Our community, working together for positive results

This summer I was inspired by the myriad ways our community works together. Good food and great company were had when Champlain Housing Trust hosted a cookout for residents of O’Dell Apartments. Brett Leonard and his team from South Burlington Recreation and Parks did the cooking, Kelly Kendall from South Burlington Public Library was there with the bookmobile bus and police were handing out ice pops. 

I attended the graduation ceremony for women from Lund who completed their high school education. Lund is such an extraordinary local organization working to break the cycles of poverty, addiction, and abuse by supporting pregnant and parenting teens, young adults and adoptive families. Other women from Lund were also honored in the celebration held at Vermont Commons School. 

During the party, I remembered attending Burlington’s Treatment Court last year. Participants take part in counseling, attend court hearings and follow program guidelines in order to have criminal charges dismissed or reduced. At that hearing, the family judge congratulated one young woman on the birth of her child and for being accepted into Lund housing. At the ceremony I just attended, this woman and her beautiful child were honored for the incredible progress she’s made. Testimony that lives can indeed be saved with compassionate social services. 

I also twice visited South Burlington’s women’s prison and wish that our ill-equipped, under-resourced facility and the criminal justice system could better serve those incarcerated and their families so that these women succeed when they rejoin our communities. Some women don’t feel safe and need more therapeutic and vocational opportunities. 

Stopping by the Thursday morning Rotary Club meeting, I heard about plans to provide back-to-school backpacks filled with supplies to students in need. Later that afternoon, I met with the South Burlington crew of Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, who removed the invasive species of buckhorn in Wheeler Park. As we gathered under a 200-year old oak tree, it was impressive to hear from the youth about their experiences conserving forest lands.

That same evening, I attended a joint meeting of the South Burlington City Council and Planning Commission and listened to reports from various committees volunteering their time to study how South Burlington can continue to encourage development while balancing environmental impact, conservation and affordable housing needs. Committees asked for more time to complete their extensive scope of work, and the city’s interim zoning pause on development was extended for a few months.  

The UVM Medical Center hosted a morning breakfast meeting at the Doubletree Hotel featuring a number of organizations collaborating to deliver integrated early childhood and family care on a statewide, regional and local level. The early results of these innovative partnerships are impressive indeed as the first few years of a child’s life are so very crucial to physical, intellectual and emotional development.

Finally, I attended a full day Social Justice Caucus retreat in White River Junction with legislators and activists trying to be more intentional about developing inclusive political, social, economic and ecological policies for Vermont. What an honor it is to be your citizen legislator and how lucky I am to learn from and participate in all of these community dialogues. 

Thanks to those who stopped by and visited our “Ask Your Legislators” table at the Aug. 15 SoBu Nite Out concert at Veterans Memorial Park. As always, I welcome your feedback and ideas.



Minimum wage, paid leave vital to families

Frustratingly, two bills I worked on in committee did not make it to the finish line this spring in Montpelier: increasing the minimum wage and establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program.They were held up in negotiations between the House and Senate in the final weeks of the session. However, I believe better legislation will result when we return to work in January. There were too many issues unresolved. 

Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour over a five-year period was seen as too fast for some, and not soon enough for others. Market forces in some urban areas had already accelerated wages above the prevailing $10.78, but small rural businesses worried about any further increases. 

Home health agencies, nursing homes, residential care homes, assisted living residences and adult day care agencies reported that, without additional Medicaid support, increasing the minimum wage would be onerous. Another factor, raising wages incrementally without adjusting eligibility for governmental supplemental programs, could create a “benefits cliff,” leaving some folks worse off short-term. 

Further consideration has to be given to how tipped employees, students and agricultural workers are compensated. As well, Vermont’s employment statutes need to be modernized to eliminate out-of-date and obsolete provisions, particularly regarding people with disabilities.

Complexity also played out in developing a paid family and medical leave insurance program. The governor’s voluntary program was introduced but not taken up, because a different bill was already in process in the House. At the session’s end, there remained significant differences between the House and Senate versions on this issue.  

