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Legislative Update - Town Meeting Day 2024

The Vermont Legislature is on Town Meeting Break. On everyone’s minds this week is affordability, housing, and public safety.  I have heard from constituents throughout my District and beyond with serious concerns about the shortage of law enforcement officers and first responders contributing to life-threatening situations, unaffordable housing costs, increased taxes, and escalating budgets. While these very concerning issues are brewing, the Legislature is addressing very few bills that get to the heart of these matters. Most of my committee time has been spent listening to hours of testimony amending cannabis statutes, standing up ethics policies for both state and municipal officials, and amending alcohol permits. Given the crisis that our state is in, every committee should be collaborating to solve the triple whammy of unaffordability, non-existent housing, and rising crime.  The majority party leadership is the driver of what gets taken up by committees, whether the House or the Senate will “take the lead” on developing bills, who is invited to testify, and how new drafts of legislation are presented. Regardless of who submits a bill for introduction or which committee does the hard work on the bill, who you know in this session is the determinant of a bill’s fate. I’ll point to housing as an example that everyone is familiar with: A tri-partisan housing bill H.719 was introduced into the House on January 10; it remains on the wall in House Environment & Energy.  A companion committee bill, S.311(BE HOME), was voted out favorably on February 20 after several weeks of hard work by that committee, only to remain on the wall in Senate Natural Resources, the sister committee to House E&E. During the summer, three separate study committees came together to produce three reports on ACT 250 reform that are interdependent (Natural Resources Board necessary updates to ACT 250, State Designation Programs, and Regional Planning Commissions). Those recommendations were published with the expectation that committees with ACT 250 jurisdiction would take them up concurrently, knowing that the reports represent a collaborative compromise. But House E&E has worked almost exclusively on H.687, an act relating to community resilience and biodiversity protection through land use, since January 9, without regard for the work of those three reports to advance housing goals, and despite requests from the Rural Caucus to do so. We now know that leadership is using the expected passage of this bill, which is centered on land conservation, as the vehicle for any and all housing legislation being taken up this session. In other words, whether or not housing advocates agree with the sweeping land conservation efforts being proposed in H.687, the only chance we have to enact legislation making significant investments in housing, something that hasn’t been done in over 40 years, is to agree with H.687 – that’s the train the housing caboose is being hitched to.  This Legislature needs to take a hard look at what the priorities are for Vermonters and how to achieve them in the most efficient, affordable way we can without creating overreaching and onerous regulations that drive away the people we most need to stay in our beautiful state.

Although I am not in person at meetings this week, I am always available at [email protected] and will respond within 48 hours.

Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango, Berkshire

 

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Legislative Update - 23 February 2024

Dear Constituents –

The pace at the Statehouse is picking up – every Committee has its eye on crossover (March 15 for policy bills and March 22 for money bills) and is taking testimony fast and furiously.  The House Government Ops Committee heard brand-new bills (H.622 EMS, draft expansion of Optometric scope of practice, and recommendations from the Criminal Justice Council) this week – do we expect to pass those, too?? We continue to hear from the same witnesses repeatedly on H.612 miscellaneous amendments to cannabis statutes, miscellaneous amendments to alcoholic beverage statues, and both the State and Municipal Codes of Ethics, each time with changes to the proposed language – my sense is that none of these will be ready for prime time on March 15. The sponsors don’t seem to have vetted their proposals very thoroughly ahead of time. We have briefly touched on budget issues and education finance, which should be the major focus of every committee at the Statehouse this session: trying to solve the issues of how to build more housing, help more Vermonters live independent lives, and take care of the most vulnerable among us, while refraining from making Vermont so unaffordable and so unsafe that everyone who can moves away.

The House Floor saw little action again, passing H.861 an act relating to reimbursement parity for healthcare services delivered in person, by telemedicine, and by audio-only telephone, H.132 an act relating to discrimination based on housing status, and H.745 the Vermont Parentage Act.

Our VT Rural Caucus heard from the sponsor of S.55, which is an act relating to the Open Meeting Law, and Commissioner Danielle Fitzco on the Forest Futures Strategic Roadmap, a look-ahead to where the forest economy can thrive and how to get there. To that end, the Rural Caucus has been talking about Act 250 regulatory reform and how that could positively affect rural Vermont communities.  We are actively engaging with House leadership to put forth an agenda to relax reform where development makes sense and to protect land reasonably while allowing for economic growth, such as we see with forestry and farming-related businesses.

