With the legislative session underway, The Essex Reporter reached out to our elected officials to determine their priorities this year. They were given 400 words to divide between the following questions:
1. Is there a piece of legislation Essex residents, in particular, should keep their eye on? Why?
2. Several major bills have already been introduced this session, topics including recreational marijuana, water quality and minimum wage. What issue are you most passionate about and why?
3. Do you plan to introduce or sponsor any legislation this session? Tell us about it. Their responses were edited only for newspaper style.
Betsy Dunn 8-1
1. There are many challenges we Vermonters will face this year. Federally, we are still in limbo regarding what they are actually going to fund or not and how much the funding will be. At the state level, we will be endeavoring not to raise taxes/fees. I am very concerned about how all this will be achieved given the challenges we face.
2. Senate bill S.82 Paid Family Leave. I sponsored this bill in the House. It’s also sponsored by the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. It will help families care for their loved ones throughout the continuum of care, not, as some think, just at birth and death. It allows for intermittent use of the time off for chronic illness for the individual and their family member with a chronic illness without impacting your employment. There is, of course, an application process, but with a legitimate claim, you should not be unreasonably denied.
Senate bill S.40 Minimum Wage. I am very passionate about this bill for a couple of reasons. Currently the Vermont minimum wage is $10.50/hour. This is not a livable wage. Families at this wage need to have two to three jobs to make ends meet. By increasing their wages, we also increase spending, thereby increasing GDP. People of color are more likely to be in minimum wage jobs. Increasing their wages will lift many out of poverty, thereby addressing an important racial justice issue as well. The shift to the 80/20 rule for teachers’ health care that the governor pushed through last session has a collateral impact on other workers in the school system. Those employees earning a minimum wage had a cost sharing of 90/10 or sometimes less. Now, at the same salary, they are paying 80/20. They need an increase in wages to help cover the increased health care cost. It is worth noting that this change to $15/hour is not immediate but incremental, only reaching the goal by 2022.
Other bills to watch are Clean Water Act, health care, opiates and education finance.
3. I am introducing several bills: mammograms, hospice, transparency in hospital billing and a gas tax on electric/hybrid cars.
Your perspectives are important to my work in Montpelier. I am happy to discuss any of these topics with you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook: Betsy Dunn for the Vt House.
Linda Myers 8-1
1. Because of the recent Equifax data breach and the concerns expressed by over 700 Vermont residents, there will be a bill coming from the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee concerning data privacy and informational security. As a member of the Commerce Committee, I took part in discussions with Vermonters in several parts of the state this past fall that were affected by the breach and wanted to see Vermont take some action. A bill dealing with data brokers was introduced to my committee last Thursday and we will immediately begin working on it.
2. Since the marijuana bill was passed last week, and I voted no on the bill, that definitely was of concern to me. However, I am especially interested in employment issues including regulating independent contractors and workforce development. I am also interested in consumer protection issues including vulnerable citizens and identity theft, minors and identity theft and debt collection. These are things that often fall through the loopholes in legislation, but the lack of consumer protection to Vermonters can be devastating.
I am also concerned about discussions of a carbon tax and the effect it will have on Vermont taxpayers as well as discussions that will arise dealing with the cost of repairing the waters of the state. Additionally, a projected 9.4 cents increase in the property tax, with 6 cents of that amount coming from local school districts, not the state, tells me we are in dire need of meaningful reform of our educational funding system. And, of major importance, is that the state is facing a $45 million budget gap for fiscal year 2019, and I feel very strongly that taxes and fees should not be increased. To me, that means looking for belt-tightening and efficiencies in state government instead of raising taxes.
3. I have one bill that is currently in the House Transportation Committee that deals with fines for distracted driving that I hope will be worked on this year. I am also planning to offer a bill that will allow residents of condominiums to have some input as to their right to cultivate edible or ornamental plants for personal use in the immediate vicinity of their condo or site. Some residents who belong to condo associations have approached me about this. In addition, I am co-sponsoring many bills that I feel will benefit Vermonters.
Lori Houghton 8-2
1. Unfortunately, we have a lot of priority issues that I recommend Essex residents pay attention to. In healthcare, our first priority is to understand and mitigate the effects of President Trump’s decision to eliminate the subsidy reimbursements to insurance companies. By law, insurance companies must continue to provide the subsidies, so insurance companies will be seeking a method to recoup the costs – most likely insurance hikes in the future. We need to lessen these effects to all Vermonters.
We have also begun reviewing the many studies that are now coming due from our large mental health bill last year. It is imperative that we eliminate wait times for treatment, ensure our children’s needs are being met, provide treatment to those in our prison system, and implement policy that moves our culture to treat mental health and physical health as one.