Should the program be funded jointly by employers and employees? Both the House and Senate left that up to the discretion of employers. How much time is adequate for family bonding? The House thought 12 weeks for each parent for a total of 24; the Senate landed on 16 weeks shared between parents. 

Length of allowable family care time of up to eight weeks was in both versions, but differences for personal medical leave were eight weeks in the House, while the Senate provided up to six weeks of personal medical leave only to employees who elected to obtain coverage by paying an additional premium. Both chambers agreed that cumulative time off should be capped at 12 weeks in any given year.

Increasing the minimum wage and a paid family and medical leave insurance program are both essential to the viability of Vermont’s future, particularly in attracting young families and a more vibrant workforce.  Low-income Vermonters desperately need a raise. Forty-one percent of minimum-wage workers are considered “head of the household” and the majority of them are women. Too many scramble, juggling multiple part-time jobs to adequately feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families. Increasing salaries is a shrewd investment, ultimately decreasing the costs of the social safety net long-term; not to be discounted is the additional consumer spending in local communities. 

Families should not have to suffer economic and professional hardships while raising children. Both parents deserve adequate bonding time with new ones. And baby boomers, too, need a break, struggling to care for themselves, ailing parents, and grandchildren in crisis. Few mind paying for Social Security and for disability, health, or unemployment insurance; another small premium to ensure paid family and medical leave seems like a wise investment each of us and employers can make. Happy and healthy employees tend to remain loyal, and retention is more cost-effective than turnover.

All four of your South Burlington state representatives — Ann Pugh, Maida Townsend, Martin LaLonde and I — will be at the upcoming Quadra concert in Veterans Memorial Park on Aug. 15. Look for the “Ask Your Legislators” sign. Stop by and let us know your thoughts.

Arts and the Creative Economy

Since the legislature adjourned in late May, I have been busy with arts-related projects around the state: attending a conference about Creative Communities in Montpelier, opening an exhibition I curated at Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, visiting Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, speaking at the Governor’s Institute on the Arts at Castleton University and participating in a workshop in Salisbury. I enjoyed free events during Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival and saw compelling theater in Waterbury Center’s refurbished Grange Hall Cultural Center. How pleasant it is for me to drive, windows down, amidst verdant fields – my favorite time of year.

On my road trips, I was reminded how essential cultural organizations are to the vitality of each of their communities, and how the arts are, in fact, economic drivers in urban and rural economic development. The Flynn Center, which I ran before becoming your legislator, employs 300+ people with an annual payroll of over $2.8 million. The Vermont Arts Council recently released a study showing that the creative economy in the Northeast Kingdom employs 3,327 individuals, 9.4 percent of the workforce of 35,500. The Arts Council is expanding its research state-wide to illustrate how substantial the arts sector is in each community.

As a legislator, I feel Vermont can do more for the arts. Few cities and towns, including South Burlington, provide direct support to artist residents. This year, the Vermont Arts Council received an appropriation of $717,735 from the state. This money matches federal dollars and provides small grants to artists and arts organizations. Additional dollars, locally and statewide, can have transformative impacts. 

As we seek to encourage younger people to relocate here, added support for the cultural sector will make our region even more attractive and deliver immense returns on investment. Additionally, increased funding for the Vermont Department of Tourism can expand promotion of the vast array of cultural offerings year-round. Our artists, museums, theaters and festivals are world-class and can complement outdoor recreation, agriculture and craft breweries as tourist draws. At my Brattleboro Museum opening last month, so many folks told me they visit the museum three or four times each year from out of state.

Here in South Burlington, arts abound. Katie Baritt’s public art project with community members decorating utility boxes has enlivened our neighborhoods in subtle, yet profound ways – bringing smiles to all as we drive, cycle and walk by. Lines Vermont dance studio just opened its beautiful facilities on Farrell Street. Next week, SoBu’s Nite Out Summer Series begins free music concerts in Veterans Memorial Park. Longer-term, city leaders are discussing the viability of a building a new performing arts center as yet another economic anchor.

