Legislative Report 5/3/2021 - Thinking about buying a car?

 Are you in the market for a new or used automobile? Are you concerned about climate change and want to reduce your fossil fuel consumption? Have you been thinking about buying an electric vehicle (EV) but are anxious about the cost or about how far it can go on a charge? Having good information about the EV market can help you decide if an EV is right for you.

Transitioning from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles to help Vermont become less dependent on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to transportation is key to our efforts to fight climate change. With the help of federal recovery assistance, this year’s budget increases the money available for EV incentive and emission repair programs. Here are some facts about the pros and cons of buying and owning an EV. 

What is an EV?  An EV is a car that uses a battery either wholly or partially to power the vehicle. It can be a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) that supplements the battery with a conventional gasoline engine, or it can be a purely battery powered vehicle called an All-Electric Vehicle (AEV).  PHEVs have a more limited electric range, typically around 30 to 50 miles, before switching over to gasoline.  AEVs can go much further on a charge, the distance depending on the year, make and model. Older AEVs may reach 100 miles, but new models have ranges exceeding 200 miles. Tesla AEVs can now travel up to 350 miles on a full charge. Drive Electric Vermont (DriveElectricVT.com) has all the information you need on EVs available in Vermont as well as fact sheets which list EV models and their ranges.

Why drive an EV?  Vermont has a goal of transitioning from fossil fuel energy to 90% electric energy by 2050. Vermont’s electricity is about 65% carbon-free today and is getting cleaner every year. Aside from the benefit of not burning fossil fuels that contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, there are financial benefits as well.  Not only is the cost of electricity per mile driven less than the cost of gasoline per mile, but the maintenance costs of an EV are lower.  There are no oil changes, spark plugs, catalytic converters, or emissions equipment unless it’s a PHEV, and those costs are lower for PHEVs compared to gasoline-driven vehicles.  Go to DriveelectricVT.com for a detailed cost of ownership analysis.

What incentives are available?  Available incentives depend on the year and model of the EV, whether it is new or used, and who the seller is.  There are federal, state and utility incentives available in Vermont. Federal tax credits ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 are available to buyers of qualified plug-in electric vehicles. The size of the credit is based on the battery size. Once an individual manufacturer sells 200,000 qualifying vehicles the credit is phased out for that automaker over the course of a year.  The State of Vermont provides incentives for plug-in electric vehicles sold or leased as new with a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $40,000 or less. Depending on a family’s adjusted gross income (AGI), rebates from $1500 to $4000 are offered for new EVs and PHEVs. Used EVs are also eligible for a rebate of 25% of the initial price of the vehicle, up to $5,000, through the Vermont Mileage Smart (MileageSmartVT.org) program administered by Capstone Community Action. Green Mountain Power, Burlington Electric Department, and other utilities also offer incentives for new EVs ranging from $1000 to $2500.

Electric vehicles are going to play a major role in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.  Their popularity is increasing at the same time range anxiety is decreasing because of the longer ranges being built into the vehicles as well as the growth of the public charging infrastructure.  And they’re fun to drive.  So, next time you decide you need a new or used set of wheels, take the time to visit DriveElectricVT.com and see if an EV makes sense for you. 

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

Legislative Report 4/19/2021 - Upping the Recycling Game

 Greenup Day is right around the corner - of the calendar, that is – and Vermonters will head out to the roadsides to pick up the refuse of winter. There will be bottles and cans as well as fast food containers, vehicle debris, and plastic bags based on my past experience.  The litter certainly does accumulate around here, but the number of beverage containers on roadsides in states without bottle deposit systems, like Pennsylvania, is considerably higher by my observation when I visit family there.

