Thank You, South Burlington

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.

Lawmakers address opiates, harm reduction, saving lives

Over the past two years fatal overdoses in Vermont, and nationwide, have increased at an unbearable rate, largely due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an increased prevalence of fentanyl, a powerful and often fatal synthetic opioid.

In 2021 alone, at least 181 Vermonters died of fatal overdose from opioids, over 90 percent of which involved fentanyl. Over half of these deaths were Vermonters under 40, and the numbers for December 2021 have not yet been released. These are our family, friends and neighbors.

The committee I chair in the House, human services, received testimony that if primary prevention is reducing substance use disorder for future generations, then tertiary prevention is providing a lifeline for the Vermonters who today are at immediate risk of overdose. It saves lives today. The programs and policies within H.728 and H.711 were created with the goal of saving Vermonters’ lives, through the pathways of treatment, recovery and harm reduction.

H.728, now in the Senate, creates initiatives to provide mobile substance use treatment units for rural communities for substance use treatment, connect justice involved Vermonters to substance use counseling and peer support, and foster collaboration between emergency medical services, recovery coaches and treatment providers.

It also expands the organizations eligible to provide safe syringe exchange services, addresses barriers to treatment for Medicaid and investigates the logistics of establishing overdose prevention sites in Vermont. The work in H.728 is in addition to over $9 million of investments in substance use programming contained within the budget as passed by the House.

Additional funding for other initiatives focused on prevention, treatment and recovery will also become available through the designation of an opioid settlement fund outlined in H.711. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office, along with other state attorneys general and thousands of other state subdivisions — cities, towns and counties — have been fighting to end the opioid crisis and hold industry accountable for its role in promoting and profiting from the opioid epidemic.

As a result of these efforts, settlements have been reached with major opioid distributors and manufacturers. H.711, now in the Senate, will establish an Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee and Opioid Abatement Special Fund in compliance with any settlements to which Vermont or municipalities are parties. The state anticipates approximately $60 million over 18 years to address the opioid use disorders.

Uses of the fund are specified in the terms of the settlements and an advisory committee must be established to make recommendations to the designated state agency, the Vermont Department of Health, for spending the money. The advisory committee must be comprised of an equal number of state and local representatives. The settlement agreement also requires the advisory committee to have written guidelines for the appointment, removal and terms of service for its members, a meeting schedule, and a process for receiving information from cities and towns regarding their needs and proposals for abatement.

Fifteen percent of funds will be allocated directly to municipalities, 15 percent will be allocated directly to the state, and the remaining 70 percent will be placed within an abatement fund. This special funding must be used to support a wide variety of public health evidence-based interventions directed at prevention and treatment of opioid use disorders rather than general state revenue.

This is how we save lives.

I appreciate the input of so many of my neighbors on the importance of addressing this critical issue and for sharing their expertise as the Legislature has crafted responses.

Legislative Update – March 2022

As you read this, the Legislature is on its town meeting recess, and we are approximately half-way through the 2022 legislative session.

When we return March 8, policy committees will have one week to vote potential legislation out of committee. This process then allows the other body time to do its own analysis and debate. The House Committee on Human Services will be completing its work on bills focused on the developmental disabilities system of care, responses to both the opioid settlement and the increasing number of deaths, and improving the system of support for families living in deep poverty to become work ready. Future articles will explore those in detail.

This column will focus on several health and human services initiatives that have already passed the House and are awaiting action in the Senate.

The federal child tax credit puts money directly into the wallets and checkbooks of families with children. It’s credited with helping people pay rent and buy food and reducing food insecurity by 25 percent. For parents with more income, the credit has helped with mortgage payments and credit card, student loan and car debt. Along with the chairs of the House committees on education and ways and means, I co-sponsored a state version of the child tax credit.

H.510 passed the House in February and would create a payment of $100 a month for every child age 6 and under and will lift families with young children out of poverty. It will also encourage young families to move to Vermont, or to stay in Vermont and thrive. Our laser focus on young families addresses two important goals: reducing poverty for young children and meeting our demographic challenges.

