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