2017 Legislative Wrap-up, Part 1

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May 25, 2017 No Comments ›› barb

While the chaos in Washington D.C. has dominated much of the conversation around governing in Vermont, my colleagues and I in the House have managed to make the first year of session a productive one. We passed significant criminal justice reform legislation to protect victims of sexual violence; helped first responders get treatment for on-the-job PTSD; moved a bill to help set up a retirement system for working Vermonters, and helped Vermonters trying to work their way out of poverty. We passed a budget that cut property taxes while protecting vital services for Vermonters; we fought back against President Trump’s discrimination against immigrant Vermonters; and we locked in rules to protect our environment before the Trump Administration could gut them.

There is still work to do, though. We are prepared to return to the Statehouse in October if needed to deal with potential fallout from a catastrophic budget proposal from Republicans in Washington. I am committed to minimizing the impact of any proposed cuts to working Vermonters. Beyond that, our goals in next year’s session are to build a secure future and a healthy economy for all Vermonters, and these goals will guide our legislative decision making process through the rest of this session.

I look forward to having the summer and fall to share with you the work we’ve been doing in Montpelier, and to gathering your feedback before we return to close out the session.

Rural Economic Development (passed both houses, awaiting signature)

S.34, an act relating to rural economic developmentcreates the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), which will promote and facilitate community economic development in small towns and rural areas in Vermont. REDI will provide assistance to rural businesses, helping them identify and successfully apply for grants to help them grow, as well as promoting and encouraging economic development within the dairy, outdoor equipment and recreation, value added food, and forest product industries. It will also help coordinate and promote best practices with phosphorus removal and at composting facilities.

The bill also engages in a host of fact-finding efforts, intended to improve government effectiveness in providing services to working Vermonters. The Vermont Milk Commission will be researching ways to enhance the dairy industry in Vermont, with a goal of including its findings in the federal Farm Bill, while the Commissioner of Public Service will be assessing the state of energy efficiency and the ways those efforts can be increased. There will also be a study of the ways workers’ compensation rates at high-risk worksites can be decreased.

Finally, the bill includes separation of phosphorus from manure as an eligible activity under the Capital Equipment Assistance Program at the Agency of Agriculture.

Miscellaneous Agriculture Bill

H.495, an act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects, provides a number of programs designed to improve the farm, forest product and outdoor recreation industries. It creates the Water Quality Assistance Program, which directs the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation to provide assistance with compliance with water quality requirements. It pays particular attention to timber harvesters, allowing for assistance purchasing or leasing skidder bridges to reduce the impact of timber operations on waterways.

It also exempts listed machinery, including repair parts and dyed diesel used to power listed machines, used for cutting, harvesting, or processing of solid wood forest products, from state sales tax; provides more information about tile drainage systems and nutrient management systems, and creates more uniformity in administrative penalties issued by the Agency of Agriculture.

The following is the first of a series of end of session reports.

Farm to School

S.33, an act relating to the Rozo McLaughlin Farm-to-School Program, proposes to make multiple amendments to the requirements of the Rozo McLaughlin Farm-to-School Program, including specifying the purpose and State goal of the Program. The bill expands the focus from school meals to child nutrition programs, allowing the inclusion of registered or licensed day care providers in the benefits that the program provides. The bill also establishes the position of Food Systems Administrator in the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets who will work with all partners in the Program to strengthen ties between schools, day care providers, local farmers and local food producers for the benefit of children throughout the state.

Poultry Farming Bill

S.9, an act relating to the preparation of poultry products, proposes to increase the threshold from 1,000 to 20,000 birds under which inspection shall not be required for the slaughter or preparation of poultry products of the producer’s own raising on the producer’s own farm. The bill provides requirements for the on-farm production of poultry at three distinct levels  – under 1,000 birds, under 5,000 birds and under 20,000 birds – thus providing an opportunity to farmers to grow their poultry businesses and make their operations sustainable at their own pace. All poultry produced under the 5,000 and 20,000 bird exemptions will require a label that has been approved by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets that ensures that the consumer knows the conditions under which their poultry was produced.

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