The bill also included an increase in the Social Security tax exemption to improve on changes we made three years ago. Anyone living exclusively on Social Security already receives these benefits tax free, but this bill will allow moderate-income seniors to use their payments for food and other living expenses. As of early March, this bill is being considered by the Senate.

Health care is expensive enough, so being confronted with an unexpected charge is a shock. The House passed H.489 to ensure state compliance and enforcement of the federal No Surprises Act. That law addresses situations in which patients receive an unexpected medical bill, also known as a balance bill, when they unknowingly receive care from providers that do not participate in their health plan and therefore are out-of-network.

The insurance provider denies the claim for payment to that provider and the patient becomes responsible for the entire bill. For example, the patient may go to an in-network hospital for knee replacement surgery with an in-network orthopedist but receive a bill from an out-of-network anesthesiologist. If you have concerns about a surprise bill, you should contact the Office of the Health Care Advocate ( or the Department of Financial Regulation ( or call them at (802) 828-3301. This bill will be taken up by Senate Finance after the town meeting recess.

Vermonters have an opportunity to see significant savings on their health insurance costs because of extended subsidies under the American Rescue Plan Act. Those directly enrolled in the individual market can roll over to Vermont Health Connect with no change in benefits and gain the advantage of federal subsidies.

Between $58 million and $76 million is available to Vermonters in subsidies for plan year 2023. Check out the Vermont Health Connect page to learn more about potential savings.

As we celebrate our local democracy this week, I am keeping the citizens of Ukraine defending their country in my prayers. We need to support democratic values across the world and stand up with truth and solidarity against authoritarianism. We are so lucky to live in Vermont, and I’m honored to be one of your four South Burlington representatives.

Legislators will vote yes on both upcoming constitutional amendments

There are two proposals to amend the Vermont Constitution before the Legislature this year and if passed by the House this week they will go before the voters in November for their ultimate decision as to whether the Constitution will be amended.

I believe it is imperative that we allow Vermont voters to have the last word. Every voter should have the opportunity to make these two decisions for themselves, their family, their community and state. If we truly trust our fellow Vermonters, how can we not bring these important decisions to them?

Proposal 2, which clarifies the prohibition on slavery and indentured servitude, is being voted on in the House Friday, Feb. 4. It would change Article 1, Chapter 1 of the Vermont Constitution, striking language that states no person can be bound by law to serve as a slave “after arriving to the age of twenty-one years, unless bound by the person’s own consent, after arriving to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”

These exceptions would be replaced with language stating that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.” While Vermont was the first state in the nation to outlaw slavery, the wording in its Constitution is not absolute.

Passing Proposal 2 sends a strong and clear message about how all Vermonters deserve to be treated. I will be voting yes.

Proposal 5, which solidifies personal reproductive liberty within the Constitution, will be voted on in the House on Tuesday, Feb. 8. It would add Article 22 of Chapter 1 of the Vermont Constitution, and would read, “Article 22. [Personal reproductive liberty] That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

In Vermont, we have long recognized that decisions related to reproductive health care, including whether and when to become a parent, use temporary or permanent birth control or seek abortion care are deeply personal and private and are best left to an individual and their health care provider.

Given the now unreliable protections found in the U.S. Constitution, in Prop 5 we can protect that. I will be voting yes.

The amendment procedure is clearly outlined in the Vermont Constitution and requires approval by the General Assembly in two consecutive bienniums, followed by voter ratification. According to the Constitution, only the Senate may propose constitutional amendments, and if passed by two-thirds of the Senate, the amendment then goes the House.

The House may not amend the Senate’s proposal and it requires a majority of its members to vote to pass. In both cases, the House did.

A committee of jurisdiction (House Committee on Government Operations for Prop 2 and House Committee on Human Services for Prop 5) then votes on whether to bring it to the House floor. In 2019 both proposed constitutional amendments passed the House. They are then considered by the Legislature again in the next biennium, in this case 2021 and 2022. If a majority of both the Senate and House pass the amendment, it goes to the voters. The House committees of jurisdiction are required to again hold a public hearing, which they both did.

