The end is near: I wish I had a crystal ball, but I don’t. As I write this column, adjournment of this legislative biennium is in sight, though not clear. We could be adjourned by the time you are reading this or there could be a week or two more before we finish. There will be long days characterized by fast moving discussions in committees where bills are being negotiated by House and Senate leaders, discussions that most often end in compromise and agreement.
While many human services bills are still in the final stages of negotiation between the bodies, two have already been signed by the governor, including S.74, which gives terminally ill Vermonters more control over their final days by removing unnecessary impediments to Vermont’s 2013 law that allows terminally ill Vermonters the option to meet death with dignity and on their own terms.
H.628, a bill that will make it easier for transgender and non-binary people in Vermont to amend their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity, has also been signed by the governor. Five of our bills that have passed the House and Senate are awaiting the governor’s action. These include H.711, which will establish an Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee and opioid abatement fund to ensure settlement dollars that come to Vermont will be directed to treatment, intervention, recovery and prevention of opioid use.
H.464, will update the more than 20-year-old Reach Up program that helps eligible parents set and reach short- and long-term goals to be able to financially support their minor, dependent children. Finally, S.206, which focuses on the necessary policy work that Vermont needs to address the needs of those with Alzheimer’s and their families, is still under consideration.
Moving to other legislation, S.286, the pension reform bill, won final passage in the House with a vote of 144-0. Earlier in the session it passed the Senate on a 28-0 vote. Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill Monday, and the next step is for the Senate and House to vote to sustain or override his veto.
The bill is the result of 15 months of hard work by Vermonters who focused on reaching a shared and sustainable solution. As passed by the House and Senate, Vermont will contribute $200 million in one-time surplus revenues.
Meanwhile, teachers and state employees will increase and restructure their contributions — higher-income workers will pay a higher percentage of their income — and accept a small adjustment to cost-of-living increases. These savings will be re-invested into the pension system to retire the debt sooner. In all, these changes will eliminate $2 billion of unfunded liability and ensure retirement security and health care certainty for retired teachers and state employees for years to come.
The bill is the culmination of the work of a pension task force made up of legislators, public employees and an administration appointee. The unanimous recommendations of the task force were signed on Jan. 10, and S.286 was drafted directly from those recommendations.
This end is definite
After 15 terms I am stepping down. It has been an incredible honor for me to represent South Burlington as one of its state representatives. It has been one of the greatest privileges in my life to bring the voices of residents of South Burlington to Montpelier, to bring their interests and concerns into the legislative discussions. I am proud of the work that I’ve have done to strengthen the state’s social safety net, to protect children and families, to ensure reproductive liberty and to address both the COVID-19 and opioid crises.
Before I step down, I want to take this opportunity to thank the people of South Burlington who have supported me and my work in the Legislature over the past 30 years. As much as I have enjoyed the incomparable experience of serving the Vermont House of Representatives, I could not have done it without you.
Though it is bittersweet to be leaving the Statehouse, I am not leaving South Burlington. It is with pleasure and hope for the future that I share with you that Emilie Krasnow will be collecting signatures to get her name on the Democratic ballot to run for the seat that I have held. Krasnow is active in our community as a member of the Rotary, the Housing Trust Committee, and the ASPIRE Library Foundation Volunteer Committee.
Thank you, South Burlington. It has been quite a ride.