The next few weeks promise to be a roller-coaster ride! If you have questions or concerns, please reach out at [email protected].  It is an honor to serve as your Representative. Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5

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Legislative Update - 16 February 2024

 Dear Constituents -

The biggest Statehouse news of interest to constituents this week is H.850, a bill developed by House Ways & Means and House Education to “fix” a loophole in Act 127 from 2023.  When the implementation of the new pupil weighting system formula that determines the tax capacity of a school district with respect to the needs of its individual student population was enacted, a 5% cap was included for certain districts that needed a “soft landing” for a few years because they would be losing tax capacity.  Keep in mind that as a result of Act 60 in 1997, Vermont has a statewide education fund that all taxpayers pay into, and all school districts receive funding from. Also, not all students cost the same to educate (for instance, students who are multi-language learners or who live in poverty are are more expensive to expensive to educate, as are high schoolers vs preschoolers). Unfortunately, there were some districts across the state that submitted budgets over the 5% cap “because they could”, and that resulted in warned budgets that greatly exceeded education spending from last year and could cause all of our property taxes to rise, regardless of how many fiscally frugal districts submitted reasonable budgets. H.850, which passed the House and is in the Senate, seeks to remedy this by allowing for school districts who wish to re-work their budgets to hold that vote up until April 15. It also provides a discount for those districts that lost tax capacity due to the aforementioned changes in the pupil weighting formula.

Also on the House Floor, we passed: H.247 the Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact; H.563 an act relating to criminal motor vehicle offenses involving unlawful trespass, theft, or unauthorized operation; H.649 amendments to the VT Truth and Reconciliation Commission; H.801 amendments to the Town of Waterbury charter; and S.154 an act relating to the Vermont State Plane Coordinate System.  We sent H.839 the Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) to a Committee of Conference and elected two trustees of the Vermont State College System and the Adjutant and Inspector General of the Vermont National Guard.  Of note, we are the only state in the US that still elects the TAG.

In Committee, we continued our work on: H.612 miscellaneous amendments to cannabis statutes; a state and a municipal code of ethics; H.626 animal welfare; miscellaneous amendments to the Department of Liquor and Lottery statutes; H.794 services provided to the Vermont Veterans Home; and H.641 authorizing boards of abatement to hear like cases as a class. I spent some time in House Appropriations hearing about the military budget.

In Rural Caucus this week, our NRPC Regional Planner presented a model of smart development based on the village of Richford VT that could be replicated throughout the state in communities whose downtowns lie in river corridors. We also heard from a local forester about development in rural areas outside of downtowns and the VLCT on Act250.

It is an honor to serve – [email protected]

Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango

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Legislative Update - 9 February 2024

Dear Constituents –

Committee work kept us busy at the Vermont Statehouse this week.  The House Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee dug into several bills: H.549 siting of cannabis cultivation; H.726 compliance checks by the Dept of Liquor and Lottery; H.426 creation of new cannabis licenses; State and municipal ethics committee bills (not numbered); H.730 uniformly removing members of State Boards and Commissions; H.667 Vermont-Ireland Trade Commission; H.801 Town of Waterbury charter change; miscellaneous Committee Dept of Liquor and Lottery bill; H.641 authorizing boards of abatement to hear like cases as a class; and S.154 VT State Plane Coordinate System. Our portfolio is wide and varied; if you would like to learn more about these bills, they can be found by using the bill tracker function on the General Assembly website or looking at our Committee webpage.

On the House floor, our business was completed quickly. We passed H.666 an act relating to escrow deposit bonds; H.751 an act expanding equal pay protections; and H.849 the annual Technical Corrections bill.

Of note, the Senate passed H.839 the Budget Adjustment Act, with further amendments, so that bill will now go to a Committee of Conference, which will result in a compromise bill to send to the Governor.

At the Rural Caucus this week, we heard presenters from two perspectives on how Act 250 appeals should be heard. Act 250 is our 50+ year old land use law, and it is long overdue to be modernized. Without reforms to the statutes, creation of new housing for all Vermonters will continue to lag far behind demand for housing.  For more information on proposed changes to the law, the VT Natural Resources Board website is a good place to start with the results of the “Necessary Updates to Act 250” study. H.719 and the Senate Economic Development Committee bill, the “BE HOME” bill are two pieces of legislation addressing housing needs that are getting a lot of airtime in Montpelier. H.687 in House Environment & Energy is a bill that is also getting a lot of attention, which is concerning to me. The proposed changes to the law that this bill would implement can be seen by looking at these two maps of Act 250 triggers: currentlyhttps://anrmaps.vermont.gov/websites/public/SecretaryRequest/02072024_ACT250Existing.pdf

And if H.687 were to pass   https://anrmaps.vermont.gov/websites/public/SecretaryRequest/02062024_ACT250Triggers_rev2.pdf

 

It is an honor to serve as your Representative. 

Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5

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Legislative Update - 2 February 2024

Dear Constituents –

At the Statehouse: This week brought more bill introductions in our committees and very little action on the House Floor. Committee Chairs are trying to hear from sponsors of as many of the almost 900 bills that have been introduced as they have time for. Based on whether they think the bill will have traction to last the session, they will then take the bill off the wall, and the committee will hear testimony from various witnesses and subject matter experts. If there are bills that constituents have an interest in, you are encouraged to reach out to the Chair and Committee Assistant of that committee to ask to submit written or oral testimony. This information is found on the General Assembly website, on each committee’s webpage. Examples of bills of interest from the House Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee: siting of outdoor cannabis cultivation, cannabis special events permits, miscellaneous amendments to cannabis statutes, municipal and state codes of ethics, and amendments to statutes relating to the Office of Professional Regulation. Committees also spend much of their time listening to summaries of reports mandated in previous legislative sessions.  This week, we heard from the Vermont Veterans Home on how their facility in Southern Vermont is faring during this time of healthcare worker shortages and nursing home closures (I am happy to report that they are doing very well!).

On the House Floor, we passed one bill of significance, H.363, an act relating to prohibiting discrimination based on certain hair types and styles.  This bill takes language from the national CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Act and was passed out overwhelmingly by a 132-5 roll call vote. You may notice that some of the roll call votes don’t add up to 150 – there are times when representatives are absent from the Floor, and these names, along with the yeas and nays, may be found on the General Assembly website after typing in the bill number and clicking on “Roll Call Votes”.

The VT National Guard completed their four-part series of presentations on the mission and vision of the Guard.  These recordings may be found on the General Assembly website under “Announcements”.  The depth and breadth of what this organization does for the State of Vermont is profound, and we are grateful for their service.

This week’s Rural Caucus meeting focused on the health of our rural hospitals. We heard from several CEOs around the State, and their presentations were starkly realistic:  they painted a picture of people living in hospitals because there is nowhere else in the community for them to live; patients with mental health challenges who need specialized treatment yet have no physical symptoms; transportation challenges on weekends and after-hours being met by EMT services that should be responding to emergencies. It is an honor to serve our rural communities.

Reach out at [email protected].

Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango

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Legislative Update - 26 January 2024

Dear Constituents

The rhythm of the Legislative session has set in as we complete our third full week back in Montpelier. The House floor continued to be mostly uneventful, with more municipal charter changes and a captive insurance bill (H.659) passing. We heard the Governor’s Budget address, where he laid out his priorities within the confines of the resources we currently have without raising any new taxes or fees. The House passed H.839, the Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) late Thursday, on a roll call vote of 112-24. This Act is the traditional “truing up” of last year’s budget, whereby any remaining funds are re-distributed, and any emergent issues are taken care of. In the past few bienniums, more and more policy decisions have been inserted into the BAA, without the benefit of robust committee hearings throughout the session to vet those changes to statute.  This year, the House Human Services Committee, requested through the BAA an extension of the hotel/motel program until June 30 and a reversion to the pre-pandemic “adverse weather” sheltering  policy, a discussion that at the very least should have happened within the committee hearing process (it didn’t) and the opportunity for the House to vote on this policy separately from the rest of the BAA (it didn’t). For that reason, I and 23 of my colleagues, voted no on this important mid-year bill. H.839 as written without this very late in the day change was a reasonable bill, containing many good funding decisions.  I am grateful to my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee for working so diligently to produce what was a bill worthy of a yes vote until the last-minute addition of $5M for this program extension and change in policy.

In the House Government Operations & Military Affairs Committee, we have had several new bill introductions and taken up some complex legislation: Two draft bills on Ethics, dr 24-0461relating to a Municipal Code of Ethics and dr 24-0229 relating to a State Code of Ethics; and H.626 relating to animal welfare. All three of these bills are long and contain many issues that will need much committee time to hear from witnesses.

The National Guard continued their four-part series, this week on Funding sources and Facilities. It is astonishing how much our VT Guard contributes to the State’s economy by bringing in federal dollars for construction projects, which in turn employ Vermont workers, who pay income, property, sales, and meals taxes.  These projects have a direct line to much-needed revenue growth for services and programs that benefit all Vermonters.

