***(Reports are posted most recent first. Scroll down for earlier reports.)***

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

It’s Not Over ‘til It’s Over.

May 20, 2019

 

In my previous report, I had said that this year’s legislative session would probably end this past weekend. Instead, we adjourned on Friday instead of working through Saturday, and will be back in session on Wednesday, May 22 and possibly Thursday. This will give several conference committees time to resolve differences, including on the budget, tax and capital construction bills, as well as others. By the time some people read this report, the session may be over. I will follow up with one last wrap-up Report from the State House when it’s really over.

 

Medical Monitoring Bill (S.37) Passes the House.

One of the bills that saw a fair amount of debate last week was a Senate bill that would allow Vermonters affected by the release of toxic chemicals to more easily recoup medical monitoring expenses. Awareness of this issue was raised by the PFOA contamination of drinking water in Bennington, but the issue is widespread.  This bill allows people who have been exposed to one of a list of toxic chemicals because of a company’s negligence or because it knowingly ignored the danger, to have their costs of ongoing medical monitoring paid for by that company. The effects of such exposure are often not apparent immediately and it can sometimes be years before signs of cancer or other symptoms arise. Th bill establishes a very high bar for proving that there was exposure and that the company knew or should have known of the danger, but once that is established, the person’s ongoing costs for medical monitoring can be covered.

 

Forced School Merger Delay Bill Stalls (H.39)

The conference committee established to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of this bill stopped meeting a few weeks ago without reaching a compromise, and that bill will not see further action this year. All three unified district boards that the four towns in our House district are in have been working on the assumption that the mergers would take affect without a delay. Nevertheless, I was troubled that the conference committee could not reach an agreement, and in particular that the members of the House on the committee were not interested in supporting a bill that passed the House by a wide margin early in the session.

 

Resolution of Labor Contract Negotiation Disputes (H.16)

The Senate passed this House bill about state boards and commissions, but with additional language dealing with how labor negotiations that reach impasse are resolved for certain types of employees. The language covers state college and university employees, state employees, employees of sheriffs and states attorneys’ offices, and municipal employees who are in law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and ambulance employees. For these employees, if impasse is reached, the opportunities for resolving the dispute by turning to a qualified and knowledgeable third party are limited or in some cases non-existent. The situations are different for each of these employee groups. For some, the employer can simply impose a contract, and the employees have no further recourse. Good faith labor negotiations should be on a level playing field. I voted in favor and spoke briefly on the floor, from the perspective of someone who had spent over 25 years in management, and during the last 16 ½ years, negotiated five labor contracts sitting on the management side of the table, where there was in fact a level playing field.

 

Weatherization.

The Senate has put forth a bill that deals with funding for weatherization and related matters in a way that is significantly different than what the House passed early this session. While I have issues with the Senate version, I will support it and expect it will pass before we adjourn. In addition to the direct benefits to Vermonters, increasing the number of homes weatherized is the most significant carbon emissions reduction action the Legislature has taken this year in the non-transportation sector.

 

Broadband (H.513)

This bill, which the Energy and Technology Committee proposed early this session, has been through the House and Senate and saw final passage last week. I am very pleased to have worked on this bill, and I learned a great deal about the different internet and telecom technologies. There are numerous provisions in the bill designed to offer technical assistance, planning resources as well as financing  to communities, non-profits, utilities and businesses (and partnerships of any of these), to get broadband out to all the underserved and unserved areas Vermont. The Department of Public Service will add an employee whose job will be specifically to provide assistance to communities and others in figuring out what options are available to them. The text of the bill as passed is available on the General Assembly’s website.

 

Contact Information

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email.

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail: 139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

End of Session Endgames

May 12, 2019

 

The 2019 session will must likely adjourn sometime this coming weekend, so there is a great deal of activity as the House and Senate work to iron out differences in their respective versions of bills both major and minor. The budget and revenue bills will need to receive final passage as well as numerous others. Some bills that saw action this year may not make it across the finish line but can still see final action when we reconvene again in January. A few major Senate bills that the House approved this past week and sent back to the Senate with amendments include:

 

Water Quality (S.96).

