Several bills were passed on the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives last week including action on reasonable and prudent parent standards, parentage proceedings, human trafficking, insurance companies and trust companies, establishing a Child Fatality Review Team, sale of property subject to unpaid property taxes, and an explanation of advance directives. As you can see, members of the House debated many diverse bills.
Last Friday the legislature bid farewell to the 11 young people, including Iris Hsiang of Essex, who have served as legislative pages for the past six weeks. It is always difficult to say goodbye to these bright young people. But we also await the next group of pages who started work on February 13. House members also took time to honor young Vermonters who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 2017. Seven Eagle Scouts from Essex were honored including Craig Cameron, Eric DeWitt, Brian Cookingham, Kevin Donley, Will Klinck, Daniel Perry and Zachary Preston. Congratulations to them on their achievement.
This biennium I am serving on the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. My committee considers matters relating to business organizations, including banking, insurance, corporations, workforce development, unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance, and the industrial and internal development of the state. The committee has been assigned almost 100 bills since January 2017, and we continue to move through them. Our most important work this year includes several bills dealing with economic and workforce development. We are also considering a bill requiring the registration of data brokers, businesses that amass personal data and sell that
information to other parties. And we continue to work on a bill concerning workers’ compensation.
Several bills that I consider as most important deal with the Governor’s Interagency Workforce Plan that will strengthen and expand Vermont’s workforce. The goals of the bills are to increase the number and skill level of available workers in Vermont. To do this, we hope to increase the labor participation rate of Vermonters, recruit and relocate more workers to Vermont, and assist employers in accessing and retaining qualified workers. We hope to expand adult training opportunities at career and technical education centers and create an industry-supported system for developing and recognizing credentials and certificates earned through apprenticeships and internships. We also want to develop resources to help businesses employ workers with employment barriers. As part of our efforts in this matter I had the distinct pleasure of attending a meeting last Friday with the German ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, to discuss the highly successful apprenticeship programs in Germany and how Vermont can increase these programs for young Vermonters. Ambassador Wittig was accompanied to the meeting by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
SEN. TIM ASHE
I’d like to briefly update you on three important bills before the Senate. First, the Senate will be debating an increase to the minimum wage later this week. A Senate committee has recommended an increase of $4.50 over a six-year period. This is a more aggressive schedule than current law, which raises the wage by annual inflation. Contrary to popular myth, most low-wage workers are not part timers or teenagers. In fact, 55 percent of all Vermont workers earning less than $12.50/hour earn more than half of their family’s income, and 65 percent of these workers are older than 30. The problem of income inequality affects all other areas of public life, and this bill helps those who the national economy has left behind.
Second, the Senate will be debating a bill this week to lower prescription drug prices by importing them through Canada. It is outrageous that a commonly used medicine like Lipitor costs 46 times more per pill in the U.S. than in Canada. As expected, the pharmaceutical industry, which last year bested its own lobbying spending records, is raising its usual red herrings. We need to do something about the ripoff Vermont patients are experiencing, and this bill is one promising approach.
Third, the Senate passed a bill promoting net neutrality. President Trump’s FCC has reversed earlier policies that prohibited massive telecommunications companies from slowing down some content and generally restricting a free and fair internet. The Senate bill disallows the State from contracting with telecom firms that do not practice net neutrality for their Vermont customers. This is a critical issue for Vermonters and Vermont businesses and schools.