Town Meeting Report
2020 Town MeetingReport
Representatives Caleb Elder and Mari Cordes
House Education Committee Update
By Rep. Caleb Elder
Act 173 Implementation and Literacy – The House Education Committee started the year with a bill addressing dyslexia screening and literacy instruction. This is an important topic, and it ties into the recently passed Act 173, which will move Special Ed. funding to a statewide block grant. Our committee tried to make sure any new programs or standards connect back to the implementation of Act 173, and not to silo these topics. The bill that passed our Committee (H. 668) will strengthen benchmark literacy assessments for grades K-3 and will create a statewide grant program for Districts to hire consultants to help implement coaching and intervention specific to literacy.
Universal PreK Bill – House Education committee has been working on a bill attempting to simplify rules surrounding Vermont's Universal Pre-K voucher program. The current system is working in many ways, but is inherently challenged by the realities of the "mixed-delivery" system. This means that UPK is offered in public schools, as well as private childcare centers. We passed H. 934 last week, which will remove Agency of Human Services oversight from programs operated by public schools. Additionally, the program will fund a 2 year grant to employ Universal Pre-K coordinators, since those positions have proven to be very helpful wherever they’re implemented. The bill is now in the House Human Services Committee.
House Health Care Committee Update
By Rep. Mari Cordes
Within considerable federal and current health system restraints, House Health Care is focused on removing barriers to accessing health care. Affordability – we are drafting legislation to ease or remove the benefits cliff for people/families between 400-500% of federal poverty level (FPL), and the “family glitch”. The family glitch prohibits family members from accessing subsidies because one family member has health insurance, even though it only covers the covered family member, not the family.
Telehealth – this legislation would support ongoing work to increase health care access using remote technologies, and to protect patient privacy and safety. This technology decreases delays to treatment, and increases access for people for whom traveling to a clinic for routine issues would be a significant burden. Workforce Development – We are experiencing a dire shortage in healthcare workforce of 70 primary care providers and 4,000 nurses. We are drafting legislation to prioritize this workforce, and incentivize them to continue to make Vermont their home.
Emergency Medical Services – EMS, especially in rural areas, are experiencing shortages of volunteers. We are addressing 2 major barriers to becoming a credentialed volunteer by ensuring the training cost is not born by individuals, and by simplifying the administrative process to apply.
Pharmaceutical – both the House (my bill H. 822) and the Senate are working on legislation to decrease out of pocket expenses for insulin (and possibly EpiPens), as well as exploring ways to increase transparency and decrease hidden administrative costs within the complex chain between the manufacturer and the individual.
Mental Health – we continue to work on increasing support to community services, including fully funding Pathways VT support line 833.VT.TALKS to allow 24/7 crisis services.
Other House News
Paid Family Leave (H.107) – The House and Senate came to agreement on a Paid Family Leave bill that for a 0.2% payroll tax would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid leave for Vermonters to care for parents, children, siblings and grandparents. Additionally H. 107 would have included an optional program to purchase temporary disability insurance for additional 0.38% payroll tax. Ultimately, though, this bill was vetoed by Governor Scott, and the override vote failed by one vote.
Minimum Wage (S. 23) – This bill represented another compromise between the House and Senate, with a 2-year transition from the current minimum wage of $10.96/hr to $12.55/hr in 2022. After that time the wage will continue to escalate annually at the rate of CPI (consumer price index). This bill was also vetoed by Governor Scott but in this case the override vote passed, representing the first veto override in Vermont since 2009.
Older Vermonters Act – H.611 creates a ‘bill of rights’ and protections for Vermonters 60 years of age or older with a system of services and supports for elders to remain as independent as possible. It ensures that policy decisions relative to older Vermonters enhance their self- determination; safety and protection; financial security; optimal health and wellness; social connection and engagement; housing and transportation, and family caregiver support.
Building Strong Communities – The House annually allocates funding for the Building Communities Grant Programs. These grants support capital investments for improvements in community buildings such as recreational facilities, human service facilities, & educational facilities.
Climate – the House passed H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA builds on the success of other New England state that have cut climate pollution while growing their economies. It ensures that VT takes coordinated and strategic action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050, and build climate resilient communities. It also allows Vermonters to hold the state accountable to ensure real action is taken to reduce our GHGs. Several other bills are in play to address the climate crisis, including sectors with greatest GHG emissions impact: weatherization and transportation.
Environment – H.828 would tighten protections for Vermont wetlands by strengthening VT Water Quality Standards. The House passed H.926 which updates Act 250 to reduce administrative burden for village/downtown projects and forestry, while guiding projects relative to protecting habitat and building ecosystem resilience.
Regulating Cannabis – Personal cultivation of cannabis was legalized in 2018. The House just passed S.54 to end state prohibition by taxing and regulating cannabis sales to adults 21 years and older. An independent Cannabis Control Board will regulate and oversee licensing, security, health and safety, labeling, training, and seed to sale tracking. The process is designed to prioritize small growers and dispensaries. Revenues from sales would fund the operations of the board, and go to the Education fund to include after school programming, and treatment and education support re: substance use disorder. This bill received testimony from Rural Vermont, the Agency of Agriculture, growers/farmers, business owners, health care professionals and more. 12 of the 14 House committees worked on it, including Agriculture. Included in the bill are measures to promote renewable energy use and regenerative farming practices.
This legislative update was prepared by Rep. Mari Cordes and Caleb Elder