2021 Town Meeting Update
Thank you to town officials for being flexible and adapting to the COVID situation and Town Meeting; it is all new to many of us, and I commend your for your work!
The Legislature continues to work remotely and will for the remainder of this session. The silver lining to our remote work is that we are able to attend more meetings locally – you all are just a click of a button away on my computer – something that isn’t always possible when I spend my weeks in Montpelier. The downside to this is zoom fatigue – 10 hours a day on zoom can be really tiring.
As a body, the General Assembly is working to ensure that Vermonters continue to receive assistance for a variety of issues compounded by the pandemic – small business relief, unemployment benefits, rental and utility assistance, food security, greater broadband capacity, increased COVID testing and vaccine distribution, and helping municipalities navigate this unprecedented Town Meeting schedule.
In my House committee, General, Housing, and Military Affairs, we are working with the Administration to properly allocate $200 million in rental and utility assistance for landlords and tenants that was passed by the Federal government at the end of 2020, and we continue to work with our community partners on long-term goals of ending homelessness and increasing the supply and affordability of our housing stock on a State-wide level.
We are taking up legislation to make small changes to liquor licensing statutes, such as continuing to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold with take-out meals, modernizing statutes pertaining to the National Guard, and improving on rental housing health and safety standards.
As part of my work, I am one of a tri-partisan group of legislators to found the Legislative National Guard Caucus, and our work has been focused on supporting National Guard troops on their various deployments to the US Capitol, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as their mission at home to assemble COVID test kits, provide COVID testing, stand up and dismantle alternate ICU sites, and distribute food to our communities. We are grateful for their service and to the leadership of Major General Greg Knight, our Adjutant General, to successfully fulfill their State and Federal missions.
Thank you for the privilege to represent you in the Legislature.
Rep Lisa A Hango
Dear Constituents –
As the days grow longer and Spring approaches, the work in the virtual Statehouse also gets busier. With Annual Town and School District Meetings being conducted remotely, days as well as evenings have been slated for Zoom. I would like to take this time to commend your town and school district officials who have successfully enabled us to participate in the electronic version of Town Meeting. I found the meetings I’ve attended to be well-run, informative, and timely; if you haven’t been able to attend your meeting, you can find a recording on your town or school district website or on YouTube, and if you have not already done so, please exercise your right to vote by mailing in your ballot or visiting your socially distanced, safe municipal polling place on Town Meeting Day.
On the House floor, we successfully passed H.89, limiting the liability for on-farm Agritourism activities, two Resolutions - regarding continuation of our remote work until May 15 and clarifying that devotionals and floor speeches are not to be journalized - and H.317, our newest COVID relief bill, among others. Nearly 400 bills have been introduced, among them H.332, co-sponsored by myself and Rep Durfee from Shaftsbury, which is a Healthcare workforce development/ educational assistance bill establishing a scholarship/loan repayment program with a service obligation for eligible Physician Assistants and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses/students. I am also co-sponsoring a loan repayment bill (H.219) for Guard members, with Reps Birong and Sibilia, my Co-Chairs in the Legislative National Guard Caucus, and H.328 that provides greater access to educational opportunities for Guard family members. Education is very important to me!
The House General Committee continues to take testimony on JRH.2, an apology for the eugenics movement, and H.96, the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force. We also began taking testimony this week on H.256, a bill dealing with rental housing health and safety standards, H.157, a bill requiring registration for construction contractors through the Office of Professional Regulation, H.313, a miscellaneous alcoholic beverage bill, and H.149, a modernization of the National Guard Statutes. Most of these bills are prioritized by leadership for passage prior to crossover on March 12.
Caucus meetings attended this week were informative – at the Older Vermonters Caucus, I was able to present my PA/APRN scholarship bill in the context of a very similar nursing scholarship bill that was passed last year as Act 155 and is serving as a driving force in recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals for the home health agency and long-term care facility sectors. At the Tourism Caucus, the discussion centered on a letter presented to the administration requesting clear guidelines for safe reopening of the events economy and additional ways to assist the hospitality industry in recovery from the pandemic.
I hope by now I have seen many of you at your Town or School District meetings, and I am grateful for your support of my work. You may reach me at [email protected] or www.hangoforhouse.com
Rep Lisa A Hango, Franklin-5
COVID numbers in our region continue to be of concern, with community spread seen as the primary driver, so please take the necessary precautions to keep our neighbors safe!
