I and other members of the Vermont legislature were in Montpelier on Wednesday, November 20 where we heard from members of the Joint Fiscal Office, the Shumlin administration, and other state agencies on two issues that will be central in the upcoming legislative session: state revenue and budgeting and health care reform. Here’s a link to some informative presentations from the day’s briefing.
Below is a sampling of legislative work from the 2013 legislative session:
This year, the Vermont legislature addressed a variety of issues related to victims’ rights, possession of marijuana and end-of-life issues. First, increased access to justice was made available to victims of childhood sexual abuse, and the statute of limitations was raised to 40 years after the occurrence. Second, individuals who have experienced domestic abuse that has resulted in an inability to work or get to work will now have a variety of additional protections and supports. Third, individuals overdosing or friends who find them this way will now be able to call 911 without fear of arrest, which will save countless lives. Fourth, those in possession of small amounts of marijuana will now face a civil penalty rather than the life-altering result of a criminal conviction. And finally, those with a terminal illness who face intolerable suffering will now have a legal route to the acquisition of life-ending medication.
In fiscal year 2014, the State of Vermont will leverage $260 million in state transportation funds in order to obtain $370 million in federal transportation money, for total combined spending on the maintenance and construction of Vermont highways and bridges of $630 million. Each year, the Legislature seeks to maximize federal transportation dollars. Over the past 10 years, state revenues from the per-gallon gasoline tax have declined because Vermonters are consuming less gasoline, even as they drive more. Due in large part to more efficient vehicles, Vermonters purchased 36 million fewer gallons of gas in 2012 as compared to 2005. To make up for this lost tax revenue, and to maximize federal matching funds, the Legislature adopted a new sales tax on gasoline to replace part of the per-gallon tax. Assuming the new tax is passed on to consumers, gasoline prices will increase by an estimated 5.9 cents in May 2013. Likewise, diesel prices will increase by 2 cents per gallon in 2014 and will increase by another penny in 2015. Put practically, if you drive 10,000 miles a year, at 25 miles per gallon, this new tax structure will cost you $24 in additional taxes in 2013. This much needed increase in transportation revenues will allow Vermont to fully access its share of federal transportation funds, to maintain funding of its town highway aid programs, and to continue essential repairs to its roads and bridges.
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development
This committee had an extremely productive session this year. They passed different bills, which is a much higher than normal number! Each of these measures would affect Vermonter’s lives, but not all (in all probability) will make it through the Senate to be signed into law by the Governor. Here are just a few of the most interesting bills we worked on:
IRENE RECOVERY – The storms of 2011 were devastating to our little state. Many individuals and small businesses lost everything they had, and it will be years before our recovery is complete. We have tried to help by passing a measure that would help our affected businesses by relieving them of the increased cost of unemployment insurance when they were forced to lay off their employees.
WORKERS COMP-PAYMENTS – We passed a bill that will allow insurance companies to make payments to injured workers by means of electronic cards. Similar to debit cards, weekly benefits can be directly loaded onto a card, so the worker does not need to wait for a check to arrive in the mail, take it to a bank, and cash it. The benefits are available more quickly!
WORKERS COMP FOR FIRE & RESCUE WORKERS – We all know that firefighters who rush into burning structures, as well as rescue workers who treat people under extremely hazardous conditions, face dangers that “regular folks” don’t have to deal with. These conditions can cause injuries and diseases that might not be known for years. We have offered a change to our laws that would make the “presumption” of these injuries that they were actually caused by exposure to the conditions faced, making it easier for workers to collect benefits due to them.
UNCLAIMED LIFE INSURANCE BENEFITS -When a person dies, we learned that some insurance companies use a national database to learn of the death and then stop paying out on that person’s annuity. However, they do NOT use that database to pay out the death benefit on their life insurance policy. We passed a measure that requires companies to search the national death master list to learn if policyholders have died, and to then pay the benefit due to a beneficiary.
Health and Human Services: Opioid Addiction and Methamphetamine Abuse
This spring, the legislature took significant steps to address the growing problem of drug addiction in Vermont and its devastating affects on health, crime and the environment. First, access to addictive drugs is reduced. The legislature strengthened the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System, making it more difficult to “doctor shop” for multiple purchases of legal but addictive drugs such as oxycontin. In addition, purchases of drugs containing the key ingredients in making methamphetamines or “meth,” will require an ID, allowing pharmacists to check into a real-time database (NPLex), alerting them to multiple purchases.
Second, the Department of Health will look into improving services for those addicted by developing guidelines and training for hospitals and creating a pilot program for naloxone, a drug that reverses an overdose. In addition, by granting limited immunity to those calling 911 to report an overdose should help reduce death because users and friends were too afraid to call.
Third, two studies will address crime related to drug addiction. One will look at the effect of meth labs on housing while another looks at stolen property used to support drug addiction.
