I. Expanding Safe and Affordable Housing
Over the past three years, the General Assembly has committed about $375 million to housing — roughly half from federal COVID relief funds and half from the General Fund and prop- erty transfer tax. These appropriations have been used to enhance shelter capacity and supportive services for those who are homeless, to build more than 1,000 units of housing that will be affordable to low- and middle-income families, to repair rental properties that are currently un- available because they are not up to code, and to provide incentives to develop accessory dwelling units and down-payment grants for first-generation homebuyers.
Given Vermont’s critical housing needs, bolstering our housing stock was once again a top priority. Through federal COVID relief funds, over $42 million was earmarked this year in S.210 and S.226 to help Vermont renters and homeowners. With this funding, we were able to:
● Dedicate $20 million toward forgivable loans to property owners to bring rental proper- ties up to code, and incentivize the construction of new Accessory Dwelling Units, to expand Vermont’s rental housing stock.
● Direct $22 million to subsidize new construction to lower costs for middle-income home- buyers, plus $1 million to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) for down payment grants for first-generation homebuyers. Repair and improvement grants will also be available for manufactured homes.
● Reform zoning laws, expand tax credits, and create pilot projects to encourage denser development and more vibrant town centers.
● Create a statewide contractor registry to protect against consumer fraud in residential construction projects with a value of over $10,000.
● Increase the Department of Fire Safety’s capacity to conduct rental inspections.
Overall, these investments — a total of over $90 million when combined with mid-year budget adjustments dedicated to emergency shelter and low-income housing — will enable us to provide more safe, healthy, and affordable housing as soon as we can. We’ve advanced funding and policy that will make a dent in our critical housing needs, while establishing pilot programs that could provide a template for future investment on a state and federal level.
II. Investing in Workforce and Economic Development
S.11 is a significant workforce and economic development bill that addresses the negative economic impacts of COVID on our employers, workers, and families and establishes opportunities to grow Vermont’s economy. The bill creates or enhances programs to increase workforce participation and reinforce and sustain workers in nursing, mental health care, childcare, and the trades. It includes scholarships, forgivable loans, education, training, and intern- ship programs. S.11 provides for economic development programs to support businesses and municipalities, sick leave related to COVID, and tax credits. It also assists specific sectors, including the creative economy.
In total, $113.5 million is appropriated using ARPA and General and Education Funds to achieve these goals. A few highlights include:
● Forgivable loans for businesses ($19 million)
● Creative economy ($9 million)
● Nursing and healthcare ($12.5 million)
● Trades ($4.5 million)
● COVID paid family leave ($15.18 million)
● Unemployment insurance ($8 million)
● Community recovery and revitalization grant program ($10 million)
● Downtown and village tax credit ($2.45 million)
● Continuation of Everyone Eats program ($1.3 million)
III. Financial Stability for Our Public Pension System
The General Assembly has put the State’s public pension system on a path toward long- term sustainability, so that teachers, troopers, and other state employees can rely on a well-funded, solvent system when they retire. Legislators balanced commitments — one to state employees and teachers and another to Vermont taxpayers — in the face of a $5.6 billion unfunded liability that would have continued to grow with- out action.
Act 114 is the result of 15 months of hard work to engage Vermonters in a shared and sustainable solution. The State of 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 healthcare certainty for retired teachers and state employees for years to come. The law represents the culmination of months of hard work and negotiation by the Pension Task Force, made up of legislators, public employees, and an administration employee. Through that collaboration, we won unequivocal tripartisan support and got a deal across the finish line.
The Governor vetoed the bill, but the House and Senate voted unanimously to override. The resounding override sends a clear and strong signal of support for our hard-working teachers and state employees. This is the first time in State history that both chambers have voted unanimously to override a veto.
Act 114 gives our teachers and state employees peace of mind: They will have their hard-earned pension when they retire.
IV. Reproductive Liberty as a Constitutional Right
For many decades, Vermont has recognized reproductive choices as deeply personal, fundamental rights that should be free from governmental or political restrictions. Reproductive choices affect all Vermonters in their freedom to become a parent, use birth control, or choose or refuse sterilization.
This session, after a four-year, deliberate, and inclusive legislative process, the House passed Proposal 5 by an overwhelming majority. If ratified by the voters in November, Prop 5 will enshrine reproductive liberty into our State’s constitution, ensuring that these rights are preserved for future generations.
