With the legislative session underway, the Milton Independent reached out to our elected officials to determine their priorities this year. They were give 500 words to divide between the following questions:
- Is there a piece of legislation Milton residents, in particular, should keep their eye on? Why?
- Several major bills have already been introduced this session, topics including recreational marijuana, water quality and minimum wage. What issue are you most passionate about and why?
- Do you plan to introduce or sponsor any legislation this session? Tell us about it.
Their responses were edited only for newspaper style.
D-Grand Isle Chittenden
1. The House is already moving forward on legislation to protect Vermonters from personal data security breaches in light of the recent Equifax breach. The House Commerce & Economic Development Committee traveled around the state this fall to hear from Vermonters on this issue. The Equifax breach affected almost every adult Vermonter, and in a time when your credit is checked prior to renting an apartment and even when you open utility accounts for heating fuel, it is critical to take action to protect Vermont families from these breaches. I expect early action on this bill.
The budget will always be the most critical piece of legislation – it’s what determines how well state government serves Vermonters. For the last four years, we’ve increased efficiencies and long term stability, restructured retirement funding to meet our promises while saving taxpayers $165 million over 20 years.
I also encourage Milton residents to watch the clean water legislation. I’ve heard from so many constituents about how lake pollution is affecting their quality of life, drinking water, property taxes and businesses. I believe it’s time to act on this issue, and I look forward to the administration partnering with the legislature to find a realistic, long-term funding source to ensure our communities around the state remain healthy and strong.
2. I believe that Vermont is a truly special place. There is a reason people come here, and there’s a reason people stay. The House will focus this session on policies that make the Vermont dream accessible to everyone, not just a few, and keep Vermont on the path to a strong, healthy future. This requires continued investment in mental health and opiate treatment. It means following through on policies that grow our trained workforce, creating opportunities for good jobs and business growth.
For many Vermonters, a middle-class life—earning enough to cover costs, save a little, and invest in the next generation—is getting harder to achieve. Too many Vermonters are living paycheck to paycheck and are unable to get beyond their next rent payment, much less saving for their future. When we address the inequalities of a decent wage, access to paid leave and ways for people to invest in their future, we boost the economy and build stronger, healthier communities.
3. As Speaker, I do not typically sponsor legislation; however, I am able to shape the House agenda. In addition to the work on economic inequality, a balanced budget and clean water, I’ve asked committees to work on legislation that lessens Vermont’s dependence on fossil fuels and sets us up for a stronger, more resilient future. Climate change affects every area of Vermont life from tourism to agriculture to infrastructure and public safety. We all need to be a part of the solution. These solutions will have to work for our economy, will have to recognize that Vermont is not an island and will have to protect low-income and rural Vermonters, but we cannot be shy about the challenges or opportunities of climate change.
MINORITY LEADER DON TURNER
1. I hope more people become engaged in what’s happening in the legislature. Every piece of legislation will likely have some impact on you or our community. I’m not aware today of a specific piece of legislation that will directly impact Milton. Although I suggest that residents pay close attention to what’s happening with education funding. Under the current funding formula, Milton receives more state education tax dollars than many other neighboring communities. There is a lot of pressure in Montpelier to make significant changes to this funding formula. I agree that something must be done to ensure funding sustainability of Vermont’s education system. However, if changes are made that result in lost revenue to our school, than Milton residents would be required to pay more locally and likely get less opportunities for our students in the schools. This is a very important issue that must be addressed very soon considering that we are facing a 9-cent statewide education property tax increase this year.
2. I have been leading the fight against marijuana legalization for several years now. My opposition is derived from my background in public safety. We have delayed this from passing for several years but I now know that passage is inevitable. With this understanding, this week I shifted my efforts to trying to do what’s in Vermont and Vermonters best interest on this issue. Therefore on Thursday I offered an amendment to the legalization bill (H.511) to fully tax and regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. My amendment provided a thoughtful timeline to move forth with legalization of marijuana. It created a revenue stream that would raise in excess of $20 million in marijuana taxes to offset projected future expenses in public safety, public health and education services while insuring that those who choose to use the products are safe. Unfortunately, my amendment was not supported by the majority, and it failed. The bill H.511 passed and 81 in favor and 63 opposed partisan vote which will legalize recreational marijuana with no revenue, no safeguards and no limits on how much marijuana can be stored on a property. I voted no, and it was another disappointing day for me and many of my colleagues in the legislature.
3. Yes, I will introduce a number of bills and resolutions this session. Several of these are constituent request bills. During my tenure in the legislature, I have always tried to be very responsive to constituent issues and requests. When approached by a constituent with a desire to participate in the process, I’m more than willing to put forth a bill on their behalf. I introduced a bill this week that proposes to increase fees paid to jurors serving on jury duty. Last fall I received a call from a constituent whom had been selected for jury duty. She learned that her employer would not pay her while she was serving on a jury and that the pay for jury duty was $30 per day. This would mean that she would lose between $90-120 per day every day she sat on a jury, a substantial loss of income and a hardship for her family. The bill I introduced proposes to raise jury pay from $30 per day to $100 per day. I’m hopeful that the bill will be considered by the legislature.
I’m also working with several colleagues in a bipartisan manner on a bill which I feel is very important and long overdue. This bill will further address sexual harassment in the workplace. The goal is to strengthen current law, create an environment for victims to feel safe in reporting incidents and get legal assistance or support as they need. This bill will be introduced in the coming weeks.
I have also offered a resolution to recognize the state champion Milton High School girls soccer team as I have each and every year any team or individual has won a statewide or regional competition, championship or award. The soccer team will be visiting the Statehouse in the coming weeks to be recognized by the legislature. I feel that this recognizing members of our community for excelling in something is one of the best and most important parts of my job as a legislator.
REP. CHRIS MATTOS
1. There has been a lot of attention around increased education spending resulting in a 9-cent property tax increase. With my assignment to the House Committee on Education, I will be deeply involved with these issues. I will be persistent on containing spending while providing the services needed for our school system. Milton residents should keep their eye on this issue as it has the potential to have a direct impact on us financially. I also encourage everyone to stay in tune with what’s happening in Montpelier as other issues may impact us as well.
2. Day two, the House voted on a bill, H.511 (legalization of recreational marijuana). It was inevitable that H.511 would pass. Many amendments were put forth which could have strengthened the bill, but were voted down. With this, Rep. Don Turner put forth an amendment that would tax and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana which also failed to pass. With the increased traffic safety concerns alone, the tax revenue generated would have been able to help address these concerns. H.511 does not generate any revenue for the state, which is what worries me most about its passage. I voted yes for Don’s amendment to cover the associated costs related to the outcomes of the bill. However, I voted no on the final H.511 bill as it did not address any financial impacts.
3. I have sponsored a few bills early on in the session. For example, bills related to the sale of fireworks and increased jury duty pay I have sponsored. In addition to this, I have signed on to a resolution to recognize the 2017 Milton High School girls soccer championship team. The continued recognition of our high school championship teams is important to me, as I was once a student athlete in Milton as well. If anyone has any requests, I would be happy to listen and assist with bringing those ideas forward. The deadline for submission this session is nearing!