2019 End of Session Report

I am honored to serve Cabot, Danville and Peacham in the Vermont House. Vermont’s legislature is made up of citizens from across the state. Each town or city is represented by community members who bring their neighbors’ voices to the House, where issues are debated. I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me during the 2019 session. Your feedback provides valuable perspective as we work through bills at the State House! This session, the House advanced and passed a number of bills to build a strong Vermont economy, invest in our communities, protect the needs of vulnerable Vermonters, and to prepare for the future.

The legislature is scheduled to return shortly after New Year’s Day, in January 2020. The debates of 2019 may pause, but my work in the community continues year-round. Please be in touch if you have any questions this summer and fall. I welcome feedback on issues and will be considering bill requests as we prepare for the 2020 session.

State Budget

The FY2020 Budget goes into effect on July 1, 2019. It is a balanced budget totaling $6.1 billion. This represents a 2.6% increase over the FY2019 budget. The budget includes significant investments in the health of our natural environment; the development of our workforce and growing our economy; and the needs of vulnerable Vermonters, including shoring up critical provider systems. Investments include the State’s full annual contributions for the State pensions and retiree health care and medical benefits funds and reserves are full as required by statute.

Highlights include:

  • An additional $2.3 million for weatherization, for a total of $17 million;
  • $2.9 million for electric vehicles and charging stations;
  • $500,000 for acquisition and conservation of legacy forestlands;
  • And just two examples embedded in the Transportation Fund, $2.7 million for nine Park and Ride projects and $14.7 million for fifty-four Bike and Pedestrian Facilities projects.
  • $2.8 million in tax credits for redevelopment of Designated Downtowns and Village Centers;
  • $1.3 million for regional development corporation block grants;
  • $1.2 million in matching funds to businesses for training incumbent workers to gain skills resulting in higher salaries at those same businesses.
  • $1.5 million for appropriate community placements for persons with complex mental health challenges;
  • $2.5 million added to provide a benefit increase in the Reach-Up Program.
  • An additional $5.2 million to support Vermont’s developmental services and mental health system of care;
  • An additional $2.1 million for a 2% increase for home and community service providers in Choices for Care;
  • An additional $445,000 for court diversion; and $243,000 for a rate increase to local EMS service providers; and $375,000 for emergency room security in small hospitals; a 5% increase for court security services.

Landmark Broadband Initiative Passes

This year the Vermont House passed the boldest, most innovative policy yet to get high-speed internet service to the farthest corners of our state. The bill (H.513) empowers local municipalities to determine the connectivity solutions most appropriate for their communities, and provides financing programs to get local initiatives off the ground. It funds a technical specialist to support local groups. It explores alternatives such as allowing electric utilities to provide internet service using existing infrastructure. It streamlines procedures so providers can build broadband access more quickly and cost-effectively to our most rural communities. Access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet service is essential for participating in modern society. Yet roughly 17,000 Vermont households lack access to even the most basic internet service. Another 50,000 homes and businesses struggle with connection speeds that do not support 21st century tasks. A Vermont that works for everyone, regardless of where they live, must have high-speed internet access in every corner of the state.

Child Care and Early Learning Reforms

The Child Care and Early Learning Bill (formerly H.531) is a $7.5 million state investment that aims to make child care more accessible and affordable for Vermont families, as well as to open up new capacity in terms of child care spaces statewide. The legislation also seeks to support the retention and professional development of child care workers. Specifically, the bill adjusts the market rates and benefit levels for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) according to a revised sliding scale to ensure that families whose gross income is up to 100 percent of current federal poverty guidelines receive 100 percent assistance. The new eligibility guidelines expand financial subsidy to a wider group of middle-income families too. In addition, the bill seeks to retain child care providers working in the field, many of whom struggle to earn livable wages while paying off sizable college loans by providing internship compensation and scholarship assistance to support current child care workers (in both center- and home-based care), as well as to attract new workers to the early learning field. Currently, there is a child care crisis in the Green Mountain State, here are several data points that magnify the extent of the problem:

  • More than 50 percent of infants and toddlers requiring child care don’t have access to any regulated programs; and nearly 80 percent don’t have access to high-quality programs.
  • Middle-class families are spending up to 40 percent of their household income on child care ($10-$15,000 per child per year for full-time care).
  • Waiting list have expanded leaving many families struggling to find high-quality childcare. After receiving weeks of testimony from parents, child care providers and business owners, advocates, and the state’s own Child Development Division, it is clear that
  • Accessible, high-quality child care and early learning are critical investments in the healthy brain development of children ages 0-5, as well as a long-term strategy for putting Vermont parents to work and growing the state’s economy.

Farming and Logging

$1.6M targets Vermont’s rural economy by providing funding for the State’s successful Working Lands Program.  $500K is specifically directed to support Vermont’s struggling daily industry to help shore up farming ventures, for transitioning efforts for those farms moving away from dairy and for critical diversification activities. Additionally, important funding has been directed to Vermont’s loggers. This investment will be used to develop course curriculum and training materials for accident prevention and safety education as well as providing financial assistance to loggers to reduce the costs of logger safety instruction and to help with the certification of logging contractors in the Master Logger program. Additionally, grant dollars have been made available to help with associated costs for citing, permits, applications, and engineering for those engaged in adding value to forest products.

Transportation

H.529 – the FY2020 Transportation Bill outlines programs and policies that impacts everything from pavement to public transit. The bill that passed the House represents a $595 million investment in paving, road maintenance, rail work, bridge construction, aviation and public transit. The main sources of revenue are $258 million in State Transportation funds (state fuel tax and fees) and $320 million in Federal transportation funds. Highlights include:

  • $67M in support for Town highway aid, structures and municipal road programs
  • $100M in State Paving programs
  • $34M in Public Transit funding
  • $9.4M investment in western corridor Rail programs
  • $17.2M for Airport improvements
  • $8M investment in protecting Lake Champlain and other waterways
  • $1.4M salt cost increase – based on 3-year average usage and 15% cost increase

Vaping and Tobacco Use Among Youth

S.86 – related to vaping and tobacco use raises the legal age for buying and using cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. Thirteen states and 400 locales have already enacted Tobacco-21 legislation (or are in the process of doing so), including Maine, Massachusetts and New York. S.86 is part of a three-pronged strategy this legislative session to make it more difficult for youth with sensitive, still-developing brains to obtain and afford tobacco products.  Data shows 95% of cigarette smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and it is a well-established fact that nicotine is a highly addictive substance. The U.S. Surgeon General predicts that in Vermont alone, 10,000 youth alive today will die prematurely of tobacco-related illnesses if we fail to change course. The presence of vaping and e-cigarettes has created a new crisis point. From 2017– 2018, e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students rose 78% and 48%, respectively. That amounted to the biggest one-year spike of any substance in nearly 50 years and prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to declare a public health crisis.

Judiciary – Statute of Limitation Reform

In the case of many of our most horrendous crimes it can take years until a victim is ready to come forward or new scientific techniques can give law enforcement the needed information to bring charges. However, many crimes, even serious ones such as manslaughter or sexual abuse of a child, currently have statutes of limitation allowing offenders to avoid punishment by “beating the clock.” In the interest of justice and fairness this bill extends or eliminates altogether the statute of limitations on several crimes, in an effort to ensure that even decades later justice stands.

Contact Information

kittytoll@live.com
ktoll@leg.state.vt.us

PO Box 192
Danville, VT 05828

802-828-2228 (Statehouse)
802-684-3671 (Home)

www.kittytoll.com