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VERMONT DEMOCRATS

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June 2023 Newsletter

NEWS FROM CHAIR DAVID GLIDDEN

Things are heating up here in Vermont, and it’s not just the weather! The VDP is gearing up for a jam-packed summer, working with our town and county committees to prepare for our wonderful county fairs around the state. This is always a great chance to connect with community members.


Democrats will be fanning out to talk to our neighbors about all our work, from the legislature to the Attorney General's office to local municipal boards. Democrats have spent the past five months working hard for all Vermonters.


Some of our work has included assembling our Affirmative Action Committee to bring new voices into the party before our reorganization this fall. The reorganization process sees every party committee start anew for the next two years, from the town committee to the county and the state committee. This is a perfect chance to bring in new voices and grow our party.


I hope to connect with you this summer at a county fair, a farmers market, or even a county Democratic Committee!


UPDATE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Party Reorganization Starts Soon!

Every two years, the VDP reorganizes, forming new town, county, and state committees. Our town and county parties are a critical part of our ongoing outreach efforts - the faces in the community standing up for Democratic values like decency, tolerance, and respect. They’re also a great way to build community and a network of like-minded people to make Vermont a better place to work, live, and thrive.

If you’re interested in talking to your neighbors about our shared Democratic values, let us know at info@vtdemocrats.org. We’ll connect you to our outreach team. See you out there this summer!



UPDATE FROM THE HOUSE AND SENATE

After many late nights, the House and Senate adjourned this year’s legislative session close to midnight on Friday, May 11th. Looking back, the Vermont Democratic Party is proud of what our Democrats in the State House got done. But it’s not over yet - Democrats still need to override the record-breaking number of vetoes the Governor is expected to announce later this week. The veto override session is scheduled for June 20-22, and some top priorities for Democrats still need to make it through this last obstacle.

Here’s what happened and what to expect:

HOME Bill (S.100)

On the last day of the session, the Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone (HOME) Bill was passed with overwhelming support from the Senate and the House and is awaiting the Governor’s signature or veto. The bill aims at two of the larger impediments to addressing Vermont’s ongoing housing crisis: zoning restrictions and capital investment.

First, the HOME Bill changes municipal zoning rules to increase denser development concentrated in city and town centers. This will help conserve Vermont’s natural landscape and place more affordable units in walkable areas with access to resources like public transportation, grocery stores, libraries, doctor’s offices, and so much more. Wherever single-family homes are permitted, folks can “Duplex-by-Right” whether this is brand new development or if a homeowner chooses to divide their house in half. Additionally, parking requirements and restrictions on multi-unit developments will be reduced in areas served by municipal sewer and water.

The bill also creates temporary provisions to allow for more dense development in certain areas without triggering Act 250 review to create faster downtown development of affordable housing units. In downtowns, neighborhood development areas, new town centers, and village centers, the Act 250 housing cap will be raised from 10 units to 25 units until July 1st, 2026, when the legislature can step back and review the impacts to see if adjustments need to be made.

Lastly, the HOME Bill appropriates over $115 million towards housing development initiatives and other housing-related programs for the 2024 fiscal year. These initiatives include:

  • $50,000,000 for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) to develop mixed-income rental housing and homeownership opportunities, including mobile homes and communities, recovery housing, farmworker housing, and refugee housing.

  • $10,000,000 from this appropriation will be specifically marked for VHCB to expand and enhance the capacity of emergency shelters and permanent housing for Vermonters experiencing homelessness. In addition, the bill directs VHCB to coordinate with the Agency of Human Services to ensure that new temporary and permanent housing is paired with supportive services for residents, such as services supported through Medicaid.

  • $20,000,000 for the Vermont Rental Housing Improvement Program (VHIP) will be awarded to nonprofit housing organizations in competitive grants and private landlords in forgivable loans for rehabilitation and weatherization of eligible units. Upon receipt, the units must be available for five years for Vermonters exiting homelessness or those working with a refugee resettlement program.

