2018 Town Meeting Committee Reports

Gun Violence Prevention in Vermont

When Jack Sawyer was arrested in Fair Haven for plotting a school shooting, we learned that Vermont is not immune. We learned that even in Vermont, a state looked to as a beacon of safety and hope, we faced a similar threat against a school. Thanks to the hard work of our local and state police, the threat was intercepted before tragedy could strike. Schools are a place of learning, a place to explore and grow and experiment. Children should not be afraid to go to school and parents should not be afraid to put their children on a bus. We should have the freedom to be safe in our homes, our neighborhoods and at work, without the constant threat of gun violence hanging over our heads. We’ve heard a variety of root causes of gun violence: irresponsible gun ownerships, mental health issues, and destabilized families. To make our families, our schools, and our communities safer, we need to change a few laws…now. That’s why we are working hard and taking action to pass gun safety laws to prevent gun violence. We are working with the Governor and the Senate to take swift action.

Agriculture - 

Agriculture Economic Development 

With the changing nature of agriculture in Vermont emphasizing direct consumer engagement and value-added products and experiences, House Agriculture and Forestry has been looking at ways to make it easier for farmers to add additional revenue-generating activities to their enterprise. Currently, inconsistencies in town zoning across the state make it difficult for some farmers to set up farm-related businesses on site.

To that end, the House passed legislation this month that will make it easier for farmers to add agriculture-related accessory businesses to their operations. H.663 creates a consistent baseline of permitted ag-enterprise activities across Vermont to help our farms stay viable. The bill gets rid of confusion about what's allowed so farmers can know which on-farm activities are okay for farmers and their towns.  

Two categories of on-farm businesses are authorized under the bill: 1) businesses involving storage, preparation, processing and/or sale of qualifying products, as long as more than 50% of total annual sales are from qualifying products principally produced on the farm where the business is located; and 2) educational, recreational or social events that feature agricultural practices or qualifying products or both.  The bill is now before the Senate for further consideration.

Regenerative Agriculture

Your House Agriculture and Forestry has two bills on regenerative agriculture on its wall, and has been studying the issue during both years of the Biennium. Regenerative agriculture focuses on rebuilding depleted soils, improving the general health of the soil, building the resilience of those soils against erosion, and improving water quality. Regenerative agriculture is used by farmers across a broad spectrum of farming theory and practice as another tool that allows them to best use their resources and build a solid future for their enterprises.

One of the pending bills, H. 430, proposes that the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets establish a regenerative agriculture program. The other, H. 661 proposes to establish a grant program at the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board to provide technical and financial assistance to Vermont farmers seeking to transition from conventional farming to regenerative organic farming. We're convinced there is much to be gained from using regenerative practices in Vermont farming but are not hearing consensus on just what best regenerative practices are. We are working to resolve these questions this session.

Creating Safety Standards at Local Fairs and Field Days

Your House Agriculture and Forestry Committee has been talking with members of the Vermont & New Hampshire Fair Association and various outdoor amusement businesses to make sure that we're doing all that we can to both support our fairs and field days around the state and to make sure the fairs are fun and safe for all who attend. The Committee talked with fair ride operators up and down the East Coast to learn more about what they're doing about safety and inspections, as well as to members of the Vermont Secretary of State's office to review the current procedures for inspection and insurance and how those systems operate.

House Bill 780 proposes to require inspection of all amusement rides operated in Vermont. Under its terms, rides would be inspected after every set-up at every fair before the ride is operated at that location by an inspector certified by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officers. The Committee continues to take testimony on this bill and plans to have the bill before the House in time for passage this year.

Appropriations - 

Budget Adjustment

The budget that the legislature created last session supported a healthy economy. This year’s budget adjustment was particularly smooth because of the good work that was done last year to: use one time funds only for one time expenses and make targeted investments that support families, communities, and a healthy economy.


This year’s adjustment prioritized further investments in a few key areas. We helped our most vulnerable by providing ongoing funding for local communities to combat homelessness. We helped the needs of the most vulnerable where they are by providing support with the help of local communities for outreach services.  Built on the successful community/street based model in Burlington of guiding individuals with mental health challenges to services and supports, the Department of Mental Health is working to modify this approach to work in more rural parts of the state.

We also focused on smart budgeting.  It is critical that we continue excellent budgeting practices including reserving revenue so we can weather the fiscal uncertainty in Washington and the inevitable economic downturn.  This will enable us to continue making targeted investments in working families and the middle class so all Vermonters have a fair shot.