In 1972, Vermont passed its first bottle deposit bill as a way to clean up litter along our roads. Since then, it’s become a successful statewide recycling program that allows Vermonters to redeem beer bottles and soda cans for a nickel per container. Bottle drives provide a fundraising source for Scout troops and class trips, too. Glass liquor bottles, with the exception of wine, were added to the deposit system in 1990. In 2019 the law was changed to require the unredeemed deposits, about $1.5 million annually, to be returned to the state for deposit in the Clean Water Fund. While bills have been introduced over the last two decades to expand the deposit system, they have been unsuccessful. A step in that direction took place last week, however, with the Vermont House passing H.175 with a 99 to 46 vote. H.175 updates this landmark environmental law by expanding the redeemable list to include plastic water bottles, wine and hard cider bottles, and containers for all carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, except for dairy products, plant-based “milk” products, and non-alcoholic apple cider.

Right now, the bottle bill covers only 46 percent of the beverage containers sold in our state. Plastic water bottles are the second-most littered piece of trash in Vermont. Furthermore, broken and contaminated glass contributes to contamination of recycled paper and cardboard, is difficult to handle and expensive to dispose of, which can lead to dumping. Containers redeemed under the bottle bill are more valuable for recycling because they are cleaner and far more likely to be remade into new containers. By passing H.175, we will increase the number of recycled containers in Vermont by an estimated 375 million per year.

According to a recent poll, 88 percent of Vermonters support the bottle bill and 83 percent support updating it to include more containers. Expanding the bottle bill makes sense because it

  • increases recycling rates and reduces litter;
  • supports the closed-loop economy by making more bottles back into bottles;
  • reduces costs to solid waste management districts by reducing the volume of glass in our recycling bins;
  • increases the handling fee for redemption centers to cover the added work associated with sorting these products;
  • boosts the economy by creating more jobs than curbside recycling; and
  • generates more revenue for the Clean Water Fund.

·     Getting back to Greenup Day, Saturday, May 1, this year.  You can help by joining your neighbors and adopting a section of Charlotte’s roads. Sign up at the Greenup Charlotte web site (https://sites.google.com/view/charlotte-vt-green-up-day/home) and pick up a few green bags to fill.


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

Legislative Report 4/5/2021 - The Intractable Problem of Underfunded Pensions

 

The announcement in January by State Treasurer Beth Pearce that the state pension funds for teachers and state employees were grossly underfunded and that action had to be taken to make the plans sustainable alarmed all Vermonters, but most especially teachers and state employees who are counting on those funds for their retirement. Her recommendations for plan changes included painful changes to pension benefits, including increasing the retirement age, increasing employee contributions, and lowering the payouts. Teachers and state employees reacted immediately to protect the benefits they had earned by contacting legislators to plead their case. This issue quickly became the dominant topic rivaling and intertwining with the budget in legislative deliberations. As such, it touches all Vermonters and deserves a closer look at the facts and figures.

In the 1990s the legislature cut back on the appropriations to the pension funds under the assumption that investment returns would continue to exceed the actuarial predictions. Over the years this contributed to about a third of the current $3 billion unfunded liability in the pension funds for teachers and state employees. Other contributing factors include an aging workforce with the number of active teachers/employees roughly equal to the number of retirees, increased longevity of retirees, and the consistently low returns on investment experienced since the “great recession” of 2009. The revised actuarial estimate this year added another $600 million to the pension system’s unfunded liabilities in this year alone.

The legislature does not manage the pensions or dictate the investment strategy, but we are taking the lead to bring stakeholders to the table to come up with a solution. Vermonters need the unions representing employees, the Governor, and the Treasurer to come to the table as well. Between 2016 and 2020 the annual contributions from the taxpayer-supported state General Fund to the pension funds increased from $184M to $303M while the teacher/employee contributions increased from $59M to $76M. The House Government Operations Committee has been considering not only the recommendations of the Treasurer but also alternative approaches to save the defined benefit model.

The legislature has already stepped up with a significant increase in funding for pensions this year. The FY22 budget that was recently passed by the House contains an appropriation of over $300 million for the pension funds. This represents an increase of roughly $100 million over the actuarial required contribution last year. While federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stimulus funds cannot be used or applied to the pension system directly, they can be used to free up General Fund dollars to make a significant pension investment. Another $150 million in general fund dollars have been set aside for this purpose, for a total FY22 contribution approaching half a billion dollars.

