It’s been an honor to represent and advocate for your priorities; what a privilege to represent a district whose residents are engaged, well-informed, and passionate!
The 2022 legislative session has officially ended – and, with the help of federal stimulus dollars, we have been able to make transformational investments in broadband, housing, pension stabilization and workforce development.
Highlights from the session are outlined below.
- A BALANCED AND TRANSFORMATIVE BUDGET
- EXPANDING ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING
- RACIAL JUSTICE
- PUTTING PENSIONS ON SOLID FOOTING
- SUPPORT FOR VERMONTERS WITH SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER
- FREE UNIVERSAL BREAKFAST AND LUNCH FOR THE 2022-23 SCHOOL YEAR
- ADVANCING EQUITY FOR ENGLISH LEARNER STUDENTS
- INVESTMENTS IN CLIMATE ACTION
- WATER, BIODIVERSITY, & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
- INVESTING IN WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
- SUPPORTING CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION
- ADVANCING FIREARM SAFETY MEASURES
- ACT 250 REFORM
A Balanced and Transformative State Budget
The FY2023 state budget (H.740) totals $8.3 billion, a 5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The budget honors the commitment the legislature made at the beginning of the pandemic: to support Vermonters, their families, and their communities across all 14 counties, and to leave no one behind in a strong statewide recovery.
That commitment includes investing $453.7 million in federal COVID relief in five broad areas: Economy, Workforce, and Communities; Housing; Broadband Connectivity; Climate Action; and Clean Water. Those investments, added to FY2022 investments, complete the allocations of the $1.2 billion received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The budget includes a long-overdue rate increase of 8 percent to community mental health providers, designated agencies, specialized service agencies, and home health care providers. It provides millions to support substance abuse disorder prevention and recovery. It includes increased funds for Adult Day programs, Vermont Legal Aid and the Vermont Health Care Advocate.
We’re investing $96 million in broadband projects and $137.8 million in community, workforce and economic development. The University of Vermont base budget is increased by $10 million, the first increase in 14 years. The Vermont State College System also has a base increase of $10 million, plus $14.9 million to serve as a “bridge” in their ongoing transition to fiscal and operational stability. Coverage is expanded by $4.9 million for working families within the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.
This year’s investments in housing programs, including the “missing middle” and manufactured housing, tally $90 million. Transformational climate and water initiatives include $80 million for weatherization and $45 million for municipal energy resilience grants. There is also $8 million for advanced metering infrastructure and over $60 million for additional electrification initiatives.
As always, it is a balanced budget. To see all budget documents, click here.
Over the past three years, the General Assembly has committed about $375 million to housing — roughly half from federal COVID relief funds and half from the General Fund and property transfer tax. These appropriations have been used to enhance shelter capacity and supportive services for those who are homeless, to build more than 1,000 units of housing that will be affordable to low- and middle-income families, to repair rental properties that are currently off-line because they are not up to code, and to provide incentives to develop Accessory Dwelling Unit and down-payment grants for first-generation homebuyers.
Bolstering our housing stock was a top priority this year. Through federal COVID relief funds, over $42 million was earmarked this year in S.210 and S. 226 to help Vermont renters and homeowners. With this funding, we were able to:
- Dedicate $20 million toward forgivable loans to property owners to bring rental properties not up to code back online, plus incentivize the construction of new Accessory Dwelling Units to expand Vermont’s rental housing stock.
- Direct $22 million to subsidize new construction to lower costs for middle-income homebuyers, plus $1 million to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) for down payment grants for first-generation homebuyers. Repair and improvement grants will also be available for manufactured homes.
- Reform zoning laws, expand tax credits, and create pilot projects to encourage denser development and more vibrant town centers.
- Create an Advisory Land Access Board, composed of representatives of groups that have faced historic discrimination in land and home ownership. The new board will work with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and its partners to reduce current disparities as a result of that discrimination.
