it into law. So, while it is legal to possess marijuana in small quantities, it has not been legal to buy or sell it or bring it into Vermont, including marijuana seeds.  It is a highly dysfunctional system in which the black market continues to thrive.

Because of the need and desire for strict regulation, the production and sale of cannabis will be considered a business rather than “farming” and will not be eligible for agricultural tax breaks. However, sections of the Required Agricultural Practices related to operating standards for farming, groundwater quality, and subsurface tile drainage will apply to cannabis cultivation, processing, and manufacturing.

The bill we just passed creates a Cannabis Control Board that will issue licenses and regulate all aspects of the marijuana market in Vermont. There are six types of licenses: Cultivator, Product manufacturer, Wholesaler, Testing laboratory, Retailer, and an Integrated license. A person may hold a maximum of one of each license, except that an integrated license is only available to the current five vertically integrated registered medical cannabis dispensaries in Vermont. Retail cannabis establishments are allowed in a municipality only if the voters of the municipality approve. Other types of licensees cannot be disallowed, but must comply with any local bylaws, ordinances, or permits. The bill bans advertising related to cannabis and requires cannabis and cannabis products intended for human consumption to be tested for contaminants, potency, and quality. All cannabis products remain illegal for persons under 21 years of age.

Taking into consideration roadside safety, all Vermont officers will be required to take 16 hours of Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training by the end of 2021, and roadside test results and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluation results will be admissible in court.

A 14% excise tax and the regular 6% sales tax will be assessed on retail marijuana sales. Any local option tax will also apply.  Expected revenues during the first year are around $13M. The revenues from the sales tax will go into the Education Fund for after-school programs, 30% of the excise tax revenue will be used for prevention programs, and the rest will go to the General Fund. The bill is now back in the Senate for its approval or further amendment.

I have been honored to be able to serve you in the legislature and work for the improvement of our environment and quality of life. I’m taking this opportunity to announce that I will be running for re-election again this year and would appreciate your continued support.  I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

The Word in the House 2/27/2020 - Climate Action, Act 250 Changes and Cannabis

After weeks of hard work the Vermont House passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) with a solid 105 to 37 vote. This bill, the subject of last week’s article which can be found here, is the product of the House Energy & Technology Committee chaired by Representative Tim Briglin of Thetford. It will become the foundation for Vermont’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with the 2016 Paris Climate Treaty.

While the first reduction target is set for 2025 when we require GHG emissions to be 26% below 2005 levels, we can’t assume it will happen without further energy policy changes. These changes must include increases in renewable energy generation beyond our current target of 75% by 2032. Since GHG reduction will mean electrification of a major part of our transportation and heating requirements, we need our electricity to be as carbon-free as well as locally generated as possible. Solar and wind energy generated near the demand for its use with energy storage capability will improve grid reliability and efficiency and provide well-paying jobs for Vermonters. Even before the Climate Council created by the bill develops the plan for carbon reduction, we can directly impact GHG emissions by continuing the EV incentives and residential weatherization assistance in the Governor’s budget.

While the Energy & Technology Committee will continue working on energy policy, other Committees in the House are also hard at work. Before the Town Meeting break several other committees will report out bills that should get a lot of attention.  One bill contains revisions to Act 250 that the Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee has been working on for two years. Another is the Senate bill on regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana that has been under consideration by the House Government Operations Committee since last year.

The Act 250 revision (H.926) seeks to exempt designated downtowns from Act 250 review and modify criteria to include climate adaptation and mitigation.  A controversial provision to create a statewide professional three-member Act 250 Review Board that would handle all major projects was eliminated by the House Ways and Means Committee as of this writing because of concerns that the provision would make it harder for public participation in the process. The Natural Resources Committee had proposed a hybrid system that would add two regional members of the project’s District Review Board to the three-member panel for major project consideration. Elimination of the provision reverts review back to the regional District Review Boards while retaining the environmental-oriented and downtown development changes.

The Cannabis Tax and Regulate bill (S.54) worked its way through the Government Operations and Ways and Means Committees and is now in the Appropriations Committee. The highlights of the bill’s provisions include creation of a Cannabis Control Board which will make recommendations for any legislation needed to implement the system starting in 2022, issue licenses, and control advertising, product quality and testing. To protect highway safety every law enforcement officer will receive 16 hours of training in impaired driving assessment by the end of 2021, and the number of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) will be increased.  Field sobriety test results and Drug Recognition Expert evaluation results will be admissible in court. The proposal currently includes an excise tax of 14% and the sales tax of 6% on retail sales. Local option taxes will apply as well.  The 6% sales tax will go to the Education Fund which will help all towns.  

