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

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Personal Reflections

May 30, 2021

 

The Legislature adjourned on May 21st after a historic, unusual session. I have written about the difficulties of legislating on Zoom. Communication with others, having one-on-one conversations, and asking and answering questions is limited, whether those conversations are with other legislators, staff, advocates and lobbyists for or against matters before us, interested members of the public, and anyone else. There are some advantages, involving the public’s access to all proceedings of the House, Senate, committee meetings and more. Some of the technology we’ve learned to use may continue to be used after the crisis is history.

As noted in my May 24th report, it is possible that the Legislature will meet again before we convene for the second half of the 2021-2022 biennium in January. In that case, I may publish additional updates, but if not, this may be my last report before 2022.

Although much was accomplished during the session, it became a very difficult one for me personally for the last part of it. In my Report of April 5th, I told readers of the very sudden and unexpected death of my wife, Amy B. Darley a few days earlier. It is a deep loss for me that I will be learning to deal with over time. Thanks to Zoom, I was able to participate in pretty much all sessions of the House, my committee’s hearings and other meetings. Working from home allowed me to participate, vote, and report bills from our committee to the House “floor,” while allowing myself the space I needed. I would not have been able to be at the State House in person, at least for some of that time.

Amy led a remarkable life that inspired and motivated many. She brought out the best in people, her children and all children, her friends , professional colleagues past and present, and people she just had conversations with on the street, in the community. We celebrated her life as a mother, partner, public servant, dancer, and force of nature in an online memorial attended by many.

The one thing I was not able to keep up with after Amy’s passing was answering all the correspondence I and all legislators get from constituents in our communities. I read all the emails, on subjects ranging from vaccines to pensions, emergency benefits for businesses and workers to rental housing, masks and other pandemic-related restrictions, and much more.  Many of the emails were personally written, while others were form letters that constituents sent via web links. While I regret not being able to respond to everyone, I know folks will understand. With the session over, as life for everyone starts to slowly return to normal, and as time passes for me, I do expect to be fully engaged in hearing from and responding to people in the communities I represent.

For more information.  To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or House or Senate sessions visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/s

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Adjournment of a Historic Session

May 24, 2021

 

The Vermont General Assembly finished its work on Friday, May 21st and adjourned. It is possible that we will reconvene again this year. The House has scheduled dates in June in the event we meet to consider overriding any bills vetoed by Governor Scott. As of this writing, he has vetoed S.107 dealing with confidential information in the arrest and charging of juveniles  Whether we meet in June is nor determined at this point. We may also meet in the Fall to consider further adjustments to use of federal Covid-19 relief funds (ARPA).

In the final week of the session, we passed numerous bills, major bills covered in news reports as well as many that are important to some Vermonters but don’t make the headlines. In most cases these bills had traveled back and forth between the House and Senate, with each body proposing amendments and ultimately agreeing on a final version.

The broadband bill H.360, which initially came out of the House Energy & Technology Committee, and which I have discussed in previous reports, saw final passage after the Senate and House agreed to the report of the Conference Committee that I served on, which resolved some differences in the two versions of the bill. The House vote on May 19th was unanimous, 148-0.

S.62, which supports workers affected by the pandemic, shores up Vermont’s unemployment insurance fund, provides scholarships for adult students enrolled in workforce development programs and more, passed the House unanimously as well.

H.449 dealing with our troubled teacher and state employee pension programs

passed after a difficult journey. This is a tough issue, and the bill establishes a process for assuring that these programs continue to benefit employees and retirees, both by better monitoring and managing the funds’ investments, and by suggesting structural changes, with full consideration to how those would affect both current employees and retirees. This bill does not solve the problem, but it sets in motion a process involving the right stakeholders that I hope will be successful.

The Budget, H.349. The last bill the House voted on was the budget. We accepted the Conference Committee‘s report resolving differences between the House and Senate. Between spending of state dollars and allocating some of the massive amounts of federal relief funds, this is a historic accomplishment, one that will need close monitoring and adjustments going forward. Much of the spending initially proposed in other bills (like broadband infrastructure for example) is taken out of those bills and included in H.349, so all spending is in one bill. You can find it and related summaries  and fiscal analysis at the General Assembly’s website. The House vote on this was also unanimous. It reflects the hard work and the need to find common ground that your legislators share, and it moves me and makes me proud of Vermont.

For more information.  To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or House or Senate sessions visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/s

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Heading Towards Adjournment

May 17, 2021

 

As we head into what will likely be the final week of the session, things are very busy, and House members will be spending a great deal more time on the “floor” (full House sessions even if by Zoom), rather than in committees. Committees, including House-Senate Committees of Conference, will meet as necessary to finish bills, to review and respond to bills the Senate has passed, or House bills the Senate has sent back to us with changes. This is the “hurry up and wait” part of the session, because we often need to recess while a committee or a conference committee is still working on bills.

Among bills on the House Calendar just for the beginning of the week are ones dealing with: use of stem cell products not approved by the FDA, cannabis regulation, “pupil weighting” (fixing inequities in how funds are distributed to schools statewide),  rental housing (including helping landlords deal with delinquencies), and  the financing of our childcare system. These are bills that have received a lot of study and testimony this session. By the time readers are seeing this, some will have seen final passage, and we will be working on others, like the budget and revenue bills, broadband and more.

Broadband, H.360.  The bill that the House Energy and Technology Committee brought to the  House floor early this session and which passed on a 145-1 vote, was taken up and amended by the Senate and sent back to us. I am one of three House members appointed by the Speaker to the Committee of Conference that meets with our Senate counterparts beginning on May 17th. There are a few significant differences between the two versions of the bill and a few minor ones. Our job on the Committee is to work through these and agree on a proposal that both the House and Senate can then pass. Everyone knows how important this issue is, and I am confident that the bill will pass before we adjourn.

The second year of the Biennium starts in January, and we will likely be back at the State  House, but…. Many things will be very different than how the Legislature operated in the past due to COVID-19. The building can be incredibly crowded, the House and Senate Chambers, the hallways, all the tiny committee rooms, larger rooms, and the cafeteria. There are issues with the ventilation systems. But it’s the People’s House and true public access for all Vermonter must be maintained. While there is much more planning to be done and decisions to be made, it is likely that some larger rooms will be divided to make more space for committees, and that some space in adjacent state office building will be converted for use by the Legislature. It will be different, but it will be good to do our work in person again.

For more information.  To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or House or Senate sessions visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/s

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Final Weeks: Resolving Issues Between the House and Senate

May 3, 2021

 

 Heading towards adjournment. The goal is to adjourn by the end of May, hopefully a little earlier. That would be a “return to normal,” even though we are meeting remotely and not at the State House. Things could change, but that is the goal. Last year as the pandemic hit, we had to adjourn in mid-March and then wait while changes were made and tested to allow legislators, staff and others including witnesses in committees to participate via Zoom, and for the public to be able to view all proceedings as well. It was a big learning curve, and we reconvened more than once later in the year to pass emergency relief measures, budgets and other necessary bills. But many bills on all subjects which we had wanted to take up never made it across the finish line. A number of those bills have passed or will see action before we adjourn this year.

This week the Senate is expected to act on the budget bill, H.439 and send it back to the House. Some of the changes they are making are simply because they get the bill later and have more current information and numbers. Other changes are differences that will need to be resolved. While most of the work is done in the Appropriations Committee, all other committees weigh in on those parts of the budget that affect their areas of oversight.  Resolving differences on some other bills has already been underway.

Broadband, H.360.  The Energy & Technology Committee’s major broadband bill which we brought to the full House earlier this session has been in the Senate, and we expect them to make some changes. There will likely be some differences of approach and emphasis between the two versions that will need to be worked out, but everyone understands how important this is to Vermonters, and I am confident that the bill will pass.

A bill I reported sails through.  Many bills pass the House quickly with little or no disagreement. Case in point: Last week I reported a bill to the House for our committee.  S.1 passed the Senate and was sent to our committee. It provides a limited extension of the authority for the biomass electric generating plant in Ryegate to continue operating, while efforts are made to find a thermal use for the large amount of heat the plant generates that is unused or excess. If that effort is successful, it will make a big difference. The bill up just before S.1 had involved lengthy debate and interrogation. But after I finished my report, the Speaker asked if there were any questions, and waited a few seconds. “Seeing none,” she continued, “are you ready for the vote?” It passed on a unanimous voice vote. It did not make the headline news, but that’s true of a lot of what we do.

For more information.  To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or House or Senate sessions visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/s

To contact me on legislative matters: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

COVID-19 RECOVERY BILL, MISCELLANEOUS TAX BILL,  BOTTLE BILL AND MORE

April 19, 2021

 

Last week was a busy one in the House, with a few significant bills taking up a lot of time on the floor, in debate and consideration of amendments and roll call votes.

COVID-19 Recovery Bill, H.315, becomes law. After all differences and changes were agreed to between the House and Senate, this important bill became law last week. There are many parts to this bill that will affect many Vermonters. Unlike the federal relief funds we allocated last year, these funds can be spent over a longer time period, and with a bit more flexibility in some areas. This allows us to not be as pressured to allocate and spend everything in just a few months but lets us make more considered use of funds over a somewhat longer timeframe.

Miscellaneous Tax Bill, S.53  This bill which passed the House last week modernizes and recalibrates certain aspects of our tax system, and goes back to the Senate for their consideration of the changes made by the House.
* S.53 lowers the minimum tax rate for small businesses, while ensuring that companies with more than $300 million in sales receipts pay their fair share.

* It updates the fees that managers of a mutual fund need to pay to the Dept. of Financial Regulation in order to sell their securities in Vermont.

* It repeals the state’s current exemption on the so-called “cloud tax” for vendor-hosted prewritten software or “canned software accessed remotely.” Consumers in 21 states already pay these fees.

* The bill also concurs with the Senate by eliminating the sales tax on all menstrual products, including tampons, pads and cups.

* S.53 creates an exclusion on the first $10,000 of federally taxable U.S. military retirement pay, recognizing the service of 3,900 Vermonters .who derive some of their income from there.

“Bottle Bill,” H.175. This bill which had broad public support, greatly expands the type of beverage containers subject to deposit, in a major update to the law that was first passed in 1972. H.175. The redeemable list is expanded to include plastic water bottles, wine and hard cider bottles, and containers for all carbonated and non-carbonated beverages (except for dairy and dairy substitute vegetable-based beverages ). Right now, the bottle bill covers only 46 percent of beverage containers sold in Vermont. Containers redeemed under the bottle bill are more valuable for recycling and are far more likely to be remade into new containers.

House Energy & Technology Committee.  On April 13th, I reported and S.60 to the House, with our committee’s recommendation that we concur with what the Senate had passed. This bill makes certain modest but important changes in how municipal and co-op electric utilities are regulated, which I described in my previous report. It reduces some regulatory costs and time burdens of the rate review process, and it makes it easier for Vermont’s smaller utilities to test innovations in that will help customers reduce their fossil fuel use. S.60 passed the House unanimously.

For more information: To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or sessions of the full House or Senate, visit the Legislature’s website at: https://legislature.vermont.gov/  

To contact me on legislative matters: apatt@leg.state.vt.us .

