Since my last letter the Vermont State Legislature has seen a whirlwind of activity. We have seen the Senate pass their version of the budget and now it is in a committee of conference with members from both the House and Senate. We cannot adjourn until the budget is agreed upon and voted out by both chambers. Committees have started voting out the last of their bills and significant time has been spent on the Floor to get bills out before the budget is finished.
A few bills that were voted on this week are S.162, S.210, and S.287. S.162, which is an act relating to collective bargaining rights to teachers, passed unanimously by a voice vote. S.210, which is an act relating to rental housing health and safety and affordable housing, had more opposition. The bill was divided by sections 1-7 that would take out the rental registry piece of the bill. This part of the bill was originally in a different bill last year that Governor Scott vetoed.
The governor had an issue with the $400,000 that would pay to hire inspectors and create a rental registry in the state. This would also cost landlords $35 per unit and could eventually raise rental rates across the state. These new regulations are very unnecessary and could reduce the number of rentals while the state faces a critical shortage of housing. This is very unfortunate since this bill includes $20 million to the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP) which helps landlords bring their units up to code and getting more potential units back to the market.
Another big bill that will have major impacts on the funding of our education in Vermont and will affect local tax rates is S.287, which is an act relating to improving student equity by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight. This bill took an extensive look at how we weight our students and how we fund our schools, using the very extensive Pupil Weighting Study from 2021. This is a very complex and convoluted formula, but if this bill is passed it would raise property tax rates across Maple Run Unified School District by three cents. I cannot vote for a bill that would raise property taxes on hard working Vermonters.
S.100, the universal school meals bill passed the House this week. There were some good arguments for and against this bill during debate. Proponents of the bill argued that kids focus better when well fed and the program that ran though Covid worked well. Opponents of the bill were worried about setting up a program using one-time surplus funds off the Ed Fund ($29 million). I shared these concerns but felt like this one-year program could help us better understand how a universal breakfast and lunch program could work while we wait for more help from the Federal Government. This also doesn’t include any new taxes or fees.
In House Education we are looking to vote our two more bills before the end of the week: S.139 and S.283. S.139 is the mascot and school branding bill and is expected to see a vote out of committee 7-4. The miscellaneous ed bill (S.283) is a less contentious bill and one I will be presenting pieces on the Floor. I will focus on the sections dealing with a universal school calendar and kindergarten age.
It was a very busy week, but the brightest spot was when the Division I Girls Hockey Champion BFA Comets visited the State House. I had the very distinct pleasure of introducing them to the body and showing them around the building. I appreciate their willingness to come down and be recognized for their very impressive 22-0 season and Division I championship. Anyone can visit our State House at any time. If you’d like to go, or if you’d like to discuss any of these bills, please reach out to me anytime at [email protected].