Workforce Development

Vermont is experiencing a regional trend where many members of our workforce are aging. To keep up with expected retirements and growth in our economy, Vermont will need 10,000 new workers each year to meet the needs of businesses. This employment gap creates opportunities for Vermonters, as well as job prospects for those who are considering a move to Vermont.

In the House, the Commerce and Economic Development Committee develops bills to address workforce challenges head on. We are working to advance policies to fill existing jobs, attract new workers, and retain current employees. Looking ahead to the needs of the future, we are developing strategies to better equip the nearly 3,000 high school seniors who graduate annually without solid job skills or career plans.

In Vermont, there are workforce needs across every industry. The most pressing needs are in the sectors of health care, construction, hospitality, transportation, and advanced manufacturing. The House is focusing its work on getting more Vermonters employed in meaningful skilled jobs through apprenticeships, certificates and associate degrees. Vermont has well established programs at our Career and Technical Centers, the Community College of Vermont, and Vermont Tech. The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is working on strategies to attract more students to these programs, especially in rural areas. We are looking to expand programs for adult students and provide more opportunities in the evenings and weekends to access education. By expanding training in all sectors of our population, we can solve our staffing crisis and provide good paying, quality jobs to all Vermonters.

Read more: Vermont Employers Dig Deep for Perks to Attract New Employees

Act 250

In the late 1960’s, there was significant unregulated second home development around ski areas in the southern Vermont. Vermonters became concerned about impacts to the environment and on their communities. Act 250 was enacted in 1970 to address these concerns. The law regulates certain kinds of developments at the state level, in addition to any existing local review, in order to protect and conserve the lands and environment of the state and to ensure they will be devoted to uses not detrimental to the public. It is intended to safeguard our farms and forests from sprawl, protect our natural resources, and help our towns balance growth with the costs of development. Importantly, it is a process that includes citizen participation.

After 50 years and many requests to update and amend Act 250, the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee is considering draft legislation based upon a report written by a commission that was tasked with planning for the next 50 years of the law. Testimony on this draft legislation revealed that in 22 rural towns, between 2002 and 2016, there were 20,000 lots carved from Vermont’s forests and farmland, each on less than five acres. Today, less than one percent of rural development falls under Act 250 jurisdiction. Most developments today are on divisions of land with development of only 2.5- 3.5 lots, well below Act 250's jurisdictional threshold of six or ten lots.

Vermont is one of the cleanest, most environmentally pristine states in our country. Our environment, and the jobs it creates, is an asset worth protecting. As it deliberates on draft Act 250 legislation, the House is considering changes to law so that location would trigger Act 250 jurisdiction where important farmland, forestland, and critical resources are located in order to prevent their fragmentation. Act 250 would thus be applicable to smaller scale development, preventing “death by a thousand cuts” to critical Vermont resource areas such as forests, wildlife corridors, and prime farmland. The Committee is also considering enhanced designations for designated centers that achieve the relevant goals of Act 250 locally, goals intended to safeguard our farms and forests from sprawl, protect our natural resources, and help our towns to balance growth with the costs of development.



Broadband Internet Access

We want a Vermont that works for all of us, not just the select few. High-speed broadband internet service is part of the House’s strategy to ensure residents in all corners of our state can access the commerce and resources available on the web.

Our last three governors have promised statewide broadband access. Vermont has a statutory goal of ensuring that “by the end of the year 2024, every [address] has … Internet access with service that has a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps and is symmetrical.” But today, 25% of Vermont households still have slower than adequate internet connections, and 5% lack even basic service. This year, the House Energy & Technology Committee has given priority to increasing access to high-speed broadband internet service.