 

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Teachers and State Employee Pensions

April 5, 2021

 

A Change of Plans About Pensions. The problems with the teachers and state employee pension programs have been in the  news and have generated a lot of controversy. Last week,  it was announced that the proposal that had been put on the table in the Government Operations Committee was being withdrawn. That proposal dealt only with increasing employees’ contributions, decreasing benefits at retirement, and one other provision which caused the most anger from many. That provision would have eliminated counting years of service and would have increased the age of retirement. For a great many employees, this simply meant that they would have to work many more years before being eligible for full benefits. I heard from teachers and state employees for whom this meant now needing to work an additional, 7, 10 or more years. I was troubled by this group of proposed changes for two reasons. First, it had serious financial and life planning repercussions for current and prospective employees. Second, while some adjustments may end up needing to happen, I did not feel that that was where to start the discussion. Instead, more time will now first be used to take  a hard look at the governance of these programs and to consider possible revenue sources. I was glad that this change was announced last week. The situation is in fact very serious and must be addressed. There are a number of factors causing the problem, not just  the serious underfunding by past Governors and Legislatures. We have in fact been paying our obligations in more recent years, but we need to do more fix this and assure teachers and state employees about their retirement benefits.

In the House Energy and Technology Committee. Our committee is continuing to work on energy-related and other bills, now that out major broadband bill passed on a 145-1 roll call vote and is being considered in the Senate. The Senate passed a bill, S.60, which gives some regulatory flexibility to Vermont’s smaller municipal and cooperative electric utilities, including Morrisville Water & Light, Hardwick Electric and Washington Electric Co-op, which serve the communities in the Lamoille-Washington District. The bill makes it easier to try out and implement innovative technologies and rate structures to help customers lessen the carbon emissions impact of their energy use. It also lessens the cost and time spent in the formal regulatory process for making minor rate adjustments. Our committee is recommending that the House concur with the Senate on S.60.

Heading Towards the End of This Session.  The Legislature will continue to consider how and when to use the very large amount of federal funds from the American Rescue Program Act funds coming our way. There is more flexibility, and we have a longer timeframe to spend these funds than Vermont had with last year’s federal relief funds.

A Very Personal Note.  As some people know and many others are finding out, the love of my life, my wife, Amy Darley, died suddenly and very unexpectedly on April 3rd. I don’t have words to describe how I feel, but I and the rest of the family are doing our best as this loss sinks in. I appreciate the contact I’ve had from many people from all over, including many from Worcester. One Worcesterite advised me to keep busy, probably from personal experience, and I am continuing to participate in House sessions and committee hearings by Zoom, while stepping back a bit to do what needs to be done at a time like this. A celebration of Amy’s  amazing life will take place at a later time.

For more information: To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or sessions of the full House or Senate, visit the Legislature’s website at: https://legislature.vermont.gov/s

To contact me on legislative matters: apatt@leg.state.vt.us . My personal email is avrampatt@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Federal Relief Bill Keeps the Legislature Busy

Broadband Bill Passes

March 22, 2021

 

On March 11th, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which is much needed, and I believe will prove to be one of the more significant pieces of federal legislation in our nation’s history. In addition to direct relief to individuals and families who have suffered, financially and in other ways during the pandemic, very significant amounts will come to our state government to be allocated and directed to schools and colleges, municipalities’, homeowner and rental assistance, businesses, transportation and infrastructure including broadband deployment. The Legislature will again be very busy dealing with this, even as federal guidance about how all these funds can be used is still coming in. The House has this past week already passed some bills that make use of some of these funds, and as bills pass between the House and Senate and as we get more federal guidance, I’m sure adjustments will be made. But at the same time, we cannot just wait, and we must begin deciding on how best to use the over $1 billion in ARPA rescue dollars.

House Energy and Technology Committee. Our committee’s major broadband bill, H.360, reaches the House floor on Tuesday, March 23 and hopefully will have passed and been sent to the Senate by the time people are reading this. Some last-minute changes have been made in anticipation of ARPA funds being available for some portions of it. On the energy front, the House  gave preliminary approval on March 19th to H.431, An Act Related to Miscellaneous Energy Subjects, which the committee introduced. Although there are three separate and unrelated parts of the bill, the most significant is an area we began considering in early 2020, energy storage. This is an increasingly important subject, for grid reliability economic load management, and peak reduction, as well for supporting the development of renewable generation sources. Larger storage facilities can have the same impact on the grid when they release stored power as a generating facility. The bill sets out a structure and early guidance to the Public Utilities Commission for determining appropriate levels of regulation for energy storage.

BROADBAND UPDATE: THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES GAVE PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO OUR COMMITTEE’S BROADBAND BILL (H.360) ON MARCH 23rd, on a 145-1 ROLL CALL VOTE, AND IT IS EXPECTED TO SEE FINAL PASSAGE ON MARCH 24th.

Teachers and State Employee Retirement Programs. I continue to hear from constituents about their concerns and anxiety about the future of these two pension programs. I know legislators are working hard to find solutions that have the least negative impact and assure the continuation of the programs that are of such importance to current and future employees. As I have written before, I support (and am myself a beneficiary of) the pension form of retirement program and do not support efforts to unravel that.

For more information: To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or sessions of the full House or Senate, visit the Legislature’s website at: https://legislature.vermont.gov/  

Contact me with questions, comments or concerns at:  apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

The Legislature Returns from Town Meeting Break

 March 8, 2021

 

The Legislature returned from Town Meeting break on March 9. It’s a very busy time for both the House and Senate as both bodies need to meet the upcoming crossover deadlines to pass bills in time to be considered by the other body. The crossover deadlines are March 12 for most bills, and March 19 for revenue or appropriations bills.

Teachers’ and State Employees’ Pensions

Work is continuing on dealing with the pension fund problems for both teachers and state employees. Although some changes will likely need to be made going forward, we must do so in a way that does not dismantle these pension programs or dramatically affect benefits for future retirees. The House and Senate have had three joint workshops on this critical problem and these videos can be viewed at the streaming link at the Joint Fiscal Office page on the Legislature’s website.

Major Broadband Bills

The House Energy & Technology Committee‘s comprehensive broadband bill, H.360, is being reviewed by the Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees and should reach the full House for a vote very soon. Also see additional broadband news in the section below about federal COVID-19 relief.

Energy Issues

Now that we voted out the Broadband bill, the House Energy and Technology Committee will be considering a number of energy-related matters. Among these are electric utility rate design for carbon reduction technologies such as electric vehicle charging, and other measures dealing with climate change.

Federal Stimulus Legislation

As has been widely reported, Vermont is expected to receive $1.25 billion in additional federal COVID-19 relief, and this will require still more work by the Legislature and its committees in directing these funds. There will be significant amounts for rental and mortgage payment assistance, funding for vaccinations, unemployment, and local governments. It will include a significant amount for rural broadband. Although these and other funds included in the federal bill must still be used for purposes related to pandemic relief, these limitations are not likely to be as onerous as some of the restrictions in funding received last year.

For more information: To track bills, follow testimony, or view any Committee meetings or sessions of the full House or Senate, visit the Legislature’s website at: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Broadband Bill Work Progresses, Covid-19, Thoughts About the Texas Energy Crisis

February 22, 2021

 

Covid-19. The Legislature continues to spend a considerable amount of time on the Covid-19 emergency. The work involves making temporary adjustments to statute so that government at all levels, institutions, service providers and other organizations can operate and hold meetings. There is also a significant amount of work involved in reallocating or spending federal Coronavirus Relief Funds that were not fully spent by the previous federally imposed December 31 deadline. In the House Energy and Technology Committee, our work has mostly been to provide recommendations to the Appropriations Committee about broadband funding, for expansion as well as for shorter term emergency connectivity measures.

House Energy and Technology Committee.  As of this writing , we are close to completing and voting on a major multi-part bill to continue and expand the buildout of high-speed broadband to underserved and unserved locations in Vermont. Once the bill passes out of our committee, it will still be reviewed by other committees with regards to spending and revenue provisions before it comes before the full House.

The Texas Energy Crisis. The crisis that hit Texas as a result of the (for them) extreme cold caused massive and extended blackouts, where huge numbers of Texans were shut off in order to deal with massive natural gas shortages and to avoid collapse of the grid. The blackouts in turn caused frozen and burst pipes, lack of water treatment and serious property damage. News reports and analysis have pointed to the incredible lack of planning, including the fact that a number of years ago, Texas chose to not be part of a regional power supply and grid management arrangement, and to go it alone. There are  fundamental ways in which Vermont and the New England region are different than Texas.

The New England states are part of the New England Power Pool operated by an Independent System Operator. This arrangement has oversight of the major high voltage transmission lines, as well as providing financial mechanisms for assuring that there is sufficient power supply in anticipation of weather and other factors.

Vermont also differs from Texas and the other New England states in that in the late 1990s our Legislature, after much debate, chose not to change to a “retail competition” model for electricity. Having the utility deliver power but being able to choose which marketer you buy the power from has not helped most residential and other smaller customers, and many stay with buying the power from their poles and wires utility. But in Texas, they’ve gone one step further, by allowing customers to opt for a “variable rate,” where costs change with market fluctuations. Because of the power supply fiasco, those customers are seeing astronomical monthly charges on their credit card bills, especially those who did not lose power for too long.  News reports describe people whose bill is typically in the $100 range seeing charges in multiples of $1000, in one case, $16,752! Vermont’s regulatory system is not perfect, but we’ve certainly done well by comparison.

Contact. Please contact me with comments, questions and concerns at: apatt@leg.state.vt.us  .

To follow bills of interest and the work of all committees and the full House and Senate, visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Budget Work Begins, Broadband, Executive Orders

February 8, 2021

 

Budget.  After Governor Scott delivered his budget address on January 26th, House committees got to work. While it is the Appropriations Committee that puts it all together and brings a bill to the full House, all committees are asked to send them comments on those parts of the budget that affect their areas of oversight. I am also my committee’s liaison to the Appropriations Committee, so I sit in on some of their hearings as well.  Spending proposals the Energy and Technology Committee is reviewing include a number related to broadband expansion, increased funding for weatherization in homes and state facilities, electric vehicle initiatives, promotion of “community solar” projects, and a significant amount to upgrade state government’s information systems (IT) in the next few years.

Broadband.  The Energy and Technology Committee continues our work on a major bill expanding broadband to unserved and underserved areas. A primary focus continues to be support of the nine existing Communication Union Districts and others that may form in Vermont. Unfortunately, some federal broadband expansion programs have allowed some providers to bid on small bits and pieces of underserved locations. This “cherry-picking” makes it harder to for CUDs, whose goal is to get service to everyone, to sign up customers in some communities.

I continue to hear from residents of our four towns who are dependent on Consolidated Communications’ landline phone service for their internet. Complaints include poor or no service, unreliability, and lack of response to complaints. As I have written before, federal law prohibits states from regulating internet service regardless of provider or technology. I and other committee members  are communicating these issues to the company, as is the Department of Public Service’s Consumer Affairs Division.

Executive Orders. Governor Scott has issued some Executive Orders which would make very major changes in the organization and operation of large parts of our state government. By law, an Executive Order automatically goes into effect if neither the House or the Senate vote to disapprove of the Order by April 15th. The Legislature cannot make changes to an Executive Order but must take it or leave it.  In the past, Executive Orders have been used mostly to make smaller changes, but these include significant changes that would affect many Vermonters, many state employees, and how some programs operate and are overseen. I do not have a problem with the use of such Orders for smaller changes, or for their use in acting quickly on matters relating to the Covid-19 emergency. One Executive Order issued this year would have created a new Agency of Public Safety handling all law enforcement in state government, including those now housed in other agencies and departments. Many of these changes might be good, but they do need much more review and public input than the Executive Order process  allows. On February 5th, the House voted not to approve this Executive Order, but the proposals will be carefully reviewed this year in the normal and open legislative process.

