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1  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier 2018 week 3 on: January 19, 2018, 04:05:49 PM
Committee work in Transportation focused on receiving testimony on the Highway Safety Bill as well as hearing updates of several transportation projects such as the North Hero-Grand Isle Bridge project, Canadian border area projects and Middlebury Tunnel. The Highway Safety bill was voted out of Committee on Friday which could allow it to be considered by the House next week. Sections of the bill deal with issues ranging from drivers slowing their speed when encountering vulnerable users in their path, to enforcing seatbelt usage as a primary offense. Current law only permits law enforcement to ticket a driver if there is another reason for the stop.

The Budget Adjustment Act was read on the floor Thursday and was amended by the Appropriations committee to reflect the most recent revenue forecast. To quote directly from the committees summary, “With Federal Tax Reform creating revenue uncertainty and unknown levels of federal funding, the House Appropriations Committee Budget Adjustment focuses on FY 2018 funding needs, and includes strong reserves, while leaving policy decisions for the FY 2019 budget process.” The vote was taken by Roll Call and passed with only one vote in opposition.

The Franklin County delegation has reserved the Ethan Allen room for the noon hour on the third Thursday of each month during Session. This Thursday officers from NWMC shared information concerning the progress of health goals in our county and the RiseVT endeavor.  “OneCare Vermont, the statewide Accountable Care Organization, has adopted RiseVT as a prime strategy for helping keep healthy people healthy and improving the wellness of all Vermonters.”

Last week I had the honor of starting the week with a resident of Fairfax in the State House. This week it was my pleasure to meet Fairfax resident Staff Sergeant Megan Byrne of the Vermont National Guard on Friday. Members of the Guard and representatives from Office of Veterans affairs were recognized by the House during Floor Announcements. 