- Extend additional protections from discrimination and harassment for renters and homebuyers.
- Create a statewide contractor registry to protect against consumer fraud in residential construction projects with a value of over $10,000.
- Use federal relief money to increase the capacity of the Department of Fire Safety to conduct rental inspections.
Overall, these investments — which, when combined with mid-year budget adjustments dedicated to emergency shelter and low-income housing, total over $90 million — send a clear message to Vermonters that we’re doing everything we can, and teaming up with whomever we can, to provide more safe, healthy and affordable housing as soon as we can. We’ve advanced funding and policy that will make a dent in our critical housing needs, while establishing pilot programs that could provide a template for future investment on a state and federal level.
Racism is systemic and Vermont is late in acknowledging its sustained presence and costs. This biennium we passed legislation to:
- Amend the Constitution to state plainly that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”
- Create a Division of Racial Justice Statistics in the Office of Racial Equity to uncover and remedy systemic racial bias and disparities in our criminal and juvenile justice system.
- Create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the harm caused by discriminatory state policies and recommend steps Vermont can take to eliminate systemic discrimination and address the related harm
- Increase staffing of the office of the VT Director of Racial Equity in recognition of its ballooning workload
- Extend the Down Payment Assistance Program for first-time, first generation homebuyers who meet income-based criteria
- Adopt an Environmental Justice Policy to ensure that no community bears the brunt of environmental harms or shares in fewer environmental benefits because of state investments and restoration activities
- Provide immediate, increased access to healthcare for income-eligible children and pregnant persons, regardless of their immigration status, by establishing a Dr. Dynasaur-like healthcare program
I’m proud of these accomplishments but there is so much more to do: increasing investments in BIPOC businesses, passing sentencing reforms, and expanding access to land and homeownership to communities who have faced historic discrimination.
The General Assembly has put the state’s public pension system on a path towards long-term sustainability, so that teachers, troopers, and all state employees can rely on a well-funded, solvent system when they retire. Legislators balanced commitments — one to State employees and teachers and another to Vermont taxpayers — in the face of a $5.6 billion unfunded liability that would have continued to grow without action.
S.286 is the result of 15 months of hard work to engage Vermonters in a shared and sustainable solution. The State of Vermont will contribute $200 million in one-time surplus revenues. Meanwhile, teachers and state employees will increase and restructure their contributions — higher-income workers will pay a higher percentage of their income — and accept a small adjustment to cost-of-living increases. These savings will be re-invested into the pension system to retire the debt sooner.
In all, these changes will eliminate $2 billion of unfunded liability and ensure retirement security and healthcare certainty for retired teachers and state employees for years to come.
The law is the culmination of months of hard work and negotiation of the Pension Task Force, made up of legislators, public employees, and an administration employee. Through that collaboration, we won unequivocal tripartisan support and got a deal across the finish line.
The Governor vetoed the bill, but the House and Senate voted unanimously to override the veto – the first time in state history that both chambers have voted unanimously to override a veto.
S.286 gives our teachers and state employees peace of mind: They will have their hard-earned pension when they retire.
The Vermont Department of Health announced in April that 210 Vermonters died from opioid overdoses in 2021. It’s the highest annual number of fatal opioid overdoses ever recorded in Vermont. Overdose deaths increased by one-third last year compared to 2020. Rutland County had the highest fatality rates, followed closely by Windham and Bennington counties.
In the FY2023 state budget, the legislature makes a substantial investment in prevention and recovery programs related to Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
- $4 million to the Substance Misuse Prevention Coalition, including tobacco
- $2 million to residential treatment, sober beds, and recovery housing
- $540,000 to increase base budgets at the 12 recovery centers across the state
- $150,000 to Chittenden County Treatment and Recovery for persons transitioning from incarceration
- $345,000 for employment services embedded at a recovery center (pilot program)
- $500,000 to Jenna’s House in Lamoille County
- $295,000 for AIDS client-based support
- $360,000 for HIV prevention and syringe exchange
- $200,000 to Howard Center for prevention work
- $880,000 to rate increases for residential treatment providers
Prevention and recovery are not simple matters, and money alone is not a cure. Our hope is that, at a minimum, these targeted investments will alter the trajectory and help to save lives.