Contact. Please contact me with comments, questions and concerns at: apatt@leg.state.vt.us  .

To follow bills of interest and the work of all committees and the full House and Senate, visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Committees Are at Work

January 25, 2021

Heading into the fourth week of the session, things are busy, even if it’s hard to really experience that with all of us working from home instead of interacting at the State House. At this point, very few bills have actually reached the House “floor” for a vote, but all fourteen committees are busy, hearing reports and updates, and working on legislation.

Among the bills getting immediate attention in committees and by the full House and Senate are a number that deal with the Covid-19 emergency. They involve making temporary statutory changes to allow government at the state, local municipal and school district levels to function, to have votes, and continue to do their necessary work. Other bills involve adjustments to various Covid-19 relief programs, including allowing them to extend and to use already appropriated unspent funds. Much of this year’s work will continue to be dominated by Covid-19, especially if hoped-for new federal relief and recovery funds come our way.

The House Appropriations Committee is working on the annual Budget Adjustment Act, which makes changes as needed to the previously passed budget for this fiscal year. Other committees including the one I serve on are asked to review adjustments proposed by the Administration that fall under our jurisdiction and to  make recommendations to the Appropriations Committee, which is expected to bring the Budget Adjustment  to the full House for a vote in the coming days.

House Energy and Technology Committee.  We have spent much of our time thus far hearing detailed updates and reports on broadband, state information technology systems and energy issues, including a refresher course on energy regulation and efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reduction programs.  This is useful for those of us who’ve been on the committee before, as well as for our three new members.  We are now starting to work on a broadband bill that will likely include a number of different sections and provisions, including further support of our Communication Union Districts such as the two that the towns in our House district are members of. Later in the session, our focus will  likely shift more to energy and climate change issues.

Retirement programs. As has been reported in the news, there are very serious funding gaps for both our state employee and teachers  I believe that it is important to preserve the pension form of retirement programs and have been troubled in the past by efforts across the country to erode these. At this stage, I do not have a solution, and everyone knows how hard it will be to close those gaps at this time, when there are also so many other needs. But I will follow this closely, and oppose measures that unduly lessen the value of these programs for future retirees.

Contact. Feel free to contact me with questions and concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us . To follow bills of interest and the work of all committees and the full House and Senate, visit the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

The 2021-2022 Session Convenes In a Difficult and Troubled Time

January 11, 2021

The Legislature convened on January 6th for the 2021-2022 session, still affected in so many ways by the Covid-19 crisis, as well as by events in Washington. Our first three days were taken up with necessary organizational and procedural actions, including the election of a new Speaker, a new House Clerk, taking our oaths of office and receiving our committee assignments. We adopted emergency rules allowing us to continue meeting remotely due to Covid-19. While there had been hope that we might be able to have a “hybrid” arrangement with some sessions and committee meetings in person and others remote, the logistical difficulties of doing this with 150 House members plus staff, as well as the increasing numbers of Vermonters testing positive led to the realization that this would not be possible so soon. We have learned how to meet remotely. We get things done, but there is so much missing when we cannot meet in person.

I am proud and very moved by our Legislature and all its members. We have differences and disagreements of course, sometimes significant ones. But sitting in the actual House Chamber or participating as one of many little faces on a computer screen, it continually amazes me how much common ground we have, how much more we agree on than disagree on, and how we all work with respect and common concern for Vermont and for Vermonters.

Covid-19 Legislation.

House committees began meeting last week, with some of them working on bills related to Covid 19. The Government Operations Committee voted 11-0 to bring a bill relating to Town Meeting, H.48, to the floor this week for immediate action, so that local officials can have flexibility and options to choose from for how their Town Meetings are conducted this year. The bill makes the following changes to current law for 2021 only:

  •       authorizes municipalities to move the date of their 2021 annual Town Meeting
  •       authorizes municipalities to mail Australian ballots for use in their 2021 annual Town Meeting
  •       specifies that the terms of elected board members will continue until a successor is chosen (only applies to towns with charters)
  •       permits the Secretary of State to issue supplemental elections procedures to protect the health and safety of voters, elections workers, and candidates

Much of the 2021 session will by necessity be dominated by Covid-19. We must continue to provide relief to those affected, individuals, families, businesses, schools, institutions of all kinds. We must allocate new and much needed federal funds coming to Vermont that are intended for many different purposes. With Vermonters hopefully continuing to follow guidance and take precautions, and with vaccines beginning to be available, we hope that the pandemic itself will decline and come to an end in the foreseeable future. But recovering from the effects, rebuilding our economy and a return to normal activity will take time.

House Energy and Technology Committee

This will be my second term as a member of this committee. We deal with a variety of energy issues and are one of the key committees dealing with climate change. That will continue to be a large part of our work. Our committee is also the key committee dealing with broadband expansion, and this is now a major focus and priority for both the House and the Senate.  We will be working on legislation to further expand access to high-speed internet in rural Vermont. The committee also deals with telecommunications matters, including cell service. Matters related to state government’s own information technology (IT) systems are also part of our work. Members representing Lamoille County towns now make up one-third of this committee. Rep. Heidi Scheuermann from Stowe and I are continuing, and we are now joined by Rep. Lucy Rogers, representing Cambridge and Waterville.

Broadband and Our Communication Union Districts.

Besides hearing from people affected by Covid-19 and needing help, there is no other matter I hear from constituents more frequently about than lack of decent internet service.  I hear from people in all four towns I represent. Although the problem has been greatly heightened by the Covid-19 crisis, it was with us before the pandemic. With so many people now working remotely from home, students of all ages needing access, and many others now using telehealth services when possible, it has brought attention to the problem affecting so much of rural Vermont. In our area, the people with poor service, low bandwidth (or in some cases no service at all) are those whose only option is the landline phone company, Consolidated Communications. I do know a lot about why broadband has not been built out to everyone, like electricity was once through the Rural Electrification Program’s electric co-ops, and I’d be happy to discuss all of that further with anyone. My purpose here is to urge folks to be aware of and to support the Communication Union Districts (CUDs) that now include all four towns in the district. They are formed under Vermont law and with support from the Legislature and state government, and I believe are the most effective opportunity for extending high-speed service to those who don’t have it.

Woodbury, Worcester and Elmore are member towns of CVFiber, which was started a few years ago and is now getting close to begin building out fiber and serving some customers. If you live in one of these towns, visit CVFiber’s website to learn more, and take the survey linked at the top of the home page, which CVFber is using to help decide where to start work first.  https://cvfiber.net/

Morristown is a member of Lamoille FiberNet, which was formed last year and has completed a feasibility study for serving underserved areas in its towns. Learn more about Lamoille FiberNet, including how you can help, at: https://lamoillefiber.net/

Contact. Feel free to contact me with questions and concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us .The Legislature’s website is a great resource. The agendas and actions of the full House and Senate are available as well as that of all committees. Each committee has its own page, with all testimony, documents and reports available. All bills introduced are posted along with their status. And, one positive change as a result of Covid-1, is that you can now watch every House, Senate or committee proceeding live on a separate channel available on the website, or view a recorded version later. https://legislature.vermont.gov/

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Budget, Coronavirus Relief Funding and other bills pass before recess. We return on August 25

July 5, 2020

After a long day on the actual floor of the House chamber back on March 13th, we recessed for a few weeks while setting ourselves up and getting trained to meet online via Zoom. At first, only House committees were meeting, but then we began to have sessions of the full 150-member House, to vote on bills, and to concur with or amend bills the Senate had sent us. Then, on June 26 at 8:41 PM, after a very long week of full sessions and for many members, committee meetings as well, we recessed until August 25th.  It was not easy. It’s not ideal, but under the circumstances, we made it work. It was historic, we have learned from this, but watching an iPad screen for hours on end and remembering to unmute yourself when speaking is not the best way for elected legislators to discuss, debate, find common ground and do our work.

We did the critical things that had to be done. We passed a budget for the first quarter of the new fiscal year which began July 1. And we approved $1 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). We also passed a number of bills, major and minor, that had seen some action in the House or Senate before March 13, but which had been held up due to the emergency. 

Coronavirus Relief Funds Overview

The Vermont General Assembly finalized $1 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to help Vermonters and to rebuild Vermont’s economy and the institutions and systems vital to our quality of life. The Legislature’s actions, however, came after the Governor proposed a package that did not fully meet the federal requirements for fund distribution and after the Legislature listened to businesses who said they did not want the Governor’s proposed loan programs– they could not bear the burden of more debt—and that they needed grants.

The Legislature took the Governor’s economic recovery package of grants, loans, marketing and technical assistance totaling $250 million and transformed it to meet Vermonters’ needs. The Legislature’s package is loan-free and provides $219 million in Economic Recovery Grants for businesses, farms and nonprofits that have suffered significant COVID-19 losses.

A number of local organizations, regional economic development corporations and state government agencies have been actively providing information about assistance programs for businesses and how to apply. There are numerous programs targeted at specific types and sizes of businesses. I know that most businesses that have suffered as a result of the Covid-19 crisis have been following the passage and rollout of these programs. For anyone needing more information, the Agency of Commerce and Community Developments we page is a good starting point. https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19 .

Millions more will shore up schools, child care, parent child centers, and our health care system. The dollars will provide housing rehabilitation to increase the number of housing units for the homeless and for those in poverty, will help tenants and landlords with eviction and foreclosure protection, provide food for those who are hungry and summer meals for children. Workers will be protected by COVID-19 related workers compensation changes. Essential workers will receive hazard pay. Monies will support our farms and fund broadband build-out, our Vermont State Colleges, the University of Vermont, working lands and conservation.

Strict federal guidelines require the $1 Billion in federal funds be used for Covid-19-related expenses on items not previously budgeted for at the state or local level, and that the funds be spent by December 30, 2020.

Other Bills

Several other bills were passed by both the House and Senate in the last days before we recessed. Two that I’d like to mention specifically:

  • Elmore charter (H.946). At Town Meeting, the voters of Elmore adopted a charter that would allow the town to collect a “local option” rooms tax. Municipal charter adoptions or changes must also be approved by the Legislature, and so Rep. Dave Yacovone and I co-sponsored this bill.  In a normal session, a very short bill like this would make its way through committees and pass both the House and Senate without a lot of notice, as it only affects one small town. But in this unusual session, we needed to make sure that this made it to the full House for a vote before recess, and with enough time for the Senate to act on it as well. That happened and the bill was signed by Governor Scott on July 1st. With this new authority, the selectboard may now propose to the voters that they actually approve such a tax, which would be an additional revenue source for the Town of Elmore.
  • An act relating to addressing racial bias and excessive use of force by law enforcement (S.219). This bill is an important first small step in assuring that law enforcement is free of racial bias, and that when use of force is necessary, that there be clear, consistent and enforceable policies and guidelines for assuring that it is not excessive and only used when absolutely necessary. This bill passed both the Senate and House on unanimous voice votes.

When the General Assembly reconvenes on August 25th, we will have necessary and more current financial information, both about spending and revenue, in order to adopt a budget for the last three quarters of FY 2021. The House and Senate have each acted on bills large and small that have been sent to the other body but not yet acted on there. Among the more significant ones is the Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688), which we worked on in the first part of the session in the House Energy and Technology Committee and which passed the House on February 21 with 105 voting in favor. The Senate passed an amended version of the bil on a 23-5 votel and sent it back to the House on June 26.