Late last week Speaker Jill Krowinski announced that the House Government Operations Committee would push forward with much-needed pension governance reforms and create a task force to work over the summer to gather stakeholder input and recommend structural reform to the pension systems. The governance changes are key to solving the pension crisis. These reforms will increase the level of professional expertise of those managing the pension funds and take the politics out of decision-making at the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC), which consists of employer and employee representatives. They will streamline the decision-making process around changes to actuarial assumptions, require more frequent experience studies, and enhance transparency around investment fees. Both the new governance structure and the pension task force need to maintain representation and participation from key employee and employer stakeholders.

Defined benefit public pension plans, when properly designed and managed, are the most affordable way to provide secure income in retirement. The legislature is working to ensure the sustainability of the plans in a way that protects not only the benefits that employees and retirees earned but also the Vermonters whose taxes contribute to the pension funds and are increasingly under pressure to shore up the funds each year.

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

4/3/2021 - HOUSE SPEAKER JILL KROWINSKI REMARKS ON THE EFFORT TO STABILIZE VERMONT’S TEACHER AND STATE EMPLOYEE PENSION SYSTEM

 

Press Release

For Immediate Release

April 2, 2021

 

Media Contact

Conor Kennedy, Office of the Speaker

ckennedy@leg.state.vt.us


Montpelier, Vt. – Earlier this morning, House Speaker Jill Krowinski was joined by members of the Democratic Caucus at a press conference and provided the remarks below regarding the effort to stabilize the public pension system. A link to the press event can be found at the bottom of the page.

 

Good morning,

 

We are here today because we want to save our public pension systems and give teachers and state employee’s confidence that the money won't run out.

 

When we began this legislative session, I stressed the need to build a COVID recovery plan that leaves no one behind. Because of the tremendous amount of federal relief dollars the state has received, it has given us a once in a lifetime opportunity to think creatively about how to solve our biggest challenges and build us back stronger than ever before in all 14 counties. 

 

One of our state’s biggest problems is our unfunded public pension liability, which has risen exponentially to $5.6 billion. We cannot ignore this situation any longer; we must act. We must stabilize our pension system, so that our hard-working state employees and teachers can retire with peace of mind. Over the past few weeks, we as legislators, along with the House Government Operations Committee, have been taking a deep dive into the seriousness of the problem, how we got here over decades, and examining ideas and solutions that will move us forward on a productive path for the future.

 

I want to pause and acknowledge how hard and emotional this conversation has been for all concerned. We are talking about the economic security and the futures of our dedicated state employees and teachers, and that’s deeply personal for those impacted by any proposal. We have been listening closely to our constituents and hearing their concerns. Change is hard, it takes methodical, determined work, and we are only successful if we work together. As I’ve been listening to people give their feedback, while trying to get people to come to the table to add their voices and solutions, it is clear people are struggling with how to find real systemic change to resolve this crisis right now. Some stakeholders like the Vermont State Employees Union have brought a few ideas to the table, and others like the Governor have not.

 

The added challenges of trying to do this kind of deep policy work in a virtual environment, and not being in the State House together, are creating obstacles towards having a difficult, yet solutions-oriented conversation. 

 

However, in the midst of the frustration, we are seeing a path forward towards fundamental change. A majority of what I’ve been hearing, and the Government Operations Committee has been hearing is focused on the question of, “how did we get here?” Circumstances largely beyond the State’s control have led to this crisis situation, including an aging population with increasing retirements; lower than anticipated investment returns, in part, due to the Great Recession; and changes in actuarial assumptions, including a reduced rate of return. 

 

Moving forward, I believe we should focus on where I’m seeing the most consensus, which is changing the way we make our investment decisions with our governance structure. The legislature doesn’t make investment decisions, but we can change the board structure to make it more transparent, independent, and get more expertise at the table. This is no small lift, but I know we can do this. Second, I’d like the committee to create a Pension Task Force that brings all stakeholders, from the unions to the Governor, to the table to look at possible revenue sources and plan and benefit changes to fix this problem. Lastly, I recommend we keep the one-time $150 million in reserve while the Task Force does its work. We also have the $300 million in this year’s budget to pay for pensions and OPEB.

