Legislative Updates

Updates from the Vermont Statehouse

Notes from the Working Vermonters Caucus

Last session, labor bills in the final hours succumbed to end of session snafus leaving supporters, advocates, labor leaders, workers, and organizers hung out to dry.  This session, making Vermont a Worker Friendly State and solidarity is in the air at the Statehouse as members from both Houses have been packing the Legislative Working Vermonters Caucus each week.  It’s exciting that the caucus is growing and room 10 is looking smaller with each meeting!

The Legislative Working Vermonters Caucus meets every Wednesday at noon in room 10 at the Statehouse and is co-chaired by Representative Susan Hatch Davis and Representative John Moran.  This week the caucus welcomed special guests: students of Governor Douglas from Middlebury College and members of the Board of the Vermont State Employees Retiree group.

Floor time on specific legislation in the Caucus this week included two bills: S.14 (Fair share fees) and H.41 (Pension forfeiture).

S.14 as introduced states, “This bill proposes to require payment of agency fees by teachers, school administrators, and municipal employees who are not members of a labor organization recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent.  In addition, it would confirm explicitly that agency fees cannot be used for any purpose other than in connection with collective bargaining.”  Read the full bill here.

H.41 as introduced states, “This bill proposes to require the Attorney General or State’s Attorney to petition a judge to order the partial or total civil forfeiture of retirement payments to public officials convicted of certain crimes related to their employment.”  Read the full bill here.

The Vermont Workers Center spoke about the Put People First initiative.  Read more about it here.

Future agenda items will be a report back from Department of Public service on the GMP/CVPS merger and licenses for undocumented workers.

Bills Begin to Make their Way to Committee

Last week, the third week of the legislative session, saw a variety of new bills make their way past their floor introduction and into committee.

My committee -- General, Housing and Military Affairs -- heard testimony from the Department of Labor, the Liquor Control Board, several liquor vendors, plus the Executive Director of Supports and Services at Home (SASH).  Then we took testimony on several bills relating to: rental assistance and overdue rent, first class liquor licenses, the authority of liquor control investigators, veterans’ eligibility for the Green Mountain Passport and the Veterans Bronze Medal.

All legislators also had a Health Benefit Exchange demonstration/website walk-through that was very informative, plus a two hour Sexual Harassment Prevention training.  And finally, the Governor’s budget address gave legislators on both sides of the aisle plenty to think about.

Thank you for your notes, emails and phone calls; keep them coming. I appreciate all of your input.

Shumlin's Budget Attacks Low-Income Vermonters

Last Thursday, the Governor presented his budget to the joint assembly.  This is an annual ritual that is like a watered-down version of the “State of the Union” address the President will give next month.  It comes complete with awkward pauses for applause and dutiful shout-outs to honored guests.

When it was all over many of us were left wondering what exactly Shumlin's goal is.

On one hand, he wants to increase funding to make Pre-K universal across Vermont.  This is an essential economic development and quality of life tool that will help families with young children.  Shumlin rightly points out that investing at the early end of the education spectrum pays off in the long run in the form of better brain development and more.  Progressives have advocated for more quality pre-school opportunities since Anthony Pollina raised the issue in his 2000 campaign for Governor.

On the other hand, Shumlin wants to cut the state's most successful anti-poverty program to fund this Pre-K expansion.  As Sen. Tim Ashe said in the Burlington Free Press, "It's like robbing Peter to pay Peter less."  Shumlin proposes to take money currently going to the State’s Earned Income Tax Credit.  This program puts cash into the hands of the poorest 44,000 Vermont families.  This is how single moms pay for their rent or groceries.

Compare this funding idea against our proposal last year to increase the income tax for the wealthiest 4,000 Vermonters and you get a clear idea of Shumlin's values.  Our proposal was nixed as a "broad-based tax."  His proposal, which hits 10 times the number of Vermonters, isn't because he's constricting benefits rather than technically raising taxes.  Lovely.

Fortunately we have heard that Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais), who chairs the House Ways & Means Committee, isn't taking the proposal seriously.  Speaker Shap Smith told Seven Days he has strong concerns about it.  In the Senate, the relevant committee is now chaired by Sen. Ashe.