Contact me with questions, comments or concerns: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

THE LEGISLATURE HEADS TOWARDS RECESS, WILL RETURN LATER THIS YEAR

 June 22, 2020

The Legislature will be busy this week passing a number of bills, most of which are critical for rolling out a wide range of emergency relief programs funded by the federal CARES Act, or which must be passed before the new fiscal year starts on July 1. Among other things, both the House and Senate must concur on final versions of bills, some of which originated in either body, in order for the bills to take effect. We will then recess until sometime after mid-August and then reconvene to deal with additional matters, including state government’s budget for the last three quarters of the fiscal year. We will have much more up to date information then in order to make realistic decisions. Committers may continue to meet during the interim, to prepare for when we are back in full session.

 

MAJOR EMERGENCY RELIEF PACKAGES APPROVED BY THE HOUSE

In the past few weeks, the House has approved a number of bills allocating a total of about $1 billion in federal relief funds for a variety of critical purposes. As I’ve noted in previous reports, use of these funds is very restricted and must be directly related to the COVID-19 emergency, and a great deal of work by legislators and legislative staff, by the administration and by affected parties has gone into making sure that we design these packages so that the full amount can be spent on eligible uses before the end of this year.

Here is a high-level summary of what the House has approved. Within each category, there are different programs and funding streams targeted for specific purposes. These numbers are still subject to change pending final passage by both the Senate and House.

  • $356m to stabilize health care and human service systems
  • $196m for business and economic development
  • $170m for frontline relief
  • $91m for housing and homelessness
  • $73m for higher education
  • $50m for Pre-K education
  • $43m for broadband, connectivity and cybersecurity projects
  • $35m for agriculture and forestry relief
  • $16m for our justice system
  • $13m for municipal government

Some information is already becoming available about these programs, but more will be available once these relief bills are passed and the various agencies and organizations involved are ready to receive requests.

 

PRIMARY ELECTION VOTING

Vermont’s Primary Election on August 11th will be conducted under normal election law. Early voting/absentee ballots will not be automatically mailed to every registered Vermont voter for the Primary. Absentee voting for the August 11 Primary begins on June 29. What will be new this year is that on June 24 and June 29, the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office will mail a postcard to each registered voter with a tear-off return postcard with which you can request that a ballot be mailed to you. As many as a third of Vermont voters have taken advantage of early/absentee voting in recent years, and this will encourage voters to make use of that reliable and secure voting method during the Covid-19 emergency.

Primary voters can request a ballot for one of Vermont’s major political parties: Democratic, Republican or Progressive. There are contested races in each party at the top of the ticket, for statewide candidates including Congress, Governor and Lieutenant Governor. There are not as many competitive primary races at the more local level in our area, except that Democratic voters in Woodbury and Worcester have four candidates vying for three slots for Washington County Senator.  A statewide list of all qualified primary candidates can be found at this link: https://sos.vermont.gov/elections/election-info-resources/candidates/

 

Contact:  I will prepare an additional report next week after we recess. Please contact me with questions, comments or concerns at: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

The New Fiscal Year Approaches, The Pace Picks Up, Emergency Funding Recommendations From My Committee, Racial & Social  Justice

June 8, 2020

 

THE PACE PICKS UP AS THE NEW FISCAL YEAR APPROACHES

As I have noted in previous reports, the Legislature is working hard, despite the obstacles of meeting remotely, to finish as many bills that must pass before the new fiscal year starts in July, as well as urgent bills related specifically to the Covid-19 emergency. Other bills that are ready to come to the floor may see action as well. We will then recess and reconvene later in the summer to deal with other bills. In this unusual and financially unpredictable time, we expect to pass a budget bill in the House this week that covers only the first quarter of the year, and send that to the Senate. Even with all the unknowns, we must have a budget passed in order for state government to function. We will then pass a full budget later on for the rest of the year, with more information about both costs and revenue to work with. In the end, there are some bills that, in a “normal”  year, would have likely made their way through the House and Senate and seen final passage, but which won’t make it this year.

 

COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR USE OF THE CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUND 

Vermont is receiving significant funding from the federal CARES Act that Congress passed. There are also significant restrictions on the use of funds and federal guidance on this is not always clear. Funds must be used directly to provide relief and help cover increased and unplanned costs caused the the pandemic, and they must be allocated and spent by the end of December. The House Appropriations Committee has asked the other House committees for recommendations in their areas, and the House Energy and Technology Committee has been working on this since last week, with our recommendations due this Wednesday. Since the Committee has not made any final decisions as I write this, I’ll simply list some areas generally that I think are likely to be included:

  • We can’t use these funds to simply bring broadband to unserved or underserved locations (although that is a large part of our focus outside of the current emergency). We will have some recommendations to get connectivity for students, teachers, and employees and others who need to work from home, which may also result in some service area expansion.
  • Access to telehealth services for those who do not have internet access, or devices that connect to the internet, or who need help learning how to use online technology.
  • Support for Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS, who incurred unplanned costs as they each stepped up in big ways to be a part of Vermont’s remote learning opportunities for our schools and students, including those without internet access.
  • Cybersecurity assessment around issues of state employees working from home.
  • The biggest item in terms of cost will likely be to cover arrearages for customers of utilities and communications providers that are subject to a moratorium on disconnections  for the duration of the declared emergency. Electric utilities are reporting that 60-day and 90-day delinquencies are up by as much as 250% over the same time last year. If funds are allocated for this, about two-thirds will likely be to avoid disconnection for electric customers, as electric bills are usually higher than phone and internet. Without electricity, there’s no internet, no refrigeration, no cooking in many cases, no running water for many, and much more. If the utilities have to write off these amounts, that cost would then have to be passed on to ratepayers.

Other House committees will be making recommendations in their areas, for purposes just as vital as these. I have heard from several constituents about using funds to alleviate hunger caused by the crisis for example, and I’m sure that will be a recommended use of funds coming to the Appropriations Committee as well.

 

JUSTICE IS FOR EVERYONE, NOT JUST FOR SOME

The recent events that have rocked our nation and sparked protests large and small across the country and across Vermont are a reminder that while we are a nation of strong ideals and principles, we have never fully lived up to them. This is true especially with regards to justice and opportunity for people of color, as well as immigrants and refugees, people who differ from the majority in many ways. It used to feel like we were taking small steps in the right direction, and that progress, however slow, was bending the arc towards justice. More recently, it feels like we are retreating, heading in the wrong direction. Racism, Nazi rhetoric and symbols, bigotry and violence out in the open, and police behavior that sometimes  incites further outrage rather than keeping the peace.

Many law enforcement officials, including the Sheriff and local police chiefs in Lamoille County, have made strong statements condemning the killing of George Floyd, and that is appreciated and necessary. But in many places, law enforcement needs to be examined and reformed. In the 2019-2020 session, a few bills were introduced in the House and Senate dealing with police use of deadly force, transparency of public records when police actions are investigated, and related issues. None of these bills have been taken up by their respective committees, but there is interest among many legislators in dealing with these issues. I do not know whether there will be time, in this unusual session, to take any of these up and have both the House and Senate act on them, but if that doesn’t happen, these issues will likely be on the agenda when the next General Assembly convenes in 2021.

On Sunday, June 7, Amy and I were in one of the hundreds of cars in the Drive Against Racism procession through Morrisville. I did not know what to expect, how many people would be out, both in cars and in small groups on the streets waving their signs back at us. It was cheerful, peaceful, and positive, and there were a lot of us!  For me, it was a sign of some hope in a time of so much despair. Justice and liberty must be for everyone alike.

Contact: Please contact me with questions, comments and concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Covid-19 emergency bills, Capital budget, Non-emergency bills see action, Broadband

May 25, 2020

 

The House of Representatives continues to meet remotely via online means, both in committee hearings as well as  full House sessions where bills are discussed, sometimes amended, and acted on. The schedules of all House and Senate sessions and all committee hearings are available on the Legislature’s website (https://legislature.vermont.gov/ ) as are links to watch any of these proceedings live or afterwards.

We are still acting on measures dealing with The Covid-19 emergency and the ability of state and local governments and other entities and individuals to function during this time. At the same time, we are taking up bills related to budget, revenues and capital projects that must pass before the start of the coming fiscal year in July. We are also taking up some bills coming out of committees that are normal business— they are ready to vote on, and so we do.

In a normal year, the Legislature would have adjourned by mid-May. Instead, because we are working at a slower pace, remotely, the plan is to act on any bills that must pass before the upcoming fiscal year starts, as well as some others bills that are ready for action, and then adjourn until later in the summer. At that point we will likely reconvene for a period of time. Before we left the State House building in mid-March, the House had passed a number of bills, major and minor, and sent them to the Senate, and the Senate likewise to the House.  We need to follow through and act on any that are ready to pass this session.

Among bills that passed the House last week were ones making updates and housekeeping language changes regarding regulation of the captive insurance industry in Vermont, and about town tree wardens. Although still making their way through the committee process, bills dealing with municipal charters, which the Legislature must approve, have been voted out of the Government Operations Committee and sent to the Ways and Means Committee, including the Town of Elmore’s charter adopted by the voters at Town Meeting.

Capital Budget (H.955)

This bill, which authorizes spending through bonding on a wide range of construction and capital projects throughout every part of state government, passed second reading in the House last week and and should see final passage this week, after which it is sent over to the Senate.. It covers major building repairs or necessary upgrades in state buildings, relocations, environmental and water quality projects, electric vehicle charging stations, and much more, as well as funding for the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.

House Energy and Technology Committee

In the House Energy and Technology Committee, we have been dealing almost exclusively with broadband and other telecommunications and information systems issues since the Covid1-19 emergency began. The Senate last week passed a bill (S.301) dealing with telecommunications facility siting and with assuring access to the E-911 system statewide. Our committee has taken testimony on these matters as well and I expect will bring that bill to the House soon.

The Department of Public Service has prepared an extensive proposal dealing with broadband access in the immediate term and for the longer term. In the very short term, Vermont may be able to use some federal relief funds to deal with internet access issues directly resulting from the Covid-19 emergency. These include access for students and teachers who cannot participate in remote education due to lack of broadband, as well as telehealth access for people meeting with health care providers. The problem is that any  funds spent must be  spent only for these narrowly defined purposes, and must be spent by the end of December 2020. Our committee and others are grappling with what best to do.

The longer range plan from the Department is about getting broadband access to the last mile, in our rural areas, and even in some more populated suburban communities where there are pockets of unserved or underserved homes. This is something pretty much everyone agrees needs to happen. A major issue raised by the proposal, however, is that the Department suggests that, since getting the highest speed broadband (“100/100”) via fiber to the last mile will take a number of years and will have significant cost, that we might in the shorter term accept the federal FCC definition of broadband  (“25/3”) in some instances. The problem raised by a number of people, including by some of Vermont’s newly formed or operating Communication Union Districts, is that this may very will hinder us from getting truly high-speed broadband to the last mile. I share this concern, while also acknowledging that in some places, some improvement in broadband speed may be better than none at all.  Our committee has been taking testimony and we are wrestling with this tough and critical issue.

