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Posts from the ‘General’ Category

Without Net Neutrality, Our Rural Economy is Shot

January 26, 2018

reptomstevens

These were my (slightly edited) introductory remarks to H.680, which proposes to establish consumer protection and net neutrality standards applicable to Internet service providers in Vermont. Along with the State of Washington, Montana and New York, and perhaps others, Vermont is putting the needs of its citizens above the desires of the service providers. I am proud to be a lead sponsor on this bill with Rep. Laura Sibilia and Rep. Matt Hill, and excited to have had over 40 other tripartisan co-sponsors.

As long as there has been an internet, and as long as it has been commodified, one thing stayed constant: that equal access to the social, informational, economic and educational power of the internet is critical to what we consider freedom. The government created the internet, and its baseline has been that the providers that have learned to commodify the internet must retain net neutrality — the idea that no company can throttle access to websites, that the internet is indeed a utility, and should be regulated at the highest levels in that way.

And here in Vermont, as we struggle to bring broadband service to the last mile, especially in the most rural areas of the state, that promise of neutrality was one of the few things that kept a level of hope alive as these rural areas tried to lift themselves up economically with the technology that was available in our cities, and in our largest towns. Without net neutrality, these parts of the state will be left further behind, and the promises we made — and those the internet made — will be made empty.

Who uses the internet today? Everyone. Governments are run on the net, businesses large and small are run on the net, schools and universities are run on the net, art is created and disseminated on the net, revolutions are fought on the net and the online marketplace is run on the net. And it is already not free. It has become the spine of our economic growth and equal access to it is our guiding principle, and Americans — Vermonters — pay a substantial fee to providers every month for that access. And that access is essential. Read more

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Getting Warmed Up for the Next Session

November 30, 2017

reptomstevens

I am sitting in my seat in the House of Representatives listening to our annual fall report on the fiscal health of the State of Vermont, and the early review is that, overall, our statewide fiscal health is reasonably good, within the confines of the policies we have put in place (expenditures) and the income we take in (taxes). The report is current, in that it does not and cannot fully contemplate any possible effects of tax and spending policies by the federal government. So-called tax reform bills are possibly coming to a vote this week or next, and we still don’t know what the full effects will be on our state revenues, and won’t until some bill passes and becomes law.

This recap also does not contemplate some of the ongoing and pressing issues and troubles for the residents of Vermont, the most important being the slow but sure gap between the ability to earn enough money to pay our share of the expenses needed to maintain a basic way of life.

Due to the great unknowns in Washington, it is hard to really summarize what our personal or caucus-wide priorities will be. Why? Vermont has an all-inclusive budget of just over $5 billion, 40% of which comes from the federal government for a number of services, from education to health care, from human services to housing, from environmental clean-ups to roads. If tax reform passes, as proposed, great portions of those federal funds will be at risk and will make an impact on Vermonters that we do not yet fully understand. From a state government perspective, we may need to completely rewrite our own tax code in order to fill in the gaps because so much of it is tied to the federal tax system. If it changes, we need to change. Read more

The World is Still Waiting for Us to Catch Up on Paid Family & Medical Leave…

March 18, 2017

reptomstevens

Did you know that the United States is, at last count, one of only two countries on Earth that does not offer paid family and medical leave for its citizens? Got that? On Earth. We spend a lot of energy, verbally and physically, trying to bend our minds around “competitiveness” and “affordability” and, when it comes to showing the most basic compassion toward our citizens, we have failed. But then, is it really a failure if we haven’t really tried?

Oh sure, since the early 1990’s, both Vermont and the United States have offered an unpaid family and medical leave for employees. The Vermont Parent and Family Leave Act covers all employers doing business in or operating within the state of Vermont, which for parental leave purposes employ 10 or more employees for an average of at least 30 hours per week during a year, and for family leave purposes employ 15 or more employees for an average of at least 30 hours per week during a year. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies to companies with more than 50 employees. The PFLA has been slightly more accommodating with the kind of leave one can take than the FMLA, but neither of them have evolved to include income replacement for those families who need to take leave to take care of their parents, themselves, or to bond with their children.

It is this “softer” reality that really makes people nervous. There are many positive societal benefits, from stress reduction to quality health care to child bonding to self care and so on, and many of them are quantifiable, but the opponents of this bill refuse to consider them. Read more