For more information or to contact me please email me at bmurphy@leg.state.vt.us or call 802-849-6545 or mail to 7 Lily Rd Fairfax VT 05454. The Sergeant at Arms at the State House will also relay messages.
2  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier 2018 week 2 on: January 12, 2018, 02:20:48 PM
Monday afternoon the House Chamber was honored to hold the 2018 Vermont Presidential Scholars Ceremony. BFA Fairfax’s senior Shannon Mahoney was one of the twenty six students chosen from Vermont to receive this award for her strong academic work and community service. It was inspiring to be present to listen to the introduction of each recipient and hear of their accomplishments and aspirations. Vermont’s future is in good hands.
Upon the falling of the gavel Tuesday morning a presentation on the House Sexual Harassment Policy took place. This ensured that all members are now informed as to expectations of conduct and how to handle improper behavior. Following the presentation the political party caucus’s weekly meetings were held. The flow of a typical week is that floor is at 10 AM Tues, 1 PM Wed and Thurs and 9:30 AM on Friday with committee work throughout the week.
Tuesday afternoon the Transportation Committee was given a general overview and update of the agency by Secretary Joe Flynn and several division directors. A few highlights include an 85% success rate in on-time delivery of advertised VTrans projects, a heads up for the intent to move to not accept checks at DMV based on a five year average of $60,000 in returned checks annually, and the sale of the state airplane.
Updates on winter maintenance focused on a shift in the enhancer used to give salt brine better adherence to the road surface. The “brown sticky” substance has been replaced with one that is as effective in lesser quantities, inhibits some of the corrosive properties of the salt and is less opaque. Snow and ice control on the highways was challenged by the week’s temperatures but our winter maintenance crew worked diligently to meet Vermont’s safe-roads-at-safe-speeds policy.
Information was presented to the Transportation committee on the status of aspects of the Rail program. An inspection/study tour in July provided agreement on what is left to be done to finalize the return of Amtrak’s Montrealer. A representative for Operation Life Saver spoke to this organization’s work through volunteer speakers at schools and organizations in bringing awareness to the danger at railroad crossings and noted that in 2017 there was one death at a crossing.
Other witnesses before the Transportation committee included representatives of the Associated General Contractors of Vermont who spoke to the current Administrations understanding of the needs of the transportation world, including greater support for technical and trade education and the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance who presented the Governor’s Highway Safety Plan update. It was stated that the message has been changed from ‘don’t drink and drive’ to ‘don’t drive impaired’ and highlighted the need to combat distracted driving and to enhance seat belt use.
Joint Fiscal and Legislative council staff is holding Tax Workshops every Friday in January during the lunch hour.  The hour allows for a limited amount of information but the first two have been informative and helpful. Today’s was on income taxes and federal tax reform, following up on last week’s topic, principles of a high quality tax system. The Ways and Means committee instituted the series to give the members of the General Assembly at large a basis of understanding some tax basics.
3  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier 2018 week 1 on: January 05, 2018, 02:16:19 PM
News from Montpelier 2018 Week 1
In the second year of the biennium there is less ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ to open the session but there is still a bit of formality. On Wednesday the House was opened with an address from the Speaker before the members dispersed to their committee work. The Transportation committee spent the afternoon with a member of legislative council reviewing the status of bills passed out of the House last session.
House bill 511, titled Highway Safety was offered on the House floor at the end of March 2017 after occupying substantial committee attention. Upon receipt of the bill the Senate assigned it to the Judiciary committee and did a strike all which erased the language and inserted new language to allow the private use and possession of personal amounts of marijuana by adults. This became the bill that the Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate Pro Tempore worked to find a compromise position on after it was vetoed by the Governor. The House voted to not consider the bill during the June veto session that was convened to address the Budget veto and so it was on the Notice calendar, to be considered Thursday. Some of the original highway safety sections were inserted into other bills and passed into law but those that were left on the sidelines, the committee intends to readdress.
H511 came to the House floor and several hours were spent addressing it and the fourteen amendments offered on it. The first vote taken was on a motion to delay action on the bill until January 18, 2018 in order to allow the report of the Governor’s commission to be received and reviewed. This vote failed on a count of 66 in favor and 83 against. The bill passed with two amendments, (1) to require consent of the person in lawful possession of property which is used to cultivate the permitted plants be in writing, and (2) removing the language that set up a Marijuana Regulatory Commission, inserting language referencing The Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, as provided in Executive Order No. 15-17, and its report, on a count of 81 yeas, 63 nays. The majority of the amendments failed, several on roll call votes which are on record at https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2018/H.511 The bill returned to the Senate and will be titled “An act relating to eliminating penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older.” after passage; a title more appropriate than the current “Highway Safety” moniker.
The action on H511 was recessed in order for the Joint Assembly to receive the Governors State-of-the-State message at 2:00 P.M.  It seemed timely when the Governor said, “Imagine how it must seem to a family who’s struggling to get by, who can’t afford to pay their property tax bill, to turn on the news and hear that the marijuana debate was ranked Vermont’s number one news story of 2017.” Governor Scott’s message was one of support for getting to work on the hard issues; to listen, look for consensus, and be willing to compromise. With H511 dealt with the House can now move on to that work.
4  General / General Discussion / Re: House of Pizza!!! on: November 19, 2017, 12:41:16 PM
I want to make sure others take advantage of this opportunity to taste their pizza. I am enjoying a slice of the House and it is delicious. Lightly sauced, generous amount of toppings all held to the perfect crust by a blanket of cheese. Most of the time I make my own but it is nice to know there is a local option for when I don't have the time or inclination to do the work myself.
5  Fairfax News / Current News & Events / VT Tax Department Listening Tour for Small Businesses on: August 01, 2017, 11:39:54 AM
http://tax.vermont.gov/press-release/vermont-department-taxes-launches-listening-tour-small-businesses