Financial Assistance for Individuals

Many Vermonters are feeling the effects of this emergency, whether it is caused by unemployment or other circumstances, and many are struggling to get food and basic necessities. The Economic Services Division of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) offers several assistance programs for individuals and families. These include 3SquaresVT (Food Stamps), Fuel Assistance, Emergency Assistance and Reach Up. If you or someone you know is struggling at this time and could use help, please don’t hesitate to find out if you are eligible. Visit the Economic Services Division’s webpage ( https://dcf.vermont.gov/esd/contact-us ) or call 1-800-479-6151 to find out what help may be available. (I understand that people are not having much trouble getting through to talk to someone).

Announcement.

My Reports from the State House are intended to inform constituents about activity in the Legislature, both generally and about issues I am specifically involved in and are not about elections. I will just report here however, that I filed the necessary papers on May 17th, and that I will be seeking re-election to the Vermont House.

Contact me with questions, comments and concerns: appat@leg.state.vt.us

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Activity in the House, Broadband Expansion Proposal, Unemployment Problems, Other Financial Assistance Available

 May 11, 2020

 

 The Legislature continues to grapple with the enormous impact of the Covid-19 emergency, and our job is made more difficulty by having to work remotely ourselves, but we are doing it. In addition to voting on bills and work in our committees, legislators also continue to hear from constituents and assist them as best we can with problems they are having with continuing issues such as Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims, claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for self-employed people, and other problems.

The House of Representatives.

Last week, the House acted on some bills responding to specific problems caused by the emergency.  H.947 deals with tax provisions for municipalities that were unable to adopt a budget because their scheduled meetings or votes could not happen once the emergency was declared. H.950 allows for remote rather than in-person witnesses to the signing of advance directive documents. Both these bills passed the House and were sent to the Senate. H.948 which deals with quasi-judicial municipal proceedings such as property tax appeals, passed second reading, but may see some changes to one section before we vote on final passage. These bills are called “session law,” meaning that they do not become part of Vermont Statute and are in effect only during this emergency.

On May 6th after our session adjourned, the House then met as a caucus of the whole to openly discuss some major issues, most notably the backlog of unemployment and PUA claims. We heard from Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs Brittney Wilson who is overseeing efforts regarding the backlog for the Governor’s Office. It was a challenging and difficult discussion, and it can be viewed on the live streaming link on the House webpage: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC1w34Iyg1vB_HT6dt_4eMA/videos?view=57

 

Broadband Expansion

The Department of Public Service has proposed a plan for getting broadband to all unserved locations in Vermont, by using a portion of what will likely be a second round of federal relief assistance for states. As I have discussed in previous reports, the Covid-19 crisis has focused a bright light on this issue as students, teachers, people needing non-emergency health care services and many employees suddenly found themselves having to do this over the internet. For those without access to broadband, either because of location or affordability, this is not possible. The Department’s plan is multi-layered and proposes several different approaches. It will attempt to get broadband to everyone, based on the minimum speeds defined by the federal government. That may be good in the short run but may not be sufficient in the longer run as expectations for higher speed broadband will continue to grow. There will be some tradeoffs, but I will be looking at these proposals’ both from the necessary short-term perspective as well as what it means for the long term. The House Energy and Technology Committee which I serve on will hold a joint hearing with the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, May 12 at 1:30, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClq5iwB1tbE-9u5TIJHtFEA/videos?view=57

The Department’s report is available here: https://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/dps/files/documents/Emergency%20Broadband%20Action%20Plan%20final%20draft%205-5-20.pdf

 

Unemployment

Many constituents who have been laid off temporarily or longer term, as well as self-employed people who are unable to work at this time, have sought help from their legislators in getting responses or help from the Department of Labor with their claims.  For the constituents that I have submitted inquiries for, a number have told me that their issues have been resolved, but others are still frustrated by a variety of issues and glitches in the system, as well as the sheer backlog of claims that have to be worked through.  I will continue to monitor the unresolved cases I have submitted. If you have not been in touch with me or another legislator, please contact me and I’ll do my best to help resolve the problem. Progress has been made, but not for everyone yet.

 

Financial Assistance for Individuals

Many Vermonters are feeling the effects of this emergency, whether it is caused by unemployment or other circumstances, and many are struggling to get food and basic necessities. The Economic Services Division of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) offers several assistance programs for individuals and families. These include 3SquaresVT (Food Stamps), Fuel Assistance, Emergency Assistance and Reach Up. If you or someone you know is struggling at this time and could use help, please don’t hesitate to find out if you are eligible. Visit the Economic Services Division’s webpage ( https://dcf.vermont.gov/esd/contact-us ) or call 1-800-479-6151 to find out what help may be available. (I understand that people are not having much trouble getting through to talk to someone).

 

Please contact me with questions, comments and concerns: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Vermont State Colleges, Unemployment Frustrations, The House of Representatives Meets and Votes

April 26, 2020

It has been a strange and difficult couple of weeks since my  last State House Report, both dealing with and hearing from constituents on some major, difficult matters that have been in the news, and because the Covid-19 crisis hit home personally during this time. My older sister, who lived near where we grew up in New York, was stricken with the Covid-19 virus on April  8th and died on the 17th.  Mourning from a distance via Zoom, at the cemetery and a large “remote” gathering the next day, felt strange and painful, and yet it brought so many people together, family, friends, people who had gotten a bit disconnected over time, people who could not have all been there if it was in person. We made it work. In many ways, I think things will be very different once we are on the other side of this terrible situation.

Vermont State Colleges (VSC). The proposal, now withdrawn, to close three campuses of the Vermont State Colleges came as a sudden and very painful shock to many throughout Vermont, but especially in the areas of the state most directly affected: Lamoille County and the Northeast Kingdom with regards to Northern Vermont University (Johnson and Lyndon) and Vermont Technical College in the Randolph area. In my time as a Representative, I have never heard from more people about an issue in such a short timeframe, residents of our House district and beyond: students, alumni, staff, faculty, community organizations, and people intensely worried about the future of their communities. Representatives and Senators came together to strategize and immediately alerted leadership in both bodies, who took action in communicating to the VSC Board. The outcry both from legislators as well as the outpouring of comments from the public and from those directly affected made a difference in a short amount of time. There is support for using some of the federal relief funds coming to Vermont to assure that these institutions will be open and functioning in the near term. There is also a shared understanding that beyond that, structural changes are needed in this time of declining enrollment and other changes in higher education that have affected other colleges in Vermont and elsewhere as well. My sense is that there is support in the Legislature for increasing the state’s financial support for VSC, but there will be debate about how to pay for that. I sense a real understanding and commitment by many to engage in the hard work for the long term. I am glad that the proposal was withdrawn, but this issue isn’t going away.

Unemployment Backlog. The Department of Labor has put a great deal of effort and additional personnel into trying to get through the enormous backlog of applications and filings for unemployment. As I write this on April 26, progress has been made, many are beginning to be able to get through the system and receive benefits. But many are still not, and legislators are continuing to hear from constituents about glitches and errors, about not being able to get through. For self-employed and independent contractors, a new online system was developed, because benefits have never before been available to these people, and both the federal and state rules, regulations and systems were not designed for that. I say this by way of explanation, but not as an excuse, because for those who have been out of work and have had no income during this crisis, it really doesn’t matter what is causing the problems preventing them from getting the help they need. I hope that progress will continue to be made.

House leadership has recently set up a process for legislators to report constituents’ unemployment claim problems to a troubleshooting team at the Department of Labor. If you have unresolved issues with a claim or are having trouble reaching someone to answer questions, let me know. I’ll let you know what information I need and I will contact them.

In the House of Representatives. The House met formally for the first time on April 23rd using remote technology, and we took votes on three Senate bills dealing with the Covid-19 situation. We expect to take more up as well as to eventually get to the critical bills that must pass, like the state budget. Almost all of the 150 Representatives attended and voted. A variety of online and telephone means are available to assure that every member can vote regardless of location or access to technology. This was historic. As tragic and as difficult as this time is, we have found a way, stumbling through technology trainings and mock practice sessions, because we have a deeply felt responsibility to get things done, to keep things going at this time. It’s a lot easier to use these technologies in smaller groups, in our committee meetings, or in the Senate, than it is for 150 House members, but we are doing it. As a reminder, the Legislature’s website shows the schedules and agenda of all House and Senate committee hearings, full House and Senate sessions, as well as links so you can watch and listen to any of these meetings. https://legislature.vermont.gov/

Please contact me with your questions, comments and concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Unemployment Insurance Logjam, Internet Access, Further Relief Legislation

April 13, 2020

 

As we continue to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, we are all struggling to adapt, in state government, in the Legislature, and in our own lives. So many are hurting economically, and the basic functions of our lives often feel like they’ve been turned upside down. We may be affected by the virus itself or someone we know has it. In my own case, a family member in another state is hospitalized with Covid-19, and all I can do is be in touch with other family members through texts and calls.

Unemployment Insurance. The Vermont Department of Labor has been struggling to process the huge volume of claims from people who are out of work either temporarily or long-term, as well as from self-employed people who are eligible as a result of the relief package passed by Congress. There has been a serious logjam frustrating so many Vermonters trying to file initial or weekly claims, or get questions answered. For the week ending April 4th, the Department processed 16,474 initial claims and 21,953 continuing claims. That is an increase of 15,955 initial claims compared to only 519 during the same week last year. As frustrating as it is for people, it’s also clear to see from these numbers why this has happened.

The Department has taken steps to make things better, first by putting more staff to work at claims processing. Last week, the Department announced new steps that are now in effect. A firm experienced in handling Unemployment calls in other states will now be handling some of Vermont’s call volume. People filing weekly continuing claims online are requested to do so on certain days of the week based on the first letter of their last name. While this is not mandatory, if a significant number do this, it should make things move much more quickly.  These most recent changes in phone and online filing as well as other information are available at: https://labor.vermont.gov/ . This will not immediately fix everything, but it should help. But people are asked to be patient and keep trying. Eligible claims will be paid.

Internet Access for School, Work, Health Care. The House Energy and Technology Committee that I serve on has met a few times recently via online platforms that allow the committee, staff and witnesses to function almost normally, and that allow any interested members of the public to watch and listen. We have received reports about the functioning of state government’s major information technology systems, including the ancient IT system that handles Unemployment Insurance.

Most of our testimony has been about availability of broadband and cell service in a time when the state’s students of all ages as well as teachers are at home, those who have jobs that can be performed at home are doing that, and health care providers are using the internet to meet with patients who do not require in-person contact. This points out the gaps in service so much more than ever before. There are two basic reasons why some Vermonters don’t have adequate internet and cell service. The first is the lack of infrastructure to reach much of rural Vermont, including in our area. There are rural towns in Vermont where 40% of the school students are not connected. The second is economic. Even in our larger towns and cities, there are many households that cannot afford service even if it is available. There are a few short-term fixes being deployed, from temporary siting of mobile transmitting equipment, to free or reduced-price connectivity offered by service providers or local non-profits. But these are stop gap measures during this crisis. Education, employment and telehealth have long been arguments for extending broadband to the last mile in rural Vermont, but the Covid-19 crisis has suddenly and dramatically shone a spotlight on this issue. I hope it will serve as a motivator when we get to the other side of this.

The Legislature. Last week, the Vermont Senate passed additional legislation to provide relief during this time, but that must still be taken up and passed by the House. The relevant House committees are meeting. House members have been getting training on an online platform by which we will be able to vote remotely as a body with 150 members. I hope we can act on the new Senate legislation as soon as possible. Beyond that, it remains to be seen what additional bills will pass this year. There are critical bills like the budget and revenue ones, as well as others that need to pass and which should not be controversial. It is possible that we will convene as a full body for periods of time, recess and then reconvene, so we may meet later into the year than usual. It is also likely that some bills, even ones which the House passed and were sent to the Senate (or vice versa) will have to wait for the next session.