The goal of last year’s budget, this budget adjustment, and the budget we will write for the coming year are the same – to support a healthy economy, strong families, and successful communities so that Vermont’s future generations thrive. 

Commerce - 

Workforce Development

The legislature and executive branch agree that the shortage of workers in Vermont to fill existing and anticipated job openings is the most pressing economic development issue in the state.  The Commerce and Economic Development Committee is working with the Department of Labor, Agency of Education, State Workforce Development Board and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to develop the right strategies to develop the workforce in Vermont as well as recruit workers from outside the state.  The administration is proposing a $3.1 million effort to recruit workers to the state, including an increase in the first time home buyer down payment program, a sophisticated marketing campaign using social media and automated marketing techniques, and creating a network of relocation specialists to help visitors and Vermontophiles move to Vermont.  The committee is carefully reviewing the proposals to ensure that funds are well spend and there is a good return on the money. 


Economic Development

The committee passed a bill to charge the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to proactively market the 10 state-owned airports to companies and persons who could increase the utilization of the airports and grow the local economies.  In addition, the committee is working on proposals to increase the redevelopment of Villages and Downtowns in Vermont with an increase in the tax credits available for such redevelopment. 

House Commerce Moves to Regulate Data Brokers and Protect Consumers’ Information

Using the work of a summer study committee, statewide public hearings and a considerable amount of testimony, the committee crafted and passed a bill that regulates companies which buy and sell the personal information of Vermont residents. In addition, the bill enables consumers to place AND lift security freezes with credit reporting agencies for FREE.   Currently those fees are set in statute at $10 to place a security freeze and $5 to lift one. The bill makes it illegal to hack/steal personally identifiable information or to use that information to commit unlawful acts (like stalking).  Data brokers will have to register with the Secretary of State, provide information about their opt-out processes and the credentialing of buyers of personal information.  In addition, they will have to report annually on the breaches of personal information they experienced and the number of Vermonters exposed. Already in law is the requirement for “data collectors” to issue notices to the Attorney General and affected consumers of any breaches of “personally identifiable information,” meaning a first and last name and a combination of social security number, driver’s license, address or other information.  “Data brokers” have to follow the same protocol. 


Building Community Grants

Is your community looking to build a ball field? Do you know of a local business that wants to expand? Is there a historic building in your downtown that needs restoration or an agricultural fair that needs help with capital improvements? If so, the Building Communities Grants Programs can help. This program consists of five grant options, funded through the Capital Budget, that support and strengthen our local communities through matching grant awards. Most programs are capped at $25,000 and require a 1:1 match. Awards are made to municipalities and nonprofits, though they can be for the benefit of a for-profit business. Funds can only be used for capital expenses such as equipment and construction, not for operating expenses or hiring staff. Grant applications are easy to complete and turnaround time is short. Deadlines vary by program. To find out more, click on this link or go online to BGS Vermont Building Communities Grants.

State Bonded Dollars for Clean Water Projects

All Vermonters recognize the need to restore, protect and preserve the waters of our state. Our state government is making a significant long-term commitment to this effort. Individuals,  organizations, municipalities, the state and the federal government are contributing funds and expertise. The Corrections and Institutions committee, overseeing the State’s Bonded dollars, steers general revenue bond funds to various state agencies that provide grants and loans, many with leveraged federal dollars, to related sectors of the state economy. The Legislature is working to assist in the coordination of the millions of dollars devoted to hundreds of clean water projects ranging from multi-million dollar sewer or treatment plant upgrades to several-thousand- dollar roadside ditching, crop land set asides, stream buffer easements or farmyard drainage projects. For decades the waters of Vermont have slowly degraded. It will take decades to reverse that trend. In the current year the legislature has put aside $21.9 million in bonded dollars toward these projects. $23.5 million has been allocated for FY 2019.

Corrections and Mental Health Facilities

This committee has been deeply involved in decisions determining the immediate and long-term future of the Vermont’s Mental Health and Corrections facilities. We know that Vermont’s immediate needs are: 1) the replacement of the current eight-bed Secure Residential Treatment facility in Middlesex with a 16-bed facility;  2) how best to determine the future of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex Junction; 3) how we can continue to support the number of beds needed at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in  Berlin; and 4) the desperate need for more beds within our Mental Health, Corrections and systems. There are many moving parts, from the uncertainty of Medicaid funding, the pressure on our bonding ability, the uneven movement of individuals within and among these facilities, which  has resulted in a critical strain on the emergency departments of our hospitals and inappropriate or inefficient care within our Corrections and Mental Health facilities. These questions link policy questions across the House, and we’re working to provide us all with the resources that can fix these long-term issues.

