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Legislative Notes for April 3, 2014

March 30, 2014

Busy week at the Statehouse with the budget, miscellaneous tax and pay act bills all coming to the floor late in the week. Unfortunately I was unable to support passage of any of these bills as they keep the state on a path of spending above its means of current revenue.

The Governor encouraged our schools to limit their growth in spending to 3% yet his and this House proposal exceeds that benchmark. I cannot support passage of this bill that spends an additional $52.35 million in general fund, and a total of $213.31 million in all funds in FY15 over the FY14 budget. When this budget ultimately passes at the end of the legislative session, Vermont will be looking at a projected budget gap in FY16 of over $70 million and in FY17 over $72 million. This spending coupled with insufficient reserves, not fully addressing our pension obligations or significant reductions in our reliance on one time money such as the lawsuit settlements against Vermont Yankee and the tobacco companies paints a very bleak economic future for our state. Further, this budget does not include adequate provisions to expand economic opportunity for our constituents and businesses. The legislature must start acknowledging that Vermont has a spending problem and cannot continue to grow annual budgets at two and three times the rate of inflation. Until then, I cannot support a budget proposal.

The miscellaneous tax bill raised approximately $4 million in new revenue by changing some existing tax rates and adding a tax on e-cigarettes. I think that we need to reduce spending not raise new money. Therefore, I voted against the bill.

H.882 the annual pay act provides for annual pay raises greater than 4% over the next two years which equates to more than $10 million this year and $11 million next year. I recognize the hard work of our dedicated state employees and express my gratitude. However, I am also obligated to you my constituents. Many of whom have been deeply affected by the recession and are still struggling to pay your bills. From my perspective, this bill does not strike the right balance between rewarding employee’s efforts and adding additional burden to taxpayers. Therefore, I did not support it.

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.

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Legislative Notes for March 27, 2014

March 21, 2014

This was one of the busiest weeks of the session to date. Twenty-two House bills or Senate amendments passed this week. There were a large variety of topics and the creation of a number of new legislative studies. Many of these bills were not controversial and I supported passage.

The entire time I have served in the legislature my goal has always been to make a difference for my constituents. I am happy to report that I voted affirmatively on a bill that will likely make a very positive difference for many of my constituents and eventually reduce state spending. Under current law, people that receive temporary assistance for needy families otherwise known as reach up benefits are forced to live within the confines of a system with no chance to improve financially for fear of losing essential benefits. Referred to as the benefits cliff these prohibitive guidelines discouraged people in this situation from going to work. If someone on the program were to get a job they would likely lose all of their benefits. Most people would not have the ability to find a job that would pay more than the value of the benefits they would lose. Why would anyone in this situation go to work?

The bill we passed this week to address this issue, H.790 Reach Up eligibility was a bipartisan effort. This bill incents people to go to work while on these programs by allowing them to benefit financially. It establishes new guidelines that allow people to go to work while maintaining benefits, reducing them on a sliding scale as the income level increases. There is no new funding required for this program and it will likely reduce the overall operating costs of this program in the state budget in future years. However, I feel that the most important aspects of the bill are that it frees people from this vicious economic cycle and it provides them opportunity to improve their financial situation. Finally, a bill that strikes a reasonable balance between what people need and what the state can afford.

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 March 20, 2014

March 14, 2014

Returning this week from the annual Town Meeting break we were met with a flurry of activity. A number of bills were passed in the House and many more are in the cue for next week. This flurry of activity is driven by a self- imposed legislative deadline known as crossover. Crossover dates are set at the beginning of the biennium. They establish a benchmark for both the House and Senate to complete their work on bills so that there is an adequate amount of time left in the session for the second chamber to address them. Not all bills pass both chambers and many are modified prior to becoming law. For me, this signals that we are moving toward adjournment.

Several bills passed this week. H.501 and H.823 were both debated on the floor for quite some time so I chose to share them with you. H.501 Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs modifies the definition of impaired. This change stems from the number of prescription drugs on the market that alter the way one feels or reacts when taking them. The change will allow someone to be considered DUI if they are operating a motor vehicle while taking these types of prescriptions. There was a lot of debate about the new definition but, in the end most people voted in favor of the change. I voted to support this bill and the final vote was 140 in favor and 2 opposed.