This has been a very high priority for people throughout Vermont for some time. The Senate started the process, but it was the responsibility of the House to find a revenue source sufficient to aggressively tackle this growing problem in our lakes and waterways. We approved the recommendation of the Ways and Means Committee to extend the sales tax to “pre-written software accessed remotely.”  Over the last few years, it has become rare for people to physically purchase software and download it to their computers from a disc. Instead, we access and purchase these from the web (as I did last month when I filled out and filed our income tax returns, as one example). The majority of states now apply the sales tax to such purchases, whether the company selling it is in state or in another state.  The debate on the House floor was mostly about the revenue source, not its use, and the bill passed on a 126-14 vote.

 

Single Use Plastics (S.107).

This bill will ban the use of certain types of single use plastics used mostly in food services as well as other stores, such as take out containers, bags, plates, and stirrers, often made of plastics such as that are not recyclable. The law, which will take effect in 2020, applies only to items that customers receive at the point of sale, so it does not include packaging that is shipped to the store, or used elsewhere in the store other than at the point of sale. Plastics that are not or cannot be recycled end up in our waterways and lakes, along roadsides and in woods and fields, as well as landfills. They do break down over time into “microplastics”, which are found in Vermont s waters as well as in wildlife and fish. There are good alternatives which many businesses have already switched to. The bill passed the House 124-20.

 

Testing and Remediation of Lead in the Drinking Water of Schools and Child Care Facilities (S.40)

Most lead that has been found in schools and childcare facilities is not coming from wells or municipal water systems, but rather from water fixtures within the building. This bill will assure that testing happens and provides assistance for remediation where lead is found and it passed 138-3.

 

Energy and Technology Committee

At this point in the session, our committee is tracking energy and broadband issues in several bills that we voted out earlier, or that are coming to us in Senate bills. We are also reviewing parts of bills being dealt with by other committees having to do with energy and climate change, and are offering comments to those committees. Among these bills are:

  • Miscellaneous Energy Subjects, H.133. This bill was approved by the House in March and covered four separate subjects. The Senate returned it to us with two more miscellaneous subjects added, which we concurred with and sent back to them with another two added on. I am the reporter of this bill to the House, and am waiting to see whether the Senate is OK with these additions or whether we will need a conference committee.
  • Broadband, H.513. This is the bill our committee put a lot of work into in the first half of the session, and it would do several things to continue and support the slow process of getting high speed internet out to the unserved and underserved areas of rural Vermont. After the House passed the bill, the Senate began hearing from a number of people concerned about possible health effects of “5G technology,” a more advanced wireless cellular technology that can provide internet access, but is at this point limited to very short distances and applicable primarily in urban areas. The Senate is expected to pass the bill out with some additional language related to 5G.
  • Weatherization. The House passed a bill early in the session to significantly increase the number of homes served by the Weatherization Assistance Program. This is the single most effective thing we can do immediately to reduce carbon emissions in the non-transportation sector. Although there was some misrepresentation put out about the proposed revenue source, it nevertheless became evident that another approach would have to be found. The Senate has been working on this and I hope we can pass something before this session ends. Having a deep familiarity with this program from the time a dedicated state fund based on energy taxes was first established in 1990, I am concerned that the program continue to have a dedicated funding source so that it is not training skilled workers and purchasing equipment only to not be able to use them soon after.
  • Transportation Bill, H.529. This is the annual “big bill” that the House Transportation Committee deals with, covering all aspects of our transportation systems. It contains a few provisions related to electric vehicles and charging stations that our committee has also reviewed and commented on. As electric vehicles become more prevalent, and as electrification becomes available for more types of vehicles including trucks, we need to be looking ahead. Although most Vermonters and businesses with electric vehicles will continue to do most of their charging at home or place of business, Vermonters and visitors will need good access to charging stations that can sell fast-charging much the same way a gas station sells fuel. The bill begins to address how customers will pay for charging, and it also begins the process of looking at options to assure that these vehicles pay their fair share of road maintenance costs.

 

Contact Information

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email.