 

I want to thank Chairwoman Copeland Hanzas and the Government Operations Committee for all their hard work to save our pension system. I also want to thank all of the members for joining in and helping us find a solution. Thank you.

 

A recording of the event can be found here.

 

###

4/1/2021 - HOUSE ISSUES FORMAL APOLOGY FOR VERMONT’S STATE-SANCTIONED EUGENICS MOVEMENT

 

With the preliminary unanimous approval today of J.R.H. 2, the Vermont House of Representatives apologizes and takes full accountability for its role in the immeasurable harm that was caused as a result of the state-sanctioned eugenics movement in Vermont.


J.R.H. 2 acknowledges and apologizes for sanctioning and supporting eugenics policies and practices through the advancement of legislation which sought to eradicate people of particular cultures, races, ethnicities, socio-economic status, and abilities. This legislation led to forced family separation, sterilization, incarceration, and institutionalization for hundreds of Vermonters. The traumatic ripple effect of state-led actions has been felt through the generations and has had real and tangible effects on the lives of Vermonters today.
J.R.H. 2 does not undo the harms of the past, but it marks an essential step toward a future of accountability and reconciliation for the generations of Vermonters who were harmed by state-sanctioned violence.

Legislative Report 3/25/2021 - Crossing Over

 Over the weekend, I was able to watch a Zoom broadcast of a “Bridging” ceremony for my grandson Guthrie and his Cub Scout den. The ceremony marks the passage of a Webelos Cub Scout to a Boy Scout troop (Scouts BSA).  The scout salutes their den leader, removes their Cub Scout neckerchief, walks across a small bridge to where the troop leaders are standing, salutes them and receives their new Boy Scout neckerchief. It is a rite of passage marking a transition.

Bills in the legislature can be said to follow a similar path, though not exactly. A bill originates in either the House or the Senate.  To become law, it must pass in the other chamber as well with the exact same language.  The other chamber will often propose amendments which creates a back-and-forth journey for the bill. This requires time for each chamber to study and discuss the bills they receive, which means that waiting too long to send a bill over means the bill will not get passed.  Therefore, the legislature sets a deadline called “crossover” when bills must be voted out of committee to have any chance of passing during the current session. This crossover deadline occurred last Friday.

During the two weeks following the Town Meeting break, the House passed several bills touching on agriculture, health care, the justice system, and education. Raw milk producers are currently prohibited from selling their product away from their farm. H.218 will allow them to sell their product at farm stands and through CSAs other than their own.  Services for mental health patients will be expanded by H.104, which allows certain licensed out-of-state mental health professionals to treat Vermont patients using telemedicine.

The House passed a trio of bills from the Judiciary Committee. H.128 prohibits a person from justifying an act of violence by claiming that they felt threatened by the crime victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. H.195 allows the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in cases related to sexual exploitation of children. Finally, while judges already have an inherent authority to order firearm relinquishment as part of an emergency relief from abuse order, H.133 creates a statutory basis to clarify this authority so that victims will have a clearer understanding that an order removing firearms is available to improve their safety.

The Education Committee brought three bills to the floor successfully. According to a 2019 national assessment, only 37 percent of Vermont’s fourth-graders were proficient in reading, a percentage that declined from 2017.  H.101 will strengthen early literacy instruction for Vermont students in grades pre-K to 3. The bill taps into $3 million in federal stimulus funds to provide grants to supervisory unions to improve literacy teaching and outcomes and ensure that students who struggle receive instruction from highly skilled teachers. 

Since the state suspended aid for school construction in 2007, H.426 addresses the needs and conditions of public school facilities throughout the state. This bill, funded by $2.5 million in federal stimulus money, takes a step forward by updating school facilities construction standards, conducting a statewide assessment of our school buildings, and commissioning a report on state funding options. The long-term goal is to make sure that our school buildings are well-maintained, energy-efficient, safe, and healthy places that meet the needs of 21st century education and technology.

