Preparing for the Session
There is an eight week period between Election Day and opening day of the 2017 Legislative Session (January 4). During this time, there’s a whirlwind of activity. Returning legislators and newly elected ones seek opportunities to get to know one another while attending issue-focused forums and conferences devoted to important public policy issues.
An All Legislature Briefing was held on November 30th at the Statehouse. We heard from the Legislature’s economist, Tom Kavet, with revenue updates for the current fiscal year (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017) and projections for FY2018. Steve Klein, director of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, provided a review of the 2017 Budget Adjustment, FY2018 Budget Gap, and Medicaid issues. The balance of the briefing was devoted to health care and statewide clean water updates. We heard a report on our health care system’s all payer model and global commitment. Clean water updates focused on the state of our rivers and streams. The state treasurer presented a preliminary list of funding options for cleaning up Lake Champlain.
Meetings with members of the developmental disabilities community and with those concerned about gaps in childcare funding have occurred. Business leaders and regional municipal leaders have shared their concerns about business challenges, along with transportation, water, and sewer needs.
In last month’s column, I talked about the Vermont Housing Finance Agency’s biennial statewide housing conference held in November. At that conference and in subsequent meetings, many of my colleagues talked about the pressing need to create and sustain affordable housing for Vermonters. The UVM Medical Center has now built money into its budget to support housing for people who would be homeless upon hospital discharge if not for this housing. Research has shown that people can maintain their health and independence when stable housing is available. When housing is not available, they are far more likely to return to the hospital for more costly care.
I expect we will hear more about the need to act on the “housing is a vaccine” research findings. Homeless Awareness Day is January 5 at the State House and I am presently working on a House resolution to honor the day.
But before we honor homeless prevention efforts, the Legislature will recognize the sacrifices of our National Guard members recently deployed overseas. I hope to see Gen. Steve Cray and other National Guard leaders in the State House on January 4th as we express our thanks for the service of our troops and our strong wish that they all return home safely.
There are always challenges in planning the first weeks of a new legislative biennium. Having new members means new committee compositions. Changing leadership in the governor’s office and in agency administration, as well as new House and Senate leadership, will mean new faces and new priorities. Returning staff will brief us on different sections of state government. Reports on agency operations and proposed policy changes will be delivered and analyzed. Bills will be introduced and debated, first in committees and then on the floor of the House and Senate. These are all great opportunities. I look forward to all of us working together, finding common ground.
The huge unknown at this point is what changes will occur in federal policy under President Trump and how these changes will affect Vermont. Working with our Congressional delegation, we will have to address those issues as they come.
Please mark your calendars for the South Burlington Legislative Forums scheduled on the 4th Monday of each month during the session, January through May. All are held at the South Burlington Community Library and start at 7pm, with the first set for January 23rd. Bring your ideas and questions, or simply come to listen. I encourage you to also be in touch by phone or email. Meanwhile, I wish you happy holidays!
Paid for by the Helen Head Campaign, Mary L. Gauthier, Treasurer 65 East Terrace, South Burlington, Vermont 05403