With a new Governor comes a near wholesale change in leadership at all state agencies. As these new leaders begin to reconcile where we are now with where they want to go, the Legislative committees listen to proposals that will require changes in law or funding. Committees also hear from those who will be affected positively or negatively by these changes.
Added to this, we are adjusting to new leadership in the Vermont House and Senate as well as at the national level. Regardless of circumstances, by mid-March, the Vermont House of Representatives will propose a balanced budget and tax package, a package traditionally amended in the Senate before landing on the Governor’s desk in May. Taking seriously the Governor’s threat to veto any proposal that raises taxes or fees, committees review ways to fund education, meet water quality protection requirements, road repair, opiate addiction, and economic development to name a few, while remembering that over one-third of our budget is balanced using federal funds. “May you live in interesting times,” goes the old Chinese curse.
While some committees work directly on reconciling the budget, others attend to issues that have an impact on spending, now or in the future. Here are a few of the discussions in those committee rooms:
Progress on the 10 years of the Farm to School Initiative was a welcomed respite from tough news. With goals to increase access to healthy food, food literacy and local markets, by all reports, this appears to be highly successful program. Not only are children planting gardens, connecting to local farms, and learning to love kale and kohlrabi, every dollar spent on local produce contributes 60 cents to the local economy. With a goal to have 50% of school food come from local sources, this program is on course to improve the long-range health, education and economy in Vermont.
Meanwhile, the House Commerce Committee is reviewing incentives to increase our Captive Insurance Industry. Vermont ranks first in the nation for Captives largely due to reliable regulation. The Committee is also looking into insurance issues for UBER and Lyft drivers, relatively new to Vermont.
Although most of the news related to Vermont’s education system of late has focused on funding and governance consolidation, the House Education Committee is also taking a deeper dive into the State’s career and technical education systems. Data suggests that these programs help spur student interest and later employment in well-paying jobs projected to have openings. A variety of changes are under discussion.
The House Judiciary Committee is once again taking up a bill to legalize marijuana. Stay tuned on that one.
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