State funding of last-mile service is prohibitively expensive, and may in fact be undesirable. Different communities may need different solutions. For example, some may opt for blanket wireless coverage while others may want fiber-optic cable wired to each address. The House is developing a broadband connectivity bill that will empower communities to determine the solution most suited to their area, and to begin to implement that solution. Initially the focus is on facilitating wired solutions through the following mechanisms:● providing funding for towns to determine the feasibility of forming communications union districts (CUDs) to build broadband networks;
● creating a position at the Department of Public Service to support new CUDs
● funding connectivity grants and a loan fund at Vermont Economic Development Authority to support newly formed CUDs to start build out of their networks.

Child Care

Child care is a top priority for the House. Ensuring parents can access high quality, affordable child care in our communities is critical to giving all of Vermont’s children a fair shot at a bright future.

The House Human Services Committee has spent a great deal of time building its knowledge base around Vermont’s child care system as lawmakers get ready to consider a series of child care related bills. Vermont maintains a mixed delivery system made up of 1,246 public and private regulated center-based programs, family child care homes, and afterschool programs serving 32,432 Vermont infants, toddlers, preschool, and school-age children.

Statistics from the last three years show a marked dip in the number of child care slots that has resulted in targeted strategies and investments by the Agency of Human Service’s Child Development Division. These efforts are coupled with the work of advocates who are stepping up to address the problems with new facilities and home-based programs coming on line every month.

The biggest challenges for Vermont families continue to be access and affordability though it’s important to note that the quality of childcare programs is on the rise with more providers participating in the STARS program, the state’s quality recognition system. Businesses are also struggling to find early learning professionals to replace retired workers in the midst of low unemployment. In the coming months, the Human Services Committee will look closely at the low pay and benefits that child care providers receive in order to understand how to address the situation.

State Budget Hearing in Springfield Feb. 25

There will be a Public Hearing before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on the proposed Vermont State Budget in Springfield on Monday, February 25, as follows:

Springfield Town Hall, 96 Main Street, 3rd Floor Conference Room (Selectmen’s Hall) 5:30-6:30 p.m.

This is an opportunity for members of the public to comment on any aspect of the proposed State Budget or programs they feel are important for the state to fund. We are sending this message to people we know are interested in services for older adults, to help make sure that the legislature hears from people who feel that funding these services should be a priority.

Hearings will be taking place in different parts of the state. Additional details can be found in this press release.

You are encouraged to testify about what you feel is important based on your own knowledge and experience. These talking points, developed by our Vermont Association of Area Agencies on Aging, may provide helpful ideas for your testimony.

If you have any questions, please contact Joann Erenhouse, Director of Community Relations, at JErenhouse@SeniorSolutionsVT.org or 802-885-2655.

Reproductive Rights

Let’s get the record straight. Women do not take abortion lightly.

H. 57 would neither enhance nor restrict current access to abortion in Vermont – rather, it codifies the current legal practice of abortion in Vermont rather than making a policy change.

There is no such thing as an abortion up until birth. The idea that this bill somehow will allow a woman to have an abortion up to or as a woman gives birth is flat-out untrue. It’s simply not how medical care works, and it is frankly irresponsible to imply that it is. The vast majority of abortions occur very early in a woman’s pregnancy. When they do occur later, they are almost exclusively because a woman’s health is at risk, a woman’s life is at risk, or because her baby cannot survive.

Dr. Ira Bernstein, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont Medical Center, says, “I think that anybody who comes into this with a cavalier attitude doesn’t understand the process.”

Dr. Bernstein says the hospital has strict practices for terminating pregnancies at various stages. After 23 weeks, any request for a procedure requires a “broader review” by a panel that includes both medical staff and hospital ethicists. The panel considers risk factors for both mother and child, he says, and every case is different.

No abortion providers in Vermont perform elective abortions in the third trimester.

“I make decisions about health care every day in my interaction with patients,” he says. “I do not need government, nor do I think it’s particularly helpful for government, to help provide guidelines for clinical care.”

“Late term” abortion is a social construct introduced to create an image of an elective abortion that happens closer to 8-9 months, which does not happen is not a term that is used medically.