In addition to arts-related activities, I had the honor of joining the governor and fellow legislators at Norwich University as we signed a law encouraging veterans to register on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Military Affairs is part of my committee work, and I am proud that we were able to pass this bill into law this session, helping 10,000 Vermont Veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan document the ill health effects of toxic contamination from waste disposal from open air burn pits on bases.

I hope to meet more constituents at the upcoming summer park concerts and look forward to hearing your concerns and legislative priorities for the upcoming session. See you in Veterans Memorial Park. Enjoy the music!



End of Legislative Session Report from South Burlington's four Representatives

It is an honor to serve as your State Representatives: Ann Pugh as Chair of Human Services, Maida Townsend on Appropriations, Martin LaLonde as Ranking Member of Judiciary, and John Killacky on General, Housing, and Military Affairs. Your feedback has been critical as we focused on advancing policies to enable our families and communities to thrive as well as building a Vermont that works for all of us. 

BUDGET SUMMARY

The FY2020 Budget goes into effect on July 1, 2019. It is a balanced budget totaling $6.1 billion. This represents a 2.6% increase over the FY2019 budget. It includes significant investments in the health of our natural environment; the development of our workforce and growing our economy; and the needs of vulnerable Vermonters, including shoring up critical provider systems. It includes the State’s full annual contributions for the State pensions and retiree health care and medical benefits funds. Just a few highlights:

·     An additional $2.3 million for weatherization, for a total of $17 million available;

·     $2.9 million for electric vehicles and charging stations;

·     $500,000 for acquisition and conservation of legacy forestlands;

·     And just two examples embedded in the Transportation Fund, $2.7 million for nine Park and Ride projects and $14.7 million for fifty-four Bike and Pedestrian Facilities projects.

·     $1.6 million for small business support in agriculture, forestry, and other working lands enterprises;

·     $2.8 million in tax credits for redevelopment of Designated Downtowns and Village Centers;

·     $1.3 million for regional development corporation block grants;

·     $1.2 million in matching funds to businesses for training incumbent workers to gain skills resulting in higher salaries at those same businesses.

·     $7.4 million, added to a $5.8 million base, plus $1.6 million in one-time funds for child care, supporting families and providers, as well as workforce incentive pilots and system investments;

·     $1.3 million added to master grant funding for Parent Child Centers in support of services to young families;

·     $1.5 million for appropriate community placements for persons with complex mental health challenges;

·     $2.5 million added to provide a benefit increase in the Reach-Up Program.

·     An additional $5.2 million to designated agencies across the entire system of mental health and developmental services;

·     An additional $2.1 million for a 2% increase for home and community service providers in Choices for Care;

·     An additional $445,000 for court diversion; and $243,000 for a rate increase to local EMS service providers; and $375,000 for emergency room security in small hospitals; plus a 5% increase for court security services.

POLICY HIGHLIGHTS

As we focused on supporting Vermonters in all aspects of their lives, here are some of the issues we worked in the legislature this session:

Child Care

Ensuring parents can access high quality, affordable child care in our communities is critical to giving all of Vermont’s children a fair change at a bright future. Not only is it one of the most cost effective ways to insure the healthy development of children, it is an investment in families, businesses, the economy and most importantly our youngest citizens. We increased our investment in child care this year by $7.4 million in order to make it more accessible and affordable to Vermont families. We increased the financial subsidies for low and moderate income families, provided funding for new and existing centers andtraining grants and scholarships to support the retention and professional development of child care workers.

Reducing Exposure to toxic chemicals

Thousands of toxic or untested chemicals are used in products we use every day in our homes, schools, and workplaces. These toxins are building up in our bodies and are contributing to alarming trends in public health, including increased rates of birth defects, developmental disabilities, reproductive disorders, cancers, and more.

We passed legislation requiring all schools and child care facilities in Vermont to test their drinking water for lead contamination, and then replace the taps if the water tests at or above 4 parts per billion. Lead is a toxic metal that's particularly harmful to children; it can impact their growth, brain development, and behavior. We took action after a 2017 pilot study identified the presence of lead in some school faucets. The plumbing fixture—such as taps or drinking fountains—was almost always found to be the source. The bill provides funding to cover testing, re-testing and a portion of fixture replacement costs. Vermont is leading the nation by setting one of the strictest standards for getting the lead out of our kids' drinking water.

