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