While the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn federal protections provided by Roe vs. Wade, and many states across the country are slipping backwards in their laws regarding reproductive liberty, Vermonters will now be able to vote these values into our State Constitution this November, a historic opportunity at a critical time for our nation.
V. Environmental Protection
A. Clean Water
The legislature continues to support clean water for Vermont and Vermonters. This includes investing in water, sewer, and stormwater infra- structure and programs that improve community resilience to climate change impacts, such as flooding.
In total, Vermont received $1.2 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. In the FY22 budget, $100 million of that amount was designated for water and sewer investments. The FY23 budget allocates an additional $104 million. This includes:
● $31 million for permitting, design, and construction support in certain stormwater retro- fit projects
● $15 million to support design and construction of community-scale water and decentralized wastewater projects to reinforce underserved designated centers
● $5 million to municipalities, businesses, and nonprofits to install or enhance pretreatment processes to address high-strength or toxic wastes
● $10 million to municipalities with small and primarily residential customer bases to up- grade or replace water or wastewater treatment systems at risk of failure
● $20 million to assist municipalities to design and construct projects to reduce or eliminate wet weather sewer overflows
● $6.5 million for improving water and wastewater systems at coop-owned and nonprofit mobile home parks
● $15 million to replace failed on-site water and wastewater supplies for Vermonters with low income or who are unable to access or afford market rate loans
● $1.5 million to update leaking service lines and old plumbing and replace outdated fixtures with high-efficiency devices
Looking ahead, $355 million more is anticipated for water investments through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Funds are anticipated mid to late summer: $9.5 million to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) this year, increasing to $13 million by 2026; and $19 million to the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF) this year, increasing to $26 million by 2026. In each of five years there will also be $30 million for lead service line replacement.
Anticipated this year for tackling PFAS- chemical contaminants is $500,000 to the CWSRF, increasing to $1.125 million by 2026, as well as $8 million for five years to the DWSRF. There will also be $8 million per year for five years targeting Lake Champlain water quality projects. This federal IIJA funding is in addition to an ongoing annual appropriation of $6 million through the EPA/Lake Champlain Basin Program. There are, addition- ally, millions anticipated to help clean up twelve Superfund sites and more than 5,000 brownfield properties in Vermont.
In 2022, the legislature also passed H.466 with strong tri-partisan support. This bill creates a program to track and manage our State’s surface water withdrawals. The program ensures that there is adequate surface water, even at times of drought, to meet our water needs and maintain water quality standards now and into the future. A major housing bill, S.226, also contains flood- plain protection incentives to reduce the flood damage risks that face our communities.
B. Investing in Climate Action
The State’s FY23 budget includes $566.7 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Of that amount, $129.8 million is allocated for weatherization and other climate change mitigation investments. These allocations are informed by the knowledge that, in Vermont, transportation and thermal (building heating) are the sectors that pose the greatest challenges in reducing greenhouse emissions. They include:
● $45 million to the Home Weatherization Assistance Program for lower-income households
● $35 million to the Electric Efficiency Fund for weatherization incentives to Vermonters of moderate income
● $2 million to support continued build- out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure along highway networks
● $20 million to provide low- and moderate-income households with financial and technical assistance to upgrade home electrical systems to enable installation of energy saving technologies, plus $5 million to install, at low or no cost, heat-pump water heaters
● $15 million to improve landscape resilience and mitigate flood hazards
● $2 million to help low- and moderate-in- come households purchase electric equipment for heating, cooling, and vehicle charging, plus support for municipal back-up electricity storage installations
● $4.8 million to provide farms with help implementing soil-based practices that improve soil quality and nutrient retention, increase crop production, minimize erosion potential, and re- duce waste discharges
● $1 million for the Urban and Community Forestry Program to plant up to 5,000 trees to improve air quality and reduce heat island effects
The FY23 budget also includes climate investments from the General and Transportation Funds: $32.2 million and $600,000 respectively. These allocations support electric vehicle charging infrastructure, electrification incentives, and investments in public transportation.
One final investment in this category is $8 million from the General Fund to provide up to 70% reimbursement to municipal and cooperative electrical distribution utilities for implementation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure. This infrastructure provides information necessary to improve energy efficiency, while also helping utilities manage costs and improve customer service.