It was another busy week in the remote Statehouse, beginning early on Monday with a meeting of the Franklin County delegation with Franklin Watershed/Lake Carmi Campers Association members to hear their priorities for the legislative session and a recap of progress that has been made. Lake Carmi is a valuable asset to our region that has been enjoyed by generations of Vermonters, and it is Vermont’s only designated “Lake in Crisis”; it is well-deserving of our attention in the Legislature.
Later that day, the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association hosted a Legislative priorities meeting on Zoom, providing a laundry list of issues that we should be paying attention to – pupil weighting, school construction, ethnic studies, and early literacy are all a priority for the CVSA this biennium.
It is important to note that the date to introduce long-form bills is February 23, and the crossover date is March 12 – this is the date by which the House must pass bills to the Senate if they are to be taken up by both chambers this year. Please recall that this is only the first year of a two-year cycle, so anything not passed by adjournment of this session can be taken up again next January.
On the House floor, there was debate about H.81, a bill relating to collective bargaining for healthcare benefits for public school employees, which passed without amendment. Nearly another 50 bills were introduced, the Budget Adjustment Act passed, and H.89, a liability exemption bill for the Agritourism industry was debated and supported. Additionally, the House approved an appointment to fill a vacancy on the Judicial Nominating Board, and the Joint Assembly re-elected the Sergeant at Arms and the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard in uncontested elections. Because we are operating remotely, and the ballot was contested, members were instructed to cast paper ballots for three UVM Legislative Trustees and mail them in to the Statehouse.
Caucus meetings this week focused on a Broadband bill coming out of House Energy and Technology (Rural Economic Development Working Group) and the Vermont Event Planners Association with regards to COVID restrictions/loss of revenue (Tourism Caucus).
I also attended the second of four lunchtime briefings on the State Employees and Teacher Pension Funds – a who, what, where, and why of how they work and what the issues are that they are facing.
In the House General Committee, our week was packed with bill introductions and testimony – H.211 (Recovery Residences), H.96 (Truth and Reconciliation Task Force), J.R.H 2 (Eugenics Apology), H.149/H.188/H.295 (Adjutant General qualifications/selection process) and information sessions on the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition and Pathways VT. To wrap up the week, we put the finishing touches on our Committee’s memo to Appropriations on the Governor’s FY’22 Budget. Although there were a few items that the Committee was not united on, for the most part we were in agreement, particularly if supporting legislation can be passed to stand up those budgetary asks.
I look forward to “seeing” many of you on Zoom for the second Franklin Co Legislative Breakfast on Feb 20 and at Town and School informational meetings throughout this week and on March 1. Please do not forget to vote – you may request an absentee ballot from your Town Clerk or vote in person on March 1. Thank you for the opportunity to serve. Your comments and concerns are welcome at [email protected] or www.hangoforhouse.com
Rep Lisa A Hango, Franklin-5
Dear Constituents –
I will start by reporting that local Legislators and town officials met with Dr Levine and Commissioner Smith of the Agency of Human Services on Thursday afternoon, and we were told that COVID cases are increasing at a concerning rate in Franklin County. We have been so very fortunate to be spared the worst of this pandemic, so this was indeed troubling news. I hope that by working together, we can halt the spread of this virus. Masks on faces, six foot spaces, and proper hand hygiene go a long way towards prevention - and the latest trend is double-masking! If you suspect that you have been exposed in any way, self-isolate and make an appointment to be tested – testing sites in Franklin Co are managed through your primary care provider at NOTCH or NMC, the Vermont Department of Health, and Kinney Drugs. With an increase in cases, please expect some delays and take necessary precautions to keep your household and community safe. More information may be found at www.healthvermont.gov
The good news from the Health Department is that beginning on Tuesday, Feb 16, Vermonters ages 70 and up may begin receiving vaccines. The website also has this information, and others are asked to create accounts so you will be ready when your grouping is announced through media channels. For those who do not have access to the internet, you may call 1-800-464-4343.
The Legislative week began on Monday with two budget hearings – various advocacy groups and agencies made their cases to the Appropriations Committee to be included in the upcoming budget bill. Caucuses discussed pertinent issues – the National Guard Caucus heard a presentation about Family Readiness Groups that support service members and their families before, during, and after deployment; the REDWnG Caucus heard bill introductions pertaining to rural economic development; and the Tourism Caucus heard a presentation on Castleton University’s School of Resort and Hospitality Management Program at Killington, which is a workforce development program on a satellite college campus. If any of these issues interest you, I welcome your comments and questions.