6  Fairfax News / Current News & Events / Yellow Balloons on Main Street on: May 20, 2017, 03:29:01 PM
The balloons are markers for the approximate location of an approved crosswalk to come!  I have pursued this goal for more than 25 years and was giddy as I reported success at the Select Board meeting Monday night. The town is required to contribute a portion of the installation. I hope to get a cost estimate that will allow those of us who wish to contribute an idea of the total amount needed. The state will install and maintain signs and pavement markings while Fairfax is responsible for the sidewalk work. Stay tuned!
7  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / Overtime News from Montpelier 2017 on: May 20, 2017, 03:20:58 PM
Without fanfare the bill H58 became law Wednesday as the Governor signed it as well as several other bills.  H58, an act relating to permanent licenses for Vermont residents 66 years of age or older responds to the affected population who lost the opportunity to purchase a reduced lifetime permit at 65 due to last years action.  Last year legislation moved the permanent license purchase age to 70 and made it free. H58 allows the purchase of a permanent hunting and/or fishing license for $60 at age 60 and takes affect January 1, 2018.
What did receive fanfare was the negotiation between the Administrative and Legislative body of Vermont’s government over teacher’s health insurance being moved to an all state model.  Having been a member of the school board negotiating team I endorse the state providing health insurance to all the school districts in Vermont. Double digit cost increases in health insurance perpetually derail the ability to look at supporting new classroom initiatives, supplies or awards to exceptional teacher teams.  With this offered at the state level local districts would be able to negotiate the aspects of the teaching contract that make each unique rather than health care which is common to all.
The property tax yield bill, H509 and the Budget, H 518 were brought to the floor and passed late Thursday night but the Governor announced his intent to veto these bills. Flickers of optimism recurred throughout Wednesday and Thursday that a compromise position could be found but no such event occurred. June 21 the General Assembly will reconvene to respond to the Governor’s forcasted action. In the weeks between it is hoped a resolution will be crafted that all can endorse.
8  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier week 18 (2017) on: May 14, 2017, 01:45:54 PM
With early adjournment out of the picture the General Assembly spent Wednesday pushing much of the sessions legislation over the finish line. Two roll call votes highlighted the passage of S22 and S8. S8 is an act relating to establishing the State Ethics Commission and standards of governmental ethical conduct. The House concurred in Senate proposal of amendment to House proposal of amendment. The final version includes a requirement that candidates release a copy of their most recent tax return form 1040 which was controversial in the House debate.
S22 titled an act relating to increased penalties for possession, sale, and dispensation of fentanyl was in reality an amended version of H170, an act relating to possession and cultivation of marijuana by a person 21 years of age or older. The original language of S22 as per fentanyl penalties was added to H503 which also included pieces of other judicial related bills. Trying to follow a singular piece of legislation at the end of session is challenging. It becomes more critical than ever to have time to read what is being proposed.
Several bills were either concurred with or adopted after presentation of the committee of conference report on Thursday and Friday. To allow this action to occur the House suspended the rules and brought items forward ahead of the normally allotted time. Friday afternoon disagreement over the teacher’s health insurance issue brought progress to a halt. The agreement to suspend rules without requiring a two-thirds vote was terminated. A mock session Monday will move a few bills forward to be ready for action when the General Assembly reconvenes. Hopefully a means to come to agreement will have been reached.
9  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier week 17 (2017) on: May 05, 2017, 06:45:13 PM
The week has yet to close but the last group of Pages were recognized and thanked this morning. Their season ended on schedule this afternoon even if the General Assembly is not quite there. Tuesday and Wednesday nearly had the midnight oil burning but the gavel did fall about fifteen minutes short of that hour.
Bills have been messaged back and forth between chambers, rules have been suspended to allow forward motion and behind the scenes key players are negotiating the budget and tax bills that must pass before we can drop the final gavel.