This bill does not allow for the possibility of future partial birth or full birth terminations because they are specifically prohibited by the 2003 “Partial Birth Abortion Act,” which is federal law. All clinics and providers must comply with state and federal laws. H.57 will not change those current federal laws.

Routes 103 and 131

The challenges of driving on Routes 131 and 103 in Cavendish cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Route 131 is pocked with potholes that cause expensive damage to car’s tires and suspension. The intersection of Routes 131 and 103, both of which are major arteries used by trucks and skiers, is a dangerous hazard. And to make it a perfect storm, so to speak, is the unfinished portion of Route 103 that extends to Mount Holly.

I drive these roads and know the substandard shape they are in. But, just looking outside our windows, we all know that nothing much can be done until Spring.

I continue to work on the problem and spent the last week making these roads a priority with various officials in the state Transportation Department as well as the Southern Windsor County Transportation Advisory Committee of the Regional Planning Commission.

What has been done is that as of Friday, Jan. 18, VTrans installed additional signage on VT Route 103 in both the north and southbound lanes to assist motorists navigating through the intersection with Route 131. The state will continue to work with the contractor throughout the winter to maintain delineation as best as possible.

Jesse Devlin, VTrans Highway Safety and Design Program Manager, said, “Moving forward, the resurfacing project (of Route 103) will be completed in 2019, which will result in an improved pavement surface as well as the application of durable pavement markings.

“Also in 2019, the bridge on Depot Street, spanning the Black River in Cavendish, is scheduled to be replaced, and it is anticipated that this bridge will be open to traffic in December 2019. This is significant, as past traffic analysis of this intersection has indicated that when Depot Street is open to traffic, it provides relief to the intersections of Routes 103 and 131, allowing it to operate more effectively.”

I have also spoken to Anthony Summers, who is head of the regional planning commission Transportation Advisory Committee. At their February meeting, he is going to move that repaving Route 131 from Route 106 to Route 103 be the state’s top priority in our region. The complete repaving of the nine miles is scheduled to begin in 2020, but I am hoping that it can be moved up to 2019.

For any further inquiries, I can be reached at the Statehouse at 802-828-2424 or at achristensen@leg.state.vt.us

VTrans response:

My name is Jesse Devlin, and I am the Program Manager of the Highway Safety & Design Section at the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans). This email is written in response to recent correspondence regarding concerns associated with the intersection of VT Route 103 and VT Route 131 in Cavendish. I can assure you that VTrans recognizes and understands your concern associated with this intersection, and offers the following information.

As you are aware, there was a resurfacing project under construction in 2018 along the length of VT Route 103. Unfortunately this project was not completed as planned in 2018, including the section of VT Route 103 extending through this intersection. This resulted in line striping being applied very late in the season, in unfavorable weather conditions. Line striping performance is very much dependent on temperature and weather conditions. To assist motorists navigating through this intersection, VTrans installed additional signage on VT Route 103 in both the Northbound and Southbound directions. This was completed today, 1/18. We will continue to work with our Contractor throughout this winter to maintain delineation/notification as best possible. Moving forward, the resurfacing project will be completed in 2019 which will result in an improved pavement surface as well as the application of durable pavement markings. Also in 2019, the bridge on Depot Street spanning the Black River is scheduled to be replaced, and it is anticipated that this bridge will be opened back up to traffic in December of 2019. This is significant, as past traffic analysis of this intersection has indicated that when Depot Street is open to traffic, it provides relief to the VT Route 103 / VT Route 131 intersection, allowing it to operate more efficiently.

We have also coordinated with our Office of Highway Safety, and while this intersection is not listed as a high crash intersection and the associated crash history has not resulted in an intersection improvement project being programmed, it is on the team’s radar and will be monitored moving forward. Additionally, we have reached out to the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission to make them aware of the concerns being raised, and allow them to consider those concerns from a regional perspective.