Bernie Juskiewicz. Along with so many others, I was saddened by the loss of former Rep. Bernie Juskiewicz due to Covid-19. I got to know Bernie during my previous term in 2015-16, both at the State House and at meetings and events in Lamoille County.  He was interested in people, he wanted to know about you, he always greeted you with a smile. After he chose not to run again, he was still the same when I did run into him occasionally. As a legislator, he was serious, worked hard, had a sense of humor, listened to others and was known and respected for trying to find common ground. I’m saying what so many others have already said, but it’s all true. He is missed.

Please contact me with questions, comments or concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Covid-19 Updates. New Help, and Scam Alert

April 5, 202o

 

It is still going to be a while before we can see the beginning of the end of the Covid-19 crisis.  We should soon have some idea about whether the severe but necessary measures we have taken will help avoid the worst-case scenarios. Sitting at home and following instructions, I am  grateful for all the people performing essential services, in health care, schools, food supply, public safety, critical home repair, utility and fuel supply, state and non-profit employees helping the vulnerable and needy and supporting struggling businesses and employers, and more.

For those who need help, there are many government agencies, local and regional organizations and others regularly providing information and updates. I won’t repeat that here in detail, but I have included several weblinks at the end of this report. The big changes in the last week or so are about the federal stimulus package, and information that has become available about new help for struggling businesses and non-profit employers, as well as the  “stimulus checks” that most of us will be receiving in the coming weeks. For businesses not already familiar with the new assistance now available, see the ACCD weblink below.

BEWARE OF SCAMS. Regarding the stimulus checks the federal government will be either direct depositing in bank accounts or mailing, it’s unfortunately not a surprise that there are scammers and thieves already out there trying to take advantage of people. So, I’d like to share some warnings recently put out by the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE), which we should all be mindful of regardless of age.

Fake Stimulus Checks. There are fake checks circulating right now. It will take at least three weeks for direct deposits to land and up to 10 weeks for paper checks to arrive by mail. If you receive any checks now, it is a fraud. Telltale signs are checks written in odd amounts or including cents, or a check that requires you to verify receipt online or by calling a number.

Facebook, text, or social media messages trying to get in touch with you. Scammers are reaching out to people online on social media platforms or by sending text messages with claims they are from the IRS or other government agency and are trying to get in touch with you regarding your stimulus check. The U.S. Government will never reach out to you via any social media platform or by text.

US Emergency Grants Federation is a fake website. Scammers pose as a government agency and will send a link to this website or something similar for you to verify personal information. The government does not do this.

Processing Fee. Scammers pose as the IRS or other government agency claiming you can receive your stimulus check faster if you pay a processing fee. There is no such thing.

Any correspondence with the IRS or U.S. Treasury. The IRS will never call or email you to verify any personal information. This includes your social security number, bank account number, or anything that allows access to your identity. As soon as you receive a call or email saying they are from the IRS or U.S. Treasury, hang up or trash it.

These scammers and fraudsters are professional criminals and will use a variety of methods to steal your personal identification and your money. They use scare tactics and even attempt to befriend vulnerable people into trusting them. To report a scam call or email contact the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424

AT “THE STATE HOUSE.” The Legislature is getting in gear to do our necessary work remotely from home for the time being. House and Senate Committees are meeting regular now, and you can find each committee’s weekly agenda and written testimony at https://legislature.vermont.gov/ . Links for watching and listening are provided as well. in a future report, I’ll discuss what we are doing in the House Energy and Technology Committee, including reports about our utilities and infrastructure, state government’s major information system functions (including Unemployment Insurance) and gaps in internet access, both physical as well as economic, for school children and teachers.

HERE ARE A FEW KEY LINKS FOR INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE:

Vermont Department of Health, for information about the illness, prevention and updates:

https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/infectious-disease/2019-novel-coronavirus

Unemployment benefits: https://labor.vermont.gov/

Information and assistance for businesses: https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19-guidance

or personal economic assistance programs (e.g. SNAP/Food Stamps) and about childcare:

https://dcf.vermont.gov/COVID-19

If you need help and are not sure where to go: CALL 2-1-1

Please contact me if you have questions or if I can help in any way.

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

This is a Hard and Unpredictable Time

March 29, 2020

 

These are very difficult and unpredictable days for all of us, globally, as Americans, as Vermonters, and as part of our communities and families. Some of us know people who have been stricken by the covid-19 virus, perhaps someone who has died. We all know the fear and apprehension as the numbers grow. We know the numerous severe but necessary restrictions on our own lives that we need to live with now to protect ourselves, our loved ones, friends and co-workers. Many of us have lost income due to temporary or longer-term job loss, the shuttering of businesses and other places of employment. We do not yet know when this will begin to end, when things might start to return to normal.

As an elected Representative, it has also changed almost everything about how the Vermont House and Senate operate. I am very aware of the huge impact this has on all government programs, on the cost of helping Vermonters who need it. No one can predict the long-term effect or put a number on the economic impact on Vermont and on our state and local governments, but we can understand the magnitude.

In the past few weeks, I’ve written a few reports posted on Front Porch Forum, Facebook and in the News and Citizen. Those reports were mostly an attempt to provide the latest information and web links about programs, resources and changes being made to help individuals, families and businesses deal with this crisis. Much of that same information is also being offered by various state agencies, the Governor’s office, regional and local organizations, and by community members who want to help their neighbors. Everyone is working hard, scrambling, to adjust and make changes and adapt assistance programs of one kind or another to meet present needs. I will provide a few web links at the end of this report, but I also know as I write this on Sunday afternoon, that things will change by the time many people read this.

The Legislature has been grappling with how to conduct business since the pandemic first started affecting Vermont.  A fundamental principle, no matter what, is that our meetings, discussions and votes must be done in an open manner accessible to the public. Early on, both the House and Senate struggled with this, if for no other reason than that our rules say that a member must be “present” to vote, on the House or Senate floor, or in our individual committee rooms. So, we have amended rules to temporarily allow remote meetings, where we are participating via audio and video internet platforms from home. (For floor sessions, it is a little easier to do this with 30 Senators than with 150 House members, but it will happen.) Those committees that had to deal with the most urgent priorities of economic relief efforts, access to health care and critical services, changes to local government and election processes during the crisis and more, were the first to begin meeting this way.

Although the House Energy and Technology Committee that I serve on was not one of those first committees, we are meeting for the first time since March 12 on Wednesday, April 1st, from 11:00-12:30 and 2:30-4:00. You can follow any committee meeting by following instructions on that committee’s webpage and checking their agenda link near the top of the page. Here’s the link to our committee’s page for example: https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2020/19

We all understand that many Vermonters are being asked to go beyond the normal call of duty, sometimes at risk to themselves, during this crisis. Everyone providing health care services of any kind. Social service agency employees helping the vulnerable and needy. State employees at every level, those serving Vermonters on the front lines and those working to adapt our programs to meet today’s urgent needs. First responders and public safety workers.  Teachers. School bus drivers delivering meals. Grocery and food industry workers. Utility employees. So many more. Thank you!

Here are a few key links for information and assistance:

Vermont Department of Health, for information about the illness, prevention and updates:

https://www.healthvermont.gov/response/infectious-disease/2019-novel-coronavirus

Unemployment benefits:

https://labor.vermont.gov/

Information and assistance for businesses:

https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19-guidance

or personal economic assistance programs (e.g. SNAP/Food Stamps) and about childcare:

https://dcf.vermont.gov/COVID-19

If you need help and are not sure where to go: CALL 2-1-1

Your State Representatives Dave Yacovone and I will do our best to answer questions and provide information during this time. Contact us at apatt@leg.state.vt.us and dyacovone@leg.state.vt.us

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Extraordinary Measures as We Work to Get Things Done

March 15, 2020

 

As Vermonters know, the COVID-19 situation is causing turmoil and concern in all aspects of our lives as we take dramatic steps individually, in businesses, institutions, organizations, our communities and through our government to minimize the danger and possible harm, both in terms of health as well as the economic impacts. Over the past week, the Legislature began to take steps to protect those working in the State House, legislative staff, legislators, state government officials and those working on issues and testifying in committees. The first steps were to limit visits and events such as press conferences, meetings and receptions by outside groups who often bring large numbers of people to the building.  We kept working last week, but the halls, committee rooms and cafeteria became much quieter and less busy. On Friday, the House of Representatives stayed in session from the morning through early evening to act on a large number of bills and get them to the Senate. The Joint Rules Committee comprised of leadership and members from the House and Senate continues meeting regularly to both monitor the situation and to decide next steps. The Legislature is now on a one-week recess. It is possible that it could be extended. Steps are being taken to enable at least some remote participation via technology in committee work. The building is closed and being thoroughly cleaned. We will see what happens next and hope for the best.

Two Bills Amended to Include Provisions Helping Vermonters Deal With COVID-19 

Unemployment Insurance

The House  approved amendments to H.681 proposed by the Commerce Committee regarding unemployment insurance eligibility, to make it clear that COVID-19 affected businesses and individuals are eligible for unemployment benefits. This includes both individuals who need to self-quarantine, who are infected, who need to care for people who are infected, and businesses that need to shut down temporarily. Specifically to deal with the current situation, we’ve eliminated waiting periods and streamlined application processes, and ensured that employers’ unemployment insurance experience rating is not affected by COVID-19 related claims. We included language that would enable further expansion if/when the federal government declares a national emergency which would exempt us from a few restrictions that are currently in place. This bill will now need action by the Senate.

Health Care and Human Services

The House Health Care Committee, with help from the Human Services Committee and with extraordinary work done by legislative staff, proposed a detailed and comprehensive list of measures as an amendment to H.742 to ensure our healthcare and human services systems have the tools on hand to provide the care needed to Vermonters while ensuring that we sustain our system until the COVID-19 crisis passes. The measures deal with workforce, access to services, financial stability for providers and other matters. The bill passed the House and was immediately moved to the Senate. A summary follows:

  • Allows the appropriate agencies to issue temporary licenses to permit healthcare providers licensed in other states to practice in Vermont, as well as, retired medical practitioners to return to the workforce temporarily.
  • The Agency of Human Services, which encompasses our healthcare and human services agencies that oversee hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and child care, to name a few, may waive or permit variances of state rules to providers to ensure the continuation of operations with a reduced workforce and provides for flexible staffing arrangements that are responsive to our evolving needs.
  • Loosens Medicaid and commercial insurance credentialing requirements to allow for movement of providers across the system.
  • Gives broad authority to the Department of Financial Regulation to waive or limit Vermonters out of pocket expenses related to COVID 19 diagnosis, treatment and prevention and may suspend high deductible plan requirements for the purchase of prescription drugs.
  • Ensures Vermonters with chronic maintenance medications to always have a 30-day supply on hand by allowing them to refill prescriptions early.
  • Expands pharmacists’ ability to refill prescriptions for which there is no refill or the provider authorization has recently expired.
  • Buprenorphine prescription renewals may be refilled without an office visit by an authorized provider.
  • Expands support to Vermonters needing nutrition services as a result of COVID-19.
  • Expands access to telemedicine by allowing providers licensed in nearby states to provide services related to COVID-19.
  • Allows for appropriate healthcare delivery by telephone for Medicaid members.
  • Streamlines the process for the Agency of Human Services to fund providers in the state to sustain them through the healthcare crisis.
  • Relaxes driver license and vehicle inspection requirements during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Contact me if you would like further information about the House actions. For reliable information about COVID-19 in Vermont, symptoms and what to do if you feel sick, precautions and updates, visit the Department of Health’s website:  https://www.healthvermont.gov/ . Call 2-1-1 to speak to someone directly.