More information on these bills will be posted to my website. I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.

Good News! House Passes Global Warming Solutions Act Overwhelmingly!

On Friday, February 21st, the Vermont House Passed H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, overwhelmingly on a vote of 105 to 37 with the support of Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and Independents.  The bill will now go to the Senate where it will hopefully get strong support. 

Here are links to additional information:


Legislative Report 2/20/2020 - Building a Foundation for Carbon Reduction

Expectations that the Legislature would take significant steps to address the climate change crisis this year have been high, Over the last 12 months Vermonters have joined people all over the world in climate demonstrations demanding that governments do something about climate change. After a month of testimony from businesses, utilities, farmers, conservationists, local and state government officials, scientists, and citizens, including youth activists, the House Energy & Technology Committee voted 7 to 2 to recommend passage of H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). This bill, if passed, will create a foundation and a roadmap for the actions that will reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The GWSA would elevate Vermont’s current “goals” for GHG emissions to required reductions with deadlines for action. The bill also requires action to enhance the climate resilience and preparedness of Vermont communities, including utilizing our natural and working lands to capture and store carbon. The goals have been in place since 2006 and currently do not require action to reduce emissions. Vermont’s GHG emissions are the highest per capita of any state in the Northeast, including New York. Our emissions are 13% higher than 1990 levels, while every other
Northeastern state has seen a decline. Massachusetts is in its second decade of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions through a Global Warming Solutions Act. Since enactment, Massachusetts has reduced its emissions by 25% while growing its economy by 25%. Reducing pollution, increasing efficiency, lowering costs, building resilience, and investing locally increases economic growth. H.688 aligns the resources of state government to focus on achieving these targets, including establishing a strategic plan to get the job done.

The bill sets specific greenhouse gas reduction requirements for Vermont: 26% below 2005 emissions levels by 2025 (in-line with the Paris Agreement), 40% below 1990 emissions levels by 2030 (in-line with VT’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan), and 80% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050 along with recommendations to get to net-zero emissions that year.

The bill also establishes a Climate Council led by state government agencies to develop and adopt a Climate Action Plan by 2021 with specific strategies to achieve these targets, as well as build climate resilience in Vermont communities. The work of the Council will be informed by required stakeholder and public input, with the Plan adhering to specific guidelines established in H.688. Guided by the Plan and the legislative intent in H.688, the Agency of Natural Resources must adopt regulations to reduce GHG emissions. Other agencies (i.e. VTrans, Agriculture, Commerce, etc.) may also adopt regulations. The bill does not mandate specific strategies but does ensure accountability with specific deadlines and the emissions reduction requirement. The Council is also required to make specific recommendations to the legislature regarding statutory changes and funding essential for success in meeting the emissions reductions and resiliency needs of the state.

Vermonters are already feeling the impacts of climate change in more severe and frequent extreme weather events. The bill requires putting in place adaptation measures that ensure that Vermont’s communities, infrastructure, and economy are better prepared and resilient and highlights the unique needs of rural areas and their vulnerable infrastructure, economies, and emergency preparedness. Delay in implementing climate solutions, whether strategies to reduce carbon emissions or enhance resiliency and preparedness, is costly. Climate solutions reduce risk and cost while increasing energy efficiency, supporting our natural and working lands, improving public health, and growing the economy.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

The Word in the House 2/13/2020 - Revisiting the Nineteenth Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.    - The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted August 18, 1920

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote everywhere in the United States.  The occasion is being marked in the Statehouse with a special exhibit called “Women in the Statehouse.” A display featuring the history of the evolution of Vermont state government from an all-male institution to the present where 40% of legislators are women was dedicated with a ceremony last week.  The Vermont legislature passed full suffrage for women in 1919, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Percival Clement. National adoption of the 19th amendment in 1920 had an immediate effect in Vermont where 10,000 women voted in that year’s gubernatorial election in which James Hartness, a leading voice for the ratification of the amendment, defeated Clement. Vermont quickly ratified the 19th Amendment in February of 1921, and in November Edna Louisa Beard became the first woman to be elected to the Vermont House of Representatives. Since then, Vermont has had three women Speakers of the House: Consuela Bailey (1953 – 1955), Gaye Symington (2005 – 2009), and Mitzi Johnson (2017 – Present).  Consuela Bailey was also Vermont’s first female Lieutenant Governor and was subsequently joined in that honor by Madeleine Kunin and Barbara Snelling. Madeleine Kunin became the first and only (so far) woman Governor of Vermont in 1985 and served until 1991.

