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Washington-Chittenden: Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington & Buels Gore

2020 Town Meeting Report

March 2, 2020

reptomstevens

Here is a link to the 2020 Town Meeting Report from Theresa and me.

Also, here’s a quick recap of the bills that have been passed through the House prior to our Town Meeting Break:

H.254 – An act requiring adequate shelter for livestock. This bill updated definitions for adequate “constructed” shelters and adequate “natural” shelters and requires that any leash, rope or chain used to restrict an animal be used so that it does not entangle the animal and it must still allow access to shelter, food and water.

H.555 – An act relating to food concessions on state property or buildings. This bill allows the Department of Buildings and General Services to adopt rules governing the sale of food concessions on state properties for nonprofit organizations; previously this has been prohibited.

H.580 – An act relating to classification for criminal offenses. This bill sets up a classification system (Class A – Class E) for criminal offenses, including maximum fines and imprisonment for each.

H.635 — An act relating to long term care facilities. This bill strengthens the receivership laws for long term care facilities when the State takes control of such facilities due to health and safety of residents.

H.926 – An act relating to changes to Act 250. Act 250 is Vermont’s land use law; the current law is now 50 years old having been enacted under the administration of Governor Deane Davis. This bill modernizes the act, including streamlining of permitting in designated downtowns and villages.

H.934 – An act relating to renter rebate reform. This bill significantly streamlines the renter rebate program for very low income Vermonters, as well as simplifying the administration of the program in the Tax Department.

S.23 – An act relating to increasing the minimum wage. This was a bill that passed the House and Senate earlier this year and was vetoed by the Governor. The Senate overrode the veto a couple of weeks ago and this week the House did as well on a vote of 100-49. This bill is now law and the minimum wage will raise to $12.55 over the next two years and then it is indexed to consumer prices. The bill does not go to $15.00/hour which was under debate last year.

S.54 – An act relating to the regulation of cannabis. This bill implements a tax and regulate system for cannabis. Cannabis was legalized in Vermont in 2018. The total taxation on the product is 20% through a combination of sales and excise taxes. Prevention and education efforts will utilize up to 30% of tax receipts. Towns will have the option to “opt in” to retail sales establishments.

Please make sure to follow our occasional updates, and don’t hesitate to contact me at tstevens@leg.state.vt.us with further questions.

Our Minimum Wage Bill Finally Passed. The Sun Came Up the Next Day.

February 28, 2020

reptomstevens

These are my comments on the floor of the House regarding S.23, our bill to raise the minimum wage in Vermont. I had the privilege of leading off the conversation, which was more a series of recitations of support or opposition to the notion of overriding the veto of the Governor of the bill.

Madam Speaker:

I rise today to support the override of the Governor’s veto of S.23, an act that would raise the minimum wage from $10.96 today to $12.55 in 2022.

Madam Speaker, Let’s be clear: this Governor has never supported raising the minimum wage beyond the beggarly increases due to inflation. And his reasoning for denying nearly 40,000 Vermonters a small raise echo the ones he has given in the past for his lack of support for these Vermonters. He includes in his veto message several claims that look like, on paper, substantial reasons for telling Vermonters — a preponderence of them women, a preponderance of them primary wage earners in their families, all of them struggling in a Vermont deemed too expensive by the governor himself — that they are not worthy of a raise, a raise that, in and of itself, is insufficient to keep up with the increased cost of living, the increased cost of rent, the increased cost of food and clothing and health care and, as the economic world passes them by, the increased cost of poverty.

The Governor’s veto, in essence, lays the burden of poverty at the feet of those who are suffering by working for poverty wages.

Madam Speaker, to quote Studs Terkel, “our country owes every citizen of the United States of America a means of livelihood. Not a handout, but a way to make it.” We even say it in our statute, when we write “It is the declared public policy of the State of Vermont that workers employed in any occupation should receive wages sufficient to provide adequate maintenance and to protect their health, and to be fairly commensurate with the value of the services rendered.”

Madam Speaker, the committees of jurisdiction on this bill heard hours of testimony and received stacks and stacks of information on the reasons why increasing the minimum wage will help 40,000 Vermonters, a preponderence of them women, a preponderence of them the primary wage earners in their family, was the right way to go. We heard too the objections of some, who felt like paying their employees a little more was a fatal choice to their business. We heard, we listened, and we voted to increase the wage.

To justify the veto, the Governor uses statistics that we heard copious amounts of testimony on — statistics that actually make the argument that a raise in the minimum wage will not hurt the economy at all in any meaningful way.

First, that jobs will disappear. This is true, but not in the way he implies. Jobs will disappear because people will be able to work less hours for the wages they make now. That is an improvement in one’s quality of life. Adjacent to this statistic is the Governor’s own 6-3-1 math — by his calculation, there will be less people of working age at a rate of over 1,000 per year, whether or not the job pays well or is a poverty wage. How many jobs? (NOT how many people will be employed, but how many jobs will be lost? In the first year? 90. In the second year of the raise? 280.