H.823 Encouraging growth in designated centers and protecting natural resources was a bill heralded as a pro economic growth and incentivizing development bill. The bill provides some incentives but I don’t think that it provides the right balance between providing incentives and tightening restrictions. It creates a new definition in the ACT 250 process for strip development and will likely limit growth outside designated growth centers. Many small towns around the state could be negatively impacted by this bill. Further, developers will be more prone to attack after a permit has been issued. This bill will more likely curb development than incent any growth. For these reasons I voted to oppose this bill however, it passed 92-44.

I was nice to have Trevor, Lisa and Jeff McNanney visit us at the Statehouse this week. Congratulations Trevor for achieving Eagle Scout.

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 March 6, 2014

February 28, 2014

It is an honor to represent you in our state legislature. Communication is a very important part of this job and I appreciate the opportunity that the Milton Independent gives me to communicate the activities of the general assembly to you on a weekly basis. This summary focuses on a few key issues:

Budget and Tax Issues:

The Governors proposed budget increases spending by over $88 million dollars. This is a 5% increase over last years approved spending plan. Our caucus has proposed the following items:

Limit FY15 Budget Growth to 3% or an additional $54 million in spending over FY14

Eliminate use of one time dollars to fund base programs

Increase fund reserves to at least $20 million

Resolve funding for teacher’s pension health care fund to include some restructuring

Limit tax increases, address the governance and cost drivers in education

Promote an economic development plan

Our caucus goal is to craft a responsible budget that will allow for a reasonable and sustainable growth rate, sets aside reserves in the event of additional reductions in federal funding, funds all state pension funds at agreed upon actuarial amounts and scrutinizes the performance of every program for maximum efficiency while discouraging the creation of any new state program or backfilling of federal programs with state funds.

Health Care: Vermont Health Connect (the exchange, 2014)

As you all have heard and read in the media and may have experienced first-hand, Vermont Health Connect went live last fall for Vermonters to sign up to have insurance coverage in place on January 1, 2014. This has been a rocky start with many issues coming to our attention in Montpelier. While the debate rages under the golden dome as to who is responsible for the continuing problems the bottom line is that Vermonters must be covered. I urge you to contact me if you have experienced or are experiencing any problems with signing up for coverage on the Vermont Health Connect web site.

Education:

Today, Vermont’s per pupil cost for education takes first or second place as the highest in the nation, while the student population continues to decrease. Also, the state’s achievement scores don’t illustrate a return on investment, when compared to states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which spend less on average per student. We cannot afford to continue to walk down this path.

Transportation:

The 2014 Transportation Bill has a total cost of $685million and includes a number of infrastructure improvements throughout the state along with continuation of highway re-surfacing. The state aid to municipalities for their respective highway departments will be level funded at 2013 levels.

Shore land Protection/Lake Cleanup:

These are two very controversial items. I agree that our brooks, streams, rivers and lake need the upmost attention to be clean for the overall enjoyment of all Vermonters, not only for those of us here now, but for generations to come. The Shore land Protection Act that was voted out by the Vermont House sets in place new state regulations concerning any building or development in a buffer zone when on a shore of a lake. The Senate version also passed and now the two versions are being examined to see what will ultimately prevail as the final legislation.

Meanwhile, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the State of Vermont to significantly lower The Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of phosphorus draining into Lake Champlain. This will be very costly, reaching tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. At this point in time no concrete cost estimate or plan has been determined.

Thank you

Legislative Notes for February 27, 2014

February 23, 2014

Another legislative week has passed with very little being done to address the skyrocketing education property taxes or the faltering health exchange known as Vermont Health Connect. I feel that these two issues are by far the most important issues of this session and will have the most immediate impact on you.  However, seven weeks into a sixteen week session it is becoming very apparent that leadership is choosing to ignore these tough issues. This being an election year, it is likely that there will be little or no action to resolve these tough and potentially controversial issues. I find it very frustrating that the legislative leadership is choosing to do very little or nothing to address these very important issues.

I have previously reported that the Tax Commissioner is proposing a 7 cent increase on the heels of last years 5 cent increase to the statewide education property tax rate on both residential and non-residential properties. The legislature takes this information along with many other factors into consideration to set the actual statewide rate. In my time in the legislature, this is the first time that the House has decided not to set the statewide education property tax rate prior to Town Meeting. I have been told by the Speaker that it is not important because the House bill doesn’t become law until after Town Meeting and therefore the rate is only preliminary. I disagree and feel that it is important information for voters to have prior to going to the polls to vote on their school budgets. Further, I feel that the entire system is broken and the legislature must take action to address this issue as soon as possible.