If you are ever looking for something to do on a Wednesday evening between January and April, and if you don’t mind driving to Montpelier, you can attend Farmers Night at the Statehouse.  This series of programs is a longstanding tradition in which artists from around the state, in genres ranging from classical music to bluegrass to barbershop, perform in the well of the House Chamber. The performances are free and open to the public, and the schedule can be found at https://statehouse.vermont.gov/events.

In the same evening that the “Women in the Statehouse” exhibit was dedicated, I had the privilege and pleasure of taking part in the weekly Farmers Night performance that featured a musical rendition of the 19th Amendment.  The music in four parts was composed by Neely Bruce, professor of Music and American Studies at Wesleyan University. Besides several legislators and Statehouse staff, singers from Massachusetts and Connecticut as well as from Vermont performed under the direction of Neely Bruce himself. While his composition, “The Bill of Rights, Ten Amendments in Eight Motets” was also sung in the program, the night’s performance was the worldwide debut of “The Nineteenth Amendment”.  

The right to vote is a fundamental right of citizenship and is essential to our democratic form of government. Besides the 19th Amendment, three other amendments extend the right to vote to persons that had previously been excluded. The 15th amendment, adopted after the Civil War, gave the right to former slaves and people of color. The 24th amendment (1964) forbids the use of a poll tax to exclude a person from voting. The 26th amendment (1971) extended voting rights to eighteen year-olds. As Town Meeting approaches and as we move toward the general election in November, we each have not only a chance but a responsibility to make our voice heard by exercising this right.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

Legislative Report 2/6/2020 - Affordability for Working Vermonters

Last May the 2019 legislative session ended with a sense of frustration that we couldn’t get two key bills across the finish line, not because of opposition in either the House or Senate, but because the two chambers couldn’t agree on a common version for either bill.  One of the bills, H.107, would have enacted a paid family and medical leave insurance program and the other, S.23, would have raised Vermont’s minimum wage. Both bills were high on the agenda as the 2020 session began a few weeks ago.  They were both sent to conference committees during the first week of the session to iron out a compromise. Agreement was quickly reached and the bills were passed by large majorities in both chambers and sent to the Governor.  However, despite the overwhelming support in the legislature, Governor Scott indicated that he would veto both bills and did so for the Paid Family Leave bill on January 31st.  The Senate has enough votes to override the veto but getting to 100 votes in the House is still in question since the bill passed 89 to 58.*

Affordability has been a mantra of the Governor since his election in 2016.  His approach has been to hold down spending and taxes, a reasonable approach to be sure.  However, affordability does not mean the same thing to everyone.  Those at the top end of the income scale may see taxes as the focus of unaffordability.  Those in the middle of the income spectrum worry more about childcare, housing and medical expenses as well as taxes. Those at the lower end of the income spectrum experience financial stress in every aspect of life. When we try to address affordability, it is important to think about the entire spectrum of wage earners.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance bill provides up to 12 weeks each for new parents to bond with their newborn, 8 weeks for family care due to illness, and 6 weeks of optional temporary disability benefits at an additional cost for the employee’s own illness. The United States is one of only two countries that do not have a paid family leave program, the other being Papua New Guinea.  The cost of providing this insurance would be a premium of 0.2% assessed on earned income. For a worker earning $50,000 annually, the cost would be $100. The Governor recognized the need for such a program by offering a 6 week paid leave package for state employees, a pool of 8,500 workers, at about 3 times the cost and opening it up on a voluntary basis for any other employed Vermonters.  Like any insurance program, the smaller the pool of insured, the more expensive the cost. The legislature decided that all working Vermonters should have the same access to this insurance with better benefits and lower premiums.

Similarly, the Minimum Wage bill seeks to help Vermonters at the lowest end of the pay scale.  While the House proposed to get to $15 over four years, the conference committee agreed to a compromise that raises the minimum wage from the current $10.96 to $11.75 on January 1, 2021, and to $12.55 a year later.  It reflects the legislature’s commitment to supporting families and communities throughout the state by giving our lowest wage earners a much-needed raise. Increasing the minimum wage not only strengthens our families and our workforce, it boosts the greater economy by putting more spending power into the pockets of Vermonters. Forty thousand of our lowest paid workers will see increased earnings over the next 2 years. Exceptions to the minimum wage for tipped, student, and agricultural workers remain unchanged.
I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