If the House then passes the proposals, they automatically go to the voters for the General Election, this year on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Legislators ensure voter access, Senate district may split in two

It is often said that your vote is your voice.

Participation in our democracy by voting is the backbone of our country and we are stronger when more people vote. Across the United States, voting rights are currently under attack. Sixteen states have enacted laws to make it harder to vote by mail and eight states have made it harder to vote in person by enacting voter ID laws, outlawing same day registration and eliminating polling places altogether.

Vermont, on the other hand, has thankfully taken a different path.

Universal vote-by-mail was a great success during the 2020 General Election, contributing to record turnout even during a pandemic — a 74 percent participation rate. It expanded voter access and encouraged increased participation in our democratic process. Vermonters asked legislators to build on that success, and we listened.

S.15 (Act 60) continues the vote-by-mail program, adds in other important election measures, and counters the prevailing trend across the U.S. where state legislatures are curtailing voter access with more restrictive election laws. Effective this coming November, new features will include ballots with postage-paid return envelopes mailed to all active registered voters; voters may cure defective ballots if, for example, they forgot to sign the certificate envelope; access to secure ballot drop boxes that are accessible 24/7 for voters to return their ballots; and a limit on the number of ballots someone can deliver on behalf of others.

During last week’s veto session, both the House and Senate voted to override the Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes of H.227, Winooski charter changes, and H.177, changes to the Montpelier charter.

These two charter changes expand voting rights to legal green card residents of these two communities to local — not statewide or federal — issues. In Winooski, they will be able to vote on municipal and school ballots. Since Montpelier does not have its own high school, they will be able to vote on municipal issues only.

It takes a vote of two-thirds of the legislative members present to override a veto and for these votes all members were present on Zoom in the respective chambers, 150 in the House and 30 senators. The results of these votes honor the decisions voted on, and strongly supported, by the voters in Winooski and Montpelier.

With the passage of the three bills summarized above, voting becomes even more accessible for those Vermonters who may otherwise be left out.

Redistricting underway

Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution calls for a nationwide census and reapportionment process. In addition, the Vermont Constitution requires the Vermont General Assembly to be periodically reapportioned. Reapportionment involves the review and re-drawing of legislative districts to ensure that Vermont’s citizens have equal representation in the General Assembly in accordance with the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This ensures that any population changes are reflected in legislative districts to maintain equal representation.

While Vermont doesn’t have a big job with our single U.S. Congressional district, state legislative districts will have to be aligned with any population shifts. While some House districts may be affected by a move away from multiple-member districts, South Burlington already has four single districts.

The current state population sets the suggested number of constituents per House district at 4,200. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that will limit any Senate district to no more than three members. This will require a change, or division, for Chittenden County from one district with its six senators to, at minimum, two districts.

The secretary of state’s website has a map with some preliminary looks at reapportionment. Some districts are not meeting the 4,200 threshhold, while others have increased.

Continue to connect with me on these or other actions that the Legislature took this year. I look forward to speaking with you. If I don’t see you before, I hope to see you at the next SoBo Nite Out held every Thursday this summer from 5-8 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street.

Lawmakers make substantive progress to address racial, social inequities

Much of this legislative session focused on creating an equitable plan for recovery from the pandemic that invests in people and leaves no Vermonter behind. As part of that work, legislators embraced their responsibility to address racial disparities and began course-correcting the historical impacts of racism and social inequality.

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the severe inequities in public health systems. For example, while Black residents comprise only 1 percent of Vermont’s population, they accounted for almost 5 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases in 2020. Highlighting a strong body of evidence, J.R.H.6 acknowledges systemic racism as a direct cause of the adverse health outcomes experienced by people of color in Vermont.