I continue to hear from constituents that are having problems purchasing health insurance on the Vermont health exchange. With another looming deadline for signing up, a number of people have called to express their frustration with this system that has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. I have continued to be critical of the system and this week joined in on a letter to the US Attorney calling for an independent investigation into the Canadian company that has failed to meet most of the benchmarks spelled out in their contract. If you are having difficulties with Vermont Health Connect please feel free to call me and I will do my best to help.

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.

Legislative Notes for February 20, 2014

February 16, 2014

In this weeks report I will focus on three of the bills that passed the House this week. H.809 Designation of new Town Centers, H.62 Prohibiting the hand-held use of portable electronic devices while driving and H.640 Government Operations Technical Corrections bill.

H.809 Designation of Town Centers intends to simplify regulations to encourage communities to create designated town centers. Currently, there are very few of the districts in the State and the legislature wants to entice growth in these areas. I understand that communities were reluctant to create these town centers due to the regulatory process and associated costs. Without the designation developers are not able to take advantage of incentives. This scenario creates an unnecessary roadblock for growth in places that most people embrace it. This is the first of two bills that we will likely see this session to address this issue. I support these efforts to entice growth in our historic villages and downtowns.

H.62 prohibits the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. This law will require everyone to use blue tooth or hands free devices while driving and is a natural extension of the texting ban that passed a few years ago. I understand that passage of this law will have an immediate impact on my life and many of yours, especially if you spend a lot of time on your hand-held cell phone while driving. However, in my fire and rescue career I have seen far too many accidents caused by distracted drivers. Therefore, for me, life safety is far more important than the ability to communicate while driving and supported passage of this bill.

H.640 included a number of government operations technical corrections. Most of the items pertained to correcting spelling, titles and reporting requirements throughout state government. From my perspective the most important item in the bill corrected an omission that occurred in the campaign finance bill that passed earlier this year and has been signed into law by the Governor. The intent of the original bill was to have the campaign contributions begin on 1/1/15 after the 2014 election cycle. The omission of the dates in the original bill left it unclear for this election cycle and this bill corrects that error. I supported passage.

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

Legislative Notes for February 13, 2014

February 7, 2014

H.88 An act relating to parental rights and responsibilities involving a child conceived as a result of a sexual assault and J.R.H.14 -Joint resolution requesting the United States Congress to pass the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act both passed the House this week. I supported both.

H.88 creates a process for a victim to petition for sole parental rights and responsibilities in cases of sexual assault or sexual exploitation as follows: (a) Notwithstanding section 665a of this title, upon petition of a parent, the Court may award that parent permanent sole parental rights and responsibilities if the Court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault or sexual exploitation in which the moving parent was the victim and the nonmoving parent was the perpetrator. (b) The State has a compelling interest in not forcing a victim of sexual assault or sexual exploitation to continue an ongoing relationship with the perpetrator of the abuse. Such continued interaction can have traumatic psychological effects on the victim, making recovery more difficult, and negatively affect the victim’s ability to parent and to provide for the best interests of the child. Additionally, the State recognizes that a perpetrator may use the threat of pursuing parental rights and responsibilities to coerce a victim into not reporting or assisting in the prosecution of the perpetrator for the sexual assault or sexual exploitation, or to harass, intimidate, or manipulate the victim. (c) A conviction for an offense in 13 V.S.A.chapter 72 or a similar offense in another jurisdiction shall be sufficient evidence of a sexual assault or sexual exploitation for purposes of this section; however, a conviction is not required and the Court may consider other evidence of a sexual assault or sexual exploitation in making its determination. (d) An order issued in accordance with this section shall be permanent and shall not be subject to modification. (e) A court shall not issue a parent-child contact order in a case in which a rights and responsibilities order has been issued in accordance with this section. An existing parent-child contact order shall be terminated upon the issuance of a rights and responsibilities order issued in accordance with this section. (f) Issuance of an order in accordance with this section shall not affect the right of the custodial parent to seek child support from the noncustodial parent. The State shall not seek child support from the noncustodial parent when a custodial parent receives public assistance benefits unless requested by the custodial parent. (g) If a party to a petition for an order under this section subsequently files a complaint for divorce or annulment, or if a party to a divorce or annulment proceeding subsequently files for an order under this section, the Court where the later complaint or petition is filed shall immediately consolidate the divorce or annulment action with the action for permanent sole parental rights and responsibilities.

J.R.H.14 Requests that Congress review the increases in Flood Insurance rates and coverage as a result of federal legislation passed several years ago. Many Milton residents have been affected.

It was nice to have Ethel Brousseau, Bob and Judy Sekarat and Bob Emery visit us 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.