Town Meeting is one of my favorite traditions in Vermont -- it’s democracy at its best, where budgets and issues are respectfully debated among neighbors. It was great to talk with so many neighbors in Vernon and Guilford at Town Meeting this year.
Following the Town Meeting recess, I returned to the State House for “crossover.” This is the time when bills need to have moved out of their policy committees and voted up in either the House or Senate in order to "crossover" to the other legislative body to remain alive for the year. So, it's been incredibly busy and exciting time, and this update includes some of the highlights.
IN COMMITTEE + ON THE FLOOR In the House Corrections and Institutions Committee we have been working on the final mark-up of the capital bill. This past week we worked very closely with the House Health Care and the House Agriculture committees to ensure that the funding and policy are aligned to support our farming families meet clean water requirements and to make effective investments in our health care system and facilities to address the mental health needs of Vermonters. In the capital budget our committee has prioritized investments in our mental health facilities, clean water funding, correctional facilities, investments in electric vehicles and infrastructure, conservation and affordable housing and public safety.
I am pleased that this past week we voted on, and passed, several important pieces of legislation in the House, some of the highlights include: H.518 a bill that addresses fair and impartial policing; H.132 that adopts protections against housing discrimination for victims of domestic and sexual abuse; and H.528 that creates the formation of a Rural Health Services Task Force to evaluate the current state of rural health care in Vermont and identify ways to sustain the system and to ensure it provides access to affordable, high-quality health care services. These bills will now move onto the Senate.
ADDRESSING THE CURRENT CHILD CARE CRISIS IN VERMONT In the House we are working to address the current child care crisis in Vermont. In the coming week we will be voting on a H.531 a bill that aims to improve and strengthen the child care and early learning system as part of a multi-year strategy. The aim of this bill is to create more favorable conditions for VT families to access affordable, high-quality child care, so that they can enter and remain in the workforce, providing a robust supply of workers for VT businesses. The bill includes investment of $10.5 million in VT’s child care and early learning system; expansion of income eligibility for child care for low- and middle-income families; increase in reimbursement rates to child care providers from 2008 to 2015 levels for pre-school and school-age children; a student loan repayment program and funds scholarships for early educators to further professional development; investments in infrastructure and technology redesign of the Child Care Financial Assistance Program and creation of an exemption from some educational requirements for child care business owners and teachers working 10-plus years in the field. I will be voting in support of this bill because I see how it will have a direct and positive impact on working families, businesses, workers and children throughout Vermont.
INVESTING IN CONNECTIVITY FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES Affordable access to broadband is essential to economic development, education, public safety, and civic engagement in Vermont, however existing internet service providers are not providing adequate service to many of our rural areas. Today 27% of Vermonters lack access to modern internet speeds of 25 Mbps, and 5% lack even basic service. At the beginning of the session I co-sponsored several pieces of legislation that aimed to advance connectivity in our rural communities which have helped inform H.513 a broadband connectivity bill that is coming out of the House Committee on Energy and Technology. This bill will empower and support communities to reach the last mile of connectivity by investing in programs and personnel that provide underserved communities with resources and technical assistance to find solutions for broadband buildout that best suit their needs. If this bill is passed and receives support in the Senate this will be a game changer for our small rural communities.
ADDRESSING AFFORDABILITY + CLIMATE GOALS THROUGH WEATHERIZATION Investments in weatherization and efficiency saves Vermonters money, reduces reliance on imported fossil fuels, improves public health outcomes, and creates jobs. In the coming week House bill H.439 will come to the floor from the Ways and Means Committee. The proposed bill would generate approximately $4.5 million to invest in low-income weatherization. This will double existing investment in weatherization, increasing the number of homes that are improved on an annual basis from 900 to 1,350. Currently Vermont invests approximately $10 million in state funds annually to weatherize about 900 vulnerable Vermonters’ homes. This cost, approximately $8,500 per home, achieves an approximate 29% energy savings per home (average $500/year) and lowers greenhouse emissions by about 1.8 tons per home annually. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for every $1 invested in weatherization, it returns over FOUR times ($4.50) in energy and non-energy benefits which creates lower bills, healthier homes, greater comfort, greater productivity, and reduces green house gas emissions.
TRANSPORTATION UPDATE: HIGHWAY AID + ELECTRIC VEHICLES The House Transportation bill, H.529, was presented on Friday and will be up again next week for 3rd reading and a vote. The Committee found an additional $1 million in additional Town Highway aid above Governor’s Scott’s recommended budget. The bill also includes funding for an electric vehicle incentive program using a portion of VW emissions settlement funds. A wider variety of electric vehicles will be reaching the market soon, and the incentive is $2,500 off the sale price for households with incomes up to 140% of the median household income ($70k/year) and $5,000 for households below 100% the median household income ($50k/year and below).
STAY IN TOUCH
The issues we debate in Montpelier have a great impact on all of us, and your feedback is critical to the work I do in Montpelier. This spring, I will continue to host my “Coffee with Coffey” hours on Mondays in Guilford: April 1st and May 6th at 5:30 at the Guilford Country Store and Saturdays in Vernon, April 4th and May 4th at 9:30 at the Vernon Free Library. We have had great attendance and great discussions among neighbors. Please come at the time that works for you. It's been nice to have some Vernon folks join on Mondays in Guilford, and Guilford folks joining us on Saturdays at the Library in Vernon.
Thank you for making your voice heard, and for participating in making our communities great places to work and live. It’s an honor to serve Guilford and Vernon in the People’s House. Please stay in touch!