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail: 139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

During the Legislative session, phone messages may be left with the Sergeant at Arms office at the State House: 802-828-2228

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Minimum Wage, Constitutional Amendment, Forced School Mergers, Broadband & Climate Change

April 28, 2019

 

We’re in the final weeks of this legislative session, and that involves lots of votes on the House floor, as well as a lot of waiting for conference committees to work out differences between the Senate and House versions of bills.

 

Minimum Wage.

The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee has finished its work on S.23, the bill raising the minimum wage which passed the Senate earlier this session.  The committee is proposing changes to the bill which address some of the pressures that raising the minimum wage would have on the state budget. There is still review needed by other committees, but as I said in a previous report, I do intend to vote for the bill when it reaches the House floor.

 

Constitutional Amendment Regarding Reproductive Rights

In early April, the Senate passed a resolution (P.R.5) on a 28-2 vote which would amend the Vermont Constitution to guarantee reproductive rights and to protect current rights regarding abortion. The House Human Services Committee has voted to recommend adoption of P.R. 5, so this will be coming to the House floor soon. If the House votes in favor, the amendment process requires that both the Senate and House vote on the resolution again in the next biennium (2021-2022), after which, assuming approval, it goes to Vermont’s voters. The earliest this proposed amendment would take effect would be Election Day in 2022.

 

Forced Merger Delay

H.39, the bill that would allow a one-year delay for school districts facing forced mergers ordered by the State Board of Education, was passed by both the House and Senate, but with some significant differences. As has been reported in the news, the conference committee has been unable to work out the differences and the process has stalled, at least for now as I write this. The schools in all four towns in the Lamoille-Washington House district are faced with three separate forced merger orders. Although some school directors I have heard from would rather not have a delay and would like to get on with it and end the local controversies, others feel strongly that they need more time to do it right. I am frustrated by the lack of progress in the conference committee process and hope that some acceptable compromise can be reached before the session ends.

 

Energy and Technology Committee, Broadband and Climate Change

Broadband expansion to unserved and underserved parts of Vermont was the major focus of our committee’s work in the first half of the session, and the House approved our committee’s bill, H.513 overwhelmingly. It is now in the Senate, and I am hopeful that it will see final passage this year.  As I have noted in earlier reports, internet is basically unregulated at the federal level, and federal law also prohibits states from regulating it. The theory is that “the market” and competing types of providers will bring high speed service to everyone. That obviously does not work in rural areas, and it is unfortunate that the federal government won’t and that the State of Vermont can’t require that every Vermonter have access to broadband. Our bill would keep making real but incremental progress however, in getting service to the last mile.

The bill that would do the most to address climate change, in my opinion, is H.462, the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act.  Our committee has taken some testimony on it. In summary, it would take the ambitious carbon reduction “goals” which the Legislature established some time ago, and instead say that they are requirements, and that state government needs to take specific actions, including establishing rules and regulations, to actually meet those requirements. This bill will need some in depth study and discussion, as it has implications for state government and all Vermonters individually. But we are not coming close to meeting those goals, and I do believe we have an obligation to take meaningful and measurable steps to change our sources of energy and how much energy we use. I support the basic concept of the bill and hope to see the Legislature act on it in the second year of the biennium.

 

Contact Information

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email.

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail: 139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

During the Legislative session, phone messages may be left with the Sergeant at Arms office at the State House: 802-828-2228

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Minimum Wage, Cannabis, Fossil Fuel Infrastructure, and More.

April 15, 2019

 

There is a lot of activity at the State House in the final weeks of this session. Much of the activity in the House is now consideration of bills passed by the Senate, or House bills that the Senate has sent back to us with changes. The House committees considering those Senate bills keep us posted on their work, so that we will have a sense of what will be heading to the House floor for a vote.

Minimum Wage.

H. 23 is the Senate’s bill relating to increasing the minimum wage. The bill proposes to increase the minimum wage in five steps, to $11.50 in 2020, $12.25 in 2021, $13.10 in 2022, $14.05 in 2023, and finally to $15 in 2024. Thereafter, the minimum wage is due to increase each year by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index. It further proposes to adjust the Child Care Financial Assistance Program benefit to correspond with each change in the minimum wage as well as to adjust the rate paid by the program in order to offset the anticipated increased costs of childcare due to raising the minimum wage. We need to raise the minimum wage if we want working Vermonters to be able to make a living and to make ends meet, and I expect to vote for this bill.