Education - 

The House is considering a bill that would revamp public school special education to improve services and save money once fully implemented. The proposal would give school districts more flexibility in how they spend special education money, so they can better target services in more effective ways without worrying that they won’t be reimbursed by the state for the majority of expenses. It would allow, for example, a school to use a reading specialist (currently not reimbursable) with a child who may not yet be labeled as special education, and that those early interventions will avoid higher special education costs later. The bill provides for training and support for school districts during the transition. It also dramatically reduces the amount of paperwork required to keep track of reimbursable expenses.

This new service model would coincide with a new funding model based on the total number of all students in a school system – a block grant – that would hold steady going into the future, not increase. The ultimate goal is that with more flexibility, significantly less paperwork and strong professional support in how to better help those students needing extra support, Vermont schools will spend less overall on special education and do a better job at the same time.

Energy & Technology - 

Tackling Climate Change through Efficiency Standards

Last year the House passed a bill to protect the efficiency standards that exist at the federal level, but were threatened by the Trump Administration and certain members of Congress. This year’s legislation (H.410) takes a step further by adding eighteen new products to the State energy efficiency standards. In so doing, the State of Vermont joins thirteen other states in moving energy and water efficiency standards forward nationally. Additionally, this bill will cut Vermont’s carbon dioxide emissions by 33,000 metric tons each year, which is the equivalent to the emissions of approximately 7,000 passenger cars per year. This supports Vermont’s economy and Vermonters’ pocketbooks by increasing average household savings in energy costs by over $660 each year.


We know that climate change is the greatest threat to Vermont’s economy and to Vermonters’ health and safety. We also know we have an opportunity to take a measurable step forward that helps Vermonters and helps our state address emissions. Adopting these efficiency standards is a triple win because we lower energy use and decrease our carbon footprint while saving families and businesses money. 

Housing, General  and Military Affairs- 

Equal Pay
It’s time we rewrite the rules so that women’s work and contributions are fully valued.  Women in Vermont are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual wage gap of nearly $8,000.  The practice of having to disclose one’s current salary only reinforces the pay gap by gender or race in our state. H.294 prohibits an employer asking a prospective employee this question prior to making a job offer. By eliminating this practice, we expect salary equity to become the new normal. By clarifying that employers can still ask for salary expectations, and can still post salary ranges, we sent a message that we care both for the employee and the employer, who is searching for the best employee it can find. All of the major business organizations that testified, representing over 5,000 Vermont businesses, supported the bill.

Rental Housing Safety

Vermont has the distinction of having one of the oldest rental housing stocks in the country, along with a very low vacancy rate for rental housing. Only a handful of municipalities have inspection systems to assure that apartments comply with basic health and safety codes.  Volunteer town health officers are required to investigate concerns from tenants or landlords and enforce the statewide rental housing safety code. The Vermont Department of Health (DOH) provides training to the town health officers. Landlords, tenants, health care providers, and municipal officials report problems with heating, plumbing, electrical, and more. Our committee bill is looking to strengthen the safety of our rental housing stock. To start, we are proposing the creation of a Rental Housing Safety Advisory Board, which will report back to the Vermont Department of Health. We are also proposing the collection of information about the location of rental housing throughout the state. We have heard from many landlords who opposed an earlier version of the legislation, and their concerns have been addressed. Maintaining basic habitability in housing is needed to ensure the safety and health of all Vermonters.

Crime Victims as a Protected Class

We have spent many, many years making sure that crime victims be treated with respect, from the time a crime has been committed against them until they have had their time in court. While we are proud of the strides we have made, we have found a serious lapse in our commitment. Did you know that a crime victim can be fired for attending the trial or the court dates they need to attend in order to attain justice? Our employment law allows for an employer to fire an employee without cause, and in a few cases, we have found that crime victims had to fight or were refused paid or unpaid time off in order to attend to their case in the court system. This seems terribly unfair and cruel. H.711 addresses this by giving protected class status in employment law for victims of crimes, and it addresses their standing in our existing, if inadequate, family leave laws. This bill is relatively simple in its construction, but complex in its effects on how crime victims are treated at work at a time when they need understanding and the space to resolve difficult personal issues. 