The third bill, H.106, invests $3.34 million in federal funds in a “community schools” pilot program. The bill targets public schools with a high percentage of low-income students and provides three years of funding to hire or designate a community schools coordinator who will work with students, families, teachers and staff, and community partners to transform schools into resource hubs that help both students and families overcome out-of-school barriers to learning like poverty, food and housing insecurity, substance misuse, or lack of access to physical and mental healthcare. Research shows these schools improve attendance, academic achievement, high-school graduation rates and more. As we emerge from the pandemic, H.106 uses federal money to see how Vermont can not only recover but reinvent our schools, while helping our neediest students and families to thrive.


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

Legislative Report 3/4/2021 - Town Meeting recess marks half-way point for legislative session

 

As the legislature prepared to recess for Town Meeting week, the focus continued to be on our #1 priority: Vermonters and the coronavirus. The Vermont House passed and sent to the Senate an additional $79M COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Aid bill.  H.315 provides critical assistance to working families and businesses struggling due to the pandemic by addressing health disparities, increasing social equity, and stimulating economic recovery.

The work my committee has been doing has been focused on getting high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved areas of Vermont. We ended the week by voting the bill (H.360) out of committee on a 9 -0 vote.  The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee which will consider whether to recommend the appropriation we asked for.

Besides telecommunications, my committee also has jurisdiction over energy policy and the IT systems of the state.  Leading up to the recess, Governor Scott recommended a $200M package of spending based on one-time money from unspent Coronavirus Relief Funds and better than expected state revenues. In the energy area, we concurred with the Governor’s plan to use $10M to assist low- and moderate-income consumers to share in community solar projects, including battery storage of energy.  Folks who rent and homeowners who can’t install solar panels on their property will be able to purchase or lease shares of large solar arrays and receive credit on their electric bills for the energy generated.

 We have also been working with the Agency of Digital Services to fund the upgrade of several of our 40-year-old computer systems, including the Labor Department’s Unemployment Insurance system which has had a lot of problems over the past year.  We are concurring with the Governor’s recommendation of spending $50M to upgrade a dozen different systems.

The Vermont legislature continues to operate remotely as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and will continue to do so at least until May 15, 2021.  Conducting business remotely is very different from meeting at the Statehouse because of the lack of personal interaction which often helps facilitate communication on important issues.  Zooming is just not the same.  


However, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud.  As a result of live streaming of floor sessions and committee proceedings, it is now possible for anyone anywhere to "sit in" on a proceeding. If you have an interest in a particular issue or would just like to see how legislative business is conducted, I invite you to drop in at your convenience.  Here's how.

Floor sessions take place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m. on Fridays.  To view a livestream of a session go to https://legislature.vermont.gov/.  Scroll down to the bottom of the House or Senate sections where you will find a link to "Watch House/Senate Live Video".  If you want to watch a session after the fact at your leisure, click on the same link and you will find recordings of previous sessions.

Committee meetings are where most of the work takes place.  This is where bills that have been assigned to the committee are discussed and testimony from witnesses is heard.  To view a committee proceeding, again go to https://legislature.vermont.gov/.  In the sidebar at the right is a link to "Scheduled Committee Meetings". Clicking on the link will take you to a page that contains links to the committee pages and the published agenda for the week.  On the committee page there will be a link to "Livestream" where either a livestream of a hearing, or recorded hearings can be viewed.

The Vermont Statehouse is truly "The People's House". As citizens of Vermont the work that goes on there is for the benefit of all and is transparent to all.  At these times when democracy is under assault by lies, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, we in Vermont have an opportunity to see the legislature in action with our own eyes. Being engaged is a way we can all protect our democratic form of government.

 

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

Drop in on the Vermont Legislature

 The Vermont legislature continues to operate remotely as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and will continue to do so at least until May 15, 2021.  Conducting business remotely is very different from meeting at the Statehouse because of the lack of personal interaction which often helps facilitate communication on important issues.  Zooming is just not the same.  

However, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud.  As a result of live streaming of floor sessions and committee proceedings, it is now possible for anyone anywhere to "sit in" on a proceeding. If you have an interest in a particular issue or would just like to see how legislative business is conducted, I invite you to drop in at your convenience.  Here's how.

Floor sessions take place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays, 1:15 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m. on Fridays.  To view a livestream of a session go to https://legislature.vermont.gov/.  Scroll down to the bottom of the House or Senate sections where you will find a link to "Watch House/Senate Live Video".  If you want to watch a session after the fact at your leisure, click on the same link and you will find recordings of previous sessions.

Committee meetings are where most of the work takes place.  This is where bills that have been assigned to the committee are discussed and testimony from witnesses are taken.  To view a committee proceeding, again go to https://legislature.vermont.gov/.  In the sidebar at the right is a link to "Scheduled Committee Meetings". Clicking on the link will take you to a page that contains links to the committee pages and the published agenda for the week.  On the committee page there will be a link to "Livestream" where either a livestream of a hearing or recorded hearings can be viewed.

The Vermont Statehouse is truly "The People's House". As citizens of Vermont the work that goes on there is for the benefit of all and is transparent to all.  At these times when democracy is under assault by lies, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, we in Vermont have an opportunity to see the legislature in action with our own eyes. Being engaged is a way we can all protect our democratic form of government.

Legislative Report 2/25/2021 - Promoting agritourism helps family farms

 Every two years in January a new legislature is sworn in and serves until a new legislature is sworn in two years later. During this time almost a thousand bills are introduced in the House and several hundred in the Senate.  Only a hundred or so actually pass in both the House and Senate and get signed into law.  Many, however, get incorporated into other bills dealing with similar topics and become part of Vermont’s statutes.  Only members of the legislature can introduce bills.  However, if the administration proposes legislation, it will go to the committee of jurisdiction and ask the committee to sponsor the bill.  Committees also may initiate a bill to set policy, such as the Broadband Bill being developed in my committee, Energy & Technology.

During my 10-year tenure in the Vermont House I have introduced many bills.  The language of some made it into other bills, such as the requirement that the money received from the Volkswagen emissions fraud settlement be used to promote electric vehicles.  A handful of bills I’ve introduced have gotten passed on their own.  Last year I introduced a bill to promote agritourism. It limits the liability of farms engaging in agritourism for mishaps that might occur to visitors.  The bill passed in the House but was derailed in the Senate because of the pandemic.  I reintroduced the bill again this year hoping for a better outcome.

With less than two percent of Americans living on a farm, the public is becoming more and more removed from farming practices and agricultural production. Consumers are very interested in learning where their food comes from and about the technological advancements behind producing that food. Agritourism provides an excellent opportunity to open meaningful connections between agriculture and the public. The vast majority of farms depend on outside income to stay in business, and any additional revenue from agritourism could significantly increase their economic viability.

Agritourism is a growing business opportunity in Vermont.  Some
local examples include Shelburne Farms, Philo Ridge Farm and Adam’s Berry Farm in Charlotte, Isham Family Farm in Williston, and Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne. Tourism is dormant at the moment due to the pandemic, but once we are back to normal operation, Vermont will benefit from its resurgence.  Agritourism epitomizes the "Vermont brand". It takes advantage of what VT is known for: agriculture, recreation, a pastoral vibe. And it provides another source of income for family farms by showcasing what they do best. However, the risk of a lawsuit keeps many family farms from engaging in agritourism.  Visiting a farm exposes the visitor to certain inherent risks of injury such as bee stings, uneven terrain, contamination from touching farm animals, or falling off a hayride. A single incident can result in bankruptcy.

My bill (H.89) provides a reasonable expectation of liability for the farmer. It provides a clear definition of what constitutes agritourism: an interactive or passive activity for recreation, entertainment, or educational purposes, including farming, food production, historical, cultural, pick-your-own, and nature-based activities. It does not include lodging at a farm or shopping at a roadside farm stand. The bill requires the farm to post signs in clearly visible locations warning of the inherent risks of participating in farm activities and to include the warning in any written contracts entered into with the participant.  While protecting the farm from liability for inherent risks, it does not absolve the business from injuries resulting from gross negligence.