Cannabis Regulation.

The Senate has passed S.54, a bill which establishes a regulated market for marijuana and cannabis products. This bill proposes to establish a comprehensive regulatory system for the production and sale of cannabis and cannabis products in Vermont. It creates the Cannabis Control Board as the independent regulatory authority for a commercial cannabis market. The Board is responsible for adopting regulations and administering a licensing program, including compliance and enforcement, for cannabis establishments. Five types of licenses are available: cultivator, product manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, and testing laboratory. Application and license fees fund the Board in performance of its duties. Cannabis is taxed at ten percent with a potential one percent local option tax for municipalities that choose to host a cannabis retailer. Issues being considered by House committees include the ability of a municipality to not allow retail businesses, assurances that small Vermont businesses and growers can participate, and support for prevention programs particularly aimed at young Vermonters.. I do support establishing a well-regulated and taxed market for cannabis.

Energy & Technology Committee

Our committee should be sending some bills to the House floor soon that support the development and siting of renewable energy projects. It is possible that we will end up rolling parts of different bills that have been introduced into one package for presentation to the full House. We are also expecting the Senate to send H.133 back to us with some additions to what our committee and the House passed. I was the reporter of this bill on the House floor and expect to be involved in reviewing the Senate’s changes.

We have also been taking testimony, both pro and con, on two bills, H.51 and H.175 that would prohibit the building of new fossil fuel pipeline infrastructure into areas presently not served by Vermont Gas, or would prohibit the company’s use of eminent domain for such projects.  Although I strongly support moving away from burning fossil fuels, I have questions about whether or not such bans are the right way to do it. The recent extension of pipelines to parts of Addison County has been controversial, and there have been strong feelings about this. We will be holding a public hearing on these bills on April 23rd at 5:00 PM in Room 11 at the State House, at which anyone is welcome to come and testify briefly. 

Meet your Representative for Coffee and Coffee Cake, April 27

Rep. Dave Yacovone and I will be at the Woodbury Community Library on Saturday, April 27 from 9:30-11:00. Please stop by!

Contact Information

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email.

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail: 139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

During the Legislative session, phone messages may be left with the Sergeant at Arms office at the State House: 802-828-2228

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Paid Family Leave, Weatherization, Committee Priorities

April 8, 2019

 

Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill Passes

On April 5th after two days of debate and consideration of amendments on the floor, the House passed H. 107, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. The bill was studied, worked on and changed by three committees and was brought to the floor with some significant changes from what was originally introduced. Paid family and medical leave is very important for working people. It assures them that they can afford to take time for important family matters without unbearable loss of income or loss of a job. It allows parents to spend time bonding with a newborn child, or to care for family members, both children as well as parents with significant health or aging issues.

The Ways and Means Committee made a few significant changes. First, they agreed with one recommendation from Governor Scott, that the program should be administered by an insurance company, because this really is an insurance program that travels with the employee, regardless of change in employer or working at more than one job. There is no payroll tax for employers, but employers may cover all or part of the employee’s cost if they choose.

I also think that this will be something that can help attract and retain workers. Three other states have such programs at this point and it is under consideration in several others.. Astonishingly, almost all countries in the rest of the world have some form of paid family leave, and the United States is one of only a small handful of countries that does not, and the only industrialized nation that does not.

I am sure there will be changes made by the Senate, but I am hopeful that this important bill will become law.

 

Weatherization Bill Passes 

In my report from the week of March  25th, I noted that a bill to increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program was heading to the House floor. That bill, H.439. did pass after considerable debate and consideration of alternate proposals. The program has been funded since 1990 by a combination of energy-based taxes on heating fuels and on regulated electric and natural gas utilities. Some people objected to the 2 cent per gallon increase in the tax on non-transportation fuels, which will add about $15 a year to the cost of heating an average home. As we know, the actual cost of fuels can fluctuate by much more than that, as much as 50 cents per gallon, or more.

