2015 Legislative Update

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Jun 24, 2015 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

2015-Legislative-UpdateI hope you are enjoying your summer. Here is the final legislative update for this session.

I will continue to update you on my work. A few highlights: I serve on the Judicial Nominating Board, Corrections and Justice System oversight Committee and continue to address issues you raise.

I am thrilled to say that the Executive Director of Joining Forces, Office of the First Lady, The White House, contacted me regarding my work on behalf of Veterans and service members. I have been working with the chair of the New York City Bar Association Committee on Veteran Affairs to guide New York in passing a law similar to Vermont’s regarding licensing. I am honored to be part of a national effort to support our military and service member families.

Please stay in touch: mgrad@leg.state.vt.us and 828-2228 or 496-7667.

Greater Government Oversight and Accountability

The Legislature created and charged two commissions with recommending changes to important aspects of management, delivery, and oversight in state government. Each commission will have nongovernmental members with expertise in specific and relevant areas of practice.

The first is a Government Restructuring and Operations Review Commission, tasked with identifying opportunities for increasing government efficiency and productivity in order to reduce spending trends and related resource needs. The oversight, use, and expansion of public-private partnerships will be among the topics this group reviews. The second commission will be charged with evaluating the governance and management structure of the State of Vermont’s overall IT system and programs. Prompted by a series of underperforming technology projects, this group will take inventory of the State’s current resources, expertise, and need for updated structures.

Economic Development

The well-being of Vermonters depends on quality employers and an excellent workforce. This year’s economic development bill focuses on connecting employees and employers to build our economy. The development of our state’s workforce is of paramount importance. Many Vermonters do not have the skills for current career track job openings, and employers are challenged filling good paying jobs. The Legislature began honing our support for workforce readiness from multiple angles. Here are a few of the approaches we adopted:

  • Streamlining administration of our Vermont Strong Scholars Program and Internship Initiative and adding performance measures. We narrowed the focus of the grant criteria from broad sectors to specific occupations and expanded participation to independent colleges within the state.
  • Consolidating our internship programs into The Vermont Strong Internship Program. We used Workforce Education and Training funds to pay for training or retraining workers for new or existing job openings when that training would not occur within the normal course of business.
  • Expanding opportunities for disabled Vermonters to work. We increased the saving limits within Medicaid eligibility and established a special savings account program consistent with federal law that will help people pay for education, training, and similar expenses. Representatives from the Office of Veterans Affairs and the State’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired were added to The Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities to support ongoing work.
  • Directing the Agency of Education, Department of Labor, and Agency of Commerce and Community Development to work together to use Vermont’s Centers for Career Technical Education (CTEs) to provide training aligned with high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand employment opportunities.
  • Creating more jobs and on-the-job training by reforming the Vermont Economic Growth Initiative (VEGI). We lowered the qualifying wage threshold for employers seeking the incentive in areas of the state with higher than average unemployment, expanding job opportunities in rural areas. Though the wage threshold is lowered, companies must include benefits in their compensation packages. We approved enhanced on-the-job training for new employees, frontloading incentives for VEGI participant employers as they create qualifying jobs, and removing barriers for companies claiming credits when circumstances beyond their control keep them from meeting program deadlines.

Our economic development bill also moves Vermont forward by:

  • Helping first time homebuyers with a down payment assistance transferable tax credit. This initiative will also help stimulate the housing market.
  • Modernizing Vermont’s liquor control system to be more efficient, effective, and profitable and a permitting the sale of fortified wine and beer-I sponsored the bill that led to this law on behalf of Waitsfield’s Wine Shoppe
  • Supporting our tech sector by repealing the sales tax on remotely accessed prewritten software. This is the “cloud tax” and repeal will give us a competitive advantage with neighboring states while helping Vermont’s growing tech sector.

Health Care Costs in Education Spending

The Legislature recognizes the burden that escalating health care costs has on schools and total education spending statewide. The Director of Health Care Reform, working with stakeholders, will be required to consider alternatives available to school districts, supervisory unions, and their employees to address the high cost of health care and recommend options that do not trigger the federal tax on high-cost, employer-sponsored insurance plans (referred to as the “Cadillac Tax”). Among other options, the Director is required to consider the possibility of transitioning to plans offered through Vermont Health Connect, the Vermont Education Health Initiative, and other mechanisms. A report on these findings will be submitted by November 15 of this year.

Transforming our Renewable Energy Policies

Over the past decade, Vermont has led the nation with its energy efficiency programs, lowering both electricity costs and rates. With this year’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) law, Vermont will launch a new energy transformation in the heating and transportation sectors. The law will incentivize a shift in these sectors from fossil fuels to clean electricity, reduce carbon emissions, and save Vermonters money.

The house of the future, as envisioned under this law, will be well insulated and tightly sealed. Appliances and heat sources, such as air source heat pumps, will be highly efficient. Solar panels will promote energy independence and reduce transmission and distribution costs for all Vermonters. Electric vehicles will harness local sources of clean energy and reduce carbon-emissions in transportation. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Establishes a renewable energy standard that will protect the value of in-state sources of renewable energy and requires total renewables, including hydro, to grow from 55% of total retail electric sales in 2017 to 75% in 2032.
  • Incentivizes construction of new distributed renewable energy from 1% of total retail electric sales in 2017 to 10% in 2032, growing local jobs and promoting energy independence.
  • Requires utilities to offer products and services, such as heat pumps and home weatherization that will reduce Vermonters’ fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Through energy conservation, efficiency and local generation, our energy transformation programs are projected to save Vermonters $275 million on energy costs over 15 years, and exert downward pressure on electricity rates resulting in a half-percent reduction in electricity costs by 2032.

Supporting Safe, Affordable Housing

The Legislature continued its legacy of support for safe, affordable, and accessible housing. Despite extraordinarily tough budget challenges, we still maintained our significant commitment to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and the emergency housing network. This commitment underscores the importance of stable housing and homelessness prevention in enabling all Vermonters to lead healthy and productive lives.

One signed into law this session promoted safe and fair housing. The mobile home park bill recognizes that a safe, healthy community should not depend on housing choices. This bill ensures that residents of mobile home parks have access to emergency response services and will not be needlessly subjected to blighted, abandoned homes in their communities. It also gives the Department of Housing and Community Development the ability to certify habitability standards and non-discriminatory leases.

Expanding Treatment Options for Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Addiction is a complex disorder, impacting individuals in very different ways. Specialists in substance abuse and mental health are a key component of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. The Legislature took action this year to offers more choice and availability of treatment to patients by allowing licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselors (LACDs), who are in private practice, to participate in the Medicaid program, regardless of whether they are employed by a preferred substance abuse provider. Medicaid recipients currently have access to mental health care provided by private practitioners such as Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers (LICSW) and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (LCMHC). This bill will ensure that Medicaid recipients have access to substance abuse treatment services from any private practitioner licensed as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LADC).

This bill takes an important bill to address parity, access to treatment, and appropriate service delivery. It provides appropriate compensation and will increase treatment access for Vermonters with primary substance abuse disorders.