Legislative Update #4

Happy February! 

Happy February! Our first month of the legislative session in the House of Representatives has completed and after meeting in a hybrid style we are back in person…kind of. We are still meeting in a hybrid model on the House Floor - meaning those who are affected by Covid-19 can still legislate remotely from the safety of their own home while others will be meeting live on the House Floor. Our committee work is done in the same manner, but it is important to remember that all our meetings and floor work will be live streamed on YouTube and available to watch at your leisure.
 
It is my personal belief that the best legislating is done in person. Open government is best when we’re in person allowing for real discussion and real debate. We’ve also set a tone in the State House that isn’t welcoming to our fellow Vermonters and lobbyists. Most of our testimony is being done online via Zoom. This doesn’t allow for good conversations that can typically happen when people are in person. We should be opening our doors and welcoming the people to their House to participate in our process openly.

Legislative Apportionment

This week the House Committee on Government Operations took testimony on the newest maps that were sent out to our local Boards of Civil Authority (BCA). The St. Albans City BCA Chair testified on the newest map provided by the legislature. In Franklin 3-1, the district I currently represent, will most likely look a little differently in the fall. After discussions with the City and Town’s BCA’s along my fellow seat mate Rep. Mike McCarthy, we might see our district split into two single member districts.
 
Currently Franklin 3-1 that is represented by both Rep. McCarthy and myself include the entire City of St. Albans and the southern portion of St. Albans Town. The boundary in the Town portion is I-89 to the east and Route 7 to the west. The proposed map for apportionment would follow the same lines, but split Wards 1-4 to the north into a single member district, and Wards 5-6 would be included in with the Town district. There is still a lot of work to be done with these proposals with the map and a lot more work on this process over the next month, so please stay tuned.

House Education 

In House Education we are working on a few bills. One of the bills we are working on is a bill that I cosponsored that aligns with the Governor’s goal of improving workforce development. House Bill H.483 focuses on new models of funding for our career and technical centers. If you remember we have a surplus of over $90 million in the Education Fund and Governor Scott has proposed to give half that money back to the taxpayers and the other half would go to support our tech centers. It is important to note that career and technical centers were not eligible for Federal funds and have struggled over the last two years of the pandemic. These centers help develop our workforce and train our future workers. I look forward to moving this bill along.

Town Meeting Day
 
I also want to remind everyone that Town Meeting Day is coming up on Tuesday March 1, 2022. Both St. Albans City and St. Albans Town will allow in person voting, but you can still request an absentee ballot from the City by contacting the City Clerk’s office. The Town will be sending a ballot to every registered voter by mail, so look for that in your mailbox.
  
Contact & Stay In Touch

Thank you to everyone who has reached out over the last month. I appreciate when people follow along the legislative process and give their input on important issues. Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out any time at [email protected].


Gov. Scott's Budget Address

Last Tuesday, Governor Phil Scott gave a near empty State House his budget address which looks to spend a hefty $7.7 billion using both State and Federal Funds. Most participants from the House and Senate opted to receive his address from the comforts of their own homes as the Governor laid out his budget from a Zoom screen. We continue to legislate in a hybrid model that makes it hard for those of us meeting in the Legislature.

Workforce Development

Workforce and housing issues have been troublesome for the state since the pandemic hit in 2020. Local businesses have suffered over the last year finding staff and keeping their doors open. The Governor spoke about spending $8.5 million to recruit workers to move to Vermont. We have more job openings than people to fill them, and I agree this should be in our top priorities going forward. Like he has said repeatedly: “we don’t need new taxes, we need new taxpayers."
 
Childcare

Childcare is another issue facing the state and facing my family as well. As the father of two young children who are in childcare this issue really hits home to me as well as my wallet. Governor Scott said with his budget he could save a family of four around $3,000 a year by allocating $12 million to childcare programs. Good, high-quality childcare is often expensive and is contributing to the staffing shortages by forcing families to make a tough decision to stay home and save or pay the money.
 
