Legislative Report 9/15/2020 - House Acts on Budget and Climate

The legislature moved closer to final adjournment last week with the passage by the House of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget.  Since all money bills, both taxation and spending, must originate in the House, the next step is for the Senate to weigh in. With a tri-partisan vote of 140 to 4, the House-passed budget (H.969) preserves services to vulnerable Vermonters while also seeking to ease the burden of pandemic impacts by appropriating federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). It is a full-year budget that incorporates the first quarter elements that were passed in June. H.969 allocates dollars to make child care more affordable, integrates physical and mental health care funding so that health care services for Vermonters are coordinated, provides resources for existing businesses and for vulnerable Vermonters looking to start a business, and invests in public transportation and incentives to reduce the cost of electric vehicles. The bill also ensures Vermont colleges are strong by making a record investment in post-secondary education, including $23.8 million in bridge funding for the Vermont State Colleges System. This is a balanced budget that ensures there are no cuts to the services Vermonters count on. At the same time, it fully funds future obligations, and keeps our reserves full to ensure we are in a strong financial position heading into the uncertain months that lie ahead.

In a separate bill, H.968, the VT House voted 129 to 15 to create a Coronavirus Economic Stimulus Equity Program that will provide $5 million in relief payments to Vermonters ineligible for federal assistance because of immigration status. Approximately 4,000 adults and 1,000 children without Social Security numbers who reside in Vermont, including Green Card holders whose spouses cannot work, will be granted one-time payments mirroring the federal economic stimulus payments that most Americans received last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic ($1,200 for adults; $500 for children under age 17). These workers, many of whom have kept the state’s dairy and vegetable farms operating seamlessly through the crisis, were declared “essential” by executive order. Governor Scott included this concept of aid to immigrant and undocumented Vermonters in his recently proposed FY21 budget. The House Appropriations Committee recommended a stand-alone bill apart from the budget to fund this program and identified additional monies to cover all potential recipients statewide. The program would be paid for with General Funds ($2 million) and monies from the 2018 Tobacco Litigation Fund ($3 million). All payments would be awarded by June 30, 2021 and any unspent funds would revert back to the Tobacco Fund.

The House also took a major step toward addressing climate change, a priority voiced by Vermonters for several years, by accepting the changes proposed by the Senate. On a vote of 102 to 45, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), H.688, was passed and sent to Governor Scott. Scott has five days to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.  The veto-proof votes in both the House and Senate demonstrate that Vermont takes its responsibility to fight climate change seriously. The GWSA converts Vermont’s emissions goals into achievable and realistic requirements that meet the targets in the Paris Climate Accord. The Climate Action Plan will be created by a Climate Council composed of representatives from state agencies and departments and from the business community and environmental organizations. Details of the GWSA can be found on my website at https://www.mikeyantachka.com/2020/02/legislative-report-2202020-building.html.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).  This article and others can be found at my website (www.MikeYantachka.com).

Legislative Report 9/3/2020 - Back in Session


The Vermont legislature returned, virtually, to Montpelier last week to complete the work of developing a budget for the last three quarters of fiscal year 2021. While this is our primary objective, we are not ignoring other important issues that require our attention.  The pandemic continues to require making adjustments, and there are a number of issues that can’t be shunted aside while we wait for a return to “normal”. 

As we got started last week, we passed two bills, S.233 and H.967.  S.233 eases the ability to transfer certain medical and trade licenses from states with similar licensing requirements.  Equivalent skills learned in the military will also qualify for Vermont licensure.  H.967 will allow a family childcare home to care for school age children for a full day when the child’s school has scheduled the child for remote instruction. Current law limits the care to four hours per day on school days.

As the state is putting the billion dollars of Coronavirus Relief Funds to work in the programs authorized by the legislature in June, the Governor presented his budget for the remaining $200 million to the legislature. With due diligence, the House Appropriations Committee with the help of other relevant committees is reviewing the proposal.  One of the Governor’s proposals for CRF money is to give every household a $150 payment that could be used for purchases from local merchants using a phone app.  While it might be a good idea, this is raising several questions. Since CRF money can’t be used for direct payments to taxpayers, is this a legitimate use? What about households that don’t have access to a smartphone? Local businesses would have to opt-in to receive payment from the app. Would everyone have reasonable access to participating merchants?  The Commerce Committee is currently taking testimony on this and will very likely propose changes.

The protests this summer in response to the many tragic killings of black men and women by police and by individuals acting as vigilantes has awakened the American consciousness to the systemic racism and societal bias present in our nation.  National politics has fueled the divisiveness as people choose sides between supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and respect for police.  There is a danger in viewing this issue in either/or terms as well as ignoring its implications in Vermont. Choosing sides is akin to tribalism. Neither side should be painted with a broad brush.  Instead, we should be looking at the conditions which create bias in policing and correct them. We also need to be respectful of protestors and their right to protest peacefully. There must be room for dialog.  Only then can the problem be solved. There are several bills that are currently under consideration in the House that will clarify the policy on use of force by police and training requirements in unbiased policing.  A recent study by UVM has indicated that black drivers in Vermont are significantly more likely to be stopped and searched than white drivers yet have a significantly less incidence of possessing contraband than white drivers. Recognition of a problem is the first step toward change.

Climate change hasn’t stopped because of COVID-19.  When we went into lockdown in March, there was a noticeable decrease in driving for a couple of months.  This probably resulted in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions during that time. The new phenomenon of “Zooming” has also decreased the need to jump in the car for meetings and work, but people are becoming Zoomed-out and yearn to get back to face-to-face meetings. If you’ve been out recently, you probably noticed that traffic is almost back to pre-COVID levels. We need to keep our attention on our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Senate passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWAS) with minor changes, and the House is expected to concur with the Senate’s amendments and send the bill to Governor Scott for his signature. You can find my article explaining the GWSA on my website.  As we head into winter, we also want to be sure that funds for weatherization are available for low- and moderate-income families.  A Senate bill (S.337) that will allow Efficiency Vermont to increase assistance for weatherization has passed in the House this week.

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

9/2/2020 Senate's Energy Efficiency Bill Is Passed by the House

The House has passed a bill that allows Vermont's Energy Efficiency

utilities, Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department, to expand the money-saving services they deliver to Vermonters. It broadens their energy efficiency mandate to include helping Vermonters save on their heating and transportation costs, not just electricity bills. As such, it allows the testing and development of new strategies to achieve our climate goals while saving Vermont families and businesses money.

These strategies will be tested in small pilot programs for 3 years, and funded out of existing revenues with no increase in electric rates.  


Program funding is limited to no more than $2 million (less than 5%) of existing revenues — in fact the overall electric efficiency budget for the three-year pilot period is required to stay at or below the current three-year period, or else the pilot programs will be discontinued.  Though targeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the bill, S.337, stipulates that programs must have a nexus to electricity — essentially this means encouraging "beneficial electrification," or replacing high-GHG fossil fuel use with low-GHG electricity.  

Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department must consult with State agencies to avoid duplicating programs.  They must also cooperate with other utilities, and the pilot programs must complement and not replace or compete with utility programs.  The programs must maximize cost-effective GHG reductions, and must be delivered statewide and reasonably proportional to electric efficiency charges collected in each utility territory.