Government  Operations - 

Clarifying Campaign Finance Law for Social Media Advertising 

H. 828 amends campaign finance law to better address electronic, digital and social media political advertising.   Political online digital advertising, particularly social media advertising, exploded in the 2016 election cycle.  While overall political advertising was up only 4.6% from the 2012 election cycle, digital online advertising grew from $160 million in 2012 to $1.41 billion in 2016, representing a jump of 749% according to Borrell Associates.  Given the ability to target social media advertising to the town level and its affordability, it is likely that political social media advertising will play an even larger role in future state and local elections in Vermont.  While Vermont campaign finance law currently applies to online advertising, it did not envision a world of Google Adwords, FaceBook ads and other forms of social media advertising that may only include a few lines of text.  These types of online advertisements make it difficult, if not impossible, to appropriately identify who paid for these political advertisements.  H. 828 will not only provide clarity to candidates about how to appropriately identify who paid for online political advertisements, but also will help combat disinformation by making sure that the public is aware of who is the source behind these political advertisements.

H. 846 – Clarifying Municipal Charter

Municipal authority to act is controlled by the state.  This means that a town has no authority beyond what is set forth in statute or can be implied from statute.  However, towns do not have to abide by general municipal laws enacted by the legislature.  Any town can adopt a charter that can change the general municipal law for that community.  Charters can establish conflict of interest rules, determine whether certain municipal positions should be elected or appointed or abolish municipal positions altogether.  Typically, a charter is first adopted by the voters of a town and then it is sent to the legislature for its approval and adoption into law.  From time to time a town may want to amend its charter to affect additional governance changes. When this happens, those charter amendments also must go to the legislature.  Recently, charter amendments have gone beyond making simple governance changes.  They have added overly complex, legalistic provisions to state that general law applies to chartered municipalities, unless their special charter law provides for something different.  H.846 seeks to end this practice by clarifying that the general state law applies to chartered municipalities. We feel this will simplify charter amendments and make them easier for voters to understand.

Government Operations – H. 624 – Voter Checklist Protection

When the President Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked for voters’ personal information, the outpouring of opposition from Vermonters contacting the Secretary of State’s Office was by far the greatest for any issue seen since Secretary Condos took office. Virtually every person asked that their individual data be protected.  Some individuals even requested that they be completely removed from the voter checklist.  Vermonters should not have to choose between protecting their privacy and their freedom to vote.  

H. 624 expressly prohibits public agencies from knowingly disclosing any information pertaining to a voter that is maintained in the statewide voter checklist to any foreign government or federal agency or commission for the purpose of registering voters based on their information contained in the checklist, publicly disclosing the information, or comparing that information to personally identifying information contained in other federal or state databases This puts us on a stronger footing to deny foreign or federal intrusions into state election data now and into the future.

Health Care - 

As part of its attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, in October 2017,

the Trump Administration cut off federal funding for health insurance Cost

Sharing Reductions (CSRs). CSRs are funded through federal payments to insurance

companies to be used to reduce the cost of health insurance for families making less

than 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $62,000 for a family of 4). CSRs

reduce the deductibles, copayments, and out-of- pocket maximums for an insurance


In 2017, approximately 14,000 Vermonters benefitted from the CSR subsidy.

While Trump ended federal funding for CSRs, insurance companies are still required

to provide the benefit to qualifying customers. Vermont has the benefit of learning

about the implementation of Silver Loading plans, a workaround to the Executive

Order, from 37 other states. Silver Loading replaces the CSR funding by inflating a

different federal subsidy – Advance Premium Tax Credits – used to subsidize middle

and low-income families.

The House Health Care Committee also continued its work to protect Vermonters

and keep health insurance stable by blunting the impact of the president’s Executive

Order, which loosened restrictions on Short-Term Limited Duration Plans and

Association Health plans. The bill would limit Short-Term plans to three months, be

non-renewable, and have disclosure requirements that clearly state the plan does

not provide coverage under the Affordable Care Act. While these plans are currently

not offered in Vermont, they are in other states and advertised as low-cost health

insurance but often do not include pre-existing conditions and essential services.