Education

Being on House Education we have heard a lot of testimony regarding the Education Fund. Currently we have a $90 million surplus in the Education Fund going forward. The Governor feels this money should be partly paid back to the taxpayers of Vermont in the form of $45 million worth of property tax rebates. The other $45 million he would like to be seen spent to our twelve career technical centers to help improve technical education across the state.
 
Schools have also seen a lot of Federal funds in the form of ESSER money (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds). Around $400 million was allocated to our schools across Vermont. This has helped local districts the ability to strengthen services as well as after school services.
 
Healthcare

The healthcare industry has suffered as well during this pandemic. That is why the Governor is looking to allocate $25 million to support hospitals and providers. He also is asking to allocate $1 million to strengthen suicide prevention services. Another $8 million is to expand opioid services and job placement programs.
 
Climate Change

Climate change is another priority the legislature is going to focus on in 2022. The Governor included $216 million to help combat climate change and improve infrastructure around Vermont. His goal with this large sum of money is to improve weatherization and reduce emissions. He also mentioned $72 million to improving water & sewer infrastructure which will help in the effort to clean our lakes. Another $95 million of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds will be used toward high-speed internet and improve connectivity in the state.
 

Week 2 - Legislative Reapportionment

The second week has come and gone in the Vermont House of Representatives. It was our last week being fully remote as we came back to the House floor on Tuesday, January 18th to a hybrid session. Governor Phil Scott also gave his Budget Address via Zoom to our joint body on Tuesday and laid out his vision for the 2022 fiscal budget.
 
Last Friday, January 14th, House Bill H.589 came to the Floor. Every ten years our state is required by our State Constitution to redistrict our legislative maps to ensure equal representation based on population. There is a Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB) that is appointed to prepare and file proposed Senate and House plans with the General Assembly. This board consists of seven members – the Governor appoints one from each political party (one Democrat, one Republican, and one Progressive), and each political party appoints someone on their own. There is also one “Special Master” who is chosen by the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court.
 
Starting in September of 2021, the LAB started their work and eventually met over thirty times. When their work was completed, they filed a report with the House Clerk on November 23rd of last year. The report and the map were voted on and approved by a tri-partisan majority of the LAB and the only map filed with the House Clerk.
 
On Friday, the House was given bill H.589 that didn’t include the map approved by the majority of the Legislative Apportionment Board. Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R- Stowe) and I offered an amendment to bill H.589 that would only include only the approved map – not the minority report written by the majority party.
 
The minority report leaves out the work the LAB did during the fall of 2021 and focuses on multi-member districts. It was the board’s vote of 4-3 to put forth a map consisting of single member districts for the next ten years. It is important to remember that Vermont is the only state left in the United States that has multi-member legislative districts in both chambers of its legislature.
 
One of my main concerns with multi-member districts is that some Vermonters have more representation in the House than others. An example of this would be St. Albans Town. The part of St. Albans Town that I currently represent (Franklin 3-1) has two representatives in the House while the rest of the Town (Franklin 3-2) only has one representative. I feel that we should take this once in a decade opportunity to fix it for all Vermonters. I support the work that the Legislative Apportionment Board sent to my local BCAs who reviewed it and gave overwhelming support.

We need to do what is right for Vermonters and the people we represent, not what is right for incumbents or any particular party. Our amendment did fail by a vote of 32-90, but a second amendment was offered that included both reports and both maps.
 
We are just getting started in the session and we still have many important issues to cover including the state pensions and student weighting factors bill. We are also working on a miscellaneous Covid-19 bill in House Education. If you need to contact me any time please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] with any questions, comments, or concerns. Thank you for your time!


Welcome Back!

Last week the Vermont State Legislature returned to the Vermont State House on Tuesday, albeit was only for one day for a vote to work remotely the first two weeks of the session. Our slated return date will be Tuesday, January 18th. Although I find it important that we do our work within the People’s House in person we did pass legislation to allow us to work from home for the first two weeks. 

