By Rep. Robert Bancroft
My first two weeks in the Legislature was very similar to the first weeks of my freshman year in college. There is a lot to learn about legislative rules, procedures, building layout and support personnel. There are lawyers in the Legislative Council Office who assist in writing bills and interpreting law. There is the Joint Fiscal Office, where the revenue and program costs are developed. There is administrative staff (payroll and expenses), Capital Police Department (IDs and parking permits) and the Sergeant at Arms office (keys and message center).
Learning the legislative rules and traditions has been and continues to be interesting. I learned that when you address a fellow representative on the House floor you do not refer to them by name but rather as the representative from so and so town(s). Whenever there is a dialogue between the speaker and a house member, you never break the line of sight between the two.
While there were several moments of confusion, I have settled in, and I am feeling comfortable in my new role. The seasoned legislators have been very gracious and willing to help. I do owe a very special thanks to Rep. Linda Meyers of Essex Town for taking me in under her wing and being my mentor.
The vote for governor was a unique experience I do not care to repeat. The governor’s inaugural ceremony was very special. Unfortunately, it was disrupted by protesters. Gov. Shumlin’s budget address this past Thursday was a bit more cerebral as it dealt with specific revenue and cost proposals.
The governor’s inaugural address on Jan. 8 dealt mainly with renewable energy and water quality. He wants to continue and expand the state’s development of renewable energy. He proposed new initiatives to clean up Lake Champlain.
The governor’s budget proposal contained winners and losers. Some of the cuts were in LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), Judiciary and state employees’ pay and benefits. Some winners were Lake Champlain (water quality) and health care funding. He also presented some proposals to stem the rise in education spending.
The Fiscal Year ’16 budget still relies on one-time funding of around $13 million. The loss of this funding will present difficulties in the FY17 budget. The Governor is proposing to raise $130.5 million in new taxes. He is asking the legislature to raise $5 million for the Clean Water Fund by placing a tax on agricultural fertilizers and an impact fee on owners of commercial and industrial parcels within the Champlain watershed. He has proposed raising $15.5 million through eliminating the state deduction for state and local taxes paid by individuals who itemized deductions on their federal income tax return. He is also asking for a 0.7% payroll tax to increase Medicaid provider reimbursement. This tax is expected to raise $110 million in calendar year 2017.
I have been assigned to the House Health Care Committee. The committee has spent the last two weeks hearing from various agency heads and program leaders. The purpose of this testimony was to provide committee members with an overview of Vermont’s health care system. This overview is critical as five of the 11 members are new to the committee. The five new members are Representative William Lippert, the chair, and four freshmen representatives.
The pervasive use of acronyms slows the process of understanding Vermont’s medical care system. During the first week I asked if there was a list of these acronyms. This past Tuesday, I was provided with five and a half, double column, pages containing about 430 acronyms published by the DVHA (Dept. of VT Health Access)! Some are easy like COPD, COLA or VA, but others are not such as CMN (Certification of Medical Necessity), MDB (Medicare Data Base) or my favorite PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act). I am happy to report that I have not seen this last one in any presentation or document.
More overview testimony will be taken next week as the committee delves deeper in the working of our system. Two health care related bills have already been introduced, but they were not assigned to the House Health Care Committee. I suspect there will be many more in the coming weeks.
There have been several bills introduced in the House and Senate. None of them dealt with major policy/program changes, nor do I believe any had any significant budget implications. These bills have been assigned to various committees for review. I suspect there will be a flurry of bills introduced in the next couple of weeks. A listing of introduced bills can be found at the Vermont legislature web site, http://legislature.vermont.gov/.
Robert Bancroft represents Westford and rural Essex in the Vermont House of Representatives.