* Note: On Wednesday, 2/5/2020, the House voted on the Governor's veto.  100 votes out of 150 members present were required to override the veto.  However, the vote fell short with 99 members voting to override and 51 members voting to sustain the veto.  The roll-call record on the vote can be found on page 239 of the House Journal of 2/5/2020

Legislative Report 1/23/2020 - The Transportation and Climate Initiative: How it works

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Vermont at 43% of total emissions. Our neighboring states are facing the same problem with transportation being the highest GHG source. So, in 2018 Vermont joined with 12 other eastern states from Maine to Virginia and the District of Columbia
Photo from VT Agency of Natural Resources TCI website
to design a regional program called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to reduce GHG emissions from transportation.  Details of the design were released in December, 2019, and Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources has invited public comments on the proposal.

The concept behind TCI is similar to that of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), of which Vermont is a member along with 8 other states in the northeast.  RGGI, established in 2009, is a market-based program to cut GHG emissions from electric generation.  RGGI has been successful in reducing region-wide emissions from 188 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2009 to 80 million in 2019. The revenues Vermont has received from the program have been a major reason why our electric rates have been relatively level over that period and why we have been able to transition most of our electric energy to renewable sources. TCI will operate in a similar way to reduce climate-changing emissions and invest in cleaner transportation, healthier communities, and more resilient transportation infrastructure.

All pollution reduction mechanisms have compliance costs which are eventually paid by consumers. The TCI “cap and invest” system is designed to drive down the price of compliance and lessen the cost to consumers while providing a mechanism to reduce fossil fuels used for transportation. This is how it will work.
  1. A limit, or cap, is set on the amount of CO2 that is released from vehicles using transportation fuels. The initial cap is based on a “business as usual” scenario and is reduced over time.
  2. Transportation fuel suppliers must obtain an allowance for every ton of CO2 resulting from the fuel they sell.
  3. The total number of available allowances is limited based on the cap. An auction is held to determine the price per ton of carbon to meet the cap. Transportation fuel suppliers can bid on available allowances.
  4. States receive payments based on the revenues raised from the sale of allowances. Each state then determines how to best invest proceeds to reduce transportation carbon emissions through subsidies of transportation options that emit less CO2. These might include electric and hybrid-electric vehicle and charging station incentives, mass transit improvements, park-and-ride lots, and encouraging smart development. Attention will be given to relieving the cost impact on low-income and rural Vermonters.

Although Vermont has participated in the TCI design process, Governor Scott has been less than enthusiastic about signing onto this multi-state agreement.  He has stated his opposition to any concept that includes carbon pricing.  However, we must also consider the costs of not participating. Since we are in a regional market, Vermont may be subject to the increased cost of fuel without getting any of the benefits.  We also face the costs associated with more extreme weather that damages our roads and bridges, drowns our crops, and downs our power lines. Furthermore, it is disingenuous to talk about concern for climate change without taking the steps to reduce our contributions through a more efficient transportation policy. The legislature may elect to participate only to face a veto.  It is time for our Governor to translate words and intentions into action.
I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

The Word in the House 1/16/2020 - Back to Work

Names have power! Remembering someone’s name can give you an edge; forgetting a name I should know always makes me feel at a disadvantage.  In my first week back at the Statehouse I experienced both sides of that coin. By the end of the week, with a little help from a notepad and the legislative website, the names of most of my colleagues bubbled up from the six-month recess of my memory. We were all back to work picking up where we left off last May.

The first week was marked by Governor Scott’s State of the State
address in which he laid out in general terms his agenda for the year. Lieutenant governor David Zuckerman presided over the combined House and Senate assembly. As Governor Scott began to speak with members of his cabinet, statewide elected officials, the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, and special guests in attendance, a group of climate activists began chanting from the gallery demanding that government act to fight climate change. They were peaceful but loud and succeeded in disrupting the occasion. To his credit, the Governor listened with the rest of us for about 5 minutes.  Then, with the chanting still continuing, he tried to continue but could not be heard. Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman then called for a recess and asked security to escort the protesters out of the gallery. No one was arrested, however, and the assembly reconvened after about 15 minutes.

“The state of the state is strong!” Scott began. He spoke of working together with the legislature respectfully while acknowledging our differences. He noted that Vermont had population declines in eleven of its fourteen counties, and also that the remote-worker brought 371 people into Vermont.  He talked about spending more money on after-school programs and after-school childcare without increasing property taxes. And he acknowledged that we need to work on climate change by continuing our transition to electric vehicles and buses and utilizing more battery storage in our electric grid. Achieving these objectives will depend a lot on the details in his budget address he will give later this month.