In Committee, our time was spent listening to Budget presentations from the organizations that we have jurisdiction for – Housing, Military, and the Department of Liquor and Lottery. We also learned about the incoming Federal Emergency Rental and Utilities Assistance Program. Committee work included passing H.81 relating to collective bargaining for public school employee healthcare benefits, hearing bill introductions for J.R.H.2 pertaining to an apology for the eugenics movement of the 1920’s, H.168 eliminating Daylight Savings Time, H.157 requiring registration of residential construction contractors, and H.96 establishing a truth and reconciliation commission for past injustices. All are bills that I remain mystified that we are taking up while we should be focusing on COVID mitigation and recovery. I am pleased to report that members of the National Guard Caucus, along with officials from the National Guard, the Veterans Advisory Council, and the Department of Defense state liaison, identified and sponsored ten bills this biennium, addressing such issues as exempting military retirement pay and housing and subsistence allowances from VT personal income tax calculations, exempting veterans’ disability pensions from property tax calculations, aligning State Active Duty with federal employment protections, establishing qualifications for the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard, and establishing a student loan repayment program in exchange for years of service in addition to the existing tuition benefit program.
I am honored to represent you in the remote Statehouse. You are welcome to connect with me at [email protected] or www.hangoforhouse.com
Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5
Dear Constituents –
On the House floor, bill introductions continue at a steady pace for a total of 204 thus far. A few bills have been voted out, but by far the most action this week on the floor belonged to H.R.7, a Resolution dealing with the Governor’s Executive Order 01-21, which was meant to re-organize the Department of Public Safety and was issued on Jan 14. Floor debate centered on the speed with which this Resolution was drafted in response to the Executive Order (action wasn’t required until April 14) and a concerning lack of due process by the Committee in not calling in certain witnesses to testify. The will of the Committee was upheld, and those of us who voted against their response will wait to see if they make good on their intention to address these issues through the Legislative process.
In the House General Committee, we continue to pour over the language in H.81, an act relating to making various changes to the process for statewide collective bargaining for public school employee health benefits. More markup will be on next week’s agenda. On other subjects, we heard from Washington County Mental Health and Housing First advocates, as well as a Pediatrician from Boston Medical Center and Vermont Legal Aid on the concepts of “Housing as Health” and “Housing as a Vaccine”, stressing the importance of a safe home as a preventative for many chronic health conditions. We also heard from the Economic Services Division of the Department of Children and Families and the Director of Public Safety in Barre City on the challenges of housing large numbers of formerly homeless individuals and families in motels during this pandemic. In addition, we received an introduction to the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard, Major General Greg Knight, whose organization we work with very closely in our Committee.
Special Caucus meetings that I attended this week were all very interesting and informative: The Older Vermonters Caucus had Health Commissioner Dr Levine in to discuss vaccine rollout in Vermont; The Rural Economic Development Working Group discussed the Better Places Grant and Working Lands Enterprise Funds Grant Programs; The Tourism Caucus heard presentations from the Commissioner of Tourism and Marketing and the Commissioner of Taxes on a tourism marketing proposal that is in House Commerce and Economic Development Committee; and The Women’s Caucus invited me in to present them with the press release announcing that the Vermont National Guard Cavalry is the first such unit in the United States, and in history, to be eligible to recruit women in combat roles. I would also like to give a shout out to the amazing folks at the Vermont Mentoring Program/Watershed Mentoring who hosted a meeting for Legislators to better understand the important work they are doing supporting youth ages 5-18 in our communities. If you have ever had a desire to make a difference in the life of a child, please consider volunteering for this organization – they currently have around 20 unplaced youth, and they will be looking to partner them with adults in the community once the restrictions of the pandemic have eased.
As always, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you. Please contact me at [email protected] or www.hangoforhouse.com with questions or comments.
Rep Lisa A Hango, Franklin-5
Dear Constituents –
The week began with the Governor’s Budget Address, and we were pleased to note that it included a specific allocation to the Franklin County State Airport in Highgate for the proposed expansion, which includes an extension of the water and sewer lines from MVUHS to the airport property. This is good news for the economic health of our County, and it is something that we have worked hard to promote.
Aside from voting on the Budget Adjustment Act, H.138, which amends the current fiscal year budget at approximately the half-way mark to reflect new information on revenues and expenses, the House Floor has been fairly quiet, and most of our work has been in our legislative Committees.