While we understand that this is not an immediate resolution, I hope that I have conveyed to you our understanding of your concerns and the immediate (sign installation & winter monitoring) and near term (completion of the resurfacing and bridge projects) steps we will be taking in order to improve upon the existing condition at this intersection. Thank you for reaching out to us, and please don’t hesitate to contact me at jesse.devlin@vermont.gov if you have additional questions.

Jesse Devlin, P.E
Highway Safety & Design Program Manager
Vermont Agency of Transportation
One National Life Drive
Montpelier, VT 05633-5001
Telephone: (802) 793-0182

Dec. 15 Deadline to Enroll in Health Insurance

Open enrollment is underway on Vermont’s health insurance marketplace, Vermont Health Connect.

This is not the year to auto-renew.

The good news is that if people spend some time comparison shopping for health insurance plans, this year it could actually yield some big savings — uninsured Vermonters might even be able to get a plan for less in 2019 than they could at any point in the last five years.

Vermont Health Connect's Plan Comparison Tool helps people figure out what plan is best for them. The open enrollment deadline is Dec. 15.

December 15 is the last day of Open Enrollment for Vermont Health Connect. Open Enrollment is a time for Vermonters to sign up for or switch health insurance plans. Open Enrollment is especially important this year because there are big changes to how much Vermont Health Connect plans cost. A list of some of those changes follows:

· Currently, many Vermonters have a Silver Plan. This may no longer be the best option for most people who have that plan.
· This year Vermonters can get a Gold Plan for a cost similar to that of a Silver Plan.
· Families will get $1,200 more Advance Premium Tax Credits (APTC), on average, to make up for premium cost increases.
· Many uninsured Vermonters can get a free Bronze Plan.

Also, if you think you may be paying too much for health insurance, now is the time to check to be sure Vermont Health Connect has not made an error.

Questions? Call 1-800-917-7787 to speak with a Health Care Advocate. Health Care Advocates are a resource for all Vermonters, regardless of income, helping with all health care and health insurance questions. Learn more: https://vtlawhelp.org/health


Thank You!

I want to thank all my loyal supporters, from those who stood in the pouring rain at the polls, wrote letters, drove me around to knock on doors to listen to your concerns, sent donations, put out signs, voted in great numbers, and all those great things. You are all wonderful and we won another term in the Statehouse as Representative of Weathersfield and Cavendish.

To those who did not vote for me, I am still your representative and will continue to listen to your concerns as the Legislative session convenes with interesting initiatives that we all have to think through.

I am proud to represent all of you.

Thank you!

Protect and Expand Affordable Health Care

During the last legislative session, the House Health Care Committee continued its attempt to lower drug prices for all Vermonters. Currently, because of the passage of S.175 (Act 133), Vermont is seeking federal approval to import drugs from Canada. This law has the Agency of Human Services design a wholesale prescription drug importation program, including requirements for safety and cost. The law directs the state to seek the appropriate federal waivers. And, it asks the state Attorney General to identify the potential, and to monitor for anticompetitive behavior in industries that would be affected by the wholesale drug importation program.

The legislature also passed a bill, S.92 (Act 193) on Drug Cost Transparency, which requires the state to identify annually up to 10 prescription drugs on which the state spends significant health care dollars and where the wholesale cost has increased by 50 percent or more over the past five years, or more than 15 percent over the past year. The Attorney General will then require the manufacturer to provide a justification for each drug’s increase.

Other issues of significance to constituents are:

  • Reducing co-payments for chiropractic and physical therapy for chronic pain. This law (Act 7, Special Session) moves us forward in our efforts to reduce opioid use by providing access to more effective treatments for chronic pain, and to comply with state statute that requires chiropractic co-payments be reasonable.

  • Breast imaging without cost sharing. This law (Act 141) provides for the coverage of mammograms and 3D mammograms without cost sharing.

The Legislature also passed a bill, H.696 (Act 182), on the Individual Mandate for health insurance, which was spurred by a change at the federal level. Due to a tax overhaul passed by Congress last year, the financial penalty for the federal individual mandate is scheduled to disappear at the beginning of 2019.