  • $20,000,000 for the Rental Housing Revolving Loan Program provides subsidized loans for rental housing developments targeted toward middle-income households. Projects can contain both market-rate and affordable units, but affordable units must make up 25% of the development.

  • $20,000,000 for the Middle-Income Homeownership Development Program provides subsidies for new development or rehabilitation of owner-occupied housing for purchase by income-eligible homebuyers.

  • $2,500,000 for eviction rescue funding for tenants with unpaid rent facing eviction.

Budget (H.494)

Close to midnight on May 11th, Democrats in the House officially passed the Democrats' record-breaking budget for FY24 with a vote of 90-53. Totaling $8.5 billion, it includes unprecedented investments in programs and policies that reflect the needs and wants of Vermonters across the state:

  • $74.2 million for the workforce, higher education, and economic and agricultural development.

  • $9.3 million in substance abuse prevention and recovery.

  • $29 million for a slate of human services programs.

  • $99.7m in Human Services Provider Rate Increases to better support healthcare needs for low- and moderate-income Vermonters.

  • 159 new positions were created to help implement new programs and expand staffing for existing programs.

  • $211 million for housing assistance and support programs; development of affordable housing units.

As is reflected in the vote, all of the Republicans, all of the Progressives, and a sizable amount of Democrats decided to vote no on the budget. Although the budget is still holding strong with an initial vote of 90, it will still make the override of the Governor’s expected veto an obstacle to overcome.

The Democrats that voted no were understandably upset by the thought of 1,800 people getting thrown out onto the street due to the state's inability to fill a hole left by drying up COVID-era federal funds. However, a large part of Democrats voting no explained on the floor that it wasn’t because of inaction on the part of House and Senate leadership but because of the Governor’s inability to initiate these negotiations in due time – his administration knew it was an issue long before it became a tri-partisan concern for FY24. Moreso, many of the no votes also recognized the incredible programs that will be continued or created for Vermont's most vulnerable in this budget - they just couldn’t accept the lack of short-term solutions for this valuable program.

If you look at the housing budget summary - coupled with policies and programs in S.100 (explained above) - it includes hundreds of millions of dollars for housing policies aimed at reducing homelessness, increasing vacancy rates, and getting rent under control. Both chambers also agreed to have a Housing transition plan that includes members of both chambers and the administration to continue working on the serious issue of homelessness through this summer and fall.

Affordable Heat (S.5)

The Affordable Heat Act (S.5) was a top priority for Democrats in both chambers. In the late parts of the session, the House overwhelmingly overrode Governor Scott’s veto of S.5 with a vote of 107-42. Now, the Public Utility Commission is authorized to initiate a two-year-long process that studies the impacts, collects public comment, and designs a “Clean Heat Standard.” However, the legislature will have to vote on its final implementation in 2025 - the work is far from over.

Regardless, Affordable Heat was the top recommendation by the Climate Council, and we’re thrilled that it made it through its first significant milestone. If implemented, this program will help low- and moderate-income Vermonters transition to cleaner heat options while saving money.

Bottle Bill (H.158)

The Bottle Bill - or H.158 - will expand our redemption program to include almost all other types of drinking containers on the market.

The good news is that both chambers have passed H.158. The bad news is that the House didn’t have enough time to approve the changes the Senate made as it made its way through Senate Committees - so the Governor has yet to receive it.

There’s a veto override session scheduled for June 20-22, and it’s possible the House can officially approve changes. However, with an expected record number of vetoes, it’s unclear whether the House can approve Senate changes before the start of the next legislative session. If they do, the Governor is still expected to veto it - so an override would occur in January of next year. So, we’re looking at the earliest final approval by January 2024.

Childcare (H.217)

Initially S.56, the Childcare Bill passed as H.217 with tripartisan support from the House and the Senate and awaits approval from the Governor.

The bill makes needed investments for both childcare providers to stay open and for families to afford enrollment more easily. The bill expands families' eligibility to receive subsidies from the Child Care Financial Assistance Program and increases reimbursement rates from the Department of Children and Families to childcare providers. Specifically, $20,000,000 will be appropriated for childcare providers to increase capacity, improve facilities, expand hours of operations, address gaps in service, and increase workforce capacity, including signing and retention bonuses.