Vaping and cigarette use by youth

We adopted a multi-prong approach to make it more difficult for youth to obtain and afford tobacco products. Data shows that 95% of cigarette smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and it is well-established that nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Use of electronic cigarettes (vaping) is increasing at an alarming rate among high school and middle school students, prompting the Surgeon General to declare a public health emergency. In Vermont, we will tax e-cigarettes at the same rate as regular cigarettes. We also increased the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21, joining 13 other states and finally we will prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes over the internet.

Reproductive Freedom

Vermont’s policy has long recognized that decisions related to reproductive health care and abortion are deeply personal and private, and are best left to an individual and their health care provider. As more and more conservative judges and justices are appointed in this country, and Roe v. Wade comes under continuing assault in state after state, the fact that Vermont has no laws on reproductive freedom became more worrisome. We addressed this issue in two ways, working in both the short-term and the long-term to protect women's reproductive rights.We passed legislation that codifies reproductive health care practice in Vermont as it is today and as it has been for more than 40 years. Essentially, it codified Roe v. Wade in our statutes. This is an immediate response. For the long-term, we initiated a process to amend the Vermont Constitution to make these rights -the right to choose or refuse sterilization, the right to choose to become pregnant and the right to choose abortion - permanent. The amendment process takes several years and culminates in a statewide referendum, giving Vermont voters an opportunity to have their say in 2022.

Addressing Addiction

Vermont has a nationally recognized and often replicated model for addressing opioid use disorder and yet every year since 2014 has had more accidental opioid-related deaths than the year before. Last year alone we lost another 110 Vermonters. Legislation passed this session which limits prior authorization for treatment by insurance companies will improve access to medication-assisted treatment and prevent delays and remove administrative barriers when people struggling with Opioid Use Disorder take their first step towards treatment. 

Preventing substance misuse reduces the risks that contribute to alcohol, tobacco or other drug dependence, while promoting protective factors that support healthy lifestyles and communities. Effective prevention is not substance specific nor is it limited to schools or human service agencies. The role of the Chief Prevention Officer will be to integrate and build upon prevention efforts statewide, across all agencies of government and in areas that are not traditionally considered substance misuse prevention efforts in order to help Vermonters at all stages of life have the resources to make health choices and be connected to community and not become dependent upon substances.  

Statute of Limitation Reform

Sexual abuse of a child often leads to depression, PTSD, alcohol and opioid abuse, and many other health problems. It is an Adverse Childhood Experience that can lead to years of negative impact on the victim. However, victims of childhood sexual abuse often do not disclose the abuse until long after it occurred. Victims are often ashamed of the abuse and keep it secret. They may suffer severe psychological and emotional damage that may not manifest itself until adulthood. Others develop an arsenal of defense mechanisms and may repress memory of the abuse for an extended period of time. The average age for disclosure of childhood sexual abuse is 52 years old. 

Victims of childhood sexual abuse may seek monetary damages from their abuser in a civil action. Under current Vermont law, a victim can bring a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual abuse within six years after the abuse or within six years after the victim has “discovered” that an injury or condition was caused by the abuse. If there is a restrictive statute of limitations, delayed disclosure can prohibit a victim from seeking justice in a courtroom. 

Accordingly, the legislature passed a bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for bringing claims of childhood sexual abuse against the perpetrator or an entity that employed, supervised or had responsibility for the person allegedly committing the abuse if that entity failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the abuse. Victims would be able to sue their abusers at any time, when they are ready to do so. The bill provides that the elimination of the statute of limitations for claims of childhood sexual abuse applies retroactively. That means that if a victim’s claim is currently barred by the existing statute of limitations, after passage, the victim would be able to bring the claim.

