House seeks to protect pollinators, Affordable Care Act and more

Rep. KATE WEBB

The week of March 23 saw long hours on the floor of the House, passing 10 bills both large and small. You can find action on these bills at www.leg.state.vt.us.  Here are a few:

H.205 regulates neonicotinoid pesticides, a group of pesticides implicated in harming the health of our domesticated and native pollinators such as bees, birds and bats. According to testimony, one out of every three bites of food is the result of help from these pollinators. The bill also requires a permit to transport a hive into the state and new beekeepers would now need to be certified.  Reports indicate that Vermont beekeepers lost over half of their hives last year. It easily passed on a voice vote.

H.524 helps to preserve the critical elements in the Affordable Care Act, now under fire in Washington, D.C. The bill puts in place a variety of consumer protections such as coverage for preexisting conditions, coverage of adult children up to age 26, and prohibits annual and lifetime limits for essential benefits. It also reexamines our decade-old merged market plans which may no longer accurately reflect usage for small businesses and individuals. It passed on a 92-44 vote.

H.531 provides a multiyear strategy to address the growing crisis in childcare access and affordability. It also helps to support and retain childcare professionals so critical to quality and consistency necessary for our youngest Vermonters. The bill invests $10.5 million in childcare systems, increases reimbursement rates to providers and includes loan repayment programs and scholarships for professional development. Working families need this. So does our economy. It passed on a 133-0 vote.

H.533 addresses Vermont’s workforce development challenges. Given our aging workforce, Vermont will need 10,000 new workers each year to meet the needs of our employers. The most pressing needs are currently in health care, construction, hospitality, transportation and advanced manufacturing.  H.533 takes the first steps to restructure Career and Technical Education, to create a workforce development pipeline for businesses. It passed 124-0.

H.513 empowers local communities to solve local deficiencies in broadband service. While one community may desire fiber-optic cable wired to each address, another may be struggling with a need for better cell service. The bill provides funding to help towns determine needs, creates funding connectivity grants, and provides support through the Department of Public Service. The gap between the technology “haves and have-nots” will predict the future of our communities. It passed 139-2.

H.439, a bill to help weatherize homes for low-income Vermonters proved the most controversial bill of the day. The modest tax increase on heating fuels, from 2 cents to 4 cents, is predicted to raise approximately $4 million to invest in low-income weatherization. As a wise Vermonter once said to me, “the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use” and paying for heat that flows out of leaky homes “just don’t make sense.” The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for every $1 invested in weatherization returns $4.50 in energy and non-energy benefits. The Vermont Department of Health estimates that weatherizing 2,000 low-income homes could prevent 223 emergency department visits.

On a final, yet surprisingly quieter note, the House passed H.522, the $6.1 billion appropriations bill on a 133-1 vote.  All of these bills are now in the Senate.

The best way to reach me is by email: kwebb@leg.state.vt.us which I check frequently. Always let me know you are from Shelburne. Representative Brumsted and I will be at Village Wine and Coffee on Saturday, April 13 from 8-9 a.m. for coffee and conversation.

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