The Weatherization Assistance Program, operated by Capstone Community Action in our area, is a proven and effective one. It lowers heating costs by significantly more than what the program costs, and it addresses health, safety and quality of life issues as well. At a time when we are struggling to reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to address climate change, this program is also the easiest and fastest way to make an immediate difference in the non-transportation sector. The increased funding will allow the program to serve 50% more homes each year than it does now.

 

The Energy and Technology Committee

Our committee is continuing to take testimony and to prioritize a number of energy bills that have been introduced. Since any bill passed by the House must then go to the Senate, bills our committee sends to the House floor at this point will not likely see final action until next year I have a particular interest in two bills that would make a difference. H.366 would simplify and streamline the approval process for locating renewable energy projects on “preferred sites.” These are locations where other types of development are not going to happen, such as brownfields and closed landfills, or smaller projects on existing structures or developed locations, like rooftops and parking lot canopies. H.462 would require that the renewable energy “goals” that the Legislature previously established become enforceable requirements. We are not near meeting those goals, and the bill would establish mechanisms to see that action is actually taken. This is a not a simple matter and I think there are some things in the bill as introduced that will need to be worked on, but I support the concept and the intent.

Contact Information

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email.

Email:     apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail:     139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

During the Legislative session, phone messages may be left with the Sergeant at Arms office at the State House: 802-828-2228

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website:  https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE: CROSSOVER 

March 25, 2019

 

Lots of activity on the House floor!

After several weeks spent mostly working in our committees reviewing bills and deciding on legislation to bring to the House floor, we have now switched gears and have spent a great deal of time in session in the House chamber, in order to meet the “crossover” deadlines for bills getting sent to the Senate for their consideration. Likewise, we have begun to see bills that have passed the Senate and have been sent to our respective committees. We have recently passed the Transportation bill, a bill that changes the process by which the Legislature elects the Adjutant General, and a bill on expungement of criminal records, among many others.

 

The week of March 25 will be busy, as we take up both the Appropriation Committee’s budget bill and the Ways and Means Committee’s tax bill, and the paid family and medical leave bill among others.

 

The Energy and Technology Committee

Our committee’s broadband deployment bill (H.513) ix expected to pass the House and get sent to the Senate this week. This bill, which I wrote about in a previous report, contains several initiatives to continue getting broadband service out to underserved and unserved areas. Broadband was a major focus of our committee in the first part of the session, and we will now be focusing much more on energy and climate change issues. Our committee is sorting through the numerous energy bills that have been introduced, including some that have made it over from the Senate, to decide which ones to prioritize. Among the energy bills we have in front of us are several that deal with net metering, small hydropower projects, regional “cap and trade programs,” and several that are intended to significantly lessen our use of fossil fuels in other ways. We also have some bills relating to electric vehicles, although the Transportation Committee had added that subject as a significant new focus of their work as well. Bills our committee sends to the full House at this point will in most cases not see final passage until the second year of the 2010-2020 biennium.

 

Weatherization Assistance Program

The Ways and Means Committee is bringing H.439 to the House floor this week. Although the bill was not formally in the Energy and Technology Committee, we did spend a lot of time on the subject and sent a strong recommendation to the Appropriations Committee about it. I provided that committee with my own written comments as well, based in large part on my own past experience administering the program at the state level in the 1990s, when state funding first became available and the program grew in size, expertise, effectiveness and benefit.  The program has been funded since 1990 by a gross receipts tax paid by regulated utilities, as well as more recently also by a per gallon tax on bulk fuels (oil, propane, etc.) Reducing fossil fuel use is important for climate change reasons, but this program also reduces lower income  Vermonters’ heating bills by an average of 29%. There is simply no more cost-effective way to quickly reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions in the non-transportation sector than this program, which has been continuously evaluated and shown to have a significant and measurable cost benefit, as well as improving the health and well-being of many Vermonters. It’s the low hanging fruit. We know how to do this, the energy audit and installation technology exists and works, and the organizational structure at the state and local level exists as well. At current funding levels, there are very long waiting lists, often 2-3 years, and H.439 will simply increase the number of homes weatherized each year, as well as add 60 skilled jobs with good pay to the program. To do so, the per gallon tax will increase by 2 cents, which for an average home using heating oil or propane, will add about $12 per year.

