Legislative Wrap-Up

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May 21, 2014 No Comments ››

The following is the first of a two part series summarizing some of the Legislature’s Accomplishments.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to represent you. I am proud of our work that will help expand economic growth and opportunity for Vermonters while enhancing public safety and wellbeing.

Education Update: I opposed the consolidation bill because it did not address financing and property tax issues, and would not have worked for our local schools.  Additionally, my vote supporting an amendment to repeal Act 68 demonstrates my commitment to address foremost our property tax burden and its impact on affordability.

Thank you to our local board members and others for your feedback on this bill.  Your feedback helped me organize opposition to the bill, which was defeated. I look forward to working over the summer and the fall on financing options.

Economic Development

We passed a comprehensive economic development bill and measures in the budget that will enhance Vermont’s economic climate.

One provision that will benefit our district is a section that increases incentives, flexibility and streamlining for development in industrial parks. The Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Regional Development Corporations, Natural Resources Board, Agency of Agriculture, Farm and Markets, Agency of Commerce and Vermont Natural Resources Council support this important change.

Other highlights include:

  • Exempting compost either sold in bulk or for agricultural use from taxation, and clarifies the tax on retail sales of packaged compost
  • Vermont Strong Scholars and Internship Initiative is created to forgive a portion of student loans and encourage students to attend college in Vermont
  • Funding an entrepreneurial lending program within the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA).
  • Expand VEDA’s agricultural credit program to forestry and silviculture ventures.
  • Offering longer term credit for local investments
  • Dept. of Finance Regulation will recommend changes to remove barriers for small businesses seeking access to financial capital.
  • The Self-Employment Assistance Program allows qualifying individuals to receive an allowance in lieu of regular unemployment benefits. It makes it easier for people collecting unemployment insurance to start their own businesses
  • Increasing downtown and village center tax credits
  • Reducing the tax on distilled spirits not sold in a state liquor store, to support our growing Vermont-based distillers
  • Ensuring shared equity affordable housing made possible through our land trusts and Habitat for Humanity receive a fair property tax level

Investments in Working Vermonters

Raised the minimum wage.

We crafted the raise to help bring financial relief to Vermonters at a rate that allows businesses to absorb the cost.  We believe that a minimum wage hike will help the economy, and will allow businesses to succeed with a solid foundation of employees.  Tip wages increased as well.

Reach Up and Reach Ahead

H.790 will help families on Reach Up and Reach Ahead (two parts of Vermont’s public assistance program for families with children). For years, we have talked about the so-called benefits cliff, or the disincentive to work for people receiving public benefits. “Disregarding” a portion of earnings allows recipients to increase their incomes by combining work with public benefits, thus increasing the incentive to work. Reach Ahead is the program that provides a continued food benefit to help families sustain themselves after getting off Reach Up and thereby avoiding a return to Reach Up. This bill would make the benefit amount in Reach Ahead somewhat smaller but continue it for a longer period of time.  This in turn would keep a family eligible for a full childcare subsidy for an additional year, a very important factor in being able to hold a job.

Universal Pre-K

Investments in high-quality early educational instruction provide a critical foundation for learning.  Yet, working families face a number of challenges that impact their children’s access to high-quality early educational opportunities. To help support our earliest learners and their working parents, the legislature passed a comprehensive bill that expands access.  It allows for portability and choice.

Public Safety

Hand-free Ban on Cell Phones

Highway Safety has been one of my priorities. The hands-free ban builds on the existing ban on texting for all drivers and any cell phone use for junior operators.  This bill will save lives. It is the single issue I have heard the most support for.

According to Senator Doyle’s Town Meeting poll, voters in our district support an absolute prohibition on cell phones while driving: Waitsfield– 81.8%, Fayston–75%, Warren–75.3%, Duxbury– 70% and Moretown–67.7%.