Vermont made huge strides in combating food insecurity during the pandemic. With federal support, public schools provided free breakfast and lunch for all students during the last two school years. But this federal funding ends in June. To maintain this critical program, the legislature passed S.100, a bill to continue universal school meals through the 2022–2023 school year with $29 million from the Education Fund surplus.
S.100 reduces hunger and erases stigma in our schools by ensuring that breakfast and a hot, nutritious lunch is available to all students. Under the old pre-pandemic program, not all food-insecure students qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch: the income limit was set very low, at $32,227 for a single parent with one child. During the upcoming school year, we’ll collect solid data around the cost of universal school meals and study the potential long-term funding opportunities for this program.
Advancing Equity for English Learner Students
One fundamental value of Vermont’s education system is our collective responsibility to ensure equitable outcomes for all students in every corner of the state. This year, we took significant steps to deliver on the promise of equity for all students, including those who are English Learners.
Vermont’s education funding system uses “weights,” or numeric factors that account for the varying costs of educating different categories of students, such as students living in poverty or EL students. These weights impact taxing capacity across school districts.
In S.287 we update these weights, including a significantly higher weight for EL students. This gives school districts the tools they need to deliver high-quality instruction and services—as required by federal law—to EL students and families. Second, we created a supplemental categorical grant program, separate from the weights, to help districts with limited EL enrollment. The bill also strengthens reporting and Agency of Education oversight for EL students.
Investments in Climate Action
The FY2023 budget of $8.3 billion includes $566.7 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Of that amount, $129.8 million is allocated for weatherization and other climate change mitigation investments. These allocations are informed by the knowledge that, in Vermont, transportation and thermal (building heating) are the sectors that pose the greatest challenges in reducing greenhouse emissions.
- $45 million to the Home Weatherization Assistance Program to aid lower-income households
- $35 million to the Electric Efficiency Fund for weatherization incentives to Vermonters of moderate income
- $2 million to support continued build-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure along highway networks
- $20 million to provide low- and moderate-income households with financial and technical assistance to upgrade home electrical systems to enable installation of energy saving technologies, plus $5 million to install, at low or no cost, heat-pump water heaters
- $2 million to help low- and moderate-income households to purchase electric equipment for heating, cooling and vehicle charging, plus support for municipal back-up electricity storage installations
- $15 million to improve landscape resilience and mitigate flood hazards
- $4.8 million to provide farms with assistance in implementing soil-based practices which improve soil quality and nutrient retention, increase crop production, minimize erosion potential, and reduce waste discharges
- $1 million for the Urban and Community Forestry Program to plant up to 5,000 trees to improve air quality and reduce heat island effects
Additionally, the FY2023 budget includes climate investments from both General Funds and Transportation Funds: $32.2 million and $600,000 respectively. These allocations support electric vehicle charging infrastructure, electrification incentives, and investments in public transportation.
One last investment is an additional $8 million in General Funds to provide up to 70% reimbursement to municipal and cooperative electrical distribution utilities for implementation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure. This infrastructure provides the necessary information to help improve energy efficiency, while also helping utilities manage costs and improve customer service.
Adopting a Clean Heat Standard
The House and Senate passed H.715, the Clean Heat Standard to put Vermont on a path to a more affordable, lower-emissions energy future. The CHS is the most significant policy recommended in Vermont’s Climate Action Plan, and the most important climate bill passed by the legislature this year.
The CHS would obligate companies selling heating fuel in Vermont to lower greenhouse gas emissions over time. The CHS requirements could be met flexibly by delivering a range of clean heat alternatives — heat pumps, weatherization, advanced wood heating — that reduce fossil fuel consumption, or by displacing some fossil fuel delivery with lower carbon-intensity biofuels. Consumers would continue to have a choice with their heating options and would benefit from more incentives when they choose cleaner heat alternatives.
