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2014 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

May 20, 2014

The 2014 Legislative session came to a conclusion last week. At the end of each biennium I always find myself overwhelmed with emotion. Relief that my life will finally return to some sort of normalcy but also sadness realizing that I will likely never see many of the people that have earned my respect over the last two years whether we agreed on the issues or not. Working side by side with these people on some of the most important issues of our time builds an unusual bond amongst the members of the legislature. The Speaker often refers to this bond as an extension of ones family. I am truly grateful for the relationships established over the years and appreciate the incredible honor that has been bestowed upon me by Milton voters to serve our state and this community in the legislature for the last nine years.

Numerous important bills passed the legislature this biennium. I am happy to have been part of the process and proud of the legislatures work on many issues. I feel that bills passed will make positive improvements in public safety, state pension obligations, state capital improvement projects. Milton TIF districts and entitlement programs. However, I remain very concerned about issues that were essentially ignored. Issues like what it costs to live in Vermont, the uncertainty surrounding our healthcare system and the never-ending debate about how to pay for the unsustainable increases in education costs. Further, the growth in state spending over the last five years is of grave concern to me. I feel very strongly that these very important and difficult issues must be addressed soon if we want to preserve a bright future for Vermont.

One specific piece of legislation I enjoyed participating in this session was the new Milton town charter. It is good practice for communities to revisit their charter every ten years or so to ensure that they are operating in accordance with the rules the voters established. I found it rewarding to work with the Library Trustees and the SelectBoard to achieve an acceptable resolution to their differences and help avert a potentially divisive situation. As a result, the charter flew through the legislative process under the guidance of my seatmate Representative Ron Hubert.

In my tenure as a legislator, one of the things I enjoy most and find important is to recognize Milton High School teams, clubs and individuals for their accomplishments at the state level. Coordinating a trip to the Statehouse. having a resolution adopted in their honor by the legislature and then introducing the group on the floor to my colleagues is something I look forward to each year. I am proud of the things kids from Milton achieve and look forward to recognizing more and more groups each year I have the opportunity to represent this community.

It has been an honor to represent you again this biennium and I hope to continue representing you and your concerns in Montpelier in the future. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. I can be reached by cell at 373-5960 or my email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address iswww.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week!

Legislative Notes for May 15, 2014

May 11, 2014

The 2014 Legislative session came to a conclusion on Saturday night a little after 7 PM. The last few weeks have been very busy with far too many late nights. I generally don’t mind the commute back and forth to the Statehouse each day but, I have to confess these last few weeks have been a real challenge. I am happy that the session has finished and I can now return to a more normal work schedule.
Numerous important bills passed the legislature this week including the ban on using hand-held devices while driving. I have supported this bill a number of times over the years and it finally looks like it is going to become law this year. As the Fire and Rescue Chief, I have seen far too many accidents caused by distracted drivers. A few years ago, the legislature passed a law that banned texting while driving. This was intended to deter distracted drivers however, we learned that law enforcement officers could rarely enforce that law. We heard that it was impossible for law enforcement to tell for certain whether someone was texting or using their phone for other purposes. This new law will ban the use of most hand-held devices allowing for more strict enforcement and hopefully safer roads with fewer accidents.
The last bill to pass was the FY15 budget. I am disappointed to report that I could not support passage of the budget or tax bill that raises the funding for the budget. The total budget increases state spending by more than $213 million over what was spent last year, includes $35 million in one-time dollars, relies on utilizing reserves (savings) and requires the administration to reduce spending in order to balance. My experience tells me that the administration will not reduce spending and the amount booked as savings to balance the budget will actually be the starting amount of the budget adjustment act in January 2015. The spending is growing much faster than the revenue which means that Vermont will be facing a $70 million budget gap in FY16 and over $75 million in FY17. I cannot support budgets that are growing spending at rates higher than inflation or of the people’s paychecks saddled with paying the taxes. We have to stop this cycle of spending above the states means soon or it will have a devastating effect on the future of the state.
I was honored to host the Milton High School Theater Company accompanied by director Paul Curtis on Tuesday as they were recognized for their accomplishments.
I will submit a summary of the session next week. It has been an honor to represent you again this biennium and I hope to continue representing you and your concerns in Montpelier in the future. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. I can be reached by cell at 373-5960 or my email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week!