C. Helping Vermonters Switch to Clean Heat
The House and Senate passed H.715, the Clean Heat Standard (“CHS”), to put Vermont on a path to a more affordable, lower-emissions energy future. The CHS is the most significant policy recommended in Vermont’s Climate Action Plan and the most important climate bill passed by the legislature this year.
The CHS would obligate companies selling heating fuel in Vermont to lower greenhouse gas emissions over time. The requirements could be met by delivering a range of clean heat alternatives — heat pumps, weatherization, advanced wood heating — that reduce fossil fuel consumption, or by displacing some fossil fuel delivery with lower carbon-intensity biofuels. Consumers would continue to have a choice with their heating options and would benefit from more incentives when they choose cleaner heat alternatives.
In early May, the Governor vetoed H.715. In his letter to the General Assembly, he requested that the CHS return to the legislature for final review before its 2025 approval and that the bill include more analysis of CHS costs and impacts. In fact, the final bill had included these measures so it is unclear why the Governor used these rationales to justify his veto. Unfortunately, the House was one vote short of overriding the veto.
The climate crisis is a threat to our com- munity and our prosperity and we cannot afford to delay action. We must move forward to help all Vermonters adapt our lives, communities, and businesses to the accelerating effects of climate change in a way that leaves no one behind.
D. Protecting Biodiversity
Vermont biodiversity has been declining precipitously in recent decades. The State continues to lose forest cover, and the remaining forest is increasingly fragmented. H.606 establishes
the goals of conserving 30% of the State’s land by 2030 and 50% by 2050. The Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources will develop a plan to meet these goals using Vermont Conservation Design as a guide.
VCD is a state-created map of “the areas of the state that are of highest priority for maintaining ecological integrity.” Conservation would be achieved through a combination of private, state, and federal land. To further these goals, H.697 extends the Use Value (Current Use) program to include reserve forestland under certain conditions. Reserve forestland is land that is managed for the purpose of attaining old forest values and functions. This extension encourages the management of land for old forests, which currently comprise less than one percent of Vermont’s forestland. Protecting old forests is important as they are more complex than young forests and thus harbor greater biodiversity.
VI. Judiciary Committee Work
A. Advancing Firearm Safety Measures
Some of our most at-risk Vermonters are those fleeing domestic violence. The majority
of all homicides in Vermont are domestic violence-related, and almost everyone involves a firearm. Act 87 helps address this danger by clarifying that judges can order the relinquishment of firearms in an emergency Relief from Abuse Order to remove guns from emotional, potentially dangerous situations.
The law advances further important public safety measures. It removes firearms from other potentially volatile situations—and protects our frontline health care workers—by banning fire- arms from hospitals. The law also protects Vermonters by extending the amount of time some- one must wait to purchase a firearm when their criminal background check is delayed.
B. Identifying Racial Disparities in Vermont’s Criminal Justice System
We continue to work toward a fairer and more equitable Vermont. But we know that Vermonters of color are much more likely to be stopped by law enforcement than white Vermonters. We also know that Black Vermonters make up a disproportionate number of incarcerated persons in our State. To help identify and address the sources of these disparities, we need better data from the State’s criminal justice system.
To that end, H.546 creates a Division of Racial Justice Statistics. The new division will collect data on individual interactions with law enforcement, State’s Attorneys, Vermont courts, the Department of Corrections, and other entities to uncover and remedy systemic racial bias and disparities in our criminal and juvenile justice system. An advisory council has also been created to incorporate the data into suggestions for concrete actions the legislature can take as we strive to make our State welcoming to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
C. Access to Adoption Records
Act 100 allows adopted Vermonters to access their original birth certificates. During testimony on this bill, many adoptees spoke movingly on how incomplete they felt, how difficult it was to move on without having birth documents — access that most Vermonters take for granted. With passage of this law, adopted Vermonters— over 30,000 of our neighbors—will own their history in a way previously denied to them. It also creates a registry for future birth parents to clarify if they wish to be contacted by children they have felt the need to give up for adoption. This registry also allows them to share any information they wish their birth children to know, making this process kinder for both birth parents and adoptees.