House Education

I will be serving again on the House Committee on Education. Although we started remote, we began taking testimony on the student weighting factors study and we have received word from stakeholders in the field about the state of our education system amid the pandemic. We will see more bills as they are referred to our committee from the Floor. I do find it rather ironic that we are able to work remotely when we have asked businesses and especially our students, teachers and staff to be in person since September of 2020. I hope to return to the in person work that provides the true representation of the people of Vermont. 
 

Town Meeting Day

On Friday, January 7th, the Vermont House passed a bill allowing municipalities the flexibility to move their Town Meeting Day dates due to Covid-19 concerns. I offered an amendment known as the Toof Amendment that would have mandated mail in votes for all municipalities that vote via the Australian ballot. St. Albans City and St. Albans Town both vote via the Australian ballot. We have seen success in our mail in voting system since being implemented in the November 2020 election. We saw the greatest voter turnout in Vermont’s history and I feel like the same should be done during our Town Meeting Day elections. 
 
Town Meeting Days are important days for Vermonters dating back to the creation of our state. Today these meetings make very important decisions that have a tremendous effect on working families in Vermont. Our state budget spends over $6 billion a year, and over one-third of that budget, over $2 billion, is spent on our Education system. On Town Meeting Day we vote on local school budgets, but typically only see about 15% voter turnout making decisions that could change property taxes around the state and in our communities. Mail in voting has proven to boost voter turnout and engage more people in the decisions that matter most. 

 
Contact & Stay In Touch

We have a full slate of bills for introduction and a vote on a redistricting map coming up this week. I encourage everyone to follow our process in the House as everything is now streamed on YouTube. If you need to reach me for any questions, comments or concerns you can reach me anytime at [email protected] or follow me on Facebook as I plan on informing everyone weekly with my Legislative Minutes. I really appreciate the people of Franklin 3-1 giving me the trust to represent them in the Vermont House of Representatives.  I look forward to hearing from you all. 


Happy Veterans Day

Happy Veteran's Day

Good Evening Everyone,

Yes I know it is late, but we have had a busy week with BCA meetings on redistricting and hockey practices. I wanted to at least send out an email to everyone to say Happy Veteran's Day to all of those who served and all of those who have sworn to protect our freedoms. I want to say a big THANK YOU. 

I also want to thank you to BFA and the City of St. Albans for the beautiful parade and ceremony in the park this morning. Too often do we take for granted our freedoms and rarely do we take the time to appreciate our veterans. It was refreshing to not only see such a great turnout on this beautiful day, but to see all of the Comets and Bobwhites attend today to show their appreciation. 

These types of ceremonies make St. Albans even more special. I am so proud to be a part of St. Albans and this community. Thank you again to all of those who serve and who have served. We cannot thank you enough. 


Best, 

Casey


July 1, 2020 Legislative Update End of the Session

What a long and unusual final last week for the Vermont State Legislature. Usually we’re finished up our budget and have adjourned by mid-May, but Covid-19 had other plans and kept us until the final fall of the gavel at 8:43pm on Friday, June 26th. Unfortunately, after all the hard work, many hours and compromise, we still aren’t finished and will be returning on Tuesday, August 25th to work on the next part of the budget.

Over the last four months we have worked hard to pass a challenging budget for quarter one of the FY2021 with many uncertainties regarding our revenue projections. In the wake of Covid-19 we put forth a tri-partisan effort on many bills to get relief to Vermonters who need it. 