It also commits us to the “sustained and deep work of eradicating systemic racism throughout the state, actively fighting racist practices, and participating in the creation of more just and equitable systems.” It was drafted through the collaboration of impacted communities and gained the broad support of the Legislature and the Vermont Department of Health.

H. 210 creates a Health Equity Advisory Commission made up primarily of Vermonters whose lives have been impacted by historic inequitable treatment in accessing health care, while empowering their voices to develop an Office of Health Equity by no later than Jan. 1, 2023.

H.430 provides immediate increased access to health care for income-eligible pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status, by establishing a Dr. Dynasaur-like health care program. This coverage begins on July 1.

These undocumented women and children often work or live with their families on the farms and dairies that are essential to Vermont’s economy. Because of fear regarding immigration status being revealed, confidentiality is critical. We know that prenatal care and medical care in childhood can improve health outcomes over a lifetime, as well as reduce costs for both education and health care systems.

H.159 invests $150,000 in a process to be driven by communities of color and may include the creation of a minority business development center or authority. This legislation will also provide technical support for businesses owned by people of color in procurement of state contracts, improve language access and cultural competency practices within state economic development programs, and strengthen state data collection to better serve the variety of identities represented within the these communities.

J.R H.2 acknowledges and apologizes for sanctioning and supporting eugenics policies and practices through legislation that led to forced family separation, sterilization, incarceration and institutionalization for hundreds of Vermonters. These policies targeted the poor and people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as individuals, families and communities whose heritage was documented as French Canadian, French-Indian, or other mixed ethnic or racial composition, and persons whose extended families’ successor generations now identify as Abenaki or as members of other Indigenous bands or tribes.

The resolution recognizes further legislative action should be taken to address the continuing impacts of eugenics policies and the related practices of disenfranchisement, ethnocide and genocide.

Another of the glaring needs identified was bolstering personnel at the state’s Office of Racial Equity. When this office was created, the Legislature didn’t know the extent of how widely these services would be used and requested. The workload has continued to grow, with the director being flooded by requests to sit on committees and boards, meet with Vermonters, review policies and offer expertise to all three branches of state government.

It became clear that the needs of the office were far greater than one person could handle. To help, two positions were included in the budget, effective in the new fiscal year, July 1.

As with so much of our work, the above described actions are just part of the ongoing effort to create equitable systems that promote justice, dignity and health for all Vermonters.

May 21 marked the adjournment of the 2021 legislative session as well as UVM graduation. For the first time in close to 14 months I will not be waking up in the morning and sitting in front of my computer for often more than eight hours of remote meetings or classes.

I am looking forward to seeing my friends and neighbors on the bike path, at the Thursday night food trucks at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street or at one of our local stores. While the session has ended, know that I am still available to answer questions, help you connect with resources, and listen to your priorities. Reach me at, 802-863-6705, or by mail, 67 Bayberry Lane.

South Burlington lawmakers reflect on historic session

South Burlington legislators logged off the 2021 legislative session last Friday after finalizing a $7.3 billion budget and sending a stack of bills to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk to sign.

House and Senate committees tuned in to work virtually from day one, marking a historical pandemic-era session even as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions and inches closer to “normal.”

South Burlington lawmakers, including representatives Martin LaLonde, Ann Pugh, John Killacky and Maida Townsend, and Sen. Thomas Chittenden, hopped back on Zoom to give South Burlington residents a recap of their work and preview of what to keep an eye on moving into a potential veto session this summer.

Rep. Martin LaLonde (D, district 7-1)

Rep. Martin LaLonde (D, district 7-1)

• Bill S.3 sets up a notification system for when individuals with mental health issues, classified as a danger to themselves or others, are discharged from the Department of Mental Health back into the community — people who’ve been harmed by those individuals are notified.

“Until this law gets put into place … the victims are not notified and can run into an individual in the community” by surprise, said LaLonde, which can be harmful to both individuals. The bill also comes with a study to examine numerous issues in how mental health interacts with criminal justice system.