Energy & Technology Committee

Our committee is expecting to begin work on some Senate bills dealing with energy and climate change. Subjects we have been taking testimony and working on include renewable energy standards for electric generation, weatherization, electric vehicles, regulatory flexibility for municipal and co-op utilities to test pilot projects, and more. Last Friday, we were scheduled to hear a report on service quality issues related to  Consolidated Communications, but this was postponed to a later date so we could be on the House floor for the all-day session described above.

Contact. Please contact me with questions, comments or concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us. For information about the status of bills, committee agendas, witness testimony or more, visit the Legislatures website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/ 

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Town Meeting Week

March 1, 2020

It has been a busy two weeks at the State House, with numerous bills coming to the House floor for a vote. Most of them are not controversial and do not get a lot of debate or discussion, especially when the committees that worked on them are recommending them unanimously. A few bills which were in the news received a lot of public attention. When we return from Town Meeting break, we expect to continue our work, to take up bills the Senate has sent our way, and likewise the Senate will be working on House bills that we have passed.

The Budget

The Appropriations Committee is hard at work on the state’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st, and we expect to have it presented on the House floor in March. Budget and revenue bills begin in the House, so getting this passed and on to the Senate is a major step. There are many competing interests and needs, and I hear about many of them from voters and organizations in our communities. As always, there will be very difficult choices. I know that there will be places in the proposed budget where I feel we need to do more, as well as some places where I feel we could spend less.

Act 250 Bill Passes the House.

After a great deal of debate, interrogation and consideration of amendments, H.926, an Act Related to Changes to Act 250, passed the House on Friday and will be taken up by the Senate when they return from Town Meeting break. As the bill worked its way through three House committees, significant changes were made. On the House floor, more amendments were approved which further clarified portions of the bill or made more significant changes, and other amendment were proposed but not supported by a majority. One controversial section of the bill as originally proposed would have eliminated the nine regional commissions that have been in place since Act 250 first became law, and replaced them with a statewide professional panel, supplemented by more local members from the region where a proposed project was located. Many people had problems with this, me included, and that was changed before the bill got to the House floor. H.926 lifts the requirement for Act 250 review for many projects in city or town centers. It helps our forests, which have been declining in area, by discouraging them from being divided up and deforested, and it has provisions that helps the forestry and forest products industries in ways that preserve the forests they depend on. Fifty years ago, when Governor Dean Davis,  Representative Arthur Gibb, Attorney General Jim Jeffords and others recognized the need and worked to create Act 250, there were only a handful of lone scientists in the world who saw that our planet’s climate was changing, and who began raising concerns about what this could eventually mean.  Now, we are confronted with what they warned us about. One important change in this bill is that climate change is recognized among the criteria that projects will be evaluated on, both in terms of energy use and emissions, as well as in their impact on resiliency to withstand the increase in severe weather events.

Regulated Market for Cannabis

S.54, an act relating to the regulation of cannabis, passed the Senate last year. House committees began looking at it last year, continued their work this year, made changes and brought it to the House floor last month. After considerable discussion and debate, the bill passed the House on February 27th and was returned to the Senate. Cannabis is already legal in Vermont, but without a regulated market, people must either grow their own or continue to rely on the black market. It’s a long and complex bill, as many issues had to be dealt with. It establishes a Cannabis Control Board, defines and sets expectations and requirements for growers, processors and retail sellers. It restricts advertising. Towns may choose whether to allow retail sales within their borders, and if they have a local option tax in place, they may include cannabis sales, in addition to the statewide cannabis excise tax of 16%. Over the past two years, I have heard from many constituents in our towns, as well as from Vermont and national groups arguing for and against establishing a regulated market. I am very aware of the harm that cannabis causes in young people, on their still-developing brains, and I am very aware that it can cause harm and endanger people of any age if abused. A well-regulated market will not fully eliminate black market sales and it will not prevent some underage Vermonters from getting access to cannabis. After paying attention to this issue for more than two years, I do feel that S.54 will limit the black market ,limit access for underage people, control the amount of THC in products as well as other substances, have other public safety benefits, and support small growers in Vermont.  I voted in favor, and I am sure this will continue to be worked on further this session and in years to come.

 

Climate Change Legislation

In the House Energy & Technology Committee, we are considering a few energy, telecommunications and cybersecurity bills after the House passed The Global Warming Solutions Act. We are expecting to have some Senate bills dealing with energy and technology sent our way soon as well. I have written about the Global Warming Solutions Act in previous reports. There is broad support for having a real plan and taking focused action, both on reducing emissions and on increasing resiliency in our communities and in our infrastructure, to limit the damage that is already occurring. The bill sets a process in place for developing that plan quickly. But there continues to be misinformation among some about what H.688 does, and what it doesn’t do. I hope people with questions will read the bill, posted here as it passed the House: on a 105-37 vote:  https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.688.  Please contact me if you would also like to receive two thorough “Frequently Asked Questions” documents about the bill.

Two other issues

We spend a great deal of time in our small committee rooms focused only on those issues assigned to us, or on the big, major bills coming out of other committees. Here are two issues I’m paying particular attention to recently that have not thus far been headline-grabbers:

  • Micro-Business Development Program. This program, operated by Vermont’s five community action agencies (Capstone in our area) provides technical assistance, support and financing to lower and moderate-income people starting very small businesses. It was originally begun by Gov. Richard Snelling and called Job Start, and it was housed in the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, which I was Director of in the 1990s. During that time, we made the decision that it would be a better fit if it was operated at the community level and it eventually became the program as we know it today. When I discovered that the Scott Administration has proposed eliminating the very modest amount of state funding for this long-standing and truly successful anti-poverty program, I asked to testify before the House Appropriations Committee, given my history. The one press report I’ve seen noted that the program helped start 11 new businesses in Rutland County alone last year. I found that committee members were also aware of and concerned about this, so I’m hoping this baffling proposal by the Administration can be corrected.
  • The cost of insulin, along with other drugs that people with chronic conditions depend on, has been escalating by sometimes huge amounts in recent years, for no other reason than that the pharmaceutical industry can raise prices on people whose lives depend on the products. Some diabetics have recently been advised that they should maintain at least a two-week insulin supply because of the spread of the coronavirus. A constituent contacted me on Friday saying that for a member of their household, this alone would result in additional out-of-pocket cost of $1500. The Senate is very likely about to pass a bill, S.296, that would require health insurers to limit out-of-pocket insulin expenses to no more than $100/month per person. I am very aware, from my own experience with a different product, of the excesses and price manipulations of the pharmaceutical manufacturers. I will be doing what I can to see that this bill comes out of committee and gets to the House floor.

Contact. Please contact with me with your questions, comments and concerns at apatt@leg.state.vt.us.  Additional contact information available on my website: https://avrampatt.com/

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Vetoed Bills, Energy & Technology Committee Work, Other Bills, Budget Hearing

February 16, 2020

 

Paid Family Leave and Minimum Wage Bills Vetoed

Governor Scott has vetoed two very important bills which passed both the House and Senate last year with strong majorities, but with differences that needed to be worked out. At the beginning of this session, conference committees worked hard to resolve the differences between the different versions of both bills, and both the House and Senate again approved the compromises proposed and sent the bills on to the Governor. As I write this, The Senate voted to override the veto of both bills. The House missed meeting the two-thirds requirement for overriding the Paid Family Leave bill veto by one vote. The Senate has voted to override the Minimum Wage veto and the House will be voting this week, perhaps before this report is published. I have voted for both bills this year and last in their different versions. Neither bill is perfect. Major bills that require compromise will leave some feeling they don’t do enough, and others feeling they go too far. But I do believe that in order to boost incomes of working Vermonters and to make it possible for lower paid workers to actually make a living and have a decent life, we do need to boost things from the bottom up, as our nation and our state have done in the past, even as we work to encourage healthy business development and job growth. Simply expecting economic growth to trickle down to the lowest paid workers has never worked. We need to do both, to improve things from the bottom up as well.

The Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688)

I have previously reported about this major bill that the Energy & Technology Committee has worked on. It was introduced this year with 87 House members as sponsors. We spent a lot of time hearing from numerous parties, state officials both at the Secretary and Commissioner level as well as at the technical and analysis level, businesses and business groups, climatologists and other scientific experts. We made some changes that were suggested, as well as fine-tuning the language to make the intent clear. Our committee voted the bill out last week and sent it on its way. Because there are modest time-limited resources needed to implement the bill in the first two years, it was referred to the Appropriations Committee. I look forward to the full House being able to discuss and vote on it soon.

Unfortunately, there has been some misinformation about this bill circulating. Some of it is, I hope, inadvertent and based on misunderstanding. Some of the misinformation, however, comes from people who simply would rather not have Vermont be involved in seriously addressing climate change and its impacts.

  • H.688 contains provisions allowing “private right of action” by persons who believe that state government is not meeting the requirements established in law by this bill. Some have said that this opens the door to endless lawsuits, litigation and cost, but actually, the opposite is true. Any person can today go to court to try to compel the state to do something or stop doing something. Someone filing such a suit can also seek damages. H. 688 first limits the subject of legal action to whether the state is fulfilling the measurable requirements of this law. It does not allow a person to seek damages. The bill actually restricts the scope of legal actions more narrowly than what might occur today, and it discourages frivolous legal action.
  • H.688 does not cede the Legislature’s authority over state agencies or the Vermont Climate Council that the bill establishes. It requires more contact with Legislative committees in the Administrative Rulemaking process than is normally the case with state agencies. The Legislature of course has the ultimate authority to change or undo actions by state agencies if they go beyond Legislative intent or policy, and the Legislature holds the purse strings, both in terms of spending and revenue sources.

For anyone interested, I would be happy to send a detailed summary of the bill, a “frequently asked questions”  document, or a more detailed explanation of the “cause of action” section of the bill.

Budget Hearing in Morrisville

On February 10th, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees held hearings throughout the state on the Administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The hearings were convened by members of those committees from the local areas, and the one at Peoples Academy in Morrisville was led by Rep. Yacovone and Sen. Westman. Not being on the Appropriations Committee, I attended to sit in the back and listen. I heard brief statements from many local residents about unmet needs, particularly for our most vulnerable citizens, people with health and mental health issues, people in poverty and innovative programs to help them move out of poverty, people in need of home care, people with addictions, the need for childcare and family services, the needs of older Vermonters. Many of those who testified work on the front lines at local organizations doing good work. Others spoke from their own personal experiences as well. The formal budget adoption process starts in the House, and I know that the Appropriations Committee is listening, at these hearings around the state as well as in their committee room at the State House. It is a difficult balancing process trying to address so many real unmet needs in a budget under pressure from all directions. I hope to be able to vote for a bill that addresses these needs as much as possible. (The Energy & Technology Committee has been taking testimony about a number of one-time expenditures in the Administration’s proposed budget affecting energy, climate change, state information systems and broadband, and we will be forwarding our comments on these to the Appropriations Committee in the coming days as well.)

Upcoming Action

Major and minor bills continue to make their way to the House floor on a huge variety of subjects. The bill that would establish a regulated cannabis market (S.54) is now in its third House committee for review. Over the past two years, I have heard from many constituents on this subject, both strongly in favor as well as opposed. I expect this bill will be coming to the floor for a vote at some point this session.