Regarding Gov. Scott’s budget recommendation to the legislature, the Health

Care Committee, in its effort to protect vulnerable Vermonters, has

recommendations in several areas. Among them:

  • Restore $827,175 in Vermont Cost Sharing Reductions. Beyond the federal cut

in CSRs, the governor proposes to cut this amount in state dollars that would

affect 6,000 Vermonters between 200-300 percent of Federal Poverty Levels.

  • Restore $110,833 to the Office of the Health Care Advocate at Legal Aid. This cut

would decrease staff by 1.5 of the seven advocates. This is the office that helps

Vermonters to access health care when they have problems.

  • Restore $667,000 in AHEC funding for loan repayment for doctors, nurses and

dentists if the practice in Vermont. These state grants are matched by

employers and are used to attract qualified health workers to stay in Vermont.

  • Restore three positions to the Green Mountain Care Board, the regulatory

agency that monitors hospital’ budgets and insurers’ rates in an effort to lower

health care costs.

  • Eliminate $1.4 million for Primary Case Management Fee.

Human Services - 

The Human Services Committee is a policy committee that looks at programs within the Agency of Human Services (AHS). Our mission is to make sure the departments within the agency improve the health and well-being of all Vermonters by protecting and advocating for the most vulnerable among us; young children, the disabled and Older Vermonters.

This year the committee took action on:

·       Making sure Vermonters have access to food by reducing enrollment burdens of SNAP

·       Increasing access to Advanced Directives so Vermonters end of life wishes will be respected.

·       Formed a committee to examine cases of child fatality to prevent unexpected, unexplained or preventable death.

·       Updated the Commission on Alzheimer’s disease and Related Disorders.

·       Increases parenting rights and limited liability for Foster Parents.

·       Established an Older Vermonters Working Group to bring state agencies, non-profits and interested parties together to enhance the lives of Vermonters.

·       Made budget recommendations to ensure vulnerable Vermonters are not left behind.

Judiciary -  

Legalizing Marijuana Possession 

Currently, Vermont law penalizes individuals who possess marijuana and, as a result, has

arguably created more harm through criminalization of this behavior than the

consumption of the plant itself has caused. Cannabis use ranks below alcohol and

tobacco use as far as individual and public harms. Accordingly, it is difficult to

rationalize legal alcohol and tobacco use, while criminalizing marijuana consumption.

The legislature passed and the Governor signed a law that takes an incremental step in

addressing this situation. The law, Act 86, would remove all civil and criminal penalties

for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and for the growing of two mature and

four immature marijuana plants, so long as certain conditions related to growing those

plants are met. The law takes an appropriate next step, building on the legislature’s

previous decriminalization of possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. It continues

to impose penalties on the possession of marijuana by individuals under 21 years of age

and imposes penalties on those who enable minors to consume marijuana.

Act 86 recognizes the rights to privacy and autonomy of Vermonters, who should be

entitled to make decisions related to marijuana use free from government intrusion so

long as no harm is being visited on others by those individual choices.

Strengthening Families Through Expanded Parentage

Strong families have stable and loving parent-child relationships.  The House has passed a bill, H.764, that will eliminate barriers to maintaining such relationships.  This bill modernizes Vermont parentage laws by providing guidance to courts answering the question “Who is a child’s parent?”


Current state law has simply not kept pace with the many ways that Vermonters become parents. The Vermont Supreme Court has had to grapple with how to address who should be deemed a parent and has encouraged the legislature to fulfill its policy role in defining who should be considered as legal parents.


The bill recognizes that biology and marriage are not the only pathways to form a family or for people to take on the role of parents. The House also acknowledges that an increasing number of Vermonters use assisted reproduction such as in vitro fertilization to help them have a child. The bill thus addresses legal issues such as the rights of the intended parents and the donor in such situations.  


H.764 does not address parental rights and responsibilities, such as who gets custody or visitation.  It gives the courts guidelines to determine who gets to walk through the courthouse door as a legal parent to then sort out those parental rights and responsibilities.

By providing additional appropriate pathways to establishing parent-child relationships that are in the best interest of children, the legislature is strengthening Vermont families.  

Protecting Children and Families

Several bills seek to improve the protection of children and families from harm and


Human Trafficking: 

Vermonters are not immune from the menace of human trafficking,

through which victims are coerced or unwittingly led into providing sex for money, basic

necessities like housing, or even survival. A victim may conceive a child with a perpetrator and, due to the coercive nature of the relationship, may be reluctant to seek to terminate the relationship and the perpetrator’s parentage. H.603 addresses this situation. It provides that, in custody disputes, a parent convicted of human trafficking of  the other parent will be denied parent-child contact. The bill recognizes that victims of human trafficking should be afforded the same rights as victims of sexual assault. H.603 also provides that a person’s parental rights can be terminated if the person committed a sexual assault that resulted in the conception of the child.


