Editorial, Legislative Report

Adjourned! End of Session Wrap-up

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CRAFTSBURY – This session, I introduced bills and supported policies that reflect the priorities of our district. As co-chair of the Rural Caucus I fought to correct bills that didn’t adequately address the unique needs of our rural communities. I voted no on policies that threatened the wellbeing of my neighbors and constituents.

Even as the legislature grappled with difficult fiscal realities and the aftermath of catastrophic flooding, we took action to address affordability, the housing crisis, public safety, healthcare, and climate resilience. 

In Vermont we always pass a balanced budget: we don’t spend more than we have in revenue. With COVID-19 recovery funds gone and more modest revenues, we knew we’d have less to spend this year ($58 million less to be exact).  After filling all statutorily required reserves and meeting all pension obligations, we assessed the balance between needs and wants. This led to making tough choices among critical investments in housing, economic development, human services, and the environment.

H.687, the Act 250 modernization bill will help reduce regulatory barriers to create new housing and increase the resiliency of our communities, including our smallest rural ones. The Rural Caucus I co-chair offered numerous amendments to the bill to ensure that every town has the opportunity to grow and to remove regulatory barriers for farms and forest-based businesses so that our region’s critical industries can grow and thrive.

We passed several bills to reduce crime in our communities through both prevention and prosecution measures. New legislation makes it a crime to “trespass” in a vehicle and increases penalties for theft and substance-related offenses. We’ve increased supervision for those awaiting trial and accountability for those who violate conditions of release. To ensure court cases can be processed in a timely manner, investments in the justice system will add staff capacity and increase use of court diversion measures for low-level crimes. 

To help prevent crime in the first place, we’ve directed $5.3 million from the Opiate Abatement Fund toward substance use disorder prevention and treatment as well as transitional and emergency housing. 

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are essential and I worked with local partners to introduce H.622. The bill will add immediate capacity to EMS services, ensuring that emergency care is there when we need it. It also sets in motion system-wide reform to increase efficiency, ensure quality care and reduce overall costs.

Too many low-income aging Vermonters face a benefits cliff when they reach the age of 65. To address this issue, the budget increases eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, reducing the premium for 12,000 low-income Vermonters and putting just over $25 million a year into older Vermonters’ pockets.

To help communities recover from last year’s flood and to lessen the impact on strained municipal budgets, more than $40 million has been set aside for flood response: for flooded businesses, raising and fixing up homes, FEMA matches, and resiliency grant programs. 

We also passed a series of bills to improve the state government’s preparation for future emergencies. This includes improving communication during disasters, overseeing flood insurance programs, and making sure wetlands and dams are better managed in the future. 

H.289  updates Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard requiring electric utilities to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and double the amount of new renewable energy to be built in the state. I’m concerned that the bill will increase Vermonters’ utility rates by an estimated $150 million to $450 million over the next ten years. As we transition to the sustainable, renewable energy economy of the future, I believe we must do more to center the needs of low-income, rural and marginalized Vermonters. Therefore, I voted no on H.289. 

Each year, the Legislature sets a statewide property tax rate to cover locally-approved school budgets. This year, school spending across the state is up $189 million over last year being driven by a number of factors such as inflation, the end of federal pandemic aid, a 16 percent increase in health care costs and school construction or renovation.  To cover these increased costs, H.887, the Yield Bill uses $69 million in one-time revenue and $26 million in on-going revenue to reduce statewide property tax rates from 18.5 percent to 13.8 percent. It also creates the Commission on the Future of Public Education to study our education system and make recommendations to create a high quality education system at a cost our communities can afford.

I could not support this bill and voted no because I don’t think Vermonters can afford the double-digit property tax increase and because it lacks structural reforms and cost containment measures. The governor is expected to veto the bill. 

Rep. Katherine Sims represents Orleans-4, and is a candidate for State Senate, Orleans District. 

Katherine Sims

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