D. Medical Monitoring for Vermonters Exposed to Toxic Substances
Over the past several years, Vermonters have been disturbed to learn of several incidents of toxic contamination in our State. People exposed to these toxic substances often have
no way of knowing what the long-term consequences could be for their health. But they may not have the financial means to afford the medical monitoring that could catch health issues at an early stage when treatment would be most beneficial. Act 93 provides a cause of action for compelling the party responsible for exposure to a toxic substance to cover the costs of medical monitoring of those affected by the contamination. It lifts a burden of uncertainty off Vermonters coping with long-term health concerns through no fault of their own.
VII. Advancing Equity
A. Amending Vermont’s Constitution to Address Slavery
Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777 when it ratified its first constitution. But the ban is not absolute. As currently written, the prohibition against slavery only applies to people over the age of 21. Additionally, under the current language, the Constitution does not bar a Vermonter over 21 from consenting to being bound into slavery. Proposal 2 would amend Article 1, Chapter 1 of the Vermont Constitution, replacing this original section with language stating plainly that “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.” Changing the State constitution is a four-year process. The legislature must approve proposed language in two successive biennia.
In early February 2022, the legislature gave its second vote of approval. The proposed amendment will be on the ballot for all Vermont voters to consider in November 2022. Some may question the need for this change because slavery has been outlawed in the United States since 1865. The unfortunate reality in 2022 is that forms of modern slavery, such as sex trafficking and the labor of undocumented immigrants, still exist in this country and Vermont has not been spared. Given the continuing challenges with racism in our society, passing Prop 2 sends a crucial message about the aspirations we have for our State and how all Vermonters deserve to be treated.
B. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
If signed by the Governor, Act 128 establishes the Vermont Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission will spend three years examining systemic discrimination that has been caused or permitted by State laws and policies. Its final report, due by June 2026, will detail findings and recommend steps Vermont can take to eliminate institutional, structural, and systemic discrimination, and to address the related harm. Progress reports are due every year to the legislature. In creating a Vermont that works for all of us, it’s essential to seek out the voices of com- munities that have been and remain impacted by discrimination and racism, to learn from their experiences and work with them to eliminate disparities and redress harms.
C. Expanding Access, Lowering Barriers to Safe and Affordable Housing
In 2015, the General Assembly created a revolving fund within the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. That fund, the Down Payment Assistance Program, assists first-time homebuyers who meet income-based criteria. The program has been very successful. From 2015 through March of 2022, it has provided $7,474,098 in loans to 1,565 borrowers. If signed by the Governor, S.226 would expand the program to include a $1 million grant program for first-time homebuyers who are also first-generation buyers. The bill recognizes that Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color have historically lacked access to capital for home ownership and have been systemically discriminated against in the housing market. It directs the Housing Finance Agency to work with community racial justice organizations to develop an outreach plan, which would ensure that down payment assistance opportunities are effectively communicated, and that funds are equitably available, to communities of Vermonters who have historically suffered housing discrimination.
S.226 also would amend provisions of the Vermont public accommodations and fair housing laws. Those laws are currently under-enforced because Vermont courts inconsistently apply the current standards for harassment and discrimination claims in the sale or rental of a dwelling
or real estate. S.226 clarifies and simplifies those standards to remove barriers to such claims. (In a separate bill, H.729, the statute of limitations for filing such claims is extended to six years.)
Finally, S.226 would establish an advisory Land Access Opportunity Board, composed of representatives of groups that have faced historic discrimination in land and home ownership. The new board will work with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and its partners to re- duce current disparities as a result of that dis- crimination.
D. Supporting Transgender Youth
Recognizing that several states have restricted or banned access to best practice medical care for transgender youth, the General Assembly in J.R.S.53 affirmed its support for transgender youth who seek essential medical care for the treatment of gender dysphoria. Mi- nor patients, their parents, and their healthcare providers should have the freedom to decide what medical care is appropriate in accordance with current medical best practices. In the resolution, the General Assembly commits to exploring all available options to ensure that transgender youth and their families are safe in Vermont and able to make the best medical care decisions for themselves in consultation with their healthcare providers.
E. Pupil Weighting Factors
In Vermont, we take seriously our collective responsibility for educating all our students in every corner of the State. This year, Act 127, we took significant steps to update our education funding system to account for the varying costs of educating different categories of students. For example, it costs more to achieve equivalent educational outcomes for English language learners or children from economically-deprived backgrounds than for children who are not in those cohorts. S.287 modifies the educational funding mechanism to provide districts with the resources needed to achieve strong outcomes for all students.