Relief From Abuse Orders:  

H.836 would ensure a secure, safe way for the victim to obtain a relief

from abuse order. It would allow a victim to file a complaint and affidavit electronically if

no secure setting is available and to swear or affirm the affidavit over the telephone. The

process allowed in H.836 should expand a victim’s ability to obtain relief from abuse orders when courts are closed, while enhancing the safety of all parties involved.


Testimony and Hearsay of Children in Human Services Board Appeals:  Currently, in cases of child maltreatment, a child may have to testify against the alleged abuser, who is often a caretaker or a parent. This can compound the original trauma the child has experienced. H.727 would take into account the potential impact on the victims of requiring them to

testify at Human Services Board (HSB) appeals and would require the hearing officer to

determine that the statements made by the child are admissible only if the time, content,

and circumstances of those statements demonstrate that they are trustworthy.

Natural Resources - 

H.560 will keep household hazardous waste out of the landfill. We are likely to pass out a bill that allows the stakeholders more time to come to an agreement with ANR and then if they don’t an Extended Producer Responsibility program would go into effect where the manufacturers would set up, pay for, and run these collection programs.


H. 576, passed the house. It allows ANR to use offsets and impact fees in all Vermont waters not just Lake Champlain and lowers the permit trigger from one acre to 1/2 acre when a new project or redevelopment needs a stormwater permit. This will help us achieve our clean water goals more quickly.  


H.763 proposes to require the Joint Fiscal Office to conduct a study, on the costs and benefits to Vermont of various approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs and strengthening the economy and submit a report of its findings to the Legislature January 15, 2019. This passed out of our committee and is a high priority.  


H.554 requires the inspection of all nonfederal dams (Army Corps and FERC oversees federal dams for flood protection and power production). The Public Utility Commission would inspect the hydroelectric dams it oversees; DEC would inspect all others and maintain a current inventory of all known dams. This will greatly improve dam safety.

H.730, The Lakes in Crisis bill, would give the secretary of ANR added authority once a lake is considered “in crisis.” The secretary could transfer funding to address the reasons the lake is in crisis and would have powers to stop all substances (such as phosphorus, if that is the problem runoff) from entering the lake watershed. The committee is still discussing this bill. Landowners around Lake Carmi strongly support the bill. 

Transportation - 

Transportation Bill

 Each year the VT Agency of Transportation proposes, and the Legislature approves, a budget for statewide transportation.  This includes funding for roads, bridges, paving, rail, aviation and public transit among others.  The $612 million proposed budget provides us with 21st century infrastructure improvements that are vital to growing Vermont’s economy and creating new jobs.  Since 2008, VT has moved from 45th in the nation to 13th for numbers of structurally deficient bridges. 


Pavement has also improved.  VT’s road surface now rated very poor has declined since 2008 from 36% to 11% in 2017.  This budget continues repair or replacement of more than 100 bridges and culverts along with over 200 miles of new pavement.  Large bridge expenditures stretching out over several years are being made in Middlebury for a rail tunnel and in North Hero for a draw bridge.  Large roadway reconstruction projects totaling $52 million are proposed for Brandon Route 7, the Circumferential Highway Alternatives Project and Cabot/Danville Route 2.


Rail improvements total $29.6 million.  This includes funds for continued track, bridge and crossing upgrades along the Western Corridor between Rutland and Burlington.  Other rail structural improvements move the Vermont Rail System toward the national 286,000-pound freight industry standard.


Saliva Testing 

H.237 is a bill introducing saliva testing as a means to assist law enforcement in getting drugged drivers off the road.  Saliva is added to the Driving Under the Influence (DUI) statute that allows breath and blood samples to be taken for evidence in court.  Think of this as an update in technology similar to what happened with DUI alcohol prosecutions a number of years ago.  The screening Alco-sensor device and evidentiary infra-red technological advancements revolutionized how alcohol impaired drivers are prosecuted.  Both had to be accepted by the Vermont Court System over a number of challenges, as will saliva testing.