41 members of the House – Democrats, Republicans Progressives and Independents - co-sponsored the bill and it passed on a unanimous vote before heading to the Senate.  If the Senate agrees with the House, Vermont will join 33 other states with similar agritourism laws.


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

Legislative Report 2/11/2021 - Budgets and Broadband

The Vermont House has worked productively in the last two weeks.  We approved the annual Budget Adjustment bill (H.138), a mid-year technical adjustment to keep the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget in balance.  H.138 passed with strong support and included investmentsto support the Legislature’s continuing response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Much of the adjustment was a result of reallocating unused Coronavirus Relief Funds, which were supposed to expire at the end of last year but were extended by the $900B relief bill passed by Congress last December. CRF money was redirected to assistance for the hard-hit hospitality industry, for emergency food, hotel-housing for the homeless, and rental assistance, for Vermont State Colleges system support, and for completion of broadband expansion projects.

Speaking of broadband, the pandemic has highlighted the necessity of high-speed internet for education, work, and communications. The Energy & Technology Committee has been working on a major bill to accelerate broadband deployment to every part of the state. Building on the Communication Union District (CUD) model that was authorized in 2015 and enhanced last year, availability to planning grants and low-cost loans will be provided to CUDs to build fiber networks throughout Vermont. CUDs are organized by towns that want to build fiber to the areas where for-profit internet service providers find it unprofitable to reach.  Most for-profit companies build their infrastructure along the main arteries with a higher residential density. Fiber-optic lines cost about $33,000 per mile to build. The more subscribers within that mile, the lower the cost per subscriber.

Local telecommunications carriers like WCVT or Consolidated Communications also provide internet service. The US Department of Agriculture recently accepted bids from traditional carriers to extend broadband in rural areas under the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF). With the objective of getting service to every Vermonter as quickly as possible, we are encouraging CUDs and telecom providers to work with each other to avoid duplication of effort. The rate at which high-speed broadband can be built depends not only on funding but on the availability of skilled line workers and of the required materials, both of which are in short supply. Our bill will also include funding for workforce training in partnership with Vermont Technical College. Even with this support, broadband to the “last mile” will take years to accomplish. We will continue to work on the details of the bill over the next few weeks.

There's good news on the 9.5 cent education property tax rate increase that created a stir in December. Improved non-property tax revenues in the Education Fund and input from school districts have resulted in a reduction to roughly a one cent increase. This may change as more information about actual budgets becomes available, but it is not expected to change dramatically.

Also on the education front, the sustainability of the pension funds for teachers and state employees has become a top priority with the release of a recommendation from State Treasurer Beth Pearce which would increase contributions and decrease benefits.  The source of the underfunded pension fund problem was a decision by the legislature in the 1990s to underfund the system based on overly optimistic assumptions about investment returns. The unfunded liability is $1.5B at present and is expected to grow another $600M if remediation steps are not taken.  The legislature is studying the report and seeking alternatives by working with all parties to assure Vermonters that they will have their retirement benefit while also curtailing the unfunded liability. Pension contracts are an obligation that should not be set aside. Teachers and state employees should not be penalized for the fiduciary mistakes made by government. We must solve this dilemma fairly.

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

Legislative Report 1/28/2021 - Reflections on a momentous week


 The first few weeks of a legislative biennium get off to a relatively slow start, not momentous at all.  Bills are just beginning to be introduced and assigned to committees for consideration.  Not only do new members have to get up to speed on subject matter of the committees to which they are assigned, but returning members assigned to different committees than before may have to as well. In other words, there is not a lot to report.

There were two exceptions, however. During the first full week we were back in session, the House quickly passed a bill that authorizes municipalities and school districts to hold town meetings remotely, use Australian ballots to vote on all matters including budgets, or postpone town meetings to later in the Spring. The Senate quickly followed suit and sent the bill to the Governor for his signature.  The Senate was also at work passing S.9, which extends certain workers’ compensation amendments related to COVID-19 that were enacted last year. These amendments give the benefit of doubt in certain circumstances that a worker who is diagnosed with COVID-19 is entitled to benefits under Vermont’s workers’ compensation laws. The House concurred with the Senate after fixing a date reference in the bill that had been overlooked.  The next significant action will be to approve the budget adjustment bill that the Appropriations Committee has been hard at work on since Day 2 of the session.

