by Katherine Sims, State Representative, Orleans-Caledonia
I’m excited to share that we are making significant progress toward an equitable COVID recovery plan that rebuilds the economies of all 14 counties.
We’ve just passed “cross over,” the deadline when bills have to be passed out of committee if they are going to become law this year. Many of these bills will come to the floor in the next week or two before they head over to the Senate for their consideration.
These bills have passed by the House so far:
H. 315 COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Aid brings nearly $80 million in additional COVID-19 relief and recovery aid for Vermonters. The bill provides critical assistance to working families and businesses struggling due to the pandemic. The COVID-19 relief package includes funding for small businesses that received no federal assistance, housing and community supports for Vermonters struggling with mental health issues, one-time stimulus checks for the poorest Vermonters on Reach Up, added investment in Vermont Farmers to Families Food Box program, improving the indoor air quality of school buildings for student safety, new housing creation for homeless Vermonters, increased data collection to track disparities and improve health equity, and additional investment in the pension systems for state employees and teachers.
H. 89: This bill, which limits liability for agritourism, provides farms that qualify reasonable expectation of what their liability will be when engaging in agritourism activities or events. If this bill passes, agritourism hosts will not be liable for injury or death resulting from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity. This bill helps Vermont’s agricultural community and Vermont’s rural economy by increasing opportunities for tourism. Over 30 other states have similar laws.
H. 81: This bill, which mandates statewide public school employee health benefits, restores the rights of school staff and teachers to bargain for different contribution rates for their healthcare. We know that school staff are often the lowest paid members of their school communities and we want to ensure that they can negotiate a package that meets their specific needs.
H. 128: The Panic Defense Bill prohibits the legal tactic of allowing a defendant to claim that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identify is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.
H.106: The Community Schools Pilot Program provides wrap around services to students and their families within the school community.
S. 110: This bill permits individuals to continue receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits if the individual is otherwise eligible to establish a new unemployment insurance benefit year but doing so would result in a reduction of at least $25.00 in the amount of weekly benefits the individual is eligible for.
A few House bills that are likely to come to a vote in the coming weeks:
H. 360 Broadband Bill brings $200 million of new capital to support the construction of broadband assets in the most underserved parts of the state.
H. 433: The Transportation Bill funds transportation projects for the fiscal year, including an increase in Town Highway Aid funding. The bill also sets out policies and projects for inclusion in the State’s 2022 Transportation Program that reduce carbon emissions, make strategic infrastructure investments, and give all Vermonters greater access to lower-cost transportation options.
H.171 Childcare Bill takes critical steps to make childcare more affordable, remove barriers to access, ensure fair wages for providers, establish workforce development programs, and creates a study to identify future revenue sources.
H. 159 Better Places Bill is an omnibus economic recovery development bill including a one-time appropriation to the Dept. of Tourism and Marketing to boost marketing as Vermont emerges from pandemic restrictions, extending the current Downtown and Village Tax Credit program to designated Neighborhood Development Areas, the Better Places Program to provide grants between $5,000 and $50,000 to create or revitalize public spaces, funding to launch and support a BIPOC business network, and other workforce development initiatives.
J.R.H.2 Eugenics Apology is a joint resolution that formally apologizes for the role of the Vermont General Assembly in supporting Vermont’s eugenics program.
H. 196 Director of Racial Equity Bill expands the Office of the Director of Racial Equity.
H. 426 School Facilities Bill: Many of Vermont’s school buildings are aging and in dire need of repair. This bill would conduct a statewide needs assessment for all school buildings and produce a report on funding options.
What I’ve heard from you about:
H. 200 Short Term Rental Bill: This bill would require registration for all short-term rentals, that all renters comply with lodging establishments guidelines, and impose a residency requirement for the owner of a short-term rental property. As an Airbnb host myself, I understand the important role short-term rentals play in providing a little extra income and supporting our tourism economy. I do not support the bill as it is currently written. I don’t expect that this bill will be taken up by the Housing, General, and Military Affairs Committee, but if it does there will be opportunity for extensive testimony and if you would like to participate in that process please let me know.
State College System: Earlier this week, Speaker Jill Krowinski announced an $84 million proposal to help “stabilize” the state’s higher education system. The legislation includes $66.5 million in one-time funding for the beleaguered Vermont State Colleges System, around $8 million to fund Vermont Student Assistance Corporation grants, $7.2 million for the University of Vermont, and $2-3 million for primary care physician and nursing scholarship programs. We need to commit to policies and initiatives that work toward the long-term recovery of Vermont, and this package is one way we can help working families and our business community come back stronger than ever. The House and Senate will take up this proposal in the coming weeks.
American Rescue Plan Act: With over $1.35 billion coming into our state from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest strategically in our communities. Vermont’s allocation includes: $1.05 billion to the State, $121 million for County government (Caledonia County: $5.82 million, Essex County: $1.2 million, and Orleans County: $5.24 million), $76 million to be distributed directly to individual towns and cities based on population, and $100 million for water, sewer, and broadband.
Towns will likely receive their funding this summer and will have until Dec 31, 2024, to fully spend down the funds. We expect more details around how the funds will be distributed and the rules regarding their use in the coming weeks.
The State has an incredible opportunity to spend one-time money on smart investments that will truly transform the future and set us on a path that supports all Vermonters in every corner of our state. In the coming weeks, the legislature will be looking at ways to use this funding to create equal opportunities in our schools, build more affordable housing, bring broadband to all Vermonters, grow our workforce, upgrade our infrastructure, address our pension problem and so much more.
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.