Representative Ernie Shand
Dear Cavendish and Weathersfield Residents,
This paper is my report to you from the work of the 2011-2012 legislative biennium session. This concludes my fifth biennium of serving you. I am assigned by the Speaker of the House to the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. The largest challenge of the session has been the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Irene.
Veteran and National Guard Issues
This year the legislature was able to correct an error in our property tax exemption law. The Governor recently signed into law House Bill H.773. The property tax exemption benefit has only applied to those veterans disabled while serving during war time overseas. The original intent was to offer the exemption to all military personnel serving during conflict, stateside or overseas. Veterans who claim a 50% service disability as a result of military service either stateside or overseas will now be eligible for the full property tax exemption. The Veteranís Affairs office can answer questions about this exemption. The phone numbers are 1-888-666-9844 and 1-802-828-3379.
The National Guard response this past year during Irene was extraordinary. Because the duration of the deployment was greater than 30 days, Vermont soldiers were not eligible for subsistence and quarters allowance. Guard members from Ohio and New Hampshire, for instance, received the allowance. This created a hardship for Vermont Guard members who still had to pay mortgages and rent while forgoing civilian full time job pay. Health care family premiums also became an issue for our Guard members. Legislation passed this year will guarantee that any time our troops are called up for more than a 30 day in-state service, they will receive subsistence and housing allowance equal to a federal deployment.
Flood Recovery Assistance to Towns
A few examples of state assistance to towns are as follows:
~Delay of the local payment to the Ed. Fund by 90 days to assist towns with cash flow
~Placement of $15M into the Emergency Relief Assistance Fund to hold harmless town tax rate increases over three cents for flood recovery work
~Authorization of reimbursement to towns to abate education property taxes for properties that were partially or fully destroyed and uninhabitable by Irene
Health Care Exchange
The Legislature took an important step forward in moving toward a health care system that provides the best care possible for all Vermonters. The combination of the Federal Affordable Care Act (FACA) and the new state law that passed will give many of us access to better insurance plans at more affordable prices. The Health Care Benefit Exchange is scheduled to be in full operation starting in 2014.
The new marketplace will allow families to compare health insurance products and define the type of health care coverage that best fits the familyís health care and financial needs. The FACA also provides for significant tax breaks for most Vermonters who purchase insurance here. These tax breaks will make good coverage more affordable.
The exchange marketplace will also be good for Vermont businesses. After 2014, small businesses in our communities will have choices available to them to assure their employees have good access to care. Many businesses will have the new choice to free themselves from the burden of managing employee health benefits. Then they will be able to focus their energy on what they do best: grow their businesses and provide consumers the best Vermont made products and services.
The Legislature passed several consumer protection measures this year that originated in the House Commerce Committee (H.254, H.730 and H.699).
~better protect Vermonters and small businesses from unscrupulous internet lending and telephone solicitations.
~set policy when a town or business receives and is charged for unwanted or unsolicited merchandise.
~improve reporting requirements to consumers after an electronic (credit card) security breach.
~address scrap metal theft by instituting new reporting procedures for scrap metal dealers to law enforcement.
Driving License Suspended (DLS) S. 244
The most common non-violent misdemeanor charge in Vermont is driving without a license. Nearly 38,000 licenses currently are suspended and about 60% of them are for failure to pay fines and for accumulation of points. This results in situations from which many people find it hard to extricate themselves. After July 1, 2012, the Department of Motor Vehicles Diversions Boards and the Judicial Bureau will begin to notify people who have lost their license of their eligibility to enter into a Diversion contract to clear their driving records. This Diversion contract should take some pressure off the courts and save tax dollars.
Vermont State Hospital
The Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury was destroyed by tropical storm Irene. This yearís Capital Budget allocated funds for the establishment of a new system of mental health. This will include the establishment of a 14-bed unit for acute care at the Brattleboro Retreat and a 6-bed acute unit at Rutland Regional Medical Center. Funding for planning and construction of new 25- bed facility in Central Vermont (probably Berlin) will also be allocated in the Capital Budget.
Tobacco addiction is one of the hardest addictions to overcome. The Legislature focused on keeping young people from ever becoming addicted. H.747 makes it illegal to sell not only tobacco products, but also tobacco substitutes such as electronic cigarettes and tobacco paraphernalia to minors. Minors can still purchase tobacco cessation aids.
16-Year Olds May Donate Blood
H.760 allows 16-year olds to donate blood if they meet the criteria of the organization conducting the blood drive. High Schools often host blood drives. By allowing more high school students to give blood, it not only increases the blood supply at that point in time, it may also increase the likelihood that those students could form a lifelong habit of giving blood.
The 2012 budget for bridge repair is at a record high of $123M with the Champlain Bridge already completed. From 2010 until now the number of structurally deficient bridges has been reduced to 9% from 16%. This moves Vermont up from 42nd place to 29th among the 50 states.
If you have questions or concerns, please call me at home at 802-674-5021. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write me at the State House, 115 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05633-5201. We are currently out of session until January of 2012. My home address is 46 Old Bridge Rd., Weathersfield, VT 05089-9065.A hard copy of this report is available at the Weathersfield and Cavendish town offices and the Weathersfield and Cavendish libraries.
This report paid for by Rep. Ernie Shand.