In the House Energy & Technology Committee we heard reports on work done by the Department of Public Service (DPS) and the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation (FPR) regarding telecommunications, energy, and carbon sequestration. We learned that several installations of battery storage, including one in Hinesburg, are helping to reduce demand during the evening peak.  DPS is also proposing changes in legislation to provide utilities more control over storage to improve reliability. We also learned that several communities have started to take advantage of legislation we passed last year that allows municipalities to form Communication Union Districts to bring high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved parts of Vermont. FPR Commissioner Michael Snyder outlined the role our forests can play in sequestering carbon with proper forest management practices. Then at the end of the week we began our consideration of the Global Warming Solutions Act, which, if passed, will require Vermont to meet specific greenhouse gas reduction goals between now and 2050.  Vermont will be required to actively plan and take steps to reduce emissions to at least 26% of 2005 levels by 2025, 40% by 2030, and 80% by 2050 in keeping with Vermont’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan and the 2016 Paris Agreement.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts. 

Legislative Report 1/9/2020 - Session Preview on Climate Action

The Vermont legislature convened in Montpelier this week for the second half of the biennium, i.e. the two-year legislative term between elections. Legislative work did not stop when the session adjourned in May. Off-session work includes constituent assistance as well as study committees, oversight committees and workgroups that meet either in official capacity or to prepare for the coming session. Some of our unfinished business from 2019 will be on the agenda early in the session, including increasing the minimum wage, establishing a paid family leave insurance program and creating a tax and regulate system for cannabis sales in Vermont. I’m also looking forward to working with my colleagues once more to take significant steps to address the climate crisis through Vermont’s energy policy.

Over the last two years more and more focus has been on what effects human consumption of fossil fuels has had on the global climate.  Extracting and burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas emit enormous amounts of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) which build up in the atmosphere and increase the average global temperature.  In recent years we have seen the effects in more intense hurricanes, heavier rainfall and flooding, more persistent heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in the west. Melting glaciers and icecaps have contributed to measurable sea level rise leading to “sunny day flooding” in some coastal communities. These effects drive costs higher for everyone, including Vermonters. Climate scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that we have only a limited amount of time to act decisively to limit global warming and its effects on our environment, health and economy.  Last year Vermonters have joined people all over the world in climate demonstrations demanding that governments do something about climate change.

Several years ago, a group of legislators from the House and Senate formed the Climate Solutions Caucus.  This group, now numbering more than 60 members, is committed to take meaningful steps to reduce Vermont’s contribution to the climate crisis.  The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 calls for a 50% reduction of GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2028.  This goal was adopted by both the Shumlin and the Scott administrations. 

In contrast, however, Vermont’s emissions as measured by the Department of Environmental Conservation have instead risen by 16%. We have to bend that curve by addressing the biggest sources of GHGs in our economy: transportation and heating. This will help Vermonters save money by living in more efficient homes and driving more efficient vehicles.

While we took some steps in 2019 to help reduce Vermont’s emissions, including starting an EV incentive program, and increasing funding of low- and moderate-income residential weatherization, we know we have to do more. The Climate Caucus held several workgroup sessions over the summer to identify further steps we can take. Converting our renewable energy and energy transformation goals from the 2017 Comprehensive Energy Plan into statutory requirements by passing the Global Warming Solutions Act is the first step. To make our older housing stock more efficient for heating and cooling we’ll have to accelerate weatherization assistance to homeowners and landlords. Changing Efficiency Vermont’s mission to include using funds for moderate-income weatherization through the All Fuels Initiative will be part of the solution.

Transportation is the largest GHG contributor at 43% of emissions. We must continue to reduce transportation emissions by supporting EV purchases, electrification and expansion of mass transit options, expanding park-and-ride facilities, and promoting transportation alternatives like bicycling and walkways. We also know that Vermont can’t combat climate change alone. Alone our emissions are relatively small, but we have a responsibility to do our part. With the approval of Governor Scott, Vermont joined with 12 other eastern states from Maine to Virginia and the District of Columbia to consider a regional program to reduce GHG emissions from transportation.  This program, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), would be a “cap and invest” system.  Details of the design were released this December and the legislature and administration will be working together to integrate this effort into Vermont policy. Reducing emissions will not only benefit the climate but will also reduce carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and asthma aggravating particulates in the air we breathe.

I plan to write more about these actions in the future as they develop. I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.