S100 came to the floor mid-afternoon Friday. A strike-all amendment was offered that caused some concern over funds being siphoned from clean water money. The compromise arrived at received majority support because it presented a “short term loss for a long term gain”, as a dedicated member of the Natural Resource, Fish and Wildlife committee said. Other bills Fairfax residents shared concerns or support for were S103, H233, H196 and the amendment to H509.The latter caused quite a stir by coming to a vote that forced the Speaker to cast the ballot that tied and thereby failed the action.
 
The last bill the House took action on before adjourning for the day on Friday was H513. The report of committee of conference for this incorporated language from both the House and Senate miscellaneous education bills as well as modifications to Act 46.
The finish line was not able to be met within this week. The House will be back in session Wednesday at 10 AM with committees of conference doing work all day and bringing their reports to the chamber for adoption. The current thought is that the House will be able to close for the session on Thursday which still leaves a few days of expenses for the members unexpended.

10  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier (2017) week 16 on: April 28, 2017, 04:31:50 PM

As of Thursday, thirty three bills had passed both houses and were ready for the Governor to respond. The House continues to pass several motions to suspend the rules and speed action on bills, while also requesting delay of a Legislative day on others. This is all done to allow committees the flexibility of amending bills in such a way that “must pass” action makes it to the finish line.
Friday the House spent a great deal of time debating and recording roll call votes on H513, an act making miscellaneous changes to education law. The amendments that passed allow much of the language of S122, an act relating to increased flexibility for school district mergers and S130,  an act relating to miscellaneous changes to education law be incorporated into the bill, as it more than likely heads to a Committee of Conference.
H494 and S127 are the two Transportation bills that are making it to the end. The committee of conference has completed its work on H494 and the House members for the conference committee for S127 have yet to be appointed. On Tuesday the committee took testimony for two amendments being offered on S127. The members supported the recommendation of the committee that one amendment not be permitted and the other was withdrawn. The one that was brought to the floor would have allowed law enforcement to assess two points against the driving record of a motor vehicle operator driving without the use of safety belts. The committee offered the concern that the discussion required more attention than a floor amendment could provide. That can occur next year if a bill with similar intent is offered. Wednesday, the Transportation committee took testimony on the capital bill and the areas within it of clean water support available to municipalities. Other than information on the final decision of the conference committees, the Transportation committee will have very little on its agenda next week.
The diminishment of committee work allows for additional time to remain alert to the morphing of bills as described in Friday’s action on H513.
The schedule next week is set for a 1 PM floor time for the House on Monday, 9:30 AM Tues thru Fri and 10AM on Saturday the 6th. With that schedule, the goal of completing the initial work of the biennium may be accomplished one week short of the budgeted 18 weeks. Please continue to contact me at bmurphy@leg.state.vt.us, 802-849-6545, or by mail at 7 Lily Rd. The Sergeant at Arms office in the State House will pass on queries as well.
11  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier (2017) week 15 on: April 21, 2017, 02:57:30 PM

On Tuesday the House began consideration of H525, an act relating to the Department of Liquor Control and the State Lottery and after an interruption for the Party caucus, the bill was committed to the committee on Government Operations.  This reflected the divided tone of the floor debate last week on HR 14, which spoke in opposition to the Governor’s Executive order for the merger of the two departments.
A few of the bills that did make progress in the House this week were S75, S20, S12 and S72. The first three have in common a connection to our natural world, specifically control of aquatic nuisance species, permanent hunting and fishing licenses for persons 66 years of age or older and increasing the penalty for aggravated animal cruelty. The fourth bill identified above relates to requiring telemarketers to provide accurate caller identification information.
Three House bills that have been appointed committees of conference on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses are H42, H171 and H494. The last is an act relating to the Transportation Program and miscellaneous changes to transportation-related law, or the T-bill. Other Transportation committee action was the report of S127 with the committee amendments Friday morning.  As sponsor of H232, Rep Keefe presented an amendment to extend the grace period for the OBD portion of automobile inspections which with the support of the committee was accepted on a roll call. This was one of the bills several BFA students were focused on last week.
With conference committees being appointed and committee work being relinquished in favor of floor time the pace of the session is truly in its last weeks. Whether the gavel can fall a week early is yet to be seen but the hope is still alive.
Please continue to contact me at bmurphy@leg.state.vt.us, 802-849-6545, or by mail at 7 Lily Rd. The Sergeant at Arms office in the State House will pass on queries as well.