Rep. Ann Pugh (D, district 7-2)

• The Human Services Committee passed a bill prohibiting forever chemicals from consumer products, which Pugh said is a significant step in preventing future harm from toxic chemicals. “Rather than limiting our solutions to downstream cleanup, we addressed the issue to upstream by preventing these toxic chemicals from entering our state,” she said.

• A bill breaking down some barriers to rehabilitation for opioid addiction, specifically related to buprenorphine, passed “on strong votes” from both the House and Senate, Pugh added.

“What folks may not know is, with 157 opioid related deaths, 2020 was one of Vermont’s deadliest years for an overdose. And in 2020, we saw more deaths by overdose than we did deaths by COVID,” she said.

Buprenorphine is one method of helping people become clean and sober, said Pugh. The bill reduces criminal penalties for someone who has less than a two-week supply of non-prescribed buprenorphine. “This is something that will save lives, encourage them to seek safer alternatives and get into treatment,” she said.

• Last, Pugh worked on identifying racism as a public health emergency. “The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the severe inequalities in our public health systems,” she said. Both the House and Senate passed the resolution.

Rep. John Killacky (D, district 7-3)

Rep. John Killacky (D, district 7-3)

• The House committee on General, Housing and Military affairs updated some language around the National Guard which had dated back to the Civil War.

• The committee extended curbside pickup for alcohol during the pandemic and for the next year, though the extension will sunset in two years.

• A bill to study how neighboring states handle sports betting passed both chambers. Killacky noted that the House has been hesitant to encourage sports betting, although some in the Senate are “interested in at least understanding the potential revenues.”

• The bill that apologized for Vermont’s part in eugenics passed through Killacky’s committee and specifically stood out to him as an important moment. The bill has been in the works for 10 years, he said. “To have different people really talk to us about their lived experience and their trauma of surviving — that was pretty profound for me,” he said.

• The “heartbreak moment of the season,” Killacky said, was the stall of bill, S.79, which would create a rental housing registry in part to ensure professional health and safety inspections. The bill has been talked about since 2010, he said, but fell short of final approval in the last leg of the session.

“The time seemed right to do this, particularly during the pandemic with all the federal dollars coming in. It would have been nice if there was a central location to communicate with landlords,” he said. The bill also would have allowed property-owners more flexibility under the temporary eviction moratorium.

Legislators will pick it back up the first day of the January session in 2022, said Killacky — or sooner, if work resumes this summer for a veto session. “The bill did cross the line, it just was a little late and the race was over for the summer,” he said.

Rep. Maida Townsend (D, district 7-4)

• The House Appropriations Committee built and passed a cohesive and notably bipartisan budget, with 100 percent of state legislators voting in favor. Townsend described it as the result of “what the governor termed as progress, rather than politics.”

“Everybody was working together and basically had the same goals in mind, the same values, wanting to be reflected in this budget,” she said. The only rough patches of disagreement came down to whether some aspects should be supported by general fund dollars or federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

• To frame discussions in the 2022 session, when legislators will work on where the remainder of federal rescue funds will be allocated, the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem will go into communities for statewide listening tours, said Townsend. They intend to reach out to Vermonters “not using traditional means” to hear how people think the remaining money should be invested.

“We will have these recommendations from Vermonters from all over the state as to how we should be focused on developing the budget for fiscal year 2023,” she said.

• Another bill passed provides a 3 percent increase in the rates for caregivers. The bill “sounds teeny,” she said, but will have a needed impact.

• In the budget, $5 million is allocated for adult day care costs, and more funds have been used to fill “deficits in really important funds,” said Townsend, such as the Victims Compensation Fund, the 911 fund, the Human Rights Commission and more.

“The budget is filled with all sorts of wonderful things that really help Vermont and Vermonters across the board, and current into the future,” she said.

Sen. Thomas Chittenden (D)

Sen. Thomas Chittenden (D)

• Bill S.66, which the governor signed, gives greater clarification for different types of e-bicycles and allows municipalities to have standard signage, terminology and regulations.