In early May, the Governor vetoed H.715 and the House missed overriding his veto by a single vote. In his letter to the General Assembly, he requested that the CHS return to the legislature for final review before its final 2025 approval, and that it include more analysis of CHS costs and impacts. The final bill included these measures.
The climate crisis is a threat to our community and our prosperity and we cannot afford to delay action. We must move forward to help all Vermonters adapt our lives, communities and businesses to the accelerating effects of climate change in a way that leaves no one behind.
Vermont biodiversity has been declining precipitously in recent decades. The state continues to lose forest cover, and the remaining forest is increasingly fragmented. H.606 establishes the goals of conserving 30 percent of the state’s land by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. The Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources will develop a plan to meet these goals using Vermont Conservation Design as a guide.
VCD is a state-created map of “the areas of the state that are of highest priority for maintaining ecological integrity.” Conservation would be achieved through a combination of private, state and federal land. To further these biodiversity goals, H.697 extends the Use Value (Current Use) program to include reserve forestland under certain conditions. Reserve forestland is land that’s managed for the purpose of attaining old forest values and functions. This extension encourages the management of land for old forests, which currently comprise less than one percent of Vermont’s forestland. The protection of old forests is important because they are more complex than young forests and thus harbor greater biodiversity.
Creating a State Environmental Justice Policy
S.148 establishes a state environmental justice policy and strengthens public engagement using a citizen-based advisory council and interagency committee. Environmental justice is a lens to ensure equitable sharing of environmental benefits, such as clean air and water. The bill also supports the development of a mapping tool to visualize environmental harm — ranging from contamination and exposure to toxins to unsafe housing, lack of open green space, or vulnerability to flooding — that impact some of our communities. “Environmental Justice Focus Populations” will be defined based on demographic data that predicts which communities bear a disproportionate degree of environmental burden.
Many communities suffer disproportionately from environmental harm, including low-income Vermonters, people with disabilities or limited English proficiency, and Vermonters who are Black, indigenous and people of color. The work supported by this bill will help the state to plan for and target our investments and restoration activities to ensure that no community is left behind. Roughly two dozen states already have environmental justice policies in place.
Protecting Vermont’s Water Resources
The legislature continues to support clean water for Vermont and Vermonters. This includes investing in water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure and programs that improve community resilience to climate change impacts, such as flooding.
In total, Vermont received $1.2 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. In the FY 2022 budget, $100 million of that amount was designated for water and sewer investments. In the FY 2023 budget, an additional $104 million is allocated.
Looking ahead, $355 million additional federal dollars are anticipated for water investments through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Funds are anticipated mid to late summer: $9.5 million to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) this year, increasing to $13 million by 2026; and $19 million to the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF) this year, increasing to $26 million by 2026. In each of five years there will also be $30 million for lead service line replacement.
In 2022, the Legislature also passed H.466 with strong tri-partisan support. This bill creates a program to track and manage our state’s surface water withdrawals. The program ensures that there is adequate surface water, even at times of drought, to meet our water needs and maintain water quality standards now and into the future. A major housing bill, S.226, also contains floodplain protection incentives to reduce the flood damage risks that face our communities.
S.11 is a significant workforce and economic development bill that addresses the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 on our employers, workers and families and establishes opportunities to grow Vermont’s economy for the future.
The bill creates or enhances programs to increase workforce participation, and to reinforce and sustain workers in nursing, mental health care, childcare and the trades. It includes scholarships, forgivable loans, education, training and internship programs.
S.11 helps Vermonters. It provides for economic development programs to support businesses and municipalities, sick leave related to COVID-19, tax credits, and assists specific sectors, including the creative economy.