House General began the week in a joint hearing with House Human Services for an update on the Coronavirus Relief Funds expended and future needs projected by the Agency. We heard a similar presentation the next day from the Department of Housing and Community Development, including the Governor’s proposal for funding more affordable housing by using one-time monies earned through the expanded coffers of the Property Transfer Tax and existing programs that would be funded through the FY’22 budget process. The emphasis is being placed on home ownership for first-time, low-income, and BIPOC buyers, as well as a rehabilitation program that focuses on blighted and/or vacant rental properties that are currently not on the market because of code violations and health and safety issues. The bulk of the past couple of weeks, and it appears next week as well, will be devoted to sorting out the differences between two bills (H.81 and H.63) affecting collective bargaining for public school employees’ healthcare benefits that were negotiated on a Statewide basis for the first time in the last round of contracts. We in House General seem to be on a trend, as we also have been asked to take up H.55, a bill relating to requiring that the Vermont prevailing wage be paid to all construction workers who are employed on a school construction project.
My week ended with a workshop on Education Finance given by the Joint Fiscal Office, and a training by the Legislative IT Department, two hard-working entities within the Legislative system that we could not do our work without.
It is an honor to represent you in the Legislature. Please do not hesitate to contact me via my website www.hangoforhouse.com or [email protected]
Representative Lisa A Hango, Franklin-5
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.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve and stay well,
Rep Lisa Hango, Franklin-5
Dear Constituents –
The first full week back in session was truly full — typically, Legislators use Mondays to attend to constituent issues, bills we are working on that are unrelated to bills assigned to our Committees, and local meetings. This week, Monday seemed particularly busy! Because of using remote platforms like Zoom, Advocacy groups no longer have to schedule to meet with us while we are at the Statehouse, so they can arrange meetings at any time during the week, and Monday was a day scheduledwith meetings on banking, municipal governance, child development, and food insecurity.
On the House floor, bills are being introduced and committed to the Committees of jurisdiction, several of which have been referred to my Committee, the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. The scope of our work is such that we currently have possession of bills that deal with collective bargaining for public school employee health benefits, whistleblower protection for law enforcement, basic needs and livable wage, and National Guard employment protections, among other legislation that is being introduced on a daily basis.Some of these bills will remain on the wall, while others are given Committee time, and they can be found on the webpage for each Committee on the General Assembly website. All members also took part in mandatory training on Sexual Harassment in the workplace.
In Committee, we are hearing testimony on the response to COVID-19 from various housing agencies, hearing bill introductions, receiving general housekeeping updates on the use of our website and iPads, being introduced to the attorneys who serve our Committee, and discussing the writing and introducing of legislation. We also had a briefing from the National Guard on the deployment of Vermont soldiers to Washington DC for the Presidential Inauguration and from Senator Leahy’s office on the latest round of federal Coronavirus relief funding.
I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Vermont Commission on Women one evening, and I greatly appreciatedhearing the data that was presented on how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women in Vermont, which I learned more about the next day in a joint Committee hearing with the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Joint Fiscal Office. The focus of that meeting spotlighted Vermont having the highest unemploymentclaims for women in the US and the lack of childcarereinforcing those numbers, both crucial issues that face Vermont families.
It is an honor to be back in the virtual Statehouse to serve the needs of my district with Rep Paul Martin.
Rep Lisa Hango
For those who have been following the media on Resolution J.R.H.1, I was asked to explain why I would not support it, and rather than letting someone else tell my story, I choose to tell it myself:
Dear Constituents –
With virtual swearing-in ceremonies on January 6, the 2021 Legislative Session has begun! We will be working remotelyfrom our home offices until at least March 9, so you will be able to keep track of your Legislators by following all House and Senate proceedings live-streamed or recorded on YouTube and seeing us at online local meetings.
These first few days involved new members being seated, oaths being taken, and Committees being assigned – I will be continuing my work on the General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee, as requested, which fits well with my responsibilities co-chairing the National Guard Legislative Caucus. It was nice to learn about our new Committee members, including Fairfax Rep Barbara Murphy, before we dove into this week’s testimony. We received updates from the Department of Children and Families, the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont State Housing Authority, and the Vermont Housing Finance Agency detailing their use of the Coronavirus Relief Funds money that we allocated to those agencies for housing needs. It was indeed encouraging to hear how many households were served during the past six months and how quickly those funds were deployed. Certainly our Agency of Human Resources and its Community Partners deserve to be commended for the effort they undertook during this pandemic to ensure that the most vulnerable Vermonters were safely housed.
At district school board meetings this week, budget talks were the topic of the evening, as school directors grappled with the difficult decisions involved with keeping tax rate increases at a minimum while maintaining important programming for students who have even greater needs during this time of remote and hybrid learning.
The Rural Legislative Working Group Caucus met and discussed legislative priorities specifically for rural communities around increasing access to broadband. As many of you know, this is a priority for me, having watched households struggle with access when learning and work went remote last year.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your comments and concerns at [email protected] .
Representative Lisa A Hango, Franklin-5