Sixteen. That’s the number of bills that, after weeks of testimony and discussion in the committees of jurisdiction and two days of discussion and debate, were passed by the House last week (March 23-26) and now await further action in the Senate. This brings it to a total of 57 bills that have passed the House of which five have be signed into law.
Among the bills we passed last week were the three major money bills: this year’s annual budget, the two-year capital budget, and the transportation budget. Other major bills focused on childcare, economic development, education and broadband amongst other issues.
While in this month’s column I am reporting on three — those that I’ve been most frequently asked about — you can find the language of all the bills the House has passed online at legislature.vermont.gov/bill/passed/2022.https://bea80ef643f426163a261bc518cfee30.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
House Human Services brought two of these bills to the floor. H. 153, Medicaid reimbursement rates for home and community-based providers passed the House unanimously on a voice vote. It addresses the services and supports that thousands of Vermonters with a brain injury, with developmental and intellectual disabilities, with substance use and mental health challenges and older Vermonters rely on.
These community -based providers include home visitors, residential care homes, area agencies on aging and community mental health agencies. They are doing the work of the state and yet the Medicaid reimbursement rate for these providers has, over the years, been level funded without factoring annual cost of living increases for staff. The result of this has been 15 percent staff vacancies and long waitlists for services to be delivered by these providers. The budget bill this year includes a one- time 2 percent increase and then H. 153 outlines a process for assessing the adequacy of the Medicaid rate and the cost associated with increasing those rates and for that to be evaluated and considered by the legislature on a yearly basis.
H. 171 which focuses on Vermont’s childcare system overwhelmingly passed the House 146-1. Pre-pandemic, we knew, and post-pandemic, we confirmed how integral accessible, affordable, reliable, high-quality child care is for the social, emotional and physical development and thriving of Vermont’s youngest citizens, its families, and ultimately its workers and employers in putting the state on the path of economic recovery. Policy changes outlined in the bill include strategic investments in the early childhood education workforce through needs-based scholarship programs for current and prospective early childhood providers, and a student loan repayment program. It expands the eligibility for childcare financial assistance to families earning less than 350 percent of poverty (100 percent of poverty is at $22,00 for a family of three) and reducing a families’ required copayments and out of pocket expenses. It includes a study on the costs and feasibility of capping childcare costs to a maximum of 10 percent of family income in the future. The American Rescue Plan Act will bring over $47 million to Vermont for investments in childcare so the bill also includes a process to make recommendations on the effective use of those federal funds.
H. 433, this year’s Transportation Bill, passed the House unanimously on a voice vote. It represents a significant investment in Vermont’s roads, railways and bridges. While fully funding the fiscal year 2022 Agency of Transportation projects and programs, the infusion of new federal dollars also allows us to ramp up funding to cities and towns. Did you know that transportation accounts for 44 percent of Vermont’s carbon emissions? Using one-time federal stimulus funds, H 433 also includes expanded incentives for electric vehicles and e-bikes.
The bill also includes provisions supporting smarter, denser planning through the Complete Streets program; improving access to charging stations for people who don’t live in single-family homes; fare-free public transit across the state through 2022; and bike safety.
Please know that I hold your trust in me with great care and responsibility. I deeply appreciate hearing from you and encourage you to reach out with your input, suggestions, questions or concerns at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org; 863-6705. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for the next Zoom Community Conversation with your Legislators on Monday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m.