Your State Legislature convened for the 2015 legislative session with a challenging to-do list for all 25 committees in the Legislature.
Most of our work is nuts and bolts, bread – and -butter stuff, such as getting roads paved as happened with Rt. 5 last summer or the bridge repair over the West River. Policy and oversight take up another portion of our work and then there is the Constituent Service. Helping Vermonters when they’re not sure where to turn- whether it’s heating assistance, trying to get light diffusers on the West River Bridge Construction or getting folks health care when regular channels aren’t working, we have ample opportunity to fill each day with service to our state and community.
As the 2015 Session opened,, keeping the State on Sound Financial Footing looms large as we continue forging a way out of the Great Recession. With Governor Shumlin’s Inaugural and budget address laying out his plan, legislators got right to work addressing the Budget Gap, Education Funding Reform, Health Payment Reform and Protecting the Vermont Environment,(most notably our state waters)
Another Big Issue is Child Protection. Because of the tragic loss of two children , whose family difficulties had put them under supervision by the Dept. of Children and Families (DCF), several Senate and House Committees are looking at ways to help prevent any more such tragedies.
Clean Water, has been the cause of my senior District Mate, Rep. David Deen has championed for years. And for years, he has led the research that created plans for cleaning up Lake Champlain and all other water bodies in the state including the Connecticut River.. As Rep. Deen has shared, while Lake Champlain may get the greatest share of headlines about a needed cleanup, the Connecticut River is also experiencing problems. The Connecticut may be in better shape than it was 50 years ago, but various runoff continues to pollute the river. The accumulation of Nitrogen in the river has created a Dead Zone at the mouth of the Connecticut River, in Long Island Sound. Gov. Shumlin has created a fund for this with federal funds and private donations, and the work should commence soon.
The Governor also explained how lower revenue forecasts have created a structural imbalance in the budget. Revenue is expected to increase by 3% next year (and for the next few years) with spending increases projected at 5%. Just as we have to do with our own family budgets or town and school budgets, the numbers have to add up.
The Governor’s budget plan calls for shared sacrifices with some revenue increases , (Seven tenths of One Per cent Pay Roll Tax) and some cuts.
As we start our work parsing the budget , we will better understand the ramifications of the budget, and develop the Legislature’s Plan . As the session progresses, there will be negotiations with the Administration and I foresee coming to a place of informed compromise, that produces a balanced budget.
CHILD PROTECTION- My Committee assignment is, once again, House Human Services (HHS), the largest Agency in State Government. Services range from Child Care to Elder Care, Care of the Disabled, as well as Mental Health and Addiction Services, Corrections and Economic Services for Needy families with Children.
Our first order of business is to go over the Governor’s budget proposal, as it pertains to Human Services. (All committees review the Budget proposal as it pertains to their jurisdiction.)
HHS is also part of a consortium of committees re-working our Child Protection laws and updating them into the 21st Century.. While Addiction and Poverty continue to be barriers to rasing healthy children who are ready to succeed in life, our efforts to address those root causes also need to bring to bear strong protection for children. One proposal would create a new law, Failure To Protect. This would pertain to any adult who is caring for a child and requires that children not be put in danger, be it from drug use, other criminal behavior or physical abuse and neglect.
HEALTH CARE- We will continue reform efforts that will move us towards a 21st Century Health Care System with Universal Access, and work to control costs. While the Governor has decided that “not is not the time for Single Payer”, myself and many others Legislators don’t agree and will continue efforts to reform health payment,access and delivery systems.
And, we will continue building on work already happening such as the Vt. Blueprint for Health, in addressing chronic care (on which we spend 65 cents of every health care dollar)
EDUCATION, FUNDING, & PROPERTY TAXES- Across Vermont and the nation, we are recognizing the need ,as in other areas, for new systems for the 21st Century. Education is no different. Part of the debate is about direction ans opportunity. A question that has gone on for centuries is, what is the role of schools. To merely train workers for industrial needs-or, prepare our children for life beyond school with a broad base of information and the creativity and critical thinking that will keep them in goos stead, whatever direction they feel a vocational pull.
Vermont has been doing a good job of providing students with broad based learning opportunities. We recognize an Achievement Gap for many lower income students and would do well to continue efforts to bring those students to be better prepared for life beyond school.
Alongside that is the fiscal reality that with declining enrollment s and increasing budgets, this is not a sustainable trajectory. Funding our schools then, becomes a question of what is affordable and how do we maintain quality with limited resources?
There are many suggestions currently offered, and the House and Senate Education Committees with be sorting through them as the session progresses.
My hope is we can make the funding formula more easy to understand, more progressive , based more on income than so heavily weighted to property values and then,equitably distributed around the state,so all students can be offered equal learning opportunities.
As the Legislative session unfolds, I will be posting regular updates here on iPutney and on my website; www.windham4.net
Please feel free at any time, to be in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) or feel free to come visit the Statehouse. I’d be glad to show you around and give a glimpse of your state government at work.
Vermont State Representative
Windham 4 District- Putney, Dummerston, Westminster