Over the last few weeks we got to work passing dozens of programs worth hundreds of million dollars to assist the economic recovery of our state. The Federal CARES Act provided the State of Vermont $1.25 billion and on Friday we finished up passing the legislation allocating that money. These bills are very complex and hard to follow so here are some highlights: 

  • General Business Grants Phase 1 (S.350) = $70 Million
  • General Business Grants Phase 2 (H.966) = $93.5 Million
  • Agriculture/Food/Working Lands Grants = $39 Million
  • Technical and Marketing Assistance = $9 Million
  • Local Government Reimbursements = $15 Million
  • Housing Assistance = $85 Million
  • Connectivity/Utility Assistance = $31 Million
  • Health Care = $367 Million
  • Food Insecurity = $21.7 Million
  • Children/Family/Vulnerable Population Support = $14.7 Million

One of the most important bills we passed was to help our local, small businesses. The Vermont Economic Recovery Grants application process will open on Monday, July 6th. Please refer to the ACCD for eligibility criteria and for links to the applications for General Business Grants, Women and Minority-Owned Business Grants, and Outdoor Recreation Business Grants: https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-recovery-grants. If you are a restaurant, retailer, lodging property, etc., please refer to this Dept. of Taxes site for the eligible criteria and applications: https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/economic-recovery-grants

The bills passed were pretty complex and hard to explain in this brief legislative update, but you can refer to the House website below to see a spreadsheet of the money: https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/Senate%20Appropriations/Bills/H.965/H.965~Stephanie%20Barrett~Total%20Economic%20Stabilization%20and%20Recovery%20-%20UPDATED~6-26-2020.pdf

It has been nothing short of a true honor to serve the people of St. Albans these last two years. As most of the work has yet to come, I’m proud to say I’ve served during one of the most unique times in this state's history, and I wouldn’t change it for a second. Thank you for allowing me to represent you in the Legislature and please reach out to me anytime with any questions, comments or concerns going forward at my email: [email protected]. Have a great Fourth of July Weekend! 

 

Rep. Casey J. Toof

Franklin 3-1 St. Albans 




June 15, 2020 Legislative Update

Dear Friends

It continues to be a busy time not only in the Vermont House, but working on the Planning Commission and on related Covid issues for my fellow constituents in St. Albans. As we attempt to finish up legislative business before June 30th we have passed some significant bills in an effort to assist Vermonters during Covid-19 and to restart the Vermont economy. 

On Friday, June 12th, the Vermont House passed its first phase of an economic recovery package titled S.350. This bill will provide resources to Vermont’s businesses hit the hardest during the first half of this year related to Covid-19 issues. Our local businesses have struggled to stay open after the pandemic hit the state and I feel it is our distinct responsibility to provide quick relief to those struggling the most. 

I’ve spoken with quite a few businesses in our downtown and they have all talked in detail about the hardships they have endured and the uncertainty of their future staying in business. These small businesses are the heart and soul of our downtowns, our communities and our economy for the State of Vermont, so providing relief to them is something I was happy to support. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we provided enough support in this first package.

Governor Phil Scott’s first proposal of the Vermont Economic Recovery Package that he introduced back on May 20th, was a $400 million package that included a Phase 1 of $150 million in grants and loans for our state’s businesses. S.350 was cut down to only $70 million in grants to Vermont businesses: 

  • $50 Million appropriated to Department of Taxes to provide grants in coordination with the Agency of Commerce and Economic Development to eligible businesses:
    • Business is registered to collect sales and use tax
    • Businesses is registered to collect rooms and meals tax 
    • Business experienced a 75% or greater reduction in total sales in any one-month period from March 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020 as compared to the same one-month period from March 1, 2019 - September 1, 2019.
  • $20 Million appropriated to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to provide grants in coordination with the Department of Taxes to eligible businesses:
    • Business experienced a 75% or greater reduction in revenue in any one-month period from March 1, 2020 to September 1, 2020 as compared to the same one-month period from March 1, 2019 - September 1, 2019.

There is still work to be done and hopefully we can distribute more funds quickly and effectively over the next week or two. For that I am hopeful. 