Act 182 creates the Individual Mandate Working Group composed of various state departments and called for by the Green Mountain Care Board to determine such things as a financial penalty, enforcement, exemptions, and types of insurance considered minimum. After months of study, the working group came up with preliminary recommendations but could not agree on whether those who don’t buy health insurance should face financial penalties.

The final recommendations of the working group are due Nov. 1. Comments can be submitted until this Friday via email at imwgcomments@vtlegalaid.org, or by phone at 802-828-5322.

For Rural Internet Access, A Venn Diagram of Doom

Voices / Legislative Update by Laura Sibilia, House Committee on Energy and Technology

We must ensure that our regulations support reliable, affordable, essential communications infrastructure availability.

Laura H. Sibilia, an independent, represents the Windham-Bennington District (Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, and Whitingham) in the state House of Representatives.

By the 1930s, “nearly 90 percent of U.S. urban dwellers had electricity, but 90 percent of rural homes were without power,” according to University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives.

“Investor-owned utilities often denied service to rural areas, citing high development costs and low profit margins. Consequently, even when they could purchase electricity, rural consumers paid far higher prices than urban consumers.”

Vermont has state-of-the-art communication technologies. We have cell service throughout much of our state and wireless internet solutions in areas where the topography works. We have middle-mile fiber, cable, and DSL that all connects residents and businesses to the global economy, to their doctors and to public safety and even provides phone service through VOIP (voice-over-internet protocols).

Modern life is possible in much of Vermont. Still, it’s no secret that access to wired and wireless phone and internet is unevenly available in the Green Mountain state.

What may not be as widely known is that in some of the most rural parts of Vermont, this situation is not static — it’s deteriorating.

We have a negative relationship of conditions — a Venn Diagram of Doom, if you will.

Read more http://www.commonsnews.org/site/sitenext/story.php?articleno=28933

School Safety Grants Awarded

School safety grants were announced for 239 schools across the state, which will fund infrastructure upgrades designed to improve school safety. Purchases will include interior and exterior door locks, indoor and outdoor public address systems and other infrastructure upgrades to improve safety. The budget passed by the legislature included $4 million to enhance safety at local school buildings. The maximum grant was $25,000. Each school is required to provide a 25% match to whatever grant they are awarded. The statewide average grant was approximately $16,000.

In addition to this grant funding, another $1 million will be available this fall to support schools in developing emergency plans, training and safety exercises.

These grants will enable important security improvements to the physical sites. I am proud to have been a small part of the process to improve school safety for our young citizens, and sad that we need to do this. We must discuss the root cause of violence in our schools and communities.

 Schools in our area receiving grants:

  • Cavendish Town Elementary School, $10,821.
  • Chester-Andover Elementary School, $25,000.
  • Springfield High School, $22,454.
  • Weathersfield School, $1,125.

 

Remember to Vote. Primary: Aug. 14

Thank you for your trust in me.  It’s an honor to serve as your representative in Montpelier.  With the uncertainty and chaos coming from Washington, my primary focus is on protecting our families and helping our communities thrive.  I’m fighting for a Vermont where paid family leave is part of every job, where Vermonters can afford high-quality health care, attain a great education, and retire with security.  These goals are under assault at the federal level.  In Vermont, we’re trying to build a future based on fairness, transparency, and resilience.  Our government must work for all of us, not just the well-connected few.

Absentee and early voting is already under way. A voter may pick up and early/absentee ballot at the Town Clerk's Office and return it at a later date.

