Legislative Update - Jan 22, 2021

Dear Constituents –

Week 2, and we are back in the rhythm of House floor and Committee meetings, at least as we know it on Zoom.  Although we heard assurances from Leadership prior to the session beginning that we would be focusing on COVID relief and response, with an emphasis on economic recovery, I have yet to see evidence of its prioritization.

In the House General Committee, we are taking up bills where we left off last March, re-introducing legislation pertaining to a Homeless Bill of Rights, public school employee bargaining, and establishing criteria for a Livable Wage. We briefly discussed recommendations to the Budget Adjustment Act, but there was little in that Act that we were called upon to offer comment. We also heard testimony from the Vermont Veterans Home, unique to other states in that it is a State agency, the union that supports the VVH employees, the Vermont Veterans Agency, the Commissioner of Finance regarding the Property Transfer Tax and how it is used (or not) to fund the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Joint Fiscal Office on the Basic Needs Budget (a flawed and outdated formula), and the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and the Director of the Unemployment Insurance Department.  As our name suggests, we really are the General Committee!

On the virtual House floor, another 28 bills were introduced, bringing us to 114 thus far – subjects are far ranging, as often Legislators have particular issues that they would like to see raised or constituents who have requested that bills be submitted. Each bill is introduced by number and title (and sometimes just number) and is referred to a Committee where it is put on the virtual wall to wait until the Chair decides to take it up.  At that time, the Committee will get an introduction by the bill’s sponsor.  The next step is a walk-through by the attorney who drafted the bill. The Chair, sometimes with the Committee’s input, decides when to call in witnesses to testify (if ever) and who those witnesses will be. Testimony could take weeks or months, and bills may be put aside in favor of other priorities.  Many of the bills I will speak of in this column may never get voted out of Committee and will stay on the wall.  This biennium, as a Caucus Co-chair, I have focused on submitting bills that are priorities for our National Guard soldiers and airmen and our Veterans, as outlined by the Legislative National Guard Caucus and participating military liaisons. I’ll go into detail on them at another time, but the subjects include exemption of military retirement pay from income taxes (there are different versions of this legislation that I’m co-sponsoring), exemption of military housing and subsistence allowances from income taxes, a modernization of antiquated National Guard statutes, a military student loan repayment program, a bill outlining the minimum qualifications for the Adjutant General of the National Guard (currently there are none), an exemption for military veterans’ disability pensions from property tax calculations, and a bill aligning Guard State Active Duty Service with the Federal USERRA employment protection act. Only a couple of these bills have been introduced as of this writing, but they all will come to my Committee for consideration.

This was a busy week for Caucuses: at the National Guard Caucus meeting, we received a refresher on the procedure for election of the Adjutant General (we are the only state in the nation that still elects this officer) and employment protections under the USERRA; at the Rural Economic Development Working Group meeting, we heard about the highly successful Working Lands Enterprise Program that assists agricultural and forest producers and processors with funding and technical expertise for diversification and adding value to raw materials; and at the Tourism Caucus meeting, we listened to a presentation on the use of CRF money to promote to tourists that Vermont is open for business and how to visit here safely. I find the work of these caucuses important to the work of the Legislature, as they are a non-partisan group of legislators who come together to take a position on issues that are important to them and their constituents.

I look forward to hearing from you with your comments and concerns.  You may reach me through my website  www.hangoforhouse.com or at [email protected]

Thank you for the opportunity to serve and stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5

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