Independent Review: Management and Operations of the Vermont Veterans’ Home
Montpelier, Vermont August 8, 2013
The most exciting message from this afternoon’s report is that there is a long range future for the Vermont Veterans Home. Additionally, customer satisfaction reports show that resident and family satisfactions remains very positive.
However, the study reports that the Vermont Veterans Home will greatly benefit from a more simplified and functional organizational governance structure and that a major difficulty relative to constant scheduling is the unusual procedure of having all full time staff.
Finally, while several internal and external events have made the VVH financial environment difficult, the opportunity for a significant turnaround in revenue and expense clearly exists.
Please contact me if you are interested in receiving a copy of the full report.
Town Meeting with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin
August 5, 2013: Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin visited Bennington College’s Center of the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) this evening for a conversation with Vermont residents about a wide variety of issues facing Bennington, neighboring towns, and the state at large. State Representatives Brian Campion and Alice Miller were among the state officials in attendance. Bennington College’s Briee Della Rocca organized the event, her first as the Chair of the Bennington County Democratic Party, and introduced Shumlin to warm applause. The Governor began the conversation by outlining his five-point plan for statewide political reform, naming high-speed internet, public healthcare, education reform, energy efficiency and agriculture as key concerns moving forward. Governor Shumlin then fielded many pointed questions surrounding issues including support from FEMA for towns recovering from Hurricane Irene, funding for the Vermont Veterans’ Home, and legislation allowing the Vermont Early Educators to organize. Throughout the conversation, the importance of raising income and strengthening the Vermont work force and the necessity of early intervention in education arose as recurrent themes. The Governor was consistently assertive and assuring in his responses, promising to properly address time-sensitive concerns and to commit to long-term solutions to persistent problems. Governor Shumlin’s emphasis on reform toward healthier and happier living for the people of Vermont continually echoed his early remark that “Democracy is only as good as the people who vote.”
Michael Giangrecto, Professor of Education at UVM is providing our committee an important look into special education in Vermont. Learn more here: http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/archives/mgiangre/
Last week the Vermont House passed the budget, the shore land protection bill, the tax bill, school lunch legislation, and a current use bill. All of this is important legislation and represents good work and compromise. I look forward to sharing information about each of these bills, starting this evening with this year’s budget. Below you will will find Representative Martha Heath’s speech to the House introductory comments which provide some of this year’s struggles and priorities (Rep. Heath is the Chair of House Appropriations):
Preparation of the FY14 budget required, for the seventh year in a row, addressing a gap between available resources and estimated expenditures. While the nation is easing its way out of the Great Recession, revenues for the state of Vermont have just returned to 2008 levels. Finding the right balance between maintaining necessary services while making investments for the future was the challenge my committee faced.
The budget before you today spends less than what was proposed by the administration and leaves $9M in reserves. This is a responsible course of action. Federal sequestration will impact Vermonters in many arenas, from the military to education, and we will have to evaluate those new needs. Putting money aside makes sense both for addressing these potential needs and for keeping the state on a more financially sustainable path.
This budget also makes important investments. It addresses the Medicaid cost shift by increasing provider reimbursement by 3%. This benefits hospitals and doctors as well as our VNAs, Designated Agencies and others that serve the developmental service, mental health and choices for care populations. Language in the bill directs insurance companies to acknowledge this change in their rates, thus lowering health insurance rate increases from what they would otherwise be. This should directly impact Vermonters who purchase private insurance. We’ve eased the transition for Vermonters moving from Catamount and VHAP into the Exchange by providing premium and cost sharing subsidies in the amounts recommended by our Healthcare Committee. For the first time we are appropriating dollars for LIHEAP in our base budget, reluctantly recognizing that what was for many, many years a federal responsibility must now be partially paid for by the state.
While we weren’t able to do all that the administration proposed in the area of childcare, the budget does change the fee scale in the subsidy program to help parents return to work and move to self-sufficiency. Finally, we make an investment in higher education that will all be used to provide scholarships to students thus lowering the debt burden on young Vermonters while giving them better employment options. This is a critical investment in our future.
We’ve taken steps to both build jobs and get people back to work. By investing in the work of the Clean Energy Development Fund, working lands, and supporting employers hit by Irene we are building industries and jobs of which Vermont can be proud.
Mr. Speaker, the administration presented the legislature with a budget that combined investments in programs that we supported with sources of revenue that did not work. In working through this seemingly insurmountable challenge, your Appropriations Committee has worked hard to find the right balance between fiscal responsibility and making investments for the future.”
“Welcome to my new blog/news feed/website! This site was designed to provide a simple way for Vermonters to stay connected to what is going on Montpelier, VT. Stay tuned!”
Brian Campion Vermont State Representative
Many thanks to everyone in District 2-1 for returning me to Montpelier for a second term. I am grateful for your support, and I look forward to continuing our work together.