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Legislative Notes for March 8, 2012

March 12, 2012

It is hard to believe that we are already nine weeks into the legislative session and have reached the Town Meeting break.  This break usually indicates that the session is half over.  Time has gone quickly here in Montpelier but, I am truly looking forward to staying in town and catching up on some of my other commitments.  Here is a summary of a few important bills that have passed this session.

Vermont’s health insurance exchange, which will take effect January 2014 to comply with federal law, came into clearer focus during the first half of the session, when the Health Care Committee made several notable decisions concerning how Vermont would structure its exchange. As it stands, the exchange will require employers with fewer than 50 employees to purchase their insurance through the exchange starting January 2014. It will expand to employers with up to 100 employees in January 2016. Additionally, all four levels of plans outlined in the federal Affordable Care Act—including “bronze” level plans, also known as high-deductible plans—will be offered through the exchange. Over opposition from legislators who did not believe the exchange as structured would offer customers enough choices, the bill moved on to the Senate.

The two big money bills that have come to the house floor so far this session are the Budget Adjustment Act and one of two Executive Fee bills. The budget adjustment is exactly that: a midterm adjustment to last year’s state budget. This year, while many in the house voted against the BAA on final passage, the body voted unanimously to support an amendment that would help fulfill the state’s obligation to the Education Fund by adding half of any surplus money left at the end of a fiscal year to the Education Fund. This is necessary because Gov. Shumlin has reduced the amount of the annual transfer from the General Fund to the Education Fund by $27 million. The amendment passed in the House, but the language was taken out in Conference Committee deliberations at the request of the Senate. This measure is still alive on another piece of legislation, and both parties in the House are committed to its final passage. The Executive Fee bill examines the cost liabilities of the state for providing a variety of services, from motor vehicle registration to industrial discharge permits. This year’s fee bill looked to add nearly $9 million in new fees, and many could not support it as an addition to the fiscal burden Vermonters already face. For more information on either of these bills, please contact us.

The arduous task of rebuilding Vermont’s hardest-hit towns, roadways and businesses has brought out the best in our state’s volunteers, local officials and legislators. It has also presented many opportunities for improvement. In January, outgoing Irene Recovery Officer, and former senior staffer to Gov. Jim Douglas, Neale Lunderville, released a report that outlined efforts to date and provided a blueprint for work and disaster planning going forward. Among the report’s recommendations were strategies for maximizing federal and local funding for repairs, suggestions for improving collaboration between involved departments, emphasis on community involvement, and notes on marking sites throughout the state to memorialize the storm’s impact. Gov. Peter Shumlin emphasized that the state will continue helping municipalities affected by the hurricane—by increasing state matching funds for town highways receiving federal aid, and even pledging that the state will pay the entire required FEMA match for towns “whose storm damage completely overwhelms [their] ability to pay.”

I look forward to a week off from the legislature and hope to see you at Town Meeting or somewhere around town.

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 www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

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