• Chittenden expects “interesting” discussion on the pupil weighting study bill, S.13, which passed this session and will return with some kind of recommendation and report next year. “I think that will be a very important topic next year,” he said.

The bill is based on a study which proposed changing the pupil weighting formula, which effects how much funding school districts receive. South Burlington would likely see a tax hike under such an updated formula.

• Chittenden said he is largely supportive of another bill that dealt with four charter changes the city of Burlington passed in March, but he has concerns regarding one related to the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington.

“I look forward to having a rich, robust discussion about the composition of the airport commission in the coming January term,” he said, to ensure “we make the best decisions over the use of our airspace of the county for the largest airport in the entire state.”

• As far as the remainder of the federal rescue funds, Chittenden said he supports infrastructure investments that will last, specifically for smarter roads, electric cars, school buildings and broadband.


This week the House passed S. 20, a bill that focuses on protecting Vermonters from the risks that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known widely as PFAS, and other toxic chemicals pose to our personal health as well as to that of the environment.

The bill targets five different areas of consumer products that are major sources of PFAS exposure and the ensuing environmental contamination and negative health effects. It bans PFAS from firefighting foam; it requires disclosure of use of PFAS in personal protective equipment; it bans PFAS and phthalates from food packaging as well as authorizes rule-making to potentially restrict harmful bisphenol chemicals; it bans PFAS from residential carpets and rugs and aftermarket treatments; and it bans PFAS from ski wax. Finally, it adds 3 additional PFAS chemicals to the “Chemicals of High Concern for Children,” and in doing so aligns the Department of Health’s list with our Agency of Natural Resources drinking water standards for monitoring PFAS.

For each of the consumer products listed above, the attorney general can request a certificate of compliance from a manufacturer. If a manufacturer is not in compliance, the attorney general can seek remedies through the existing Vermont Consumer Protection Act.

What is PFAS? It is a group of approximately 9,000 chemicals, mainly used in waterproofing and surfactant applications. While forms of PFAS have been in use since the mid-20th century, they have more recently been found to be associated with increased risks of cancer, as well as adverse health effects on the liver, endocrine system, immune system and fetal development. They are known as “forever chemicals” since they do not biodegrade in the environment and bioaccumulate within the body. PFAS is found in groundwater and drinking water across the state; it is found in the runoff (or leachate) from active and abandoned landfills in Vermont as well as in every wastewater treatment facility in Vermont.

Perhaps most concerning, PFAS can be found within the blood of almost everyone.

There’s no easy or inexpensive way to deal with these chemicals and prevent harm to the environment and human health once they’ve been released. That is why this bill moves upstream. It focuses on source reduction of these synthetic chemicals that have been intentionally added to products to avoid future contamination and focuses on the major PFAS-containing products.

Legislative Council clarified the impact of federal law and regulation as it impacts PFAS containing firefighting foam. The bill prohibits use of PFAS-containing foam, with staggered effective dates based on facilities. It prohibits the use of PFAS-containing foam in training or testing statewide. The effective date for federal facilities (Burlington International Airport and National Guard) set at October 2023. The Federal Aviation Administration has set a goal of transitioning to PFAS-free by October 2021, and the military by October 2023. If federal laws push back the date, they will have preemption over state law.

In reviewing and amending the unanimously Senate passed bill, the Human Services Committee took weeks of testimony from firefighters to canning manufacturers; from the UVM ski coach to the state toxicologist; from three different state agencies : Health, Natural Resources as well as Commerce and Economic Development; from a multitude of chemists as well as public health providers; from the National Guard and Vermont Military Poisons Coalition and from the Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business for Social Responsibility to name just a few.

By eliminating unnecessary PFAS toxins from commonly used products, we’re not only addressing the acute threat posed by these chemicals, but also the potential harm they may cause by exacerbating the harmful effects of a virus like COVID-19. This is a very important piece of legislation for Vermont now. It can protect our health, our environment and our ‘Vermont’ brand for commerce and tourism. Next steps for the bill are first to reconcile the small differences between the House and Senate passed versions and then it will be on its way to the Governor for his action.

