Legislative Report: The good, the bad and the ugly

First, the good actions taken by this years legislators:
• Renewable energy siting received much attention this session. Legislation passed that increased the say towns and cities have over the siting of solar and wind farms in their communities. The measure has regional planning commissions partnering with town and city planning boards to create siting standards which will receive “substantial deference” when applications for siting go to the Public Service Board.
• The town of Bristol got a shot in the arm, thanks to their representatives, who allocated $145,000 from the Capital Budget to fund the last dollars needed to close Bristol’s landfill.
• The Legislature passed an opiate bill that establishes rules governing prescription opiates. There is evidence to suggest abuse of opiate prescription drugs is one of the reasons that lead people to addictions. Stricter rules in this area are welcome.
• We passed a juvenile justice bill that protects young people, especially in instances where parents are deemed unfit for caring for their young ones.
• Your Legislature made it easier for people to register to vote by passing the “motor voter” bill. This measure automatically registers eligible voters when they sign up for their driver’s license.
• We took action in recognition of the importance of our forestlands. Measures that pertain to conservation, management, timber harvesting, and recreation were passed to help us gain a greater understanding of our woodlands and their potential in the working landscape.
• “Ban the Box” was legislation that has employers removing the question of one’s criminal convictions on the initial employment application giving people who made a mistake a fighting chance to get past the initial screening process. Employers can look into someone’s past after the initial contact. 
• Additional measures address privacy issues surrounding electronic data.
• We sought to try to control rising prescription drug prices by requiring drug companies to justify significant price increases.
So what’s the bad? In my mind it is the state’s budget, specifically the General Fund, which rose by 4.8 percent. The General Fund numbers are especially important, as this is the section of the budget that depends upon our income, sales, and rooms and meals taxes. This is the seventh year in a row that the Legislature has increased the General Fund at a rate that exceeds personal income increases, growth in the state economy, and the projected rise in revenue made by the state’s economists. This trend is totally unsustainable.
The ugly is the almost $100 million in fees and taxes that have to be raised to pay for our budget increases in this biennium. The 2017 fiscal year is at least the seventh year in a row the state has had to raise revenue to pay for budget increases and shortfalls. Add to this rising property taxes, and it’s easy to understand Vermonters’ concerns about the cost of living in our state. It is an election year. You have a chance to speak out on issues important to you. Please contact me with your questions and concerns.

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