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Posts from the ‘Legislation’ Category

I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday

June 14, 2018

reptomstevens

IMG_4339It has been just over a month since the Legislature gavelled out of session. If you’ve been following the news, you would know that the Governor vetoed the budget bill (along with a large handful of other bills) and called us back into session. And so while it is the time of year we would provide you with a larger, more comprehensive review of the work we accomplished this year (and we did), an update of what has been happening during the special session is in order.

First, despite it sounding like we are in Montpelier in a day-to-day battle with the Scott Administration over property tax rates, we are rarely there. The House has met just twice since the special session was convened and the Senate just one day. The tax and appropriations committees have met several more times than that.

During those days, we have met and passed a number of bills that did not get passed in May due to our counterparts in the minority party not suspending rules that traditionally get suspended at the end of a session that would allow these bills to get passed. The rules suspended relate to timing of bills “resting” between votes, and most, if not all of these bills, were in effect vetoed by them through a parliamentary procedure. The special session allowed us to make adjustments to the bills and pass them. Most, if not all, of them are on their way to the Governor for his signature and are not considered controversial.

In fact, the budget as passed should not be considered controversial either. It passed nearly unanimously by the House and Senate. It earned support from the lawmakers of all parties for its ability to meet the needs of Vermonters while holding the growth in state spending to 0.5 percent. 

In reality, there is nothing in the budget that Phil Scott opposes. Read more

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Poverty is Not Natural

May 9, 2018

reptomstevens

I was privileged to report S.40, a bill that proposes to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, on the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives. This long-awaited report and vote was important, as it was the result of a deep dive by the Senate, a summer study committee, our state economists and our committee, General, Housing and Military Affairs. It was also controversial, for a number of reasons. What I found, not unanimously or universally, is that support for raising the wage was related to one’s experience with poverty, and with working for a poverty wage.

I realize that calling the minimum wage a poverty wage can be offensive to some, especially to those who pay that wage, or fight to keep the wage low. Poverty is a word, concept and reality that we don’t like to talk about, and when we do, we somehow find a way to blame the poor for their poverty, as if they are in complete control of their fate and future when they are trapped in a minimum wage job.

For some, working for this wage extinguishes hope. For some it is the first or second rung on a ladder toward self-sufficiency. But until then, people must rely on benefits like child care subsidies, food stamps, the earned income tax credit and Medicaid, none of which provide all the services a family in poverty may need.

I supported the increase because I know well the effects of poverty on the health of a family, and how it affects a person through their whole life. Our research considered as many facets of the impact of raising the wage across six years, and, by a majority along party lines, we felt the benefits of raising the wage, especially at this slow rate, were far healthier for Vermonters than not raising it. This included conversation with small business owners, representatives of large businesses, economists, and, yes, Vermonters who struggle to make ends meet because they can’t work enough hours at a poverty wage to do so.

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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