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.; 863-6705. The tentative date for adjournment this year has been set for May 22, which means that our next community conversation with your South Burlington legislators on Monday May 24 at 6:30 p.m. should be very informative.

Rundown of Bills Passed by the House thus Far

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

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; 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.

Lawmakers Take a Look at Health and Human Services

In a normal year, the General Assembly meets for 18 weeks, from early January until mid-May with a week off for a town meeting recess.

The 18-week session plan sets a deadline to finish our work by mid to late May.

To achieve an orderly flow of work to meet that adjournment date, the House-Senate Rules Committee sets what are known as crossover dates. Crossover refers to moving bills over to the other chamber, House to the Senate — crossing over.

This year that date is Friday, March 12, for policy bills and March 19 for those bills that either raise revenue or have an appropriation. In practice what that means is that this next week policy committees, including the one I chair, human services, will be wrapping up work on priority bills that started in the House and passing bills onto the Senate for their consideration.

Just before we left this past week for our Town Meeting recess, the Vermont House passed nearly $80 million in additional COVID-19 relief and recovery aid for Vermonters.

The appropriations committee worked collaboratively with multiple committees including the human services committee to craft this legislation. H.315 provides critical assistance to working families and businesses struggling due to the pandemic. The intent of the funding is to address health disparities, increase social equity, and stimulate economic recovery. More specifically, the bill would provide funding for small businesses that received no federal assistance, continued pandemic-related services for New Americans, community supports for those with mental health issues, one-time stimulus checks for the poorest Vermont families who are involved in the Reach Up program added investment in Vermont Farmers to Families Food Box program so no Vermonter will go hungry, funding to develop housing for Vermonters without a place to live.

The human services committee will be working on three legislative initiatives, more affordable quality childcare, community based care, and addressing health disparities, this coming week so that they make “crossover” and be taken up by the Senate.

High-quality childcare is an investment in Vermont’s future. By increasing access and affordability for Vermont’s families, we help parents stay employed and contribute to their local economies. By increasing childcare worker wages, we can support and grow our early educator workforce. By prioritizing the well-being and development of our children, we are giving the next generation of Vermonters a head-start to success. H. 171 will make these investments a reality. The reforms offered in this bill are based on feedback from Vermont’s parents, providers, employers, and community members. Not only does H.171 make childcare more affordable, it removes barriers to access, ensures fair wages for providers, establishes workforce development programs, and creates a study to identify future revenue sources.

Thousands of Vermonters, from the very young to the very old, are supported by private nonprofit providers who accept Medicaid as payment for services. These providers are often referred to as home and community-based providers. They serve people with a variety of risk factors including, but not limited to, significant health care issues; drug and alcohol use; and support needs related to aging, mental health issues, and developmental disabilities. As a state, our policy reflects the evidence-based findings that people achieve the best care and outcomes when served in their communities, close to friends and family, rather than in institutional settings. However, we have yet to develop a sustainable system to pay for these community-based services. H.153, begins to provide the framework to consider changes and recognize cost of living adjustments to the Medicaid rate reimbursement system for these critical supports to vulnerable Vermonters.

The disturbing reality of health disparities has been brought into sharper focus by the pandemic. The social determinants of health are those economic, environmental and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status. A recent Vermont Health Department survey revealed that health disparities are greatest for Vermonters of color, LGBTQIA+ people, those with disabilities, and those living in poverty.

H.210 proposes to: establish the Office of Health Equity; establish the Health Equity Advisory Commission; issue grants for the promotion of health equity; collect data to better understand health disparities in Vermont; and require an additional two hours of continuing education on cultural competency in the practice of medicine.

Please know that I hold your trust in me with great care and responsibility. I deeply appreciate your input. Please reach out with questions or concerns at any time and I hope to “see” you at our next conversation with your legislators on March 22.