 

Contact Information

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions, or to receive these reports by email.

Email:     apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail:     139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

During the Legislative session, phone messages may be left with the Sergeant at Arms office at the State House: 802-828-2228

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website:  https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

TOWN MEETING WEEK

March 5, 2019

 

Town Meeting Week

The Legislature is not in session during the week of Town Meeting.  During the first two months of the session, most of House members’ time is spent in our committee rooms, focused on the subject areas and issues of our respective committees and considering bills we might bring to the floor of the House. At this point, only a modest number of bills have reached the floor for a vote by the full House. When we return next week, the pace changes and we switch gears a bit. More time will be spent in session on the floor, hearing reports and bill recommendations from committees, and voting on bills ranging from the short and simple, to the complex and lengthy, as well as the appropriations and revenue bills.

Energy and Technology Committee 

The committee I serve on deals with three major areas:

  • Energy, including regulated utilities and delivered fuels, renewable energy development, and climate change. Subject areas we are working on or considering include energy efficiency and expansion of home weatherization programs, “beneficial electrification,” which is the shifting of our biggest sources of carbon emissions that contribute to climate change (transportation and space heating) away from fossil fuels, limiting the expansion of natural gas pipelines into new areas of the state, and regional “cap and trade” programs to reduce greenhouse gases.
  • Broadband and telecommunications. Our committee put a lot of time in the first part of the session into supporting the expansion of broadband into underserved and unserved areas of Vermont. Last week, we voted out a comprehensive broadband bill (H.513) to help communities and businesses extend higher speed internet into those areas. Included in the bill are a variety of measures to support this effort, including planning and business plan development grants available to a variety of public, non-profit and private sector entities, a new financing program through the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA), as well as consideration of the role that existing electric utility infrastructure can play in these efforts.
  • State government information technology (IT) systems. Our committee has oversight of the Agency of Digital Services, which now manages and coordinates all IT systems used within agencies of state government. We have spent time reviewing issues with our E-911 system, as well as the Agency of Human Services Integrated Eligibility Project, which includes Vermont Health Connect.

Act 46 Forced Mergers

As I have discussed in my previous reports, our House district has the distinction of having four towns in three different school districts, and each of those districts is under a separate forced merger order from the State Board of Education. Each of these three mergers is a different and unique situation, with significant differences in the history and relationships of the affected communities.  I was a co-sponsor of H.39, which would create a one-year delay in implementation of most forced mergers across the state. That bill passed the House and is in the Senate. I have heard from many people in all four towns, including school board members, members of supervisory union boards and members of merger transition committees, as well as many concerned residents. While some are of the opinion that it’s time to get the controversies over with, merge and move on, the great majority feel that a one-year delay is warranted. The delay would allow for present court cases to be resolved. Among those supporting a delay are people who are not necessarily opposed to a merger for their districts, but who feel that the very late timing of the Board’s orders is causing impossible pressures and chaotic processes.

 

Hearing Aids and Health Care Coverage

I am the lead sponsor of H.348, which would require that health insurers cover hearing aids, and that the coverage be no less than the coverage Medicaid provides for these devices. People who use hearing aids including those with “age-related” hearing loss, as well as those with more severe loss often from an early age, depend on them. Assistive devices of various types are covered in many instances, and I don’t understand why hearing aids aren’t. The necessity is obvious, for employment, education and other aspects of a healthy life. There is also a similar bill introduced in the Senate (S.137). If you have an interest in this bill, please contact members of the House Health Care Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to let them know (contact information below).

 

A Four-Year Term for Governor?