Medical Monitoring

Recognizing the need to protect Vermonters from the impact of toxic chemicals, the Vermont General Assembly enacted Act 154 in 2016. The law directed the Agency of Natural Resources to convene a working group to address the use and regulation of toxic chemicals. In January 2017, the working group recommended that the legislature should authorize individuals to recover the expense of medical monitoring for diseases when exposed to toxic substances due to another’s wrongful conduct.  

Medical monitoring is a program designed by experts in the field of public health and medicine.  It includes screening and ongoing observation to detect the symptoms of latent diseases linked to exposure to a toxic substance. Monitoring allows for the earliest detection and treatment of these latent diseases. Similar to early detection efforts such as mammograms and colonoscopies, this program ensures the best possible health outcomes at the least cost. It ensures that those harmed are screened and referred for medical care at the earliest possible time when effective treatment can improve outcomes.  

Both the House and the Senate passed this legislation, which would ensure that the cost of medical monitoring is not borne by the general public or the harmed individuals, as currently is the case. Rather, that cost would be paid by the industrial entity that caused the need for incurring those health costs.  

Firearm violence prevention

The presence of a firearm dangerously compounds the risk of impulsive acts of violence, especially suicide. Waiting periods create an important cooling off window for gun purchasers to reconsider their intentions, which can lead to a change of heart and a saved life. In addition, waiting periods provide additional time for the completion of a thorough background check.  This legislation, passed by both the House and Senate, would establish a 24-hour waiting period for the purchase of handguns. 

In addition to providing a cooling off period, this waiting period addresses a gap in the law, known as “default proceed” or the Charleston Loophole. Federal law allows a dealer to deliver a gun to a purchaser as soon as a background check is completed, which usually takes only a few minutes. Sometimes, however, a background check may not be completed instantly. In such a situation, after three business days have passed, the dealer may still provide the firearm to the purchaser, even if a background check is incomplete. This bill would close this gap. The 24-hour waiting period would commence upon completion of the background check, including in those instances when law enforcement needs additional time to do its work, such as, for example, determining if the purchaser is subject to a domestic violence restraining order. 

Restrictions on the transfer and use of large capacity magazines are also eased. Last year, the legislature passed Act 94, which placed restrictions on high-capacity magazines. The law, however, allowed large capacity magazines to be transported into Vermont for use in shooting competitions. But under current law, that authority will sunset in June of this year. The new bill would allow the continuation of the transport of these devices for organized shooting competitions. Without the provisions, such shooting competitions in Vermont would effectively come to an end.  

Investing in the Environment

Funding was secured to continue cleanup of our waterways, single use plastic disposable products were banned, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) like those found in drinking and surface waters in Bennington County were regulated, and electric vehicle and charging stations incentivized. Weatherization efforts were expanded, helping low and moderate income Vermonters save money and heating fuel by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes or apartments. The total budgetary investment in our environment is $167 million.

Economic Development

Workforce development strategies providedtraining opportunities for small companies, decreased barriers for new Americans to enter the workforce, and provided advancement grants for additional adult training and workforce education. Broadband build out supported local municipalities determining appropriate connectivity solutions. Licensing and taxation for Vermont’s burgeoning craft brewers and distillers were streamlined, enabling growth as well as providing a fairer and consistent tax base for the future. Transportation investments included paving, road maintenance, rail work, bridge construction, aviation, and public transit.

Protecting the vulnerable

Recognizing that safe, affordable, and secure housing is an essential component of healthcare for all, protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence were enacted to prevent survivors from being further victimized by facing homelessness or housing insecurity. For our Veterans, we focused on securing an honorable internment of any unclaimed Veterans’ remains at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery and encouraging our 10,000 veteransdeployed since 1990 to sign up to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Pit Registry. 

Equity

As we seek to deal with systemic racism and implicit bias in our state, the development of a multicultural curriculum for all schools was the first bill signed by the governor this session. As well, Columbus Day was renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, promising a more robust history for both indigenous and non-native Vermonters, celebrating the cultures, histories, and present-day lived experiences of Abenaki people and other original inhabitants of the Americas. 

_______

Your Representatives look forward to meeting you over the summer at community meetings, block parties, and summer concerts.  Please feel free to contact each of us.