The Rural Caucus meets weekly, and this week’s discussion topic was community resilience and biodiversity protection through land use, as presented in bill H.687.  A priority for the Rural Caucus this session is to look at Act 250, its impact on rural areas, and the bills that touch on it, with this bill being the first of several that we will hear about.

It is an honor to serve. 

Stay well, Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5

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Legislative Update - 19 JAN 2024

Dear Constituents –

This week in the Statehouse felt more routine – bill introductions have slowed down, and we’ve begun our work on the issues before us.  In the Government Operations & Military Affairs Committee, that consists of diving into reports filed by the State Ethics Commission, the Cannabis Control Board, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Department of States Attorneys and Sheriffs, the Law Enforcement Advisory Board, and a joint hearing on the EMS Regional Coordination Study.  Each of these reports comes with recommendations for further legislation, which we must be diligent about researching and weighing the pros and cons within the construct of the State Budget. If you would like to learn more, these reports and the associated bills are on the House Government Operations & Military Affairs webpage under that day’s date or Reports & Other Resources. Resulting from this work, we are considering bills relating to a State and a Municipal Ethics Code, miscellaneous amendments to adult-use cannabis statutes, and further initiatives around public safety.  We also continued our work making recommendations to House Appropriations on the portions of the Budget that fall under our jurisdiction. While many are worthy, all programs cannot continue to be expanded in a year when taxes and fees are rising and the federal funding windfall is over; the Appropriations Committees have a monumental task ahead of them.  This Committee passed out one bill this week, H.649, an act relating to the Vermont Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Readers may recall from 2021-22 our work on the House General Committee trying to bring a more specific focus to this bill; we were not successful in narrowing the scope of Act 128, which set the mechanism to stand up a Commission to gather information on individuals and populations that were historically institutionalized and overlooked during the era of the eugenics movement. That Commission commenced operations last Spring, but when a Commissioner resigned, there was no mechanism in place to replace a vacant seat.  This bill, H.649, came to us with the request that we set up that mechanism, which we were ready to do as guided by the purpose of our committee work. However, the bill contained some other pieces that were less palatable: a request for an additional $1.1M, an extension of 10 months to complete the Commission’s work, and an exception to the Open Meeting Law because of the sensitive nature of this work.  Ultimately, it was this last piece that tipped the balance in the room to vote 9-3-0 to pass this bill, with myself and two colleagues voting no out of concern for the expansive scope of the Commission and its timeline and potentially limiting public participation in these open meetings.

The House Floor was very quiet this week, as we passed only a few bills that made municipal charter changes (H.516 for Essex Jct and S.141 for the Fairfax Fire District), some technical corrections (H.560 to workers’ compensation rulemaking and H.599 reinstating a statute that was inadvertently removed last session) and heard commemorative Resolutions.

The National Guard continued their series called Guard 101, this week focusing on the Mission of the Guard, in their roles for the State, the Federal Government, and in Global arenas. This series is brought to us by the VT National Guard & Veterans Affairs Caucus, which I co-Chair, the VT National Guard, and the House Speakers’ Office as an educational resource for legislators who will be voting in the upcoming election for the Adjutant General of the VT National Guard.  Major General Gregory Knight will be running for re-election, and it is notable that we remain the only state in the United States that still elects our TAG; all other states’ Adjutants General are appointed by the Executive Branch. 

The VT Rural Caucus, which I also co-Chair, held its weekly meeting with presentations from the UVM Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships, a USDA Rural Development specialist, and the VT Chief Recovery Officer, focusing on what those organizations can do for communities in recovery or revitalization mode.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]. It is an honor to represent Franklin-5. Stay well, Rep Lisa Hango

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Legislative Update - 12 January 2024

Dear Constituents –

It was our first full week back at the Statehouse, and a busy one it was. My week began with Co-Chairing the VT National Guard & Veterans Affairs Caucus meeting to discuss priority legislation and to recap meetings held during the Fall to implement various strategies to bring awareness to the Guard’s recruiting crisis. Legislators attended events hosted by the Guard at both Norwich University and UVM, with an exchange of ideas leading to legislation submitted on behalf of the Guard, H.739. The Guard also hosted part one of a Legislative orientation to their mission and vision, ahead of the February election for the Adjutant General, and we saw the changing of leadership with Deputy Adjutant General Mr Ken Gragg retiring and being succeeded by Brigadier General Hank Harder. We were pleased to offer a House Concurrent Resolution on the House Floor to honor Mr Gragg.