In total, $113.5 million is appropriated using ARPA, General and Education Funds to achieve these goals. A few highlights include:
Welcoming New Vermonters and Expanding Labor Force
- $5,000 forgivable loans to recent Vermont college and university graduates committed to work for two years in Vermont ($2.5 million)
- Relocated and remote worker grant program ($3.09 million)
- Grants for refugees and new Americans ($550,000)
- Regional workforce expansion system ($1.5 million)
Support for Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Municipalities
- VEDA short-term forgivable loans ($19 million, provides loans of up to $350,000 for businesses that experienced loss during pandemic)
- Community Recovery and Revitalization Grants ($10 million plus $30 million after July 1, 2022)
- Downtown and Village Tax Credit ($2.45 million)
- Creative economy supports ($9 million)
Nursing and Healthcare ($12.5 million)
- Nursing faculty grants and forgivable loans
- Nurse preceptor grants
- Mental health worker forgivable loans
- Health care apprenticeships and training
Support for Trades
- Work-based learning and training program ($1.5 million)
- Trades scholarships ($3 million)
- Meat-cutter training ($387,000)
- CTE construction experiential learning ($15 million for revolving loan fund)
- Serve.Earn.Learn ($1.8 million for jobs training program)
- Incarcerated individuals workforce development program ($420,000)
- Correctional officer recruitment and retention ($300,000)
Supports for Workers
- COVID paid family leave ($15.18 million, provides up to 40 hours at $21.25/hour)
- Unemployment insurance benefit (provides $60/week until $8 million is spent)
Vermont has suffered a shortage of workers with trade and technical certifications, such as builders, truck drivers, nursing assistants, electricians and plumbers. In response to this need, the legislature has prioritized support for Vermont’s Career and Technical Education centers (CTEs).
For the building trades, a $15 million fund was created in S.11 to allow CTEs to purchase and rehabilitate blighted properties as part of students’ learning experience. Scholarships have been funded for adult CTE students, as well as high school students, who wish to take CTE classes outside of school hours (similar to the “dual enrollment” that allows high schoolers to take college courses). Finally, the legislature has recognized that the current system of funding CTEs can leave these programs under-prioritized and under-funded. A study was created in S.287 that aims to ensure that Vermont’s CTE programs are well-resourced and governed into the future. With the focus on trade education, students will have pathways to good-paying jobs and to meeting Vermont’s workforce needs.
Some of our most at-risk Vermonters are those fleeing domestic violence. The majority of all homicides in Vermont are domestic violence-related, and almost every one involves a firearm. Act 87 helps address this danger by clarifying that judges can order the relinquishment of firearms in an emergency relief from abuse order to remove guns from emotional, potentially dangerous situations. The law advances other important public safety measures. It removes firearms from other potentially volatile situations—and protects our frontline health care workers—by banning firearms from hospitals. The law also protects Vermonters by extending the amount of time someone needs to wait to purchase a firearm when their criminal background check is delayed.
This year the Vermont legislature passed S.234, an act that improves Act 250 governance and makes it easier to build housing in Vermont’s designated Downtowns and Neighborhood Development Areas (NDAs).
Vermont has a serious housing shortage. To address this crisis — to support our residents, our economy and our communities — we must pursue both short- and long-term solutions. S.234 begins to loosen Act 250 jurisdiction in communities that have adopted strong local mechanisms to support the construction of well-located housing, while looking more closely at resources — like unfragmented forest blocks — that are regional or statewide in nature. The bill gives small, rural towns the same access to housing programs and benefits that larger communities have enjoyed for years, while paving the way for more housing and mixed-use development in all NDAs.
S.234 also makes Act 250 more functional by replacing the Natural Resources Board with a professional five-member Environmental Review Board. This board would hear appeals, rather than the current practice of having appeals heard by the court system. This new board would build up expertise and, in turn, provide guidance to the entire system.
Governor Scott vetoed this legislation, thus the work of reforming Act 250 remains for those serving in the next Legislature.