Updating the State Legislative Session

by Katherine Sims, State Representative, Orleans-Caledonia

As we race towards the end of the legislative session, I’m writing with an update about what’s happening at the statehouse and how it affects you.

Bills passed out of the house: There’s $2.7 billion in federal funding earmarked for Vermont, including $1.3 billion to be spent at the state’s discretion over the next 45 months. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make high-impact investments that advance priorities for our future in every corner of the state.

Since March, the Vermont House has passed significant legislation in the following areas: modernizing our infrastructure, investing in working families and seniors, investing in education for all, revitalizing our communities, and rebuilding our rural economy and creating jobs

Find a detailed summary of the bills passed and where the investments would be directed at katherinesimsforhouse.com/news.

As we continue to invest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in our state, our strategies must be optimized for rural communities because rural regions matter and when we invest in rural areas, we invest in good food, clean water and energy, healthy soil, quality education and healthcare, jobs and opportunities for all.

Bills coming from the Vermont Senate: To become a law this year, a bill must pass both the House and Senate, and then be signed into law by the Governor. The House is now taking up a number of bills from the Senate including:

S.13 creates a task force to implement the recommendations from the Pupil Weighting study. Vermont’s formula for funding public education has been short-changing rural schools for decades and this bill is an important step forward to addressing those inequities. I am working with other legislators to strengthen the bill so that it results in a plan to implement the weights and provide immediate relief to communities that are hurting by suspending the excess spending threshold.

S.79 is an act to improve rental housing and health. The bill moves responsibility for inspecting rental housing from the health department to the department of fire safety, establishes a state-wide rental registry that is supported through registration fees (at $35 per unit), increases rental units through grants or loans to improve units that are currently offline, and establishes a revolving fund to provide mortgage assistance to first-time homebuyers.

S.20 is a bill that would ban toxic PFAS chemicals from food packaging, firefighting foam, carpets and rugs, and more, to protect Vermonters and Vermont’s environment and water from exposure to harmful chemicals.

S.15 would make universal vote-by-mail a permanent feature of Vermont’s elections. Whether or not Vermonters choose to vote in person on election day or vote by mail is ultimately their choice, but this bill increases access to voting — a crucial part of a healthy democracy.

Prop 5, a proposal to amend Vermont’s constitution to guarantee personal reproductive liberty, was approved by the full Senate on a vote of 26-4. The proposal will next move to the House for a vote, and then will be up for a vote on the ballot by Vermonters in 2022.

Other general updates: Eugenics Apology – On March 30, the House of Representatives passed J.R.H.2, which apologizes and takes full accountability for its role in the immeasurable harm that was caused as a result of the state-sanctioned eugenics movement in Vermont. Rep. Tom Stevens, Chair of the Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs, gave a very informative and moving floor report about the history of the eugenics movement in Vermont and the importance of the resolution. You can listen to his report here.

Property Taxes — The House passed H.152, the “Yield Bill,” which establishes statewide property tax rates for the upcoming fiscal year. The news is far better than expected: thanks to federal funds, higher than projected sales tax revenues, and conservative school budgets, this year’s rates are not only far less than originally projected, but also a bit lower than fiscal year 2021.

State Pensions — Responding to feedback from the community, the legislature will focus our work this session on governance reform to bring increased professional financial expertise and greater transparency into how investment decisions are made. We’ll also be creating a Pension Task Force that brings all stakeholders, from the unions to the Governor, to the table to look at possible revenue sources and plan and benefit changes to fix this problem. I remain deeply committed to working on this critical issue so that our pension system is sustainable for generations to come.

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, for roll call votes, and to watch committee testimony.

If you need assistance or want to discuss your priorities or needs, please reach out anytime.