Legislative Notes for May 8, 2014

May 2, 2014

This was one of the busiest weeks I can recall in my nine years serving in the legislature. Each day was filled with intense debate and lasted well into the evening. A number of bills passed through the house, very few were controversial and I supported passage of most. I believe that the most important bill passed this week was H.883, a bill that intends to transform Vermont’s education system.

H.883 Expanded kindergarten-grade 12 school districts was by far the most controversial and potentially the most important bill of the week, if not the session. It had been in the works for several months and went through a number of renditions before actually making it to the floor on Tuesday. The bill sets in motion a process to reduce the number of school districts from over 260 to 45-55 by the year 2020. It contains $2-3 million dollars in new spending per year to implement the plan. This is a substantial investment but, I feel that the potential return is well worth the investment. This is the first time that I can recall where the legislature actually acknowledged that Vermont’s current school governance system is not affordable nor is it sustainable. This bill only passed by 13 votes, 75-62 and the division for support was determined by whether you represented a district that has small schools or large schools. I supported this bill because I think that it has the potential to change the direction of Vermont’s education system.

Superintendent John Barone sent me an email last week seeking my support for this bill. His comments were very compelling so I want to share them with you:

“I’m writing all of you (Milton Representatives) today to urge you to support H883 – the so-called consolidation bill. I think of it more as an educational opportunity bill – providing coherence to a system that is anything but and allowing for a more cohesive educational structure within which to do the work we are all here to do — namely, ensure that all of our students receive the very best education possible.

I have no personal stake in this outcome as I am a Superintendent of a single school district. I have had the opportunity in my career to work at both the Supervisory Union level and now within a single school district. I urge you to support this bill because the lives of the students it will affect will be enriched by the outcome.

Four former Commissioners of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Vermont Principals Association all have gone on record in strong support of this bill. Recently Governor Shumlin added his name to the list of advocates. The Vermont Superintendents Association and the Vermont School Boards Association have been greatly invested in the outcome of this body of work. While neither superintendents nor school board members speak in one voice, the elements contained in H883 are consistent with the World Class Education Agenda, developed by the leadership of each group.

Please vote in support of H883 – future Vermont students will be the beneficiaries. They will thank you as I do now in advance of the vote.” John Barone Superintendent of the Milton Town School District

I want to thank John for sharing this information and also feel that we need to achieve better student outcomes, contain costs and become more efficient in providing educational services to all Vermont students. I can only hope now that the Senate has the same desire to reform our school structure.

I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

Legislative Notes for May 1, 2014

April 27, 2014

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) was debated again this week. H.112 an act related to food labeling returned from the Senate with modifications and was debated on Tuesday. I believe that everyone deserves to know what is in their food and labeling is vitally important to many. Further, I feel that the state had two options to address this issue and unfortunately choose the option that is most controversial. An option, that is first in the nation and will likely to lead to a lawsuit that could cost Vermont taxpayers an estimated $6-10 million dollars. We could have required additional information on labeling that would have been much less risky. I would have preferred to focus on enhancing and highlighting the products that are GMO free or organic rather than Vermont attempting to force some of the United States largest food suppliers to change their labeling. It again appears that being the first in the nation to do something is far more important than striking the balance of what’s best for Vermonters.

H.883 education governance is a hot topic these days around the Statehouse. The current proposal would reduce the number of state school districts from well over 200 down to less than 55 by 2020. There are a number of other provisions included that are designed to improve student outcomes, operational efficiencies and hopefully reign in the growing and unsustainable cost of education in Vermont. This bill has been controversial in the Statehouse because it pits larger school districts against smaller school districts. Schools with 1000 pupils or more are likely to remain intact. Milton Town School District is in this category and school leaders are supportive of this bill so I will be supporting it.

One of the things I enjoy most about serving in the legislature is hosting friends and constituents at the Statehouse. Thursday was Vermont Grange day at the Statehouse and we were visited by Milton residents Jim and Linda Ballard, Dale Sanderson, Mary Alice and Mike Daley, Angela Dallier and Dwight Ballard. Friday I sponsored a resolution to recognize all Vermont firefighters, emergency medical providers, police officers and their families for the service they provide to our state. I enjoyed hosting Chris Poirier, daughter Beth, Dustin Keelty daughters Kendra and Kyleigh as well as firefighters, emergency medical providers and police officers from around the state.