What really made the week special, though, was the change of administration in Washington, DC, as I joined most of my fellow Americans in welcoming the Biden administration with the hope of a less divisive political atmosphere for the next four years.  I was especially impressed with poet Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem. In it she says,

It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into and how we repair it
.”

It is with sincere hope that Congress, the Senate included, will be able to join with the administration in an effective national response to the pandemic and hit the economic defibrillator once again to jump-start the economy.  The executive orders President Biden signed as soon as he took office will go a long way to reverse those of the previous administration that diminished the greatness of America.

For the past four years, a small package sat on my bookshelf waiting for its moment. In December of 2016, I attended a conference in DC and had an opportunity with other legislators from across the country to attend a briefing in the White House Office Building.  We were given favors of Hershey kisses in little packages with the presidential seal. I decided to save mine until the incoming President was no longer in office. I had almost forgotten about it until the night of the inauguration after watching the televised spectacular fireworks display on the National Mall.

It was time. After 4 years, the kisses were as sweet as I expected, capping off this truly momentous week.

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

Legislative Report 1/9/2021 - A New Beginning

Legislative biennium begins amid national turmoil

As the world reacted in shock to the events unfolding in Washington, DC, on January 6th, the Vermont Legislature was convening for the 2021 – 2022 biennium.  The storming of the U.S. Capitol for the first time since the War of 1812 by a mob egged on by a self-serving President, who refused to recognize that he lost the election, drew strong reactions throughout Vermont’s state government.  That afternoon Governor Scott condemned the lawlessness and called for the President’s immediate resignation or removal from office.  The following day the Vermont House passed with a vote of 130 to 16 a resolution sponsored by Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, and Independents calling for the same. (The text of the resolution can be found at https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2022/J.R.H.1.)  In my lifetime only the 9/11 attack on our nation’s capital compares, and this time it was against the Constitution and our democracy itself by our own citizens.  This is not what America stands for, and we need the country to make a course correction immediately. I hope that the nation can begin to resolve our deep political differences starting today.

Here in Vermont the legislature began its work not in the usual fashion with pomp and circumstance in a packed chamber with friends and relatives looking on as members, new and returning, were sworn in, but from our own homes over Zoom.  The House unanimously elected its Speaker, Representative Jill Krowinski of Burlington, as well as the Clerk of the House, Betsy Ann Wrask. Members were assigned to committees, and resolutions were passed to formalize the rules and procedures under which the legislature will operate while the pandemic emergency order is in place.

Traditionally, the Governor would give his inaugural speech to a joint session of the House and Senate in the House chamber.  This year, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Governor Scott chose to deliver the speech on television in the evening.  He did briefly address the joint session online earlier in the afternoon, congratulating the historic ascension of women to almost all the leadership positions in the legislature.  In the House they include Speaker Jill Krowinski, Democratic Majority Leader Emily Long of Newfane, Republican Minority Leader Pattie McCoy of Poultney, and Progressive Minority Leader Selene Colburn of Burlington.    The Senate is led by Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, and Democratic Majority Leader Alison Clarkson.  Senator Randy Brock was elected as the Republican Minority Leader.

In his address to the legislature, Governor Scott acknowledged the necessity of working remotely, keeping meetings open to the public online, and working together for the benefit of all Vermonters.  He said that while the pandemic brought heartache to many, it also showed that Vermonters care for each other.  This care has made Vermont more successful in controlling the spread of the virus than many other states.  While we cannot know when life will get back to normal, there is a light at the end of the tunnel because of the vaccines that are now available and being distributed.  He reiterated his long-standing goals of growing the economy, protecting the vulnerable, and making Vermont more affordable, goals that are shared by legislators as well.  The hard work now begins on how to achieve those goals.


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