In Committee, we passed several municipal charter changes favorably, as well as hearing several bill introductions, beginning our work on technical challenges to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and most importantly, amendments to the Cannabis Control statues H.612. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with your concerns on this bill!

On the House floor, we saw action on H.27, an act relating to coercive controlling behaviors and abuse protection orders and H.72, an act relating to harm reduction criminal justice response (formerly known as “the safe injection site” bill). Both passed on roll call votes, and you can see how your Representative voted by typing the bill number into the bill tracker on the General Assembly website and clicking on “roll calls” under House Action.

I was honored to be part of a tri-partisan coalition of legislators who wrote a bill in consultation with the Administration to expand the number of housing units in Vermont by regulatory reform and incentivizing smart growth, H.719 - https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2024/H.719

 

This coalition bill was the focus of the Governor’s weekly press conference, linked at https://www.google.com/gasearch?q=governor%20scott%20press%20conference%201/10/2024%20vermont&tbm=&source=sh/x/gs/m2/5#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:8582408a,vid:QevoVwhP4dc,st:0

 

The Rural Caucus of VT met and set our priorities (voted on by membership) for the session.  You can view them and learn more about the Caucus, which I also Co-Chair, at https://www.vtruralcaucus.com/

This week also brought new interns to the Statehouse, two of whom are interning for me;  one with the Rural Caucus, and one with the Republican Caucus.

Please note that there will be a Legislative Breakfast at the Enosburg American Legion on January 22 at 8am – the public is invited to attend and meet your legislators.

You may reach me at [email protected]

Stay well, Rep Lisa A Hango, Franklin-5

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St Albans Messenger article - Jan 4, 2024

Please see link for an interview with the St Albans Messenger on Legislative priorities for the 2024 session:

https://www.samessenger.com/news/rep-lisa-hango-highlights-her-work-for-the-upcoming-legislative-session/article_94610cfe-ab13-11ee-9528-474d6e48bd36.html

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Legislative Update January 5, 2024

Dear Constituents -

The 2024 Vermont Legislative session opened this week with the Governor’s State of the State address highlighting the challenges that we face and those that we’ve surmounted since adjournment.  More on the Governor’s budget will follow later this month after he’s given his Budget Address, but the general theme is one of caution and thoughtful consideration of each and every funding request.  Are the dollars that are being allocated truly benefiting Vermonters? Stay tuned.

 

The Governor’s address underscored three main issues to focus on: Housing, Public Safety, and Affordability.  Representative Ashley Bartley (Fairfax, Georgia) and I are co-sponsors of a non-partisan bill outlining reforms to Act 250 and municipal zoning laws and implements various housing concepts that will help to alleviate the housing crisis that Vermont is experiencing by making new units available for all Vermonters. We worked diligently to bring together a tri-partisan group of legislators who signed on as lead sponsors, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work across the aisle on such an important issue.  Senator Randy Brock is the co-sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate that also has bi-partisan support.

 

Other Franklin and Grand Isle County Representatives and Senators have sponsored important legislation, which I have co-signed, relating to public safety issues, something that is foremost on our minds as Vermont headlines shout the news of increases in both petty and violent crimes. On a recent visit to the courts, we saw firsthand some of the results of state policies going soft on crime, and the outcome is concerning.

 

Affordability is on all of our minds.  As we knew would happen, the influx of Federal money has come to a screeching halt, and unfortunately our colleagues’ priorities have not caught up with this reality.  Increased DMV fees, a mandatory payroll tax to fund childcare, and a looming property tax increase in many communities are taking effect this year, and we are all feeling the effect on our household budgets.

 

On the House floor, aside from a few Resolutions and routine announcements, the only other business that was taken up was to vote on the Governor’s veto of H.158 (expansion of the Bottle Deposit statute to include glass wine bottles and plastic water bottles). This bill was touted as a much-needed update to the current law, but I see it as a shift away from the recycling facilities that have made numerous capital investments to handle these items and putting the cost of handling deposits squarely on the consumer and the producer. The veto was handily overridden, 112-32.  On any roll call vote, you can see how your legislators voted by typing the bill number into the bill tracker on the General Assembly website and clicking on Roll Call Votes.

 

In the House Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee, we discussed priorities for the session, which is the final year of the biennium, in order to ensure that our interests make it over the finish line by May.

 

It is an honor to return to the Statehouse to represent you. Please feel welcome to reach out to me at [email protected]

Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5

 

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