Town Meeting Update

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Mar 8, 2014 No Comments ››

Here are some highlights of our work thus far.

Commerce and Economic Development

This year, the Legislature responded to requests to help invigorate Vermont commerce and economic development, whether it is creating openings to build on our 1st place national standing in the Captive Insurance industry or diving into “deep commerce” issues like the “Legacy Insurance Management Act.” By revitalizing the Workforce Development Council and funding the Vermont Training Programs, we help employers find skilled workers to fill vacant positions and help Vermonters move into those jobs.  By helping Vermonters access loans to replace failed wastewater and potable water supply systems, we help homeowners and renters stay safe and healthy, build jobs and protect the environment.

As we review the process that stimulated the expansion of cellular and broadband connectivity, the Legislature is listening to arguments as to whether to continue with the Public Service Board permit process set to expire in July, or to revert back to the Act 250 process allowing for greater local control of the siting of telecommunication infrastructure.  The Legislature is also working on a broad economic development bill designed to support entrepreneurial ventures through incentives, tax credits and capital.

Saving Energy Dollars By Reducing Consumption

The Legislature is set to create an energy revolving loan fund under the auspices of the State Treasurer and the Department of Buildings and General Services.  If passed, this loan fund will enable the State to tackle needed energy improvements, which will pay for themselves over time.  State government spends about $14 million on energy annually.  Over time this revolving loan fund will enable the state to significantly reduce its energy consumption, saving money and reducing our carbon footprint.

Supporting Our Troops

Vermont is proud of those in service and thankful to those who served.  We know it can often be a challenge for military spouses who lose jobs when their active duty spouse is required to transfer to a new location.  I sponsored H.275 that would allow spouses to receive unemployment insurance benefits when they relocate to accompany their military husband or wife. It takes the next step to make sure the spouse’s employer will not be charged for these benefits.  Passage of this bill will make Vermont the 45th state to provide this benefit to military spouses.

We also remember our veterans who served and are now disabled by offering a free hunting license.  By changing the degree of disability to receive this license from 100% to 60%, many more veterans will enjoy this activity.

Recycling Batteries (H.695)

We currently have to dispose of single-use batteries, or “primary batteries,” in the trash because they are not recyclable by the methods available at Vermont recycling facilities. Recoverable materials from primary batteries include zinc, manganese and steel. Offsetting the need for virgin materials is typically the best way to reduce a product’s overall lifecycle impact; however, it is not economically feasible for our solid waste districts to pay for a primary battery recycling program. Although the industry runs an active rechargeable battery recycling program, single-use batteries have not been included. This is now about to change.

H.695, currently under review, will update Vermont’s solid waste laws to require all solid waste districts and municipalities, as well as retailers on a voluntary basis, to act as collection points. It will also encourage primary battery manufacturers to join an existing stewardship program or form one of their own and sets up a process to allow industry-sponsored stewardship programs to recover recycling costs.  The primary battery industry has become proactive in supporting a battery stewardship program.

Reducing Distracted Driving

All Vermonters have seen drivers weaving, speeding or simply looking down at a cell phone while they move along our roads. Distracted drivers who are texting, scrolling through contacts to find a number or typing an email are a growing concern to police and other emergency responders.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Plan for 2014 cites that 24% of Vermont crashes involve distracted driving. The 2010 ban on texting has been difficult to enforce because drivers can simply claim they were dialing a number, rather than texting.

H.62, as it passed the House in February, prohibits the handheld use of portable electronic devices on Vermont highways while a vehicle is in motion. Portable electronic devices include cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, GPS and other mobile electronics. The bill allows the use of these devices in hands-free mode. It also allows drivers to activate or deactivate a device if it is mounted in a cradle or otherwise fixed to the vehicle.

There are several other exceptions to the handheld prohibition. They include:

* Law enforcement may use handheld devices in the course of their duties.

* Agricultural vehicle operators may use a handheld device to receive a dispatch.

* Anyone making a call in an emergency to law enforcement or other emergency personnel.

* Commercial drivers fall under the commercial motor vehicle laws, which mirror federal regulations. The Commercial DMV law we passed last year already prohibits the use of handheld mobile phones and other devices.

Penalties for violating the provisions of H.62 would be the same as texting while driving. A $100 fine and 2 points would be assessed for a first offense. H.62 is an important step toward promoting highway safety.

Investing in Transportation Infrastructure

A strong economy requires a 21st Century infrastructure. This year’s budget makes sound investments in our infrastructure that will grow Vermont jobs not only by directly supporting the construction industry, but also by supporting important economic sectors such as tourism, agriculture, hospitality, and manufacturing, among others.

Several successive years of record level transportation investments are yielding positive results. We are seeing improved performance in pavement and in the condition of our bridges. In 2008, Vermont ranked near the bottom of all states, 45th in the nation for structurally deficient bridges.  By 2013, our strong investments have improved our rank to 28th. Overall percentage of structurally deficient bridges has declined from 19.7 percent of all bridges in 2008 to just over 8 percent in 2013.

Mindful of our continuing energy challenges and our need to drive down our carbon footprint, this transportation budget continues to invest in all modes of transportation including railroads, public transit systems, airports, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Highlights of the FY2015 Transportation Budget:

* $115 million for Paving

* $140 million for Bridges

* $50 million for Roadway

* $13 million for Highway safety and traffic operations

* $2.7 million for Park-and-Ride Facilities

* $7.9 million for Bicycle and Pedestrian facilities

* $4.2 million for Transportation Alternatives

* $80 million for Maintenance including snow removal

* $29.8 million for Public Transit

* $19.9 million for Aviation

* $37 million for Rail

* $108.7 million for Town Highway Programs

Addressing Escalating Property Taxes

The Ways and Means Committee has been spending significant time addressing the burden of escalating property taxes, a desire for measuring student outcomes against our spending, and maintaining local control while increasing budget transparency – all without losing vital programs in our schools due to funding and scale.

The committee is looking at statewide conditions that place additional burdens on the Education Fund, including declining grand list value, loss of federal funds, fewer students and replacing the common level of appraisal with rolling appraisals.

I and my colleagues in the legislature look forward to working collaboratively with municipal and school leaders to ensure the best outcomes for our children with a sustainable and fair education funding system that does not particularly burden middle-income homestead ratepayers.

How to Follow the Legislature’s Work  

Each legislative committee now has a live home page, updated regularly.  They are great tools for the public to follow our work and issues of interest.

To find a committee page, visit www.leg.state.vt.us. Under Committee Information Pages, click on Standing Committee Information Pages.  You can then select the committee of interest to obtain its weekly agenda, documents, handouts and links to other information.

 

I hope this helps you follow any committee in the Legislature, review issues that concern you and allows you to feel connected to the process.