12  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier week 14 (2017) on: April 14, 2017, 01:31:01 PM
The Statehouse lawn was filled with enthusiastic young Vermonters midweek. It was reported that more than 1500 youth were here Wednesday for Youth Rally for the Planet.  Fairfax residents were present to participate in the Rally as well as for the annual Senior Social Studies tour. Both Wednesday and Thursday the students and their teachers sat in committee rooms to listen to testimony and spoke individually to law makers on bills they have researched. The students are highly regarded and represent Fairfax well.

Tuesday the Transportation committee was off site to tour a few rail projects and the newly opened Transit center in Burlington. The Shelburne salt shed will provide salt for the northern half of the state’s roads and when finished will store twice the amount of the previous site. The salt is brought in by rail and stored for transfer to the municipalities and district garages by covered trucks.  The second stop for the tour was in Middlebury where two bridges are slated for replacement. The condition of the bridges is of such deterioration that emergency temporary replacements have been approved. The whole project will take several years but once complete is going to be much improved.

The House responded to the Governor’s executive order to merge two agencies, Lottery and Liquor, with resolution HR 14. The resolution caused great discussion and debate on the floor. In the end the vote supported the resolution and denied the merger until a study can be performed. There is word that the Senate may still be able to forward the merger as the executive order directed. Other bills that generated discussion and roll call votes on the floor were H523, H492 and H197. The first two both address fair and impartial policing and a racial justice board while the last is mental parity for workers’ compensation.

