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

*************************************

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

________________________

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/ 

 

_______________________________________________________

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/

 

___________________________________________________

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

 

_________________________________________________

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

_____________________________________________________

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.

 

____________________________________________________

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.

 

__________________________________________________________

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Wrapping up a session marked by progress and frustration

May 27, 2019

 

The House Adjourned on a Frustrating Note

The House of Representatives adjourned our 2019 session on May 24, the first time in memory that the House and Senate have not agreed to adjourn at the same time. (As I write this, the Senate is still expected to return to the State House on May 29.) It was a difficult and frustrating end of the session, requiring Representatives to continue working a week past the planned adjournment date. The chief hold-up was the fate of two major bills that had received a great deal of attention both at the State House and outside, dealing with raising the minimum wage, and with paid family leave. In summary, the Senate version of the minimum wage bill went further than the House version, while the House version of paid family leave went further than the Senate version. In the meantime, conference committees had resolved differences between the two bodies on a host of bills, including the big money bills. Although the conference committees had reached agreement on the budget bill and the revenue bill, the Senate appeared to be holding them up in order to insist that the House agree to its positions on minimum wage and paid family leave. Last Friday, House leadership formally offered five different possible compromises on these two bills that would have been acceptable, but without a response, we moved to adjourn. The Senate did end up passing the budget and tax bills and sending them back to the House, which we then passed and went home.  There is always a lot of politics and deal making and compromise at the end of a session. It’s a necessary although frustrating part of the process. This ending was particularly messy, and unfortunately obscures some of the progress that was made on a number of fronts.

And it remains to be seen whether Governor Scott will veto any bills that did pass, and whether we will need to return to consider such actions.

 

It’s a biennium, and there’s next year.

Although there is frustration about the stalled minimum wage and paid family leave bills, they are still alive, and I expect will be taken up in January. I voted for the versions as they passed the House (which involved compromises just among House members). Although I am not on the committees dealing with either of these issues, I support moving forward on these and hope that issues will be resolved and that both bills will pass next year.

There was also a lot of frustration expressed about the lack of action on climate change, including a disruptive demonstration in the House chamber (which in my opinion did not help and probably hurt a cause I’ve worked on for many years). While it is true that more attention will be given to this issue in the second year of the biennium, I disagree that no significant action was taken this year.

 

Climate Change.

Although I regularly hear from a few constituents who don’t believe that climate change is real, most Vermonters know it is, even as we struggle to try to change how we do things. I spent many years at an electric utility. People in that business know that we are seeing widespread damaging storms of enormous severity, with much greater frequency and with changing weather patterns in Vermont and elsewhere in this country, and they understand that human behaviors, our greenhouse gas emissions, are affecting that. Meteorologists know it, NASA and our military know it, transportation and emergency response agencies know it.

 As far as what we in the Vermont General Assembly can do, we actually did a fair amount this year, although as with many major issues, there is no one bill that passed with “Climate Change” in its title. What we did is instead found in parts of a variety of bills that passed. One of the most important measures advocates on climate change recommended was a significant increase in residential weatherization, because it has an immediate, significant and measurable impact in reducing fossil fuel use (as well as saving money and providing significant health and safety benefits). We increased funding for the existing Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) that has successfully saved energy for low income Vermonters for years. We provided funding to increase access to weatherization for Vermonters at moderate incomes through incentives, financing and technical assistance, and we are taking a look at whether Efficiency Vermont should play a greater role in thermal efficiency than it has until now (most of its focus has been on electric efficiency). These weatherization provisions are in part included in one bill, but also in bits and pieces in other bills such as the budget. While I have concerns that the funding increase for WAP is not from a dedicated source that a production operation such as this program needs, I think we have taken a big step in carbon emissions reduction in the non-transportation sector.

Also found in a variety of other bills are continued and increased action to reduce thermal energy use in state buildings, and a variety of measures to promote electrification of transportation, which in a rural state like Vermont, is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Vermont’s electricity sources are significantly renewable, and three Vermont utilities already have 100% renewable power supply, so moving to electricity for transportation is a very necessary step, although it’s a slower process. We need to stimulate and speed up this conversion. The transportation “big bill” that passed contains incentives to help people purchase electric vehicles, especially as their price comes down and as more types of electric vehicles such as pickups come on the market, as well as provisions for dealing with the commercial availability of charging stations.  Other bills that passed include forest conservation provisions which specifically target the “carbon capture” capacity to be preserved and expanded. There is more to do next year, but I think we did a lot this year. All of these measures have tangible and immediate or close to immediate impact. Some of the more ambitious bills that have been introduced do not, in my opinion. Some do, and that’s what I hope to be working on.

 

Medicaid Underfunding and it’s Impacts

Medicaid, the federal/state program that pays for health care for lower income Vermonters, including many working Vermonters, Vermonters with disabilities, and which supplements Medicare for a great many older Vermonters, has been seriously underfunded in terms of state dollars for a long time, and this has a variety of significant consequences for all Vermonters.  This year, the problems this causes came home to roost, and got the attention of more legislators and the public than in the past. Medicaid funds are basically used in two ways. Funds are used to cover people’s medical bills, doctors’ visits, hospital stays, tests, etc., in much the same way as a health insurance plan does. And it is used to fund contracts for service with certain providers such as mental health and home health agencies.

