top of page
Search
  • ekmcguire

Notes from Seat 146: March 2024 (mid-session) Legislative Update



We want to start with gratitude to the Williston community members who joined us and Senator Ginny Lyons at the library last Saturday for thoughtful conversations about the challenging issues we face this year on Town Meeting Day – especially education funding and property taxes. In-depth, nuanced conversations are so important for our community and our democracy. 


We are approaching the “crossover” deadline in Montpelier, when bills have to pass out of at least one committee and make it through the full House or Senate in order to have a chance at becoming law before we adjourn in May. We want to offer a few highlights related to priorities for many in our community: 


Housing

The current housing crisis is caused by many factors: zoning that has inhibited denser development in town or city centers; chronic under-investment in rental vouchers and affordable housing; an increase in housing demand linked to a decrease in the average number of Vermonters per household; cumbersome regulatory processes; new economic opportunities presented by converting long-term rental properties into short-term rentals and a 57% decline in  home construction since 1988. 


The Natural Resources Board, the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies, and the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development worked hard, through public engagement processes, to develop recommendations for updating land use and development planning in three legislatively mandated reports. These reports reach important consensus on overarching goals: encouraging growth, protecting natural resources, increasing the state’s housing stock, modernizing our designation programs, and ensuring consistency between municipal, regional, and state land use planning policy. We support the work of the tri-partisan Rural Caucus in ensuring that we create legislation that aligns with these recommendations in order to increase our housing stock in all parts of the state – not just in Williston. 


Banning Flavored Tobacco Marketed to Youth

We have heard concern from over 200 members of our community, including many students, about youth tobacco use.Vermont spends more than $400 million annually to treat tobacco-related illnesses, including more than $90 million each year in Medicaid expenses. Research indicates that candy-flavored e-cigarettes like grape, bubble gum, gummy bear, and strawberry are hooking Vermont youth. Eighty-nine percent of Vermont youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who smoke or vape started with a flavored product. We support S.18, a bill to ban the retail sale of all flavored vapes, all flavored tobacco substitutes, and all flavored e-liquids and anticipate the full House will vote on the bill next week.  


Environmental Priorities to Protect Health and Mitigate Climate Change 

Neonicotinoids are insecticides introduced in the 1990s that have proven to be highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. Neonics, as they’re called, are used to prevent crop damage in a wide variety of grains, vegetables, fruits and turf grass, either by spraying or by coating seeds with the insecticide before planting. Treated seeds may release dust that can make its way into ground and surface water, and the plants can contain toxic levels of neonics in their leaves and pollen. 

 

We support the committees of jurisdiction in their work on H.706, a bill to ultimately ban the use of neonic-treated seeds and most other applications. Extensive research indicates no significant crop yield loss when substituting untreated seeds. Quebec banned neonics in 2019, and New York State will begin phasing them out in 2027. By following the lead of our larger neighbor to the west, farmers should have access to a full complement of untreated seed varieties when the ban takes effect in Vermont.


Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard, an energy policy passed in 2015, put Vermont’s electric utilities on the path to cleaner electricity from renewable sources like hydro, solar and wind. Since then, the state has committed to transitioning away from fossil fuels, joining the global call to action to reduce carbon emissions and protect our future. Now, with historic federal funding available for clean energy, Vermont is set to make major progress over the next decade.  


H.289 reflects a remarkable collaboration among Vermont’s electric utilities and environmental groups to bring more renewable energy into our grid faster. The updated Renewable Energy Standard raises electric utility requirements for renewable energy to 100% by 2030 for most utilities, with a longer timeframe (2035) for smaller, rural utilities. The bill doubles the amount of new renewable energy built in the state, bringing good-paying clean energy jobs and better protection from rising fossil fuel energy prices. 


Rep. Arsenault serves on the Judiciary Committee:


A Statewide Approach to Restorative Justice

The House Judiciary Committee devoted a considerable amount of  time to H.645, an act relating to the expansion of approaches to restorative justice. This bill seeks to codify the practice of pre-charge referrals to restorative justice providers—something we are calling “pre-charge diversion” because it mirrors the existing (post-charge) diversion program administered by the Attorney General’s office. 


Pre-charge diversion offers both responsible parties and victims an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. It has the potential to help reduce the court backlog by not adding cases to the pipeline. It can also produce better results with more accountability and consequences closer to the commission of the crime. The bill also sets up improved data collection.  We took great care to honor prosecutorial discretion while making progress toward a statewide vision of restorative justice that ensures geographic equity. We’ve also worked diligently to protect victims’ rights and bring a currently functioning-yet-fractured system together for the benefit of all Vermonters.


Addressing Retail and Motor Vehicle Theft

My committee passed a bill designed to address retail theft, specifically repeat offenses.

Currently, retail theft offenses can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies depending upon the value of goods stolen. Anything up to $900 is a misdemeanor; over $900 is a felony. H.534 would enable prosecutors to charge individuals with a felony if the aggregate value of goods stolen within a 14-day period exceeds $900. 


We also passed a bill, H.563, related to motor vehicle theft, unlawful operation, and trespass into someone else’s car. This bill closes a few gaps in statute, including the interesting fact that current law does not prohibit a person from entering another person’s car without consent. This will address incidents of rummaging through someone’s car without actually stealing anything out of it. Accidental entry into another’s car will not be criminalized.


 Rep. Brady serves as Vice-Chair of the Education Committee:


Working Towards a Strong and Sustainable Education System  

There are extraordinary challenges right now (including many that are not unique to Vermont: skyrocketing healthcare costs, increased student mental and behavioral health needs at the same time federal pandemic money is ending, massive deferred maintenance on facilities and inflation). There are also extraordinary conversations happening at all levels in our state about a path forward for a right-sized, strong public education system that supports ALL students and uses our precious statewide resources sustainably and efficiently. There is growing consensus that we need to transform our system and consider a different funding formula or mechanism. These changes will be difficult but we are deeply committed to this work and bending the cost curve. 


We anticipate passing two education bills to begin the path towards a stronger system. First, we are creating a more robust opportunity for school districts to collaborate on common needs such as specialized student services, joint supply procurement, or regional busing contracts. Boards of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) are common in other states and are one tool to help move us toward more consolidated services and efficiencies of scale.  


Second, we are especially excited about the potential for a new school facilities program. After extensive study, we know Vermont’s school buildings need more than $6 billion in investments statewide to bring them up-to-date, replace worn-out systems, achieve code compliance, and replace buildings that would be cheaper to rebuild than repair. We have not had a program to assist school districts in paying for major capital projects since 2007 and some districts have struggled to pass bonds. The bill we anticipate passing will create a new state aid program that would share the cost of some construction projects based on strategic incentives (such as “newer and fewer”) that help right-size our system and ensure students have modern, healthy learning spaces.  


We Are Honored To Serve and Eager to Listen 

We know working families and the middle class are the engines of Vermont’s economy. Vermont thrives when we have good jobs so we can care for and support our families, great public schools in all our communities, housing and health care we can afford. We also need clean water, access to renewable energy, and climate resilient communities – public investments that grow Vermont’s economy and build economic prosperity for all Vermonters today and in the future.  


This legislative session has been and will continue to be incredibly hard but it certainly reenergized us to sit together with community members and talk openly. There are so many people in our community who care deeply about our collective future and devote themselves to a range of town positions, boards, and volunteer organizations. We look forward to hosting another community conversation in April and always welcome feedback and engagement.

0 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page