Second, he mentions increased costs of goods and services. These costs are increasing whether or not the lowest paid workers in Vermont, the preponderence of whom are women and the preponderence of whom are heads of households, have a higher minimum wage.

Third, he mentions there will be an overall negative impact on economic growth. What he fails to mention is that the estimate provided by our Joint Fiscal Office is stretched between 2025 and 2040, and that it will make a difference of 8/100 of one percent on our Gross Domestic Product by then. This is a tough statistic, if for no other reason we expect our pension problems settled by then, and according to economists, our financial health will return to being sunny and 70 everyday. A guesstimate like this over 20 years is nothing more than that, a guess.

Madam Speaker, most economists and most social scientists agree that the best way to help low-income, poverty wage workers is to simply give them more money. Our work in this body has done some elemental work in smoothing out many parts of the benefits cliff, which won’t be negatively affected by this wage increase, and we know that while insufficient, this minimal increase to the poverty wage will not bankrupt the businesses that pay this wage, whether they are located in rural areas of the state, or in the more settled areas. And our work has shown that no economy has ever collapsed by providing a small increase in the minimum wage.

Madam Speaker, I will finish with two quotes:

It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.

Who said this? No, not Karl Marx, but Abraham Lincoln, in 1861.

And this one, from a Vermonter, was delivered at a public hearing in 2018. They said:

If I made a living wage, my life would be different. There would be small changes. I would sleep on a bed, not the floor. I would eat three meals a day, not one and a half. There would be big changes, too. I would carry health insurance and monitor the imbalances in my endocrine system that affect my mood, my weight, and even my fertility. It is impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t afford the boots.

Madam Speaker, on behalf of those who do not have a loud voice in this building, I ask the body to override the governor’s veto, and to support those 40,000 Vermonters — a preponderence of them women, and a preponderence of them the primary wage earner in their family — who deserve a raise.

Update: The Governor’s veto of S.23 was overriden by a vote of 100-49.

Approaching the Quarter Pole on Paid Family Leave

January 18, 2020

reptomstevens

On Wednesday, January 15, House and Senate members in the Vermont Legislature signed a report from the conference committee on H.107, our Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Act. On Friday, January 17, the Senate passed the bill 20-9-1, and on this coming Thursday, January 23, the House will vote on it. If it passes, it will go to the Governor. He will have 5 days to sign it, let it go into law without his signature, or veto it. As I said in the title to the piece, we are at the quarter pole–almost home but still a ways to go before we get there.


This bill, if enacted, will provide access to a number of family-friendly benefits for working Vermonters, families who would like to have children and those that need to provide care for aging or ill family members. It also strengthens the existing Vermont Family and Medical Leave Act, which is unpaid (and has existed since the 1990s) and provides some job protections for those who take the leave.


Paid leave for bonding (or maternity/paternity) will require a small payroll tax to purchase the premium of .20% — or 2 cents for every $10 of income — and because leave for a personal injury is a voluntary part of the program (for now), opting in would cost less than 4 cents more for every $10 of income. This payroll tax would be taken from every employee in Vermont on income up to approximately $140,000, just like Social Security taxes, which are far higher than this one.


There are provisions in the bill that determine the nuances of that leave taken — for foster children, siblings, grandchildren — and the rates of wage replacement. For instance, if you make $27,000 a year (or about $15 an hour), you will receive 90% of your income for the weeks you need it. From that $27,000 salary on up, you would receive the 90% for the first $27,000, and then 55% of your income until the benefit reaches $964 (if your salary is approximately $73,000). Salaries above that would receive the capped benefit of $964 as wage replacement.


This technical discussion of some of the nuts and bolts of H.107 obscures the reason we have worked so long on this bill — families need support during times of medical crisis (illness, death or injury), and during times of joy (childbirth). This bill takes the stand in saying that Vermonters should not have to suffer the financial stress of the loss of income or the fear that they will lose employment during these times, and we feel that Vermonters who are able to use this benefit become better and healthier parents, and better and healthier employees. From there, we can imagine workplaces where loyal employees are more efficient, leading to less turnover and better long-term health and economic outcomes for both the employers and employees. We also know it takes two to tango, and we expect employers to embrace this program as a economic driver to attract younger people and younger Vermonters to their companies.


If Governor Scott vetoes this bill, thereby going against the will and wishes of the vast majority of Vermonters who support this bill, both in surveys and through the votes of their elected representatives, we will be forced to try to override his veto. And while it may appear that we have enough representatives to do this, it is not clear that we yet have the votes. Please reach out to your representatives and ask to support it, and if they say no, ask them why.


These benefits will go a long way to helping Vermonters deal with the issues that can slow them down, and I think it will show that we can build a compassionate policy that can help make it so. In conjunction with this bill, we will be pressing forward this coming week for an increase in the minimum wage.