In my previous term (2015-16), I served on the House Health Care Committee. We received a lot of information then (and I’m sure current committee members have too) about the “Medicaid cost shift.” By paying health care providers, doctors, technicians, hospitals and others far less than the actual costs of all the covered services provided, that underpayment is shifted onto private health insurers. While there are many reasons for the continuing increases in health insurance costs and we can argue about whether or not they are all justified, there is no doubt the cost shift resulting from Medicaid underpayment continues to be a significant part of the insurance premiums paid by individuals or by employers.

This year, the Medicaid underfunding for home care providers, home health, mental health and other contracted providers was a big issue in debate over raising the minimum wage. Without an increase in Medicaid funding, many providers would have a difficult time meeting the new wage requirements and would have to cut back on services, reduce staff, or in some cases maybe close their doors. Legislators who hadn’t spent time on the Health Care Committee now had to learn about and pay attention to this problem, and that in itself is a good thing. Increasing Medicaid funding in the budget is a big-ticket item and is not an easy discussion. But it doesn’t just affect Medicaid recipients or some health care providers. It affects all Vermonters, and Vermonters and Vermont employers are already paying for the underfunding even if we don’t realize it.

 

Everything Else.

I won’t list here the huge number of bills that did pass this session, very often unanimously or overwhelmingly, on subjects large and small. We passed good bills for the environment, for dealing with racial, ethnic and gender bias and discrimination, health and safety, economic and workforce development, broadband expansion, fair labor contract negotiations and more. We increased funding for some non-profit agencies that hadn’t seen increases in years, and for state colleges. There are lots of places where I would have liked to do more, but I continue to be moved and amazed by how much common ground we do continue to find despite differences, at least here in Vermont.

This is my last report for this session. I will probably publish one or two later this year as January approaches. In the meantime, all of my past reports are available on my website (https://avrampatt.com/state-house-reports/ ) and please contact me with your concerns and questions at apatt@leg.state.vt.us . It is an honor to represent our communities at the State House!

 

_________________________________________________

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

It’s Not Over ‘til It’s Over.

May 20, 2019

 

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

 

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

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

 

Forced School Merger Delay Bill Stalls (H.39)

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

 

Resolution of Labor Contract Negotiation Disputes (H.16)

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

 

Weatherization.

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

 

Broadband (H.513)

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

 

Contact Information

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

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

______________________________

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

End of Session Endgames

May 12, 2019

 

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

 

Water Quality (S.96).

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

 

Single Use Plastics (S.107).

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

 

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

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

 

Energy and Technology Committee

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

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

 

Contact Information

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

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

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

 

______________________________________________

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE

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

April 28, 2019

 

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

 

Minimum Wage.

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

 

Constitutional Amendment Regarding Reproductive Rights

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

 

Forced Merger Delay

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

 

Energy and Technology Committee, Broadband and Climate Change

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

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

 

Contact Information

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

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

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

____________________________________________

 

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

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

April 15, 2019

 

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

Minimum Wage.

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

Cannabis Regulation.

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

Energy & Technology Committee

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

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

Meet your Representative for Coffee and Coffee Cake, April 27

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

Contact Information

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

Email: apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

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

 

___________________________________________________________

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

Paid Family Leave, Weatherization, Committee Priorities

April 8, 2019

 

Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill Passes

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

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

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

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

 

Weatherization Bill Passes 

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

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

 

The Energy and Technology Committee

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

Contact Information

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

Email:     apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

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

 _______________________________________________

 

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE: CROSSOVER 

March 25, 2019

 

Lots of activity on the House floor!

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

 

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

 

The Energy and Technology Committee

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

 

Weatherization Assistance Program

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

 

Contact Information

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

Email:     apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

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

__________________________________________________

 

REPORT FROM THE STATE HOUSE:

TOWN MEETING WEEK

March 5, 2019

 

Town Meeting Week

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

Energy and Technology Committee 

The committee I serve on deals with three major areas:

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

Act 46 Forced Mergers

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

 

Hearing Aids and Health Care Coverage

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

 

A Four-Year Term for Governor?

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

 

Contact Information 

Please contact me with comments, concerns and questions:

Email:  apatt@leg.state.vt.us

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

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

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

________________________________________________

Report from the State House, February 4, 2019

 

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

Act 46 Forced Mergers

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

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

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

Energy and Technology Committee

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

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

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

On the House floor

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

Information and contact

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

https://legislature.vermont.gov

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

_______________________________________________________

 

State House Report: The 2019-2020 Session Begins

January 14, 2019

 

Opening Days

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

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

House Energy and Technology and Committee.

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

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

Act 46 Forced Mergers

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

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

Keeping in Touch

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

 

______________________________________________