Comment on Health Insurance Premium Price Increases

Consumer Advocate Barred from Rate Hearing; State Won't Say Why https://vtdigger.org/2018/07/23/consumer-advocate-barred-insurance-rate-hearing-state-wont-say/

The Green Mountain Care Board will decide whether to change the premium prices for 2019. You can tell the Board what you think they should do and why. The Board must consider public comments when setting the 2019 premium prices. The public comment period ends next Wednesday. You can find information on how to submit a public comment here. (https://www.vtlegalaid.org/sites/default/files/HCA-Flyer-Individual-VHC-Public-Comment.pdf)

The Green Mountain Care Board is reviewing proposed health insurance premium price increases for Individual and Small Employer plans including Vermont Health Connect plans. (Small Employers have less than 100 employees.) These plans cover almost 80,000 Vermonters.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont is asking to increase premium prices by 7.5%, on average, for 2019. MVP Health Care is asking to increase premium prices by 10.9% on average. The price increases vary significantly by plan.

If you have questions about health insurance, health care, or about how you can give a public comment, contact Vermont’s Office of the Health Care Advocate for free help (800) 917-7787 (https://vtlawhelp.org/health).

 

Gov. Scott to Tour Windsor County Monday

I will be attending many of these events, especially the Connectivity Roundtable at Hartford Town Hall from 3:30-4:30 pm Monday with a group or concerned residents from Cavendish and Weathersfield. Please join me at any of these events -- Annmarie

Governor Phil Scott and members of his Administration will bring their “Capitol for a Day” initiative to Windsor County on Monday, July 23. The Governor, along with members of his cabinet and extended cabinet, will spend the day in Windsor County, meeting with area constituents, lawmakers, local partners and state employees.

 The initiative aims to give regional constituents direct access to Administration leadership, as well as giving Administration officials an opportunity to visit local businesses, schools, community organizations and municipal offices. The Administration has visited Rutland and Caledonia counties and aims to visit each of the state’s 14 counties throughout the summer and fall.

WHEN: Monday, July 23, 8 a.m. –5 p.m.

 

 

Vermont Seeks Federal Approval to Import Drugs from Canada

S. 175 is an act relating to the wholesale importation of prescription drugs into Vermont. This bill shall have the Agency of Human Services, in consultation with interested stakeholders and appropriate federal officials, design a wholesale prescription drug importation program, including requirements of safety and cost. The program would designate a state agency to become, or contract with, a licensed drug wholesaler to import prescription drugs at a significant cost savings to Vermonters. The state shall submit the proposed design for the program to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2019.

The bill would direct the state to seek the appropriate federal waivers. And, it asks the state Attorney General to identify the potential, and to monitor, for anticompetitive behavior in industries that would be affected by a wholesale drug importation program.

The state of Utah is also exploring importing prescription drugs from Canada.

Paid Family Leave

Study after study has shown that solutions to improve life for low and middle income Vermonters include higher salaries, better health care, less stress, excellent child care and education, and the ability to make ends meet without stress. S.40 and H.196 work hand in hand in providing more tools for Vermonters to seek a better life. S.40 will raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over six years, and H.196 will create a new Paid Family Leave insurance program, that will provide Vermonter families with infants up to 12 weeks of bonding leave, and Vermonters taking care of their families with up to six weeks of leave for care. This benefit will cost employees less than two cents an hour for every $10 an hour they make — more than affordable for every employee in Vermont.

The governor vetoed both bills.

Salary History

When a woman is asked to reveal her salary during a job interview, which is likely lower than her male counterparts, she is asked to perpetuate an income gap job after job, because her salary may be based on her already lower pay. This adds up over time, and it is discriminatory. H.294 will start changing the culture by prohibiting the practice of allowing an employer to ask for a person’s salary history prior to offering them a job. Employers may still post a salary range, and an applicant may still post salary requirements, but asking for a salary history is now off-limits.

Creating Flexibility in Special Education

The House Education Committee's major work culminated with the passage of H. 897, the special education bill. The bill will allow schools to use their allocated state aid for special education dollars in more flexible ways with a goal of educating students who require additional support more effectively and efficiently. Schools will be unshackled from the intensive bookkeeping that goes along with today's special education reimbursement system. Ultimately, after five years, all schools in Vermont will be allocated a block grant of special education money based on their total population of students. The bill also emphasizes Vermont's obligation to students on Individual Education Programs, and each student's right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education.