Ann Pugh                                                                                Martin Lalonde

apugh@leg.state.vt.us                                                             mlalonde@leg.state.vt.us

(802) 863-6705                                                                       (802) 863-3806

 

Maida Townsend                                                                    John Killacky

mtownsend@leg.state.vt.us                                                    jkillacky@leg.state.vt.us

(802) 862-7404                                                                                   (802) 862-2254

 

 

 

End of First Session Recap

It’s been an honor to serve in my first year as your State Representative. Your feedback, along with advocates, has been crucial as I dove into issues affecting our community in my work on the General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee. 

As too many Vermonters struggle to care for themselves and their families, my committee focused its work on bills gradually increasing the minimum wage over the next few years and developing a paid family and medical leave program. These bills promised to better support Vermonters in all aspects of their lives as well ashelping attract and retain talent, improve employee morale, and save money in the short and long-term. As a freshman legislator, it was fascinating to watch the bills undergo myriad changes as they made their circuitous route through the legislative process. Unfortunately the House and Senate could not agree, and these essential issues will have to be revisited in January.

My committee’s purview also includes a broad array of other topics, including housing and liquor control. Recognizing that safe, affordable, and secure housing is an essential component of healthcare for all, the committee developed protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence from being further victimized by facing homelessness or housing insecurity. To support some of our entrepreneurs, licensing and taxation for Vermont’s burgeoning craft brewers and distillers were streamlined, enabling growth as well as providing a fairer and consistent tax base for the future.

Veterans Affairs is also a part of my committee’s portfolio and here we focused on securing an honorable internment of any unclaimed Veterans remains at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery and encouraging our 10,000 veterans who were deployed since 1990 to sign up to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Pit Registry. The House also modifyied the Adjutant and Inspector General of Vermont’s National Guard’s election process by the Vermont General Assembly, but with difference with Senate colleagues, the bill was held over until January for further discussion.

Columbus Day was renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, promising a more robust history for both indigenous and non-native Vermonters, celebrating the cultures, histories, and present-day lived experiences of Abenaki people and other original inhabitants of the Americas. 

Many other initiatives moved into law this year though the work of other committees, as legislators prioritized bills to help communities and families thrive. Testing for lead in schools and child care facilities, making child care more accessible and affordable, reducing vaping and tobacco use among youth, and the development of a multicultural curriculum for all schools were some highlights for me to support on the floor of the House.

Environmentally, funding was secured to continue cleanup of our waterways, single use plastic disposable products were banned, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) like those found in drinking and surface waters in Bennington County were regulated, and electric vehicle and charging stations incentivized. Transportation investments included paving, road maintenance, rail work, bridge construction, aviation, and public transit.

Workforce development strategies providedtraining opportunities for small companies, expanded weatherization programs, decreased barriers for new Americans to enter the workforce, and provided advancement grants for additional adult training and workforce education. Broadband build out supported local municipalities determining appropriate connectivity solutions.

Emotional testimony was heard at public hearings on two high profile issues – guaranteeing women’s reproductive rights and a 24 hour waiting period on gun purchases. It was in these moments that the citizens’ legislature was at its most animated as I listened to and learned from Vermonter’s lived experiences. 

Unfortunately, our monthly legislative forums at the South Burlington Public Library are on hiatus until November.I will miss these opportunities to connect in person, but hope to meet constituents over the summer at community meetings, block parties, and summer concerts. I recently enjoyed a visit with senior residents at Grand Way Commons. Please be in touch if you have any questions or want to discuss your priorities for the legislature. I look forward to connecting with you.

On the backstretch of the session

As we enter into the last month of the session, the majority of my committee work in General, Housing, and Military Affairs has been on advancing three Senate bills for discussion and debate on the House Floor.  

