Contributed by: Lynn Esty
Dear Cavendish and Weathersfield Residents,
This paper is my report to you from the work of the first half of the 2011-2012 legislative session. We concluded the first half of the biennium a week ahead of our scheduled adjournment date. I am assigned by the Speaker of the House to the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. The Legislature developed and passed several bills that will have a direct effect upon Vermonters and Vermont businesses as seen in the following items.
We were able pass a balanced budget even though we started with a projected $176 million shortfall in revenues. In order to close the gap we used about $60 million in one-time revenues, about $87 million in budget cuts and transfers, $9 million in higher revenue projections from existing revenue sources, and about $24 million in new revenues (provider taxes and an increase in the cigarette tax). Many of the budget cuts were in the Department of Corrections.
We also “parked” almost $17 million in reserve funds in anticipation of projected budget shortfalls and possible federal funding reductions. These funds will be used to help balance the fiscal year 2013 budget.
The final budget figure of $4.69 billion represents a 3.6% reduction from last year.
Two significant Corrections bills passed this year. They build on the successes of the past few years and maintain Vermont’s status as one of the safest states in the country.
· The first increased the number of selected non-violent, non-felony offenders that will use home confinement using electronic monitoring (also known as electronic bracelets) and furloughing of inmates to our communities under the supervision from the Dept. of Corrections.
· The second brings home many of the inmates who have been shipped to out of state facilities. It adds some beds to the St. Johnsbury work camp and transfers the women inmates presently in St. Albans to the facility in Chittenden County.
These moves will free up more beds for inmates to come back into the state. It also brings more women inmates closer to their children, thereby strengthening families. These changes are aimed at reducing recidivism.
The 2011 Telecom Bill extends the legislative sunset that we had placed on a previous bill, which streamlines the permitting process for developing telecommunication infrastructure (cell towers, fiber optic cable, etc.) The reason for the hurry is that several Vermont companies received federal funds in excess of $174 million that need to be spent three years from the time the funds were awarded. The money will be used for deploying broadband and cellular technology. Vermont added $10 million from the state’s capital budget for “last mile” broadband. The bill also reorganized the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (www.telecomvt.com), allowing it to focus on providing last mile broadband to Vermonters and cell service to targeted highway corridors by 2013.
Governor Shumlin established an office called Connect VT, which is designed to help guide the many players in the world of telecom to meet his goal of broadband access to every Vermonter by 2013.
H.202 is the bill that the Legislature is using to start the conversation toward finding a solution for what a great many Vermonters recognize as a problem. The bill does not provide a resolution to our current approach. It builds a foundation toward full implementation of a health care system that will be high quality, comprehensive and affordable.
This reform effort will take a number of years to fully implement. The steps include:
· creating the Green Mountain Care Board, which will be charged with overseeing the implementation of health care reform efforts
· establishing the Health Benefit Exchange, this being required by federal law. The exchange creates a convenient way to compare and purchase health insurance products.
· establishing a plan to implement a universal health care system called Green Mountain Care.
· obtaining any needed waivers to obtain any and all available federal dollars.
Health care reform is a historic opportunity for our state, but it will require a responsible, multi-year plan to be sure that it will work. The legislation has included specific requirements for future legislative action to ensure that Vermonters have an opportunity to participate in the decisions that will be needed to implement Green Mountain Care. Our current health care approach will remain in place until a new system is ready to start.
The cost of health care in Vermont alone is projected to increase $2 billion from 2006 to 2012.
2006 $3.9 billion
2009 $4.7 billion
2012 $5.9 billion
The Legislature started a net metering program thirteen years ago. The program allows electric customers to generate their own renewable power and receive credit from their utility for any extra power that they produce. Net metering helps Vermonters trim their electric bills, it provides clean, locally produced power, and it has contributed to the creation of a number of new companies and jobs.
During this session we doubled the allowable capacity of net metering statewide and the allowable size per system. We also require utilities to offer an extra per-kwh credit for solar net meters, recognizing that they typically produce more power at a time of peak summer demand for the electric utilities.
For well over a year Vermont Yankee (VY) has been addressing the issues around a radionuclide leak of tritium which reached groundwater. VY has extracted 300,000 gallons of contaminated water and shipped it to Tennessee to be treated.
Presently, a court case is ongoing in the Brattleboro Federal Court between Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee, and the State of Vermont. The case may well decide the ultimate future of the Vernon plant.
Having your baby at home
For the past ten years midwives in Vermont have been licensed to perform all aspects of maternal childcare. However, only mothers who choose hospital births can access private insurance benefits. In contrast, clients who qualify for Vermont Medicaid are covered for homebirth. With the passage of S.15, insurance providers will be required to offer benefits for policyholders who choose to give birth at home, attended by a licensed midwife.
The General Assembly passed S.105. The bill contained clarified language for the sale of unpasteurized milk in Vermont. It clears up an ambiguity in the law. It now permits the processing of raw milk into yogurt, cheese and other products for personal use, as long as those products are not sold.
We are currently out of session until January of 2012. If you have questions or concerns, my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, or please telephone me at home 802-674-5021. My 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. You can also give me call if you know of someone who would like to receive a copy via snail mail.
This report is paid for by Rep. Ernie Shand