Shumlin also proposed cuts to the state's "Reach Up" program.  That's welfare for those of you unfamiliar with the jargon.  Apparently, Vermont is too generous with these benefits too.

The governor wants to increase funding for UVM and the State Colleges.  And he wants more money to go to weatherization and renewable energy.  More Progressive priorities.  Most of this gets funded by taxing "break-open" tickets sold in bars, VFWs, etc.  Basically this expands our dependence on the lottery.
Taken together, Shumlin has found about $40 million to fund exciting priorities.  But this money is coming from those who can least afford it, at a time when according to the Public Assets Institute, "real median household income, though slightly higher than last year, was less than in 2007."

Progressives now face the challenge of supporting these important priorities while redirecting attention to alternative sources of revenue.  We will need your help.

Health care report confirms savings potential in single-payer

Details about what our tax bills will look like once Green Mountain Care (our single-payer system) is up and running remain to be seen, but once again experts agree single-payer will: cover everyone, increase the quality of coverage for over 100,000 Vermonters who are currently under-insured, and save money overall.

The entire report can be found here.

From the summary: "Overall, GMC is estimated to save $281 million over the first three years, even with these enhancements to coverage, elimination of the uninsured, and a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for Vermonters.  GMC is estimated to cost approximately $3.5 billion, but only $1.61 billion would need to be financed due to federal contributions for the remaining amount.  In 2013, individuals and employers will contribute approximately $3 billion between private insurance costs and out-of-pocket costs, so overall the costs to Vermonters are reduced under Green Mountain Care."

Cross Over Dates Motioned and Seconded by the Committee on Joint Rules

The rules that govern the House and Senate are at the core of the legislative process.  A legislative rule gives order, allows for the sensible management of debate and deliberations, and ensures internal accountability and transparency.  Having firmly established rules protect the rights of both majority and minority members.  Because procedures are vital to the legislative process, we have a committee whose jurisdiction covers legislative rules, called the "Committee on Joint Rules".  The committee is chaired by the Speaker of the House.

At this week’s meeting the Committee discussed scheduling and the establishment of cross over dates.  The cross over date agreed to for bills from non-money committees is Friday, March 15, 2013.  The cross over date for money committees will be Friday March 22, 2013.

The More Things Change...

After several years of budget recommendations from Governor Douglas that proposed cuts to Reach Up, Vermont’s welfare program, it’s startling to see Gov. Shumlin requesting even more draconian cuts.  Specifically, he is asking the legislature to limit eligibility to three consecutive years (with a five-year lifetime limit).  It is important to note that Reach Up is a program available only to families with minor children, so when a parent is cut off, children lose funds for food, clothing and shelter.

Even more distressing is the fact that many Reach Up recipients are “child only” cases.  These are families where the parent does not qualify for some reason, often where a grandparent is serving as guardian.  It is yet unclear how the proposal will affect those children.  A three year limit for a six-year-old would leave a serious gap.  As we dig into the policy implications of these proposed cuts, the House Human Services committee will be looking closely at such questions.

Universal Pre-K, Democrats, & Taxes

As we wrote last week, it's exciting to hear Gov. Shumlin suggest the legislature enact universal Pre-K. On a more frustrating note, he steadfastly refuses to ask the wealthiest 4,000 Vermonters to pay more income taxes, but apparently has no trouble asking the poorest 40,000 to make do with less.

Shumlin wants to fund Pre-K by cutting back on the benefits the state pays out through the Earned Income Tax credit (EITC). This is the program some consider one ofthe most effective anti-poverty programs we've got. For example, a single mother of two in Vermont earning $20,000 a year gets $1,475 from the state through the EITC.

Last Tuesday, Progressives held a press event denouncing this foolish source of revenue; at the same time we applauded this critical priority. We suggested using the funds from EITC wasn't a serious proposal. What other conclusion could we reach, since democrats weren't joining in the Governor's enthusiasm for the idea?

In fact, by the end of the week even Speaker Shap Smith had stated his reservations about Shumlin's suggested funding source.

Syndicate content