Similar in purpose to the Alco-sensor, a hand held 1 milli-liter saliva gathering collector, administered by the person being stopped, is used as a preliminary roadside screening device to assist the law enforcement officer in determining the potential presence of six different drug classes.  This screening saliva test is not admissible as evidence, but serves as information for the stopping officer to call a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) specially trained to detect impairment in a 12 step one hour evaluation.  If impairment is detected, the DRE will order an evidentiary saliva test.  The advantage of evidentiary saliva testing over the conventional blood test, is convenience (3 minutes), less invasiveness, and reduced cost.


Primary Seatbelts

H.691 is a bill legislating along with other safety issues, primary seatbelt usage.  Current secondary enforcement allows a law enforcement officer to ticket you only secondarily if stopped for another offense.  In the last four years Vermont highway fatalities have steadily risen from 44 to 69.  52% of last year’s auto fatalities were unbelted.  While VT currently has a seatbelt usage rate of 85 %, 15% remain unbelted.  35 states currently have primary seatbelt laws on the books.


States that implement primary seatbelt laws generally see a 5-8% bump up in seatbelt use.  Presently, there are over 500,000 licensed drivers in Vermont.  Using a conservative 5% increase in seatbelt use, an additional 25,000 VT drivers can be expected to be buckled up and protected by the 50% added protection from death and injury provided by wearing a seatbelt.  This translates to three or four VT lives saved each year, and 15 severe injuries prevented.  These cost Vermonters millions of dollars in residential nursing care, increased insurance premiums, lost wages, disability benefits and untold family grief.

Bills we passed last year and waiting for the Senate to work on

Family Leave Insurance (H.196, passed House, 331 words)

Here are the things we, as legislators and politicians of all stripes say: We want to attract young people to the state. We want Vermont to be affordable. We want to help people who are on the financial edge of our benefit cliffs. We want more children to be born, and to be healthy, and to be ready for school. Here is what else we know: we have an aging workforce, we are living longer and we have family members who are trying to age in their own homes. We have family situations where more and more grandparents are assuming parenting and care duties of their grandchildren.

We believe H.196 addresses these concerns in fundamental ways. It proposes to enhance Vermont’s existing Parental and Family Leave Act (and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act) by adding a financial component to an employee’s right to take leave under certain criteria. These can include the birth of a child and the immediate time after for bonding and/or dealing with any medical emergencies, or time needed to take care of a family member. Studies from other states have shown and increased productivity and job loyalty from those who have used it to keep themselves and their families healthy and well kept.

The proposal allows for six weeks of paid leave at 80% of an employee’s gross salary at the cost of .141% of an employee’s income. This can be combined with unpaid leave, or leave funded by combined time off, if the employee has any. The total combined leave cannot exceed 12 weeks. The benefit is capped at the net equivalent of twice the livable wage ($1,042 in 2017).

The legislation passed in the House and now under consideration in the Senate. When we pass Paid Family Leave into law, the State will be able to offer working Vermonters a benefit that is both compassionate and sensitive to the needs of young families and families taking care of their elders.

Gender Neutral Bathrooms (H.333, passed House)

The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee took powerful testimony on H.333, a bill to create Gender Neutral bathrooms.  Our committee heard from LGBTQ students of being bullied and harassed if found in the “wrong” bathroom, and of adults planning a day in town around the locations of safe bathrooms. It came to our attention that this is simply not an issue that any human should have to face. Going to the bathroom should not be stressful or traumatic in any way. 

The first step towards rectifying this issue is extremely simple and cost-effective. H.333 requires the removal of specific gender designations from public bathrooms. This convenience goes beyond the question of gender identity: a parent traveling with a child of a different gender, a disabled person with a helper of a different gender, or simply the all-too-common experience of a line backed up in front of a bathroom while another dedicated to the other gender was available for use. Most importantly, this seemingly minimal change go a long way in protecting the safety and well being of Vermont’s more vulnerable citizens.

Firearm Removal from the scene of Domestic Assault (H.422, passed House)

The House passed H.422, a bill that would provide protection to victims of domestic assault in the most dangerous period in the cycle of domestic violence, that brief period after an outsider – likely a law enforcement officer – intervenes in the relationship.  The bill, which the Senate has not yet enacted, would provide protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person.  The temporary and brief removal of a firearm from the scene of domestic assault would provide the victim time to provide for his or her safety, and perhaps even give the perpetrator time to cool down.  If the firearm is not evidence, or if there is no following court order requiring relinquishment, the firearm would be returned to the person from whom it was removed within 5 days.