S.111 seeks to encourage Vermont’s 10,000 veterans who were deployed in various “theaters of operations” since 1990 to sign up to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Pit Registry. Those stationed were exposed to toxic waste as garbage of all kinds was burned in football field-sized open-air pits. Many rare forms of cancers and respiratory issues are now manifesting in those who served. The Burn Pit Registry is the first step for further analysis of these presumptive illness as to whether they are associative or causative due the exposure to airborne hazards. Heart-breaking testimony was heard from a widow and a mother who lost her son, as well as a 31-year old veteran with fourth stage colon cancer who proudly served two deployments, but never thought “my county would poison me.”

The committee also heard testimony on S.23 which raises the minimum wage bill to $15 per hour by 2024. Advocates and practitioners on all sides on this topic spoke to us: unionized labor, health care providers, women’s commission, restaurant owners and individuals that received tipped wages, among many other voices. Some advocated for letting the market adjust working wages, others spoke about the gap for those earning the current minimum wage and the obstacles they face with housing, childcare, food, healthcare and transportation. The Joint Fiscal Office provided an extremely helpful fiscal note, and an analysis of how to mitigate the unintended consequences of a benefits cliff by adjusting the Child Care Financial Assistance Program. Approximately 87,000 Vermonters will benefit from increasing the minimum wage.

I reported on the floor of the House, S.68, which changes the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. After much debate, this was passed by the House. By renaming this legal holiday, indigenous contributions will be highlighted, and historical wrongs redressed. Renaming the holiday, does not erase Columbus, but promises a more robust history for both indigenous and non-native Vermonters, celebrating the cultures, histories, and present-day lived experiences of Abenaki people and other original inhabitants of the Americas. 

On behalf of South Burlington, I testified, along with City Attorney Andrew Bolduc, before the House Ways and Means Committee, to support our city charter amendment proposing a one-half of one percent (0.5 percent) tax on rental cars within South Burlington. The revenue would be directed to support highway maintenance and emergency fire and ambulance services. City Manager Kevin Dorn and City Council Chair Helen Riehle also testified. Unfortunately, the committee did not support our charter amendment and is not expected to take action on it.

I also had a lovely visit with principal Mark Trifilio at South Burlington’s Orchard School and had lunch with the kindergarteners. As I had been a pre-school teacher early in my career, it was truly joyous to spend time with these wonderful children and see our great school in action.

Thank you to those who attended last week’s lively Legislative Forum at the South Burlington Public Library. I look forward to these each month. Hope you can join your elected officials at the next forum Monday, May 20, 6:30 p.m., at the library. We should be able to provide a recap of the legislative session.

Midterm Report

We are now mid-way through the legislative session. The crossover deadline for passing bills, including budgets, out of committees and on the full floor of the House, was last week.

Here are some of the bills my committee, General, Housing, & Military Affairs, focused on: instituting paid family and medical leave; protecting survivors of domestic and sexual violence from housing discrimination; amending the process of election for the Adjutant General of Vermont’s National Guard to include a vetting committee; updating penalties for violations for alcohol and tobacco laws; and securing honorable burials at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery for any unclaimed veterans’ remains.

Among other House bills passed on the floor: highlights include affordable childcare initiatives; preserving the current legal rights to abortion; expungement of criminal records for low level offenses; weatherization subsidies for aging housing stock for low income Vermonters; developing ethnic and social studies standards for schools and training to insure fair and impartial policing; taxing e-cigarettes and disallowing their sale on the internet; and many more. These bills now go over to the Senate for their review, consideration, and modifications.

For a full list of bills passed, visit the Vermont General Assembly website’s “Bills and Resolutions” section. Literally hundreds of other bills introduced by representatives have been assigned to the various policy committees in the House but are still on the “wall” and may (or may not) be picked up later this session or next year as part of the current biennium of Vermont’s General Assembly.

Major bills coming over from the Senate for House consideration include: raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2024; taxing and regulating marijuana; raising the smoking age to 21 for both cigarettes and e-cigarettes, requiring a 24-hour waiting period when purchasing a gun; and Indigenous Peoples’ Day replacing Columbus Day. The committee on which I sit, General, Housing, & Military Affairs, will be doing a deep dive on some of these, including minimum wage.