Transportation finished the week with final adjustments to S127, an act relating to miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels. Sections of the prior safety bill, H511 were added to ensure that they were considered in this year. That whole bill has been consigned to Senate judiciary and appears to have stalled for now. Session is truly moving to an ending point. Bills are being concurred with or sent to a committee of conference and the Senate morning committees are shut down, all signs the end is near.
13  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier week 13 (2017) on: April 07, 2017, 01:18:35 PM
The House began the week by taking a break for Caucus discussion of H519, the Capital Bill, before its being reported on the floor. Members of the Corrections and Institutions committee gave the groups information of the bill’s allocations via a spreadsheet. After the Representatives returned to the floor the bill was reported and supported. H519 authorizes expenditures to be appropriated over the two years of the biennium.
In the Transportation committee the week was bracketed by testimony on H287, an act relating to miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels. The bill as considered by the committee on Friday is a redrafting of the original version. Witnesses were present who spoke to the harm that has been caused by unmarked chains. Letters were submitted that spoke to the catastrophic nature of these preventable injuries from trauma center personnel. The desire of the committee remains steadfast to meet the intent of the bill without creating an undo liability for property owners.
The committee also took testimony on and discussed S127, an act relating to miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels. A section on distracted driving would add points to the offense of driving while using a handheld device and add, in a school zone as a more severe offense as is in work zones. The committee took testimony from members of several enforcement agencies as well as DMV on the issue of whether vehicles shall be required to display one plate or two. Along with the broader issue of two license plates being displayed, “retirement” of the Vermont Strong plate was discussed. S127 should move out of the Transportation committee next week. There are minor fiscal components in sections of the bill, so it will be viewed by the appropriate money committee before being reported on the floor.
The Statehouse was full of visitors on Friday. Groups were here from many areas of the State and for varied reasons but all seemed to take a moment to enjoy the display of the Vince Lombardi Trophy with its Patriot escorts. The Treasurer’s Office invited students and their escorts to the Pavilion building on Thursday to receive awards for the 2017 Financial Literacy Awards Ceremony. A second grader from Fairfax was selected as a winner for her participation in the Reading is an Investment Program. It was a pleasure to be able to offer my congratulations to her and her family.
Please continue to contact me at bmurphy@leg.state.vt.us, 802-849-6545, or by mail at 7 Lily Rd. The Sergeant at Arms office in the State House will pass on queries as well.
14  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Monpelier Week 12 (2017) on: March 31, 2017, 01:41:20 PM
On Tuesday the House members arrived ready for a day of debate on about a dozen and a half bills. Early in the day H386 was presented and passed with very little fanfare. This bill corrects the methodology for assessing the Provider Tax rate and in so doing provides an estimated near $200,000 reduction in favor of Franklin County Home Health. A resounding floor voice vote supported the bill and will hopefully convince the Senate to continue its progress to the Governor for his signature. H509 and H513 both made adjustments to education law: setting clear delineation of responsibility for background checks in the latter and setting statewide education tax rates in the former were goals accomplished after some floor debate. The tax rate setting generated dialogue in regards to the need to reform the funding process for education as it supports the spending approved by Town Meeting votes. The Transportation committee presented H511 and responded to questions from the floor with committee support of a few amendments offered before its passage on third reading the next day.
Two bills that were on the calendar for second reading were not brought forward. H 111 an act relating to vital records was postponed to the next day. The bill reforms some of the regulation in regards to records kept by Town Clerks and was passed when presented as amended to reflect concerns for communities’ access to records.  H170 an act relating to possession and cultivation of marijuana by a person 21 years of age or older was committed to the committee on Human Services based on the question of youth education and prevention raised by a proposed amendment. It is unresolved whether the bill will return to the House floor this year.     
The big news for the week was the near double unanimous floor votes to pass H516 the miscellaneous tax bill and H518 the fiscal year 2018 budget. The budget reflects less than a one percent increase in expenditure.  The tax bill was reported first, and without raising any new taxes or fees supports the requested budget. It passed on a unanimous vote. The budget passed with a single ‘no’ vote on roll call Thursday. Before third reading several amendments were proposed to adjust portions of the budget.  Technical corrections were accomplished by two committee amendments and language adjustments made by amendments offered by House members received support by voice vote but no money adjustment amendments were accepted before passage. The word is that the roll call votes on these two bills are an historic event.
15  Fairfax News / Political Issues/Comments / News from Montpelier week 11 (2017) on: March 24, 2017, 01:21:53 PM
Floor action dominated the early days of the week. House bills are reaching the floor for action or redirection to a finance committee for review. The Transportation Safety bill, H511 was removed from the Notice calendar and sent to the Appropriations committee for review due to a section that has potential fiscal impact. The removal of this bill as well as others for similar reason still left plenty to be debated. Several roll calls were requested for action on bills after heated discussion. Sometimes it was to redirect or amend the bill and sometimes it was to move it on. Approximately twenty bills were passed by the House and are now ready for Senate action.

A special seminar was offered Wednesday morning at eight to introduce the first term legislators to the budget process but it was not restricted, so a few others chose to take advantage of the offer as well. The brief presentation was a tutorial on abbreviations and language in the budget that will be out of Appropriations next week. 

Thursday afternoon a joint session with the Senate was held at 4 PM to vote on the retention of a Chief Justice and three Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and ten Superior Court Judges.. The process is initiated by the declaration of the justices and judges that they be retained for another six-year term. Reports were given on behalf of each candidate that included the opinion of the Joint Committee on Judicial Retention. Balloting proceeded for the offices, one ballot for the Superior Court Judges and a separate for the other four, and all, receiving majority of the total votes cast were retained.

Please continue to contact me at bmurphy@leg.state.vt.us, 802-849-6545, or by mail at 7 Lily Rd. The Sergeant at Arms office in the State House will pass on queries as well.
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