Contact. Please contact me with questions, concerns or comments at apatt@leg.state.vt.us. Additional contact information is available at my website: https://avrampatt.com

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

Climate Change Legislation and More

February 3, 2020

 

As we begin the second month of the 2020 session, the pace of bills reaching the House floor is picking up and we are beginning to hear reports, discuss and vote on bills major and minor. I am always struck by how many bills pass unanimously or near unanimously, how many are reported out from the respective committees on non-partisan votes.  Actually, most are, although we certainly have our share of controversial bills with disagreements and divided votes. Nevertheless, unlike in Washington and many other states, we work together, we talk, and we do our best to understand and respect each other when we do disagree.

The Global Warming Solutions Act, H.688

This is one of the major pieces of climate change legislation being considered this year, and the House Energy & Technology Committee has been working on it since the session began, hearing testimony from numerous witnesses, reviewing detailed reports about carbon emissions, the dramatic increase in frequency, damage and cost of severe weather events, what other states are doing and what Vermont can and should do. What strikes me is how little disagreement there is that climate change has happened and that we must adapt and be more resilient to lessen the damage going forward, even as we take measures to lessen the amount of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere. This almost universal recognition is a change from a few years ago, even as there are differences about what we should do, who should do it, and how we should pay for it. Vermonters are understanding that we are already paying for the effects in our local town budgets, in state and federal budgets, in costs and lost revenue to businesses and the economy, and in damage and disruption to property and lives.

As I have reported previously, the bill proposes to change Vermont’s greenhouse gas emission reduction “goals” adopted a number of years ago into actual requirements, with a structure for assuring that there is actually a plan, and that it gets implemented.

We have had a lot of suggestions to make H.688, better and more effective, suggestions to change who is ultimately responsible within state government and who the members of a Council of stakeholders and experts will be that does a lot of the planning work.. We have had some criticism about aspects of it too. The bill is similar in intent to one introduced last year which did not see action, and I believe our committee’s version is an improvement. It has 87 sponsors in the House.  We’ve heard from municipalities and regional planning commissions, trade associations including general contractors and fuel dealers, business groups, experts in our state government and elsewhere on measuring emissions, climatology, transportation, health impacts, and people involved with similar structures in neighboring Northeast states.

I was particularly struck by testimony from the president of a major Vermont ski area and by the Vermont Ski Areas Association, about the affects of climate change they have already experienced, ranging from millions of dollars in damages, repair and adaptation, to lost visitor revenue.  It’s one example of an industry that’s critical to our economy that understands what’s happening and that state government must play an active role in addressing climate change.  Ski areas nationally are making this case in Washington as well.

We are making some improvements and changes to the bill in the coming days and it should be voted on by our committee soon.

All written testimony, presentations and reports presented to the Energy & Technology Committee are available on the committee’s page of the Legislature’s website: https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2020/19

Please contact me with questions, comments or concerns about any matter before the Legislature at apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Third Week of Session and Floor Votes Begin

January 20, 2020

The third week of the session beginning January 21st marks a change in activity in the House of Representatives. Up until now, we have spent almost all our time in our respective committees and in other meetings and briefings. We’ve spent very little time on the House floor, dealing mostly with procedural and some ceremonial matters.  Even though we will continue to spend most of out time in committee in the first half of the session hearing testimony and considering the bills assigned to us, the pace of action on the floor begins to pick up as bills start coming out of committee for presentation, debate and action before the full House of Representatives.

On Friday January 17th, the very first bill to be brought to the House floor was one approving the dissolution of the Village of Perkinsville and its merger with the Town of Weathersfield. It’s not controversial and it took less than five minutes to hear the report and to vote, unanimously, to have the bill read a third time before a final vote on Tuesday.

Other items coming to the floor this week will get more attention and debate, and some of them will likely have seen action before this report is published. 

Paid Family Leave. The House and Senate each passed versions of this bill last session, but the differences were not resolved before adjournment in May. A conference committee has reached agreement on a compromise and last week, the Senate voted to approve it. The House is voting this week. I will be voting in favor and I expect the House will also agree with the conference committee proposal.

Minimum Wage.  This bill also passed the Senate and House last year in differing versions. A conference committee is expected to reach agreement soon. The House will vote first on this, and I will be voting in favor.

Budget Adjustment for FY 2020.  This week, the House will be considering and acting on the Appropriations Committee’s proposed Budget Adjustment for the current fiscal year (H.760).

Proposition 2: Constitutional Amendment Regarding Slavery.  Although Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery in 1777, the article in our Vermont Constitution only abolishes adult slavery. Language in the article would actually specifically permit enslavement of people under 21, or people who are behind on debts or fines. The proposed amendment would remove this language so that it is clear that slavery is not permitted under any circumstances. I have had a few people ask me why we are taking time to deal with this now, when this kind of slavery is not actually occurring in Vermont.  First, Vermont’s Constitution should obviously not have language allowing slavery of any kind, even if it is not occurring today. Second, considering and voting on this doesn’t really take very much time and effort, and doesn’t keep us from all the other issues before us. The process of amending the Vermont Constitution started with a vote by the Senate last year. Assuming the House also votes in favor, both the Senate and House will need to vote in favor again during the following biennium in 2021-2022, after which the proposal will be on the ballot for final decision by Vermont’s voters.

The Energy and Technology Committee.  Our committee has been working hard on some significant legislation regarding climate change. At this point, we are taking a lot of testimony and hearing from many parties with expertise and interest in this issue. We also continue to work on broadband and telecommunications issues, focusing on underserved rural areas, and on state government’s major information technology systems. I covered these areas in my previous report as the session was starting and will devote much of my next report to energy issues and climate change.

Follow bills and activity at the State House. The Legislature’s website is a great way to follow what is happening at the State House. Upcoming calendars for the House and Senate, as well as journals of activity on the floor for each body are posted. Every bill is available for reading and downloading, and you can track activity for each bill, committee action, amendments, votes. Each committee’s weekly agenda is posted, including bills and subjects being considered, and scheduled testimony. All written testimony and materials submitted to committees are posted as well.  https://legislature.vermont.gov/

Contact me by email at apatt@leg.state.vt.us, and additional contact information is available on this website’s “Contact” page.

 

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REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

The 2020 Legislative Session Begins

January 3, 2020

 

The 2020 session of the Vermont General Assembly begins on January 7th It being the second year of the 2019-2020 biennium, there will be a lot of unfinished business to deal with, bills that did not see final action in 2019, as well as new bills, new issues, and budget and revenue bills.

As I get ready to return to the State House, I am very aware of how much Vermont’s legislative process is affected, directly and indirectly, by the state of the nation and the world. Our deliberations are inevitably influenced by the political turmoil in Washington, the impeachment controversies, the unwillingness of the Senate to take up bills passed by the House, the disabling of federal agencies in carrying out their functions and more. When we in Vermont are confronted by the unraveling of federal environmental regulations, energy efficiency standards, food safety enforcement and more, and when we face cutbacks in federal food and health care benefits  that so many Vermonters depend on, when we read of the Administration’s serious intent to cut back Social Security and Medicare, we have to consider whether we in Vermont can do anything about that, or not. For me, that’s the ever-present backdrop to our work in Montpelier.

 

The House Energy & Technology Committee and Climate Change

 The committee I serve on, along with other relevant committees, will be working hard on climate change issues, both some significant “banner” bills as well as continuing to include measures in a variety of other bills that keep us moving towards cleaner and more efficient energy use, and away from fossil fuels.  I have spent most of my career working on energy issues, at the state’s most rural electric utility that pioneered in both energy efficiency and conversion to renewable energy sources, in state government overseeing the weatherization program, and before that, developing public transportation and rideshare services in Central Vermont. I am glad to offer my experience and expertise in the legislative process, but climate change is an issue that requires not just government action and experts, but an understanding by each of us as individuals about changes we ourselves can and must make in our day-to-day activities that will help address this critical issue.

Much of the debate in 2019 and I expect going forward is focused not on what we should do, not on whether climate change is real and caused  to a great extent by human activity, not on the effect it is already having in our own state as well as catastrophic events elsewhere, but rather on how we raise money to pay for things most of us agree we need to do, like encouraging conversion to electric vehicles, or expanding weatherization and other thermal energy efficiency efforts. I strongly support making our tax structure fairer, based more an ability to pay, and assuring that the wealthiest among contribute their share as one source for this as well as non-energy uses. We should also recognize that we have a long history of using energy-based revenue to pay for energy-based public functions. We of course pay taxes on transportation fuels to pay for roads and bridges. The existing home weatherization program has been supported since 1990 by a combination of taxes on regulated utilities, and on non-transportation fuels. Taxes and fees on utilities and on energy project developers also pay for the utility regulatory process, and those costs are absorbed by us as ratepayers. In the end, my concern is first and foremost that we act in real ways and that we do our part in addressing the climate crisis.

A new proposal is before Vermont and a number of other states to join together in a Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI)  which would assess the large national and regional fossil fuel suppliers that import fuel to these states, and then allocate the funds to participating states to use in reducing carbon emissions from transportation, which is by far the largest source in Vermont. It’s not a new concept. This type of “cap and invest” initiative has been in place for a number of years in the electric utility sector, and Vermont joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) along with other states in 2009 during the administration of Governor Douglas. RGGI is working and has helped reduce carbon emissions from electric generation in our region. It makes sense to look at whether such a multi-state compact can work in the transportation sector as well, where we have actually been losing ground.

We must realize that we are already all paying for the impact of climate change, in taxes and in other ways. The severity of storms and weather incidents is now well known-to us in Vermont. The cost to each of us is measurable, not just in the almost constant need to repair damage from the increased frequency and severity of weather events, but in making our infrastructure more resistant and resilient going forward. We see it and we pay for it in town budgets, in the state transportation budget, and in electric rates. In addition to restoring power after massive storms, utilities have been spending money for a number of years to “harden” their systems to better withstand the changing climate. It makes sense to also put resources into reducing Vermont’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions by far, transportation.

Priorities in 2020

 Since State Representatives serve on just one House committee, we do spend a lot of time and effort digging into the issues before that one committee, but we must also stay well-informed about bills, large and small, making their way to the House floor from other committees.

In the 2019 session, the House and Senate each passed different versions of a minimum wage bill and a paid family leave bill, but differences were not resolved before adjournment. Those two bills remain alive, and I expect that differences will be resolved, and the bills passed in 2020.

In early December, the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office staff and Administration officials held a briefing for legislators covering both spending and revenue issues generally, as well as key initiatives such as clean water, transportation, the Transportation Climate Initiative and other topics. As the session progresses, I hope to be supporting legislation that addresses workforce development and the difficulties many employers are facing in filling positions. Another way we can encourage younger people to stay in Vermont or to come to Vermont is to increase funding for our state colleges, which we used to support far more than we do now. I am sure we will have proposals to consider for changes in our correctional system both in specific response to recent troubling revelations, as well as concerning our incarceration policies more broadly. I’ve covered just a few of the issues before the Legislature. There are many more.

Staying in touch.

 I will be publishing and circulating State House Reports twice a month during the session, and they will be posted on my website as well ( avrampatt.com ).  As we discuss, debate and act on legislation before us in the 2020 session, please feel free to contact me with comments, concerns and questions, at APatt@leg.state.vt.us.

 

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