Lastly, the bill creates a Prekindergarten Education Implementation Committee to assist the Agency of Education with improving and expanding affordable and high-quality full-day pre-kindergarten education.

Universal School Meals (H.165)

Universal School Meals passed out of both chambers with overwhelming, tri-partisan support. This bill will continue an important COVID-era program that guarantees all Vermont public school students two meals daily.

The governor “remains concerned that the bill would increase property tax pressure, and therefore potentially rents,” his spokesperson Jason Maulucci said in an email. “This approach could disproportionately impact lower-income Vermonters to essentially provide affluent families support that they do not need.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to clarify that the Administration does not support creating a permanent universal meals program this year,” - Heather Bouchey, Interim Ed Secretary.

Suicide Prevention/Gun Safety (H.230)

H.230 is a gun safety bill that seeks to mitigate the unnecessary deaths of children and Vermonters suffering from mental illness while fostering a culture of responsible gun ownership. It passed the House and Senate and is awaiting a likely veto from the Governor.

Through the safe storage measure, this legislation will help spread the practice of responsible gun owners to securely store their firearms in a locked container or with a tamper-resistant lock or supervise them when out. Instead of mandating storage methods, storage would be encouraged through the implementation of criminal penalties if a child or unauthorized person accesses a firearm and harms someone or themselves, brandishes it, or uses it to commit a crime.

Additionally, the legislation introduces a 72-hour wait period before purchasing a new firearm, which would give enough time for a background check to be conducted, and Emergency Risk Order Protections from family members. With these measures, individuals with criminal backgrounds, new domestic violence incidents, or mental health issues can be scrutinized before being permitted to obtain a firearm and potentially cause harm to themselves or others.

Ultimately, this legislation will save lives and make strides toward building up a culture of responsible gun ownership across Vermont.

Shield Bills (H.89/S.37)

In response to the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and to further cement the reproductive liberty protections established last year under Article 22 of the Vermont Constitution, S.37 and H.89 are two companion bills that help shield legal healthcare providers in Vermont from outside legal action. Both bills were overwhelmingly passed by the House and Senate and were signed into law by the Governor.

H.89 specifically protects legal reproductive and gender-affirming care services in Vermont from criminal or other civil action and allows any defendant in this type of litigation to take civil action against the petitioner. Additionally, it prevents the State of Vermont from aiding any investigation or proceeding from another state against a person or group for providing or receiving protected healthcare activities in Vermont.

S.37 provides professional protections for healthcare providers, such as barring rate hikes from medical malpractice insurers or professional organizations from revoking medical licenses from providers. It also requires nonmedical pregnancy centers to provide accurate information and advertising about their provided services so that pregnant patients are not misled.

Overdose Bill (H.222)

H.222, a bill directed at fighting the opioid epidemic in Vermont, was passed by both chambers and sent to the Governor’s desk, where it may face a possible veto. Year after year, Vermont’s opioid deaths have grown from record high to record high, including 2022, which saw a high of 237 overdoses. With these rising trends, and as more drugs tend to be laced with deadlier substances, H.222 will help fight the opioid epidemic and keep Vermonters safe.

The bill uses $8 million of settlement money from lawsuits against opioid companies to administer a safe disposal program for needles and unused prescription drugs and to expand a drug-checking program where Vermonters could legally test small amounts of drugs to make sure they are not laced with dangerous substances like fentanyl. Additionally, the bill will protect medical professionals and regular people from potential civil suits if they administer an opioid antagonist like naloxone to someone having an overdose.



EVENTS CALENDAR

Southern Vermont Summer Celebration - Sunday, June 25th at 4 pm

Middlebury Memorial Day Parade - Monday, May 29th from 8:30 am - 11 am

Communications Director Office Hours - Every Thursday from 2 pm - 3 pm

Executive Director Office Hours - Every Monday from 8:30 am - 9:30 am

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