A. Mental Health Support for Educators and Students
The COVID pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on the social, emotional, and mental health of Vermont’s school communities. Act 112 taps into $3 million in federal stimulus funds to establish a two-year program that will offer COVID recovery support for teachers and staff ($500,000) and provide grants to expand mental health and wellbeing services for children and youth ($2.5 million).
The student-focused grants can be used for a wide variety of programs, such as expanding school-based counseling and after-school or summer programs. Grant recipients must work closely with teachers, school counselors, and staff to provide one-on-one or small-group sessions that address important topics like resilience, sub- stance abuse, suicide prevention, social isolation, and anxiety. The grants will target geographically diverse and underserved regions in Vermont.
B. Free Universal Breakfast and Lunch for the 2022–2023 School Year
Vermont made huge strides in combating food insecurity during the pandemic. With federal support, public schools provided free breakfast and lunch for all students during the last two school years. But this federal funding ends in June 2022. To maintain this critical program, the legislature passed S.100 to continue universal school meals through the 2022–2023 school year with $29 million from the Education Fund surplus.
S.100 reduces hunger and erases stigma in our schools by ensuring that a nutritious break- fast and lunch are available to all students. Under the pre-pandemic program, not all food-insecure students qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch; the income limit was set very low, at $32,227 for a single parent with one child. During the upcoming school year, we will collect data around the cost of universal school meals and study potential long-term funding opportunities for this program.
C. School Construction Updates
This year the legislature continued its work on school facilities statewide, including obtaining an inventory and conditions assessment of Vermont’s school buildings. It covered 305 schools and made initial assessments on safety, security, technology, and systems such as roofing, HVAC, plumbing, and fire suppression and prevention. Additional assessment is ongoing. Schools must also conduct radon testing by 2025.
D. Investing in Childcare
Vermonters spend more of their income on childcare than the citizens of any other State. Vermont parents of toddlers spend an average of one quarter of their annual income on childcare. Even for those who can afford it, quality childcare is scarce. To meet that demand, we need to create more than 8,000 new slots. Over the past four years, the legislature has been working to help in many different ways, including:
● Expansion of the Child Care Financial Assistance Program eligibility requirement from 300% to 350% of the federal poverty level
● Elimination of co-pays for all families below 150% of poverty level
● Early educator access to a loan repayment program of $700,000 and a scholarship program of $1.8 million
● A study looking into the goals of no family paying more than 10% of income for childcare and higher compensation for early childhood educators
● $27 million of Vermont’s ARPA funds invested in childcare stabilization
in FY22 budget adjustment and $1 million added in FY23 budget
● $800,000 a year for capacity grants to create more slots in childcare centers with a focus on ages 0 to 3
● $125,000 grants to students pursuing early childhood education careers
● $6,000,000 for childcare from unallocated reserves if we have at least $86 million in undesignated funds at the end of FY22
● $6 million added for retention bonuses
IX. A Balanced and Transformative State Budget
The FY2023 state budget (H.740) totals $8.3 billion, a 5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The budget honors the commitment the legislature made at the beginning of the pan- demic: to support Vermonters, their families, and their communities across all 14 counties, and to leave no one behind in a strong statewide recovery.
That commitment includes investing $453.7 million in federal COVID relief in five broad areas: Economy, Workforce, and Communities; Housing; Broadband Connectivity; Climate Action; and Clean Water. Those investments, added to FY2022 investments, complete the allocations
of the $1.2 billion received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The budget includes a long-overdue rate increase of 8 percent to community mental health providers, designated agencies, specialized service agencies, and home health care providers. It provides millions to support substance abuse disorder prevention and recovery. It includes increased funds for Adult Day programs, Vermont Legal Aid and the Vermont Health Care Advocate.
We’re investing $96 million in broadband projects and $137.8 million in community, work- force, and economic development. The University of Vermont base budget is increased by $10 mil- lion, the first increase in 14 years. The Vermont State College System also has a base increase of $10 million, plus $14.9 million to serve as a “bridge” in their ongoing transition to fiscal and operational stability. Coverage is expanded by $4.9 million for working families within the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.
This year’s investments in housing pro- grams, including the “missing middle” and manufactured housing, tally $90 million. Transformational climate and water initiatives include $80 million for weatherization and $45 million for municipal energy resilience grants. There is also $8 million for advanced metering infrastructure and over $60 million for additional electrification initiatives.
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