As a new legislator, I try to visit as many programs as possible in South Burlington. As housing is a central focus on my committee work, I recently visited Allard Square Senior Housing and Beacon Apartments. Cathedral Square’s Allard Square Senior Housing opened last fall. I visited with staff and one of the tenants and learned more about the nationally-acclaimed program offering a variety of programs providing Support and Services at Home.

Representatives Maida Townsend and Martin LaLonde joined me on the site visit to the Beacon Apartments, a model of supportive housing for the chronically homeless. Beacon is a collaborative project of Champlain Housing Trust, Burlington Housing Authority and the Community Health Centers of Burlington. One of the tenants, who was homeless for five years, invited us into his apartment and shared his journey, describing how the integrated services have made this a win for him and other tenants.

Finally, Representative Ann Pugh and I had a wonderful evening at the South Burlington Friends of the Arts Visual and Performing Arts Gala. Now in its second year, proceeds of the event provide need-based scholarship for South Burlington High School students pursuing the arts. Kudos to Patrick Leduc and the committee for making this happen.

I am eager for constituents’ input. Email me at jkillacky@leg.state.vt.us, call me at home: 802 862-2254, or join me and your other legislators at our next monthly meeting at the South Burlington Public Library on Monday, April 22, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.



Issues at play in the Vermont House

It is still early in the legislative session; therefore many bills are still in development within committees. Over 600 bills have already been drafted for consideration. However, many may never leave their committee of jurisdiction for consideration by the full House.

Bills I co-sponsored that did pass on the floor of the House include creation of a group to advise the State Board of Education on the adoption of ethnic and social equity studies standards, taxation of electronic cigarettes, and preserving the right to abortion. These now go on to the Vermont Senate. As well, in a joint session of the House and Senate, Col. Gregory Knight was elected Adjutant and Inspector General of Vermont’s National Guard.  

Much of my work as your elected representative in the Vermont House is spent in the General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee. Here we worked on a paid family and medical leave bill financed through an insurance premium, shared equally by employers and employees. Self-employed individuals can opt in. Testimony on the bill was heard from numerous small and large business owners, lobbyists, and advocates from various perspectives. Testimony illuminated the importance of this bill to better support Vermonters in all aspects of their lives. 

Employers testified about how these kinds of programs help attract and retain talent, improve employee morale, and save money in the short- and long-term. Further iterations on the financial modeling and tax income ramifications will be developed as the bill moves to the House Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees. The Governor’s alternative voluntary paid family leave proposal has not yet been introduced as a bill, but will be vetted within my committee as well. 

Another bill we are working on seeks to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence from being further victimized by facing homelessness or housing insecurity. The bill provides a number of avenues for victims to make their homes more secure if staying in their home is their preferred outcome. It also allows the early termination of a lease if leaving their home was the safest option. It prohibits landlords from denying access to housing to victims. Compelling testimony was heard from stakeholders and survivors. This bill is a further example of how the committee’s work on housing intersects with many other issues facing Vermonters – safe, affordable, and secure housing is an essential component of healthcare for all.

One bill I sponsored that was just introduced for consideration - a pilot program with the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington addressing food security for veterans. I will keep you informed on its progress, as it promises to develop a collaborative model to be replicated state-wide. You can see a full list of the bills and resolutions I co-sponsored at https://legislature.vermont.gov/people/single/2020/30949#sponsored-bills.

It was fun to host future politicians from South Burlington High School’s Democratic and Republican Clubs in the State House. The students met with the Governor, LieutenantGovernor, attended party caucuses, and observed committee hearings and floor debates in the House and Senate chambers. 

I also visited South Burlington’s `Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility for women with other state legislators. Powerful lived experiences were shared as we listened and learned about the realities women who are incarcerated face and barriers for reentry. 

Thank you to those who attended last week’s lively Legislative Forum at the South Burlington Public Library. Hope you can join me and your other elected officials at the next forum on Monday March 25 at 6:30 pm at the library, once again moderated by Vince Bolduc. 

 

John Killacky

VT House of Representatives

District 7-3

(802) 862-2254 (home)

jkillacky@leg.state.vt.us

www.johnkillacky.com