This week the Vermont House passed H.57 codifying the right of “every individual who becomes pregnant to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion.” Vermont had no state laws regarding abortion, so this bill creates a basic framework. The final vote in the House was 107-37. I voted in favor and the bill now goes to the Senate.
The Senate approved and is sending to the House bills raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, and a bill exempting cars over ten years old from inspection emissions standards. The goal is to reduce the financial pressure on lower income Vermonters, many of whom drive older vehicles and who struggle to afford repairs. But that goal conflicts with the state’s environmental goals and EPA air quality standards. This makes for an interesting debate.
The Energy and Technology Committee is putting the finishing touches on an omnibus broadband bill with three approaches to expanding broadband access around the state. The first is to increase money available to existing underfunded programs by increasing the Universal Service Fee (telephone tax) by 0.5%. On my telephone bill that would be an extra 4.5¢.
The second approach is a study to allow (but not require) electric utilities to become broadband carriers. This has been done by some co-ops in other states but involves a fair amount of risk and very different business models; in Vermont electric utilities are tightly regulated monopolies while telecommunications are lightly regulated, and highly competitive.
The third approach is to assemble technical, regulatory, and financial assistance for Communications Union Districts and other entities which are expanding broadband into underserved areas.
The Legislature is operating under tight timeframes. Of over 800 bill drafting requests, only about 400 have been finished and sent to committees for consideration. Of these a very small handful have been passed by the House. Our deadline for bills to be passed out of committee (and some bills need to go through several committees) is March 15th.
The Legislature is not in session during Town Meeting week, which leaves us eight legislative days to take testimony, amend, and approve any bills we hope to move this year. After March 15th we will shift focus to shepherding those bills through House votes and then taking up whatever bills the Senate has sent over to us. We will also be taking a good look at which bills we want to take up in the second year of the biennium.