As has been reported in the news, the Vermont Senate may consider beginning the process of amending the Vermont Constitution to create a four-year term for Governor, instead of the present two-year term. This issue has been discussed many times over the years. It has the support of some legislative leaders as well as Governor Scott, but it also has opponents. The process requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate followed by a majority vote in the House. This must then be repeated once more in the following biennium (2-year legislative session), after which it goes to the voters. As someone who worked in state government for ten years some time ago, I can see advantages, and it would also reduce the amount of time, energy, focus and money spent on frequent gubernatorial campaigns. On the other hand, many feel it lessens the role of the voters in Vermont’s democratic process, a concern that I also share to some degree. As I consider this issue (and assuming it goes forward), I would like to hear from voters in the district who have an opinion on this matter. Please email or write (contact information below).

 

Contact Information 

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions:

Email:  apatt@leg.state.vt.us

Mail:           139 West Hill Rd., Worcester, VT 05682

During the Legislative session, phone messages nay be left with the Sergeant at Arms office at the State House: 802-828-2228

To check on the status of any bill, to see committee agendas and all testimony and materials provided to committees, to see who is on each House or Senate committee, and to find contact information for House and Senate members, visit the General Assembly’s website:  https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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Report from the State House, February 4, 2019

 

As the Legislature starts the second month of the session, the pace begins to quicken. Committees spent the first few weeks in many cases being briefed and getting overviews on the functions of the various agencies and programs of state government and are now spending more time considering proposed bills that have been sent to their committees. A few bills have now been reported out and acted on by the full House.

Act 46 Forced Mergers

This week, the House will be considering and acting on H. 39, a bill which would delay for one year school district mergers that were not approved locally but have instead been ordered by the State Board of Education. Our House district has the distinction of having four towns that are part of three school districts, and each of the three school districts is subject to a different forced merger order. The situations and history are very different in each case. I am part of large tri-partisan group of Representatives representing forced merger districts around the state and have learned how different and unique many of the circumstances are.

I have heard from constituents from each of our towns who support giving forced merger districts more time to get organized and to work through issues that were not addressed by the Board of Education in their specific situations, and to see what the outcomes of the pending lawsuits will be. I have heard from a school board member in one district who would rather not have a further delay at this time, and I have heard from the chair of a school board who is also chair of their supervisory union and a member of the merger transition board, that they desperately need more time to do it right.

I voted for Act 46 in my previous term (2015-2016) because I do believe some consolidation of the numerous school districts in Vermont is for the best. But, I did so after a lot of consideration and with the understanding that the State Board would have the ability to carefully and, on a case-by-case basis, not force mergers when there was good reason not to, or where local districts offered alternatives that met the educational goals of the bill. I would not have voted for the bill without that understanding. So, I am a co-sponsor of H.39 and will be voting in support of a delay. There may also be amendments offered on the House floor. As of this writing, I do not know whether the bill will pass.

Energy and Technology Committee

Our committee has begun examining bills that have been introduced and sent to our committee.

Energy: Climate change is very real and addressing it is a priority for me. Some legislation we are considering would further support energy efficiency and weatherization efforts. Others would restrict the further expansion of natural gas infrastructure into new service territory, as a means of lessening our use of fossil fuels. We have heard a great deal of testimony about the restraints on the high voltage transmission grid, particularly in the Northeast Kingdom, that are restricting and limiting the installation of renewable energy generation, both small scale and larger. We have heard a great deal about “beneficial electrification,” lessening our biggest uses of fossil fuels, for transportation and heat, by moving to electricity (provided of course that the electricity is from renewable and clean sources).

Broadband and cell coverage: Among bills we are looking at are proposals that would support and, in some cases, push providers to get decent broadband services out to the underserved and unserved areas of Vermont, which certainly would include large parts of the four towns in our House district. We have a bill that would take a serious look at whether existing utilities with poles and wires could play a greater role in delivering broadband. We have bills that would require cell service providers to provide greater coverage when seeking approval for siting their facilities. The world of telecommunications, broadband and cell service is a complicated web of different technologies offered by providers that are regulated by Vermont in only limited ways, or not at all, so it’s difficult to simply require full broadband and cell access everywhere. On the other hand, we have also had exciting testimony about what rural communities around the state are doing themselves in partnership with others, by forming Communication Union Districts and in other ways. I expect that we will bring a few bills to the House Floor that will help get broadband to more Vermonters.

