Full Steam Ahead for the Legislature

by Katherine Sims, State Representative, Orleans-Caledonia

It’s full steam ahead for the legislature and there’s good news for Vermont: We anticipate significant federal spending in policy areas that align with our priorities, like childcare, family leave, food access, housing and broadband. Because revenues in Vermont are exceeding projections, we have an opportunity to address systemic issues and ensure equitable recovery that leaves no Vermonter behind.

Here’s an update about my committee work, key bills, and state finances. 

Broadband: We all agree we need better internet here in the Kingdom. I introduced bill H.194 to accelerate broadband development in our rural communities. Several components of the bill have been incorporated into the House Energy and Technology Committee’s comprehensive committee bill to support Communication Unions Districts and other partners in building out broadband to the last mile. We’ll finalize the bill in the coming weeks, after which it will head to the Senate.

Affordable childcare: Childcare is essential to our children, families, economy and recovery. I joined more than 90 of my colleagues as a cosponsor on H.171, which would ensure no Vermont family pays more than 10% of their income on childcare by 2026. This bill begins a three-year strategy to make childcare affordable for families, and expand the workforce by significantly raising wages and educational opportunities for early care and education providers.

Education Funding: I support bills H.54 and S.13, which will help ensure that all students receive equal educational opportunity and to reduce the property tax burden for high poverty communities by appropriately adjusting Pupil Weighting Factors. Several of our regional school boards have joined a statewide coalition working to see the corrected weights implemented. Want to help? Let me know!

FY21 budget adjustment
On January 29, the House approved a budget adjustment that includes coronavirus relief funds for emergency food, hotel-housing for the homeless, rental assistance, support to the Vermont State Colleges for additional expenses related to COVID-19, and continuation of the Everyone Eats program, which provides healthy meals prepared by restaurants for food-insecure Vermonters, through June 2021.

FY22 budget: The governor put forward his proposal for the FY 22 budget, which proposes using $210 million in one-time funding for economic recovery through investments in housing, infrastructure, broadband build-out, environmental stewardship, carbon reducing initiatives, and government modernization. Next up, the House and Senate will review and make recommendations.

Property Taxes: Recently, the Tax Structure Commission issued a report that proposes expanding the state’s sales tax and funding its education system with an income tax, rather than the existing education property tax. The report concludes that income is a better proxy for one’s wealth than the value of one’s home.

Teacher pensions: The teacher pension system has been underfunded for years and the State Treasurer Beth Pearce issued her latest report with new recommendations to address the situation. This is the beginning of a conversation about how to adequately fund our retirement system after multiple administrations failed to do so. No decisions have been made yet and can’t be made without legislative action. I stand by educators and believe the solution must not place an unfair burden on educators, especially after a year of serving their communities on the frontlines during this pandemic. I am hopeful we can find a path forward that makes good on our promises for years to come.

Vermont State Colleges System: The Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont was formed to help the state address the urgent needs of the Vermont State Colleges and envision a high-quality, affordable, and workforce-connected future for public higher education. The Select Committee published its first draft report in December, and a revised and expanded draft was released on February 11. The final report is due in April. Simultaneously, VSCS leaders are working on a transformation plan while the legislature discusses a funding solution for the FY22 budget.

New legislative aid: I am happy to announce that I am partnering with legislative aid Shannon Comiskey, a political science student at the UVM. She’s an advocate for reproductive health and environmental protection. Shannon and I were matched through UVM’s Legislative Intern Program, which pairs students and local legislators. I’m grateful for her work researching policy issues, attending hearings to take detailed notes, creating content for social media, and supporting me with constituent events.

I want you to know what I’m working on, how I’m voting and why. For those who like to keep of track of things in real time, visit the general assembly website at legislature.vermont.gov to watch the House of Representatives live (or recorded) daily deliberations, for bills I’ve co-sponsored and roll call votes, and to watch committee testimony. 

If you need assistance or want to discuss your priorities or needs, please reach out anytime. I look forward to connecting with you: ksims@leg.state.vt.us, or (802)-673-7376 (cell).