This week was marked by long hours on the Floor of the House – the result of the policy and money committee crossover deadlines. After three, eleven- to thirteen-hour days at the State House, I was completely ready to head home on Friday. Over dinner, my husband, Alan, asked what we had done this week and I said, “Well, just to name a few, we worked on and passed bills on childcare, health care, pollinator protection, low-income home weatherization, broadband deployment, workforce development, the revenue bill, the budget, and the capital budget. No wonder I’m tired!”
The Pollinator Protection Bill (H.205), which came out of House Agriculture and Forestry, was reported and passed on Tuesday and Wednesday. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it will ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides for outdoor, household use on July 1, 2019. In recent articles, I have written about this at length and if you missed any of them and would like to learn more, please go to my website, www.carolynpartridge.com. People will still be able to use flea/tick collars for your pets, lice and bedbug treatments, and other indoor products.
We exempted treated seed for agricultural purposes. Part of the reason for this exemption is that the jury is still out on the science, though some might disagree. The other reason is a matter of practicality, in that untreated seed is not readily available and must be ordered in October before the growing season.
I would like to take testimony regarding the progress Ontario has made in reducing the use of treated seed. In 2015, Ontario started requiring farmers to prove that they needed to use treated seed and since that time, they have reduced the use of treated corn and soybean seed by an average of 25%. Part of the challenge in Ontario was the availability of untreated seed. I would also like to take testimony on the effect that seed treatment has on the structure of healthy soil. Fungicide may be contained in the seed coating and we know how important fungi are to healthy, organic matter in the soil.
There were very long debates on the Weatherization Bill (H.439), primarily because of the funding source. Most folks are supportive of weatherizing homes, but it was pointed out in debate that we haven’t met the targets we set a while back and a lack of funds is the problem. The goal of H.439 is to raise funds in order to increase the number of low-income homes we are able to weatherize every year.
Weatherization is a multiple win for all concerned. Homes are made much more comfortable so the people living in them are healthier and happier. In addition, their fuel bills go down, and the weatherization industry creates jobs. It also reduces our carbon footprint. Thermal heating and transportation are our major transgressions when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposed funding source for the additional work is a two-cent increase in the fuel tax. It was noted that the average homeowner using 750 gallons of fuel a year would pay an additional $15, those using 1,000 gallons would pay $20.
Members of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee were particularly concerned about any increase in the fuel tax for farmers and loggers, both industries that are struggling. We heard from two farmers who said that their bills would increase by $800 and a couple thousand dollars, respectively, because of the cost of fueling their tractors and heating their laborers’ housing. In the end, an amendment passed that would exempt farmers from the tax and we will see how that fares through the rest of the process.
Many of us are aware of the importance and challenges of high-quality childcare. H.531 was created to address the current situation in Vermont. It invests $10.5 million in our childcare and early learning systems and expands income eligibility for low- and middle-income families. In recent years, we’ve heard from childcare workers about the low rate of pay and educational requirements that are not always realistic. H.531 increases the reimbursement rates to childcare providers and creates an exemption from some of the educational requirements for business owners and teachers who have worked for ten years or more in the field. The goal is to create more favorable conditions for Vermont families to access affordable, high-quality childcare, so they can enter and remain in the workforce, assured that their children are being well-cared for. This policy will encourage the provision of an ample supply of workers for Vermont businesses.
The Capital Bill involves “bricks and mortar” investments that are expected to last a minimum of twenty years. A while ago, we switched to a two-year budget with a budget adjustment the second year that serves as a check on how we’re doing. The money spent in the Capital Bill is money that we borrow. The amount is recommended by the Capital Debt Affordability Advisory Committee, which is chaired by our Treasurer, Beth Pearce. The Advisory Committee approved a total amount of $123 million for the next two-year period.
The wide variety of projects that are funded by the Capital Bill include State building repairs, restorations, and modernizations. Correctional facilities, therapeutic residences, Native American cemeteries, underwater preserves, and historic markers are all covered by this bill. Clean water; fish and wildlife; forests, parks, and recreation; Vermont State colleges and UVM; produce safety; the Vermont Veterans’ Home; the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board; historic barn preservation; and agricultural fairs capital projects are also included. It is an important bill that enhances the quality of life for Vermonters and visitors to the State. It takes a while to report on the Floor but is not contentious and usually passes with little debate on a unanimous voice vote.
The Budget, or “Big Bill” was reported on Thursday and Friday. The bill report, alone, takes between three and four hours. The committee worked hard to address many of the needs that most of us heard about during the campaign last fall. I’ll write more about the Big Bill next week since there’s a lot to cover and I’ve used up my space this week. To the credit of the Appropriations Committee, it passed nearly unanimously with only one dissenting vote.
The bottom line is that we got a lot got done this week that will improve the lives of all Vermonters and make Vermont a more attractive place for people, in particular, young families, to come.