Two issues where we are watching federal action is funding for Children’s Health Insurance Program and our federally qualified health centers, like Community Health Center of Burlington. Congress has not yet reauthorized these programs, although they have extended funding for CHIP through March. Both are critical programs for the health of our children and for access to primary care.
Outside of our committee, the body is working on education funding, minimum wage, child care programs, tax reform, water clean-up, data privacy and our drug crisis, just to name a few. We do not have a shortage of critical issues that affect Essex and all residents of the state. We need residents to stay engaged and reach out with their comments and suggestions.
2. I am most passionate about ensuring that we are spending your tax dollars effectively and equitably with outcomes that help Vermonters who need our assistance while providing economic conditions that help all Vermonters prosper and attract non-Vermonters to our beautiful state. This will be the frame I use when voting on all bills this session.
3. As I meet with residents, we determine together if a policy change is needed to solve their concern. Mostly, so far, all efforts have focused on bills that are already proposed to determine how to make them stronger and more effective. I am currently researching one issue around child support. Now that children can stay on a parent’s healthcare policy until age 26, should we require child support be paid to the parent providing the healthcare until age 21 or higher (assuming income criteria). I welcome all thoughts on this, and any other, issue.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve Essex Jct. and for your continued support.
I can be reached at email@example.com, at 373-0599 or via my website at www.lorihoughton.com.
Dylan Giambatista 8-2
1. Residents frequently ask about property taxes. Each year, the legislature sets property tax rates to fund expected needs of the statewide education fund. This year’s bill will likely work on revamping aspects of the education finance system. As a member of the Education Committee, I know that a well-educated and skilled workforce leads to healthy, successful communities. Effective public schools and educators are one of our best tools to ensure economic growth. As we seek to maximize our investments in a period of federal uncertainty, we need to ensure our education finance system reflects Essex Jct. residents’ ability to pay so we can continue to have top-quality schools.
2. I’ve worked closely with leaders of the Vermont National Guard and key lawmakers to advance a proposal to provide new funding for postsecondary education tuition for Vermonters who serve in the Guard. Here’s why I’m urging the House to act: Approximately 450 Vermonters leave Guard service each year. Current recruitment efforts struggle because surrounding states in New England offer full tuition support for those who serve. Vermont does not, putting us at a disadvantage.
Under a new proposal being considered, free college would be made available to Guard personnel. It is critically important that we work to give our Vermont National Guard this tool so more of our service people can access college and other postsecondary training. By doing so, we help ensure we can maintain a strong force to help when our communities are in need. Additionally, this investment will help more Vermonters develop the skills and training to pursue successful careers in Vermont.
3. Last year, one of the top issues neighbors contacted me about was concerns about whether Vermont would provide voter information to President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. This federal commission sought to collect sensitive voter information from states. It has recently transformed into a new initiative by President Trump to require voter identification cards.
Bipartisan leaders of over 40 states, including our secretary of state, opposed this initiative. Community feedback was overwhelmingly opposed to the idea that Vermont would turn personal and private data over to the federal government. At the urging of constituents, I worked to develop a bill (H.555) to ensure Vermonters’ voter data is protected, limiting federal overreach to collect this information. I am urging lawmakers and the governor to act to protect Vermonters’ personal and private information.
Bob Bancroft 8-3
1. and 3. Since being elected in 2014, my primary concern has been and continues to be economic growth and reducing the cost of living in Vermont. This is important to not only to the residents of Essex but to everyone in this state. Without significant expansion in our economy, we are not going to be able to raise the necessary revenue to fund our current essential social programs much less add new ones. Lowering the cost of living is critical to economic growth.
We must lower the cost of housing and property taxes. To this end, I have been in contact with the governor’s office on workforce expansion and job creation legislation, which will be coming out shortly. To address the high cost of living, I do not want to increase income or sales taxes or fees and hopefully avoid the need to raise the education property tax rate. The time has come to revamp the way we fund education such that there is a direct connection between what a community spends on education and the taxes it needs to raise locally. Additionally, the Transportation Committee, which I serve on, will be looking at making the failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense. Currently, a person cannot be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt unless they have been stopped for another traffic violation. I will be working with the committee to write the language to change the law.
2. In addition to economic growth and property tax legislation, I am very interested in how the state is going to fund the cleanup of Vermont’s waters. It is important that an equitable funding structure be found. Fees and/or assessments need to be proportional to the entity’s contribution to the problem, but also have the flexibility to take into account what they are doing to address the problem. I recently received an email from Andy Watts, a member of the Essex Selectboard. Andy pointed out that Essex has been proactive in addressing water quality (Sunderland and Indian Brook). He hopes, and I concur, that communities should receive some sort of credit for work they have done or are planning. I also share his concern over another state mandate, which may require towns to bear the responsibility of collecting and forwarding to the state these water quality fees.