On the House floor

At this point, only a few bills have made it out of committee and onto the floor of the House for a vote. As the session continues, we will be spending more time on the floor considering bills from all of our committees. The most significant bill so far, which must be acted on early, was the Budget Adjustment, which makes necessary modifications to the current fiscal year’s budget which ends on June 30. What struck me in our votes thus far was that they were unanimous or close to unanimous. There will be many issues as we go forward where there will be significant differences, sometimes on party lines and sometimes not. In Vermont, legislators still do talk and listen to each other even when there are differences.

Information and contact

The Legislature’s website lists all bills introduced, shows their progress, provides detailed agendas for all House and Senate Committees, as well as testimony and documents submitted to each committee.:

https://legislature.vermont.gov

If you have questions, comments or concerns, please contact me by email. During the session, messages can also be sent to me by contacting the Sergeant at Arms office: 802-828-2228.

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State House Report: The 2019-2020 Session Begins

January 14, 2019

 

Opening Days

The Vermont General Assembly convened on January 9th to start the 2019-2020 biennium session. The first few days were taken up mostly with necessary procedural and ceremonial activities. In the House of Representatives, we all took the Oath of Office, we elected Mitzi Johnson to a second term as Speaker, and we received our committee assignments. In a joint House-Senate session, we witnessed the Oath of Office being administered to our Constitutional officers, Treasurer Beth Pierce, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer and Attorney General T.J. Donovan. Governor Phil Scott was sworn in for his second term as Governor, and we heard his Inaugural Address.

Being in the building further emphasized for me what I already knew, and that is the enormous number of new House members who were elected this past November and in the election two years earlier. Since my previous term in 2015-2016, at least half the Representatives are new to me. I’ve known a few of them from past connections, but mostly, I am working hard to connect names and faces and to remember where people are from. A significant number of veteran House members, including several committee chairs, chose not to run again as well. I am also struck by how many younger House members there are now, people in their twenties and thirties. Although we are living in difficult times in our nation, democracy still works in Vermont, people with different viewpoints and priorities respect and talk to each other, and our Legislature is made up of real people from all kinds of backgrounds and experience, who know and care about their own communities and our State of Vermont.

House Energy and Technology and Committee.

I will be serving on this committee, whose responsibilities include all aspects of energy and utility issues, oversight and legislation regarding telecommunications including telephone, internet and cell service, as well as state government’s information systems. In the last session, committee functions were restructured, and these areas and issues were assigned to one committee, in part to allow greater focus on telecom and internet than in the past. Having been deeply involved in energy issues as a utility general manager, board member, and in policy/management positions in state government, I am committed to energy efficiency first and foremost, to renewable energy development, and to tackling how we use energy for heat and transportation. After many years of deep immersion in these issues, I needed a break, but am ready to get to work in this committee. And I know that telecom and broadband access are big concerns in our communities (including at our house).

This is a big change for me, having served on the Health Care Committee in my previous term.  Health care will continue to be a personal focus for me at the State House, as it’s an issue I have cared deeply about for many years, including those two intense years of committee work.

Act 46 Forced Mergers

The four towns in our House district are in three different school districts and each one of those districts is subject to a separate forced merger order from the State Board of Education. The situations, history and issues are completely different in each of those three forced mergers. However, there are significant issues and questions in common. Does Act 46 give the Board more discretion and flexibility to not order a forced merger than the Board says they have? Is the Board overstepping its Constitutional authority? Does Act 46 as passed give the Board authority that should actually rest with the Legislature?

A non-partisan group of House members representing many of the communities across the state affected by forced mergers has been meeting to consider what action the Legislature might take. Options include legislation that would simply allow more time, so that no action occurs before litigation now before the court is resolved. Other options include changes or clarification to Act 46 itself. I will be reviewing bills that are drafted by members of this group to consider how these would affect our communities and their situations, and as of this writing, have signed on as a co-sponsor to three bills that should be introduced in the coming days.

Keeping in Touch

If you would like to receive these reports by email, please let me know. And if you wish to contact me on any legislative matter, my email is apatt@leg.state.vt.us

 

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