There were other bills passed this week that were important including a vote by mail bill. In March we passed H.681 (Act 92) “an act relating to government operations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak” which gave certain responsibilities to the Governor and the Secretary of State regarding election procedures. I personally support mail in voting and our current election process allows absentee voting. This is a great way for people to vote early and at the comfort of their own home. S.348 removes the governor from the decision process for the November election. I did sign onto an amendment that would ban ballot harvesting by candidates, political action committees (PACs), and special interest groups, but that amendment was defeated. 

In House Education we are quickly working on passing some legislation to provide funds to schools who have suffered during Covid-19 as well. These bills will be passed in two tiers. The first tier will provide K-12 schools $40 million and higher ed $10 million and the second tier will provide another $45 million to K-12 schools and $30 million to higher ed. I was told by my chair of Education to “buckle up” as we will be working very hard over the course of the next two weeks to get these bills out and passed before our June 30th deadline. 

As I continue to work for the people of St. Albans, I want to thank you all again for allowing me to represent you in the House of Representatives. As things begin to unfold, I will try my best to provide you with the best updates. Please check out my Facebook page for my Legislative Minute videos at www.facebook.com/caseytoofvt or my website at www.caseytoof.com to learn more. As always, you can reach me via email at ctoo[email protected] if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Best,

Casey 

 

Rep. Casey J. Toof

Franklin 3-1 St. Albans City & Town


June 9, 2020 Legislative Update

Dear Friends

Over the past few weeks our work in the Vermont House of Representatives has seen a steady incline of work as we prepare to finish for the session. Our money committees have been working tirelessly on passing a transitional budget that has changed drastically since we last gaveled out as a body on March 13th. Usually we have adjourned by mid-May, but Covid-19 has created issues with the State’s budget and revenues so we are expected to pass a budget by June 30th and return to work in August to pass another budget once we know the state of our economy.

On Friday, Governor Phil Scott eased more restrictions on businesses allowing for lodging to be open again across the state as well as the re-opening of restaurants for inside dining. On Monday, the Governor announced that lower contact sports will resume by June 15th with eventual playing of games in leagues could start by July 1st. This is a big announcement for me and my family. My kids have been cooped up and without organized sports since hockey ended this winter (my five year old is missing his first year of tee-ball). 

In House Education we began a conversation about how we can use the CARES Act funds allocated toward Covid-19 related expenses. We’ve also spent a considerable amount of time discussing the future of the Vermont State College System. Last week we passed a bill that will set up a committee to research what the future of the system will look like. I am encouraged by these steps.  

In some upbeat news, I was very fortunate and excited to be a part of the #FCStandingTogether campaign created by Senator Corey Parent. The first round of the fundraiser ended on May 31st and raised almost $5,000 to local charities across Franklin County. The second round of the fundraiser has begun and can be found here: https://fcstandingtogether.itemorder.com/sale. There is now a fifth charity with new colors and items to choose from. Please make sure to share your photos of your Standing Together gear with the hashtag #FCStandingTogether! 

I also want to take some time to say thank you to everyone who has reached out to me with your questions, comments or concerns, especially during these hard times. I am proud to represent the people of St. Albans as this is truly a great place to serve. If you ever need to get ahold of me please contact me at [email protected] or you can visit my website www.caseytoof.com to learn more about what is going on in the Legislature. Be well.


Best,


Casey J. Toof

State Representative

Franklin 3-1 - St. Albans City & Town


May 14, 2020 Legislative Update

Vermont has flattened the curve significantly in our fight against Covid-19. It is no surprise that we have seen fewer cases and even fewer deaths over the last few weeks, and I attribute this to Governor Scott and his team’s hard work and precautions. Now we are ready as a state to open back up cautiously and responsibly. On Monday, Governor Scott announced opening up retail establishments across the state. It is a step in the right direction to get our economy back on track.  