As your representative, I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My e-mail address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

Legislative Notes for April 24, 2014

April 18, 2014

This is the point in the session where it actually feels like we are moving closer to adjournment. Bills are beginning to move from one chamber to another more frequently. This also signals the start of political posturing by the House and Senate leadership. One body will hold the others must pass bills in hopes of negotiating a more suitable outcome on their bills. This is hard to follow if you are not in the majority leadership and many times leads to a delay in adjournment. I am hopeful that we will adjourn on or before May 3, 2014.

Improving and protecting the quality of Vermont’s lakes, rivers and streams is important to everyone. This week H.586 a bill that took several committees most of the session to develop finally made it to the floor. Once referred to as the savior of Vermont’s waterways, the bill that passed the House will likely have little to no immediate impact on water quality conditions. The initial cost estimates for the provisions in this bill exceeded $7 million dollars per year. Due to the current spending problem the state is facing it was determined that these provisions would be stripped from the bill until a future legislature finds this money. There are a number of items in the bill that I support which far outweighed the negatives of voting in favor of the bill therefore, I voted to support passage of the bill.

It was nice to see Pastor Bob Emery from the New Life Christian Fellowship here at the Statehouse this week.

I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

Legislative Notes for April 17, 2014

April 12, 2014

On Tuesday, the Vermont House began debate on raising the minimum wage that employers are required to pay to employees. This was a very difficult decision for me. I understand that no one except for high school or college kids could afford to live solely on the income generated from a job that pays minimum wage. With this said, I understand that many people that work these jobs and provide support to other family members also qualify or receive a multitude of state assistance. Items such as: food stamps, childcare assistance, housing assistance, fuel assistance and free dairy products. The value of these benefits in many cases exceeds $40,000 of actual pretax value per year. Therefore, when you add the value of the state benefits to the 40 hours per week at minimum wage pay, it would equate to just under $60000 per year in value. Many people with a salary in this range live a comfortable life.

On the other side of this issue were the businesses many of them just struggling to stay in business since the recession. There were points made on the floor that raising the wage as proposed would infuse $30 million dollars into the economy. I don’t doubt that if people make more money they are going to spend it. However, I did object to the premise that this was new money in the economy and that the legislature was once again forcing an unfunded mandate on business. The current minimum wage is $8.73 per hour which was just increased on January 1, 2014 by the cost of living increment. The bill proposed to increase the wage by another $1.37 per hour to a total of $10.10 per hour on January 1, 2015. I felt it was important to support an increase in the minimum wage but, it had to strike the right balance between employer’s ability to pay and employees need for additional compensation. As a result an amendment was offered that would have raised the rate over a three year period to $10.10 per hour thus giving the employee a much needed raise and the employer time to budget for these increases. Unfortunately the amendment was defeated and the majority stayed with the position of a $1.37 increase in one year, with no consideration on the impact on the very people it is meant to help, or on small business, the backbone of Vermont, made it impossible for me to support this bill. I am hopeful that the Senate will improve this bill so that I can support it in the future.

I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

Legislative Notes for April 10, 2014

April 5, 2014

H.889 Setting the statewide education tax base rates and base education amount for fiscal year 2015 and making several changes to Vermont’s education financing laws passed the House on Friday. This bill will raise education property taxes by 4 cents on residential properties and 7.5 cents on non residential properties this year which is in addition to the respective 5 and 6 cent tax increases last year. This is only one element of what we pay in taxes. The rest is a blend of three factors: our local budget, the combined statewide school spending budget, and that “common level of appraisal” factor. Therefore, if a majority of school districts around the state increase budgets, than the cost for every taxpayer goes up, since the state-raised money is distributed equally. The legislature had no choice but to increase the property tax rates to raise the money voted in by school districts. However, I do not support this funding mechanism or these increases in taxes so I did not support the bill.

Once again, the legislature chooses to ignore this serious problem and does not intend to do anymore to improve or replace the current financing system. Would a new funding mechanism really matter, if we haven’t gotten a handle on the statewide increases in budgets that occur above the level of inflation and despite fewer students? I am not sure but, the funding bill that passed this year did make a few tweaks that put more pressure on voters to take a hard look at increases, but those won’t bring about any dramatic changes. I am hopeful that the legislature will make a serious attempt at addressing the unsustainable increases in education spending prior to switching to a more progressive income tax funding system. A legislature can never force a future legislature to do something, so in these final weeks of the current biennium, nothing will likely be put in motion.

H.888 Approval of amendments to the Charter of the Town of Milton passed the House on Friday as well and will be moving to the Senate next week. This should be passed by the Senate well before the end of the session.

I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.