Town Meeting and Legislative Update – March 2, 2017

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Mar 2, 2017 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State HouseThe 2017 legislative session has been one of uncertainty. Thank you for your trust in me. It’s a honor to serve you. I am proud to join with a tripartisan group of elected officials to stand united against some of the most egregious proposals from Washington, pushing back against the President’s illegal and immoral immigration proposal.

However, questions abound about the level of support Vermont can expect from the federal government for critical programs. Thus, we are closely monitoring the actions of Congress and the President, working with Senators Leahy, Sanders and Congressman Welch. Despite the uncertainty, we must keep moving forward. We will continue working hard to build a healthy economy, safe and strong communities and a better future for the next generation of Vermonters.

Your feedback is critical to our work in Montpelier. Thank you for making your voice heard at Town Meeting, and for continuing to stay involved in making Vermont a great place to live.

The following are reports from some of the House committees.

Workforce Development

Analyzing worker classifications, wages, benefits, and flexible education opportunities lead the House Commerce Committee’s goals. Other constructs that go into the process of successful economic development are also top priorities.

The lack of an available labor and talent pool is the largest impediment to economic growth in Vermont. Many mature adults over 50 are underemployed or are unable to find jobs that utilize their experience. At the same time, Vermont high school graduates who chose not to pursue postsecondary education or training typically do not have the skill set or aptitude to fill job openings that provide them with a livable wage and meaningful career path. The Commerce Committee is always analyzing all the available data to gain a greater perspective of this dilemma, and to find solutions, from more affordable college to better postsecondary options that fit nontraditional students. We are working on legislation to address these issues, focusing on building the workforce and meeting the needs of employers.

Growing the entrepreneurial spirit and support system in Vermont

We continue to work to improve the path for entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses. We are hearing from small business owners who are sharing their experiences with us so we can identify ways the state can adjust the traditional supports and scale them to a new and contemporary level. These supports include the need for better opportunities to collaborate and network, as well as access to broadband and other technical requirements. While Vermont has a plethora of support systems and professional services already in place, we are working to increase access to consulting services to provide advice and support for business owners to meet their financial obligations and objectives as their businesses expand.

Focusing on Vermont Infrastructure

The House Committee on Corrections and Institutions considers matters relating to the Department of Corrections, public buildings, State lands and property. The Committee is responsible for putting together the capital bill from the Governor’s recommended budget. Unlike the General Fund, which gets its revenue from taxes and fees, the funding for items in the capital bill comes from State borrowing. These items generally must have a 20-year life and include things like renovations to State-owned buildings, improvements to our State Parks, and projects overseen by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB).

For the next two years, VHCB funds will be directed to conservation projects and improving water quality through easements on agricultural projects and housing. Including (1) projects designed to keep residents out of institutions (prisons, state hospital, nursing homes, motels), and reducing pressure on the fund budget; (2) improving projects with already significant public investment and affordability or federal rental subsidies that would otherwise be lost; (3) housing projects that would alleviate the burden in stressed rental markets; and 4) downtown and village center revitalization projects.

Boosting Career and Technical Education for Vermonters

It’s an exciting time for Vermont’s career and technical centers (CTE). We are seeing them dedicate courses to in-demand, high paying jobs like computer hardware application development, website design, plumbing and electrical work, welding, automotive technology and healthcare. These are fields that offer successful careers for Vermonters and help to strengthen our economy. The House Education Committee is exploring how to expand opportunities for technical and high-tech education to middle school students, as well as reviewing how we fund CTE programs so more students can access them. Helping students find their passion, and giving schools the right tools to help them, is the focus of our work this session.

Portable Employment Benefits for Contingent Workers

As employers and employees seek new ways to make the employment relationship more flexible, they have increasingly relied on a variety of arrangements popularly known as “contingent work.” Workers may be considered contingent if they are not considered permanent employees, including temporary employees, leased employees, home workers, freelance workers, consultants, or individuals classified as independent contractors. Contingent workers are the base of the “gig economy.”

Seasonal and cyclical labor demands for employers and balancing work/family time for workers create opportunities for contingent work. On the other hand, contingent workers often receive less pay and benefits than traditional full-time or “permanent” workers, and they are less likely to benefit from the protections of labor and employment laws. The Commerce Committee and the General Committee have long sought, separately and together, a way to balance existing worker protections with the emergence of the contemporary gig economy.

We are framing a significant study that would lead to a plan for benefits to move with employees throughout their work life in Vermont. The proposed committee would be made up from the relevant agencies, and would review and recommend inclusion of insurance, retirement, and other types of employment benefits that are portable and easily accessible to contingent workers. Making a gig economy work fairly for everyone would be a huge step forward for a stronger and healthier economy in Vermont.

Strengthening our Mental Health System

Integrating mental health care into our care system—parity—is of utmost importance to the Health Care committee. We are focusing our research on the pressures related to our mental health care system, from inappropriate wait times for patients awaiting psychiatric care in our emergency rooms to lowering the barrier to access to psychiatric in-patient beds. We also took moving testimony from police officers and mental health workers who encouraged us to strengthen our crisis response services. To add to the complexity of this crisis, there is a high turnover of mental health workers due to stress, long hours and non-competitive salaries.


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