The state unemployment claims are beginning to be resolved, however the process is still taking some time to complete. I have heard from many constituents that they are still waiting on a response from the Vermont Department of Labor. I am still making myself available to help my fellow neighbors with any issues with Unemployment Insurance claims. I have submitted over 100 claims for constituents having problems receiving their benefits. The system in place isn’t perfect, and some people are waiting longer than expected, but with the new Legislative Action Team more people are helping to resolve claims quicker. If you have any issues please reach out to me via email at [email protected]

On Friday Senate Bill S.346 unanimously passed the Vermont State Senate. This bill is a $60 million relief bill to pay “essential workers” who have been on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis since it began in March. The bill would grant an additional $600-$1,000 a month to a long list of potential candidates including health care workers, trash collectors, grocery store staff, child care workers, and nursing home staff. This bill is currently in House Commerce and has yet to reach the House Floor. 

In House Education we have been concerned with nineteen school districts who haven’t passed their budgets. All school budgets must be passed by June 30th. Currently the state has a budget shortfall of $54 million in the Education Fund in FY2020 and an anticipated $113 million shortfall in FY2021. This is a decline of 12.5% in spending levels which causes concerns for property tax payers and school boards across the state. There are some federal funds available to help with Covid related issues, but those funds are limited. Vermont has been allocated $31.15 million that can go towards elementary and secondary schools, and $22.42 million allocated towards higher education. This money is marked to help schools with Covid-19 related problems and to help schools who transitioned to online learning. 

The Vermont State Colleges are working on keeping their campuses open. After public feedback proved the importance of our college system, they have hired an independent consultant to review the finances of each college. As a graduate of Castleton I realize the importance of our Vermont State College system, but we need to make sure we can make these colleges sustainable. These colleges are the states best attempts at workforce development; educating and retaining a workforce is vital to our states future. 

We are slowly getting back to work and beginning to cope with our new norm. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty, specifically when we talk about tax revenues and unanticipated shortfalls. The Vermont Legislature is the most open it has ever been streaming online meetings that are accessible to everyone at any time on YouTube. I encourage everyone to take a watch and see how the state operates, especially during a pandemic. I want to say thank you again for allowing me to serve this community. We are in this together and together we will get through this. 

Best,

Casey 

 

Representative Casey J. Toof

Franklin 3-1 St. Albans

[email protected]

www.caseytoof.com 

 


April 28, 2020 Legislative Update

Dear Friends,

What a whirlwind of a week for lawmakers in the Vermont State Legislature. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis we received word that the Vermont State Colleges were planning on closing three campuses across the state, mostly in rural areas. After an outpouring of many emails, phone calls, and Facebook chats from many people across the state, Chancellor Spaulding decided to withdraw his proposal for closure. Even though we’re looking at a loss of nearly 500 jobs in just those three campuses, there are still many financial issues facing these institutions that started even before the Covid-19 crisis. The State of Vermont has grossly underfunded the VSC system for years, combined with lower student enrollment that have left these institutions in trouble. 

I’m hoping that we can focus on solutions to this problem in the months to come because the students who access our State Colleges are our best means for economic development. These students become our workforce as they usually stay in Vermont upon graduating. They are our nurses, our teachers, our physical therapists, our dental hygienists, our graphic designers, our journalists, our cooks, our small business leaders, the list goes on and on. I know this because I am a product of the Vermont State College system and I know of its potential. 

The Legislature has also been working on helping Vermonters who have had trouble with their Unemployment Insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance filings. The long waits and frustration I’ve heard from constituents hasn’t gone unnoticed by leadership. State representatives now have access to a form that will go directly to the Vermont Department of Labor and someone will contact the person having issues. All you need to do is email me at [email protected] or call me at (802) 309-3522 and provide me your full name, phone number, last four of your social security number, the date you filed and the issues you are having and I’ll be able to get someone to reach out to you in a timely  manner. 

These have been real hard times on many Vermonters and we are really working hard to fix these issues. As the great State of Vermont begins to open back up, please stay safe and contact your leaders with any questions, comments or concerns. I appreciate the ability to help my fellow neighbors and I thank you for allowing me to represent you during this time. 

 

Representative Casey J. Toof

Franklin 3-1 St. Albans City & Town



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