Report from Montpelier: Feb. 6, 2014

Kate Webb

Kate Webb

By Rep. Kate Webb

Joan Lenes and I will be holding our Tuesday coffee meetings at Next Door Café in February and April. We will return to Bruegger’s in March and May.

Here is a brief update on current action in the Vermont House of Representatives:

Energy: Vermont has set a goal to meet 90 percent of our energy needs with renewable sources by 2050. The recently House-passed net metering bill should make it easier for Vermonters to convert to solar and return some of that energy to the grid. Vermont’s net metering laws have helped move Vermont’s rank to 5th in per capita solar installation. The bill is now in the Senate.

Health Care: Health Care focus is on two large tasks: monitoring the exchange and addressing the cost drivers in health care.

Although progress continues, several areas of IT dysfunction persist. The committee directed the Vermont Health Connect to set the ability to edit an application as a priority. While call volume and wait time continue to improve, there is still a logjam in the process around billing and payment and a delay in receiving cards. This coming week, the focus will turn to small business enrollment. Please contact me if you need help, and I will work to direct you to correct information or help.

With 80 percent of our health care dollars going to 20 percent of our sickest members, the value of Vermont’s Blueprint for Health becomes more important. Spring-boarding off the Blueprint, Vermont was well position to receive a $45 million dollar State Innovation Model (SIM) grant to test care delivery and payment reforms that show the most promise in slowing the growth rate of health care. The goal here is to get the right care at the right time, in the right setting. If we are unable to contain the rate of growth in health spending, it probably won’t matter who pays for it.

Water Quality: We continue to wrestle with a bill inexorably tied to the EPA’s impending revised plan to reduce phosphorus pollution to Lake Champlain. H.586 takes a hard look at pollution from agricultural runoff, stream bank erosion, roads, and urban storm water. It also seeks to identify a funding mechanism to address the predicted $1.5 billion spread over 10 years to clean up Lake Champlain. Expect to see a bill brought forward that will increase regulation for small farms and increase pressure for municipalities to adopt water-friendly road and bridge standards. Do not confuse this bill with H.526, the shorelands bill which is still in the Senate.

Education: Education tax rates are projected to increase significantly for FY2015. Two committees in the House are looking at changes to the funding and delivery systems as we move forward. Changes range from minor tinkering to a major overhaul. Under our current system, property taxes cover about two-thirds of education costs with various state and federal funds picking up the remainder. One proposal would reduce the burden on property tax by shifting a portion of this to the income tax. Meanwhile, the Education Committee is looking at transforming the educational delivery system to enable more efficient, student-focused system while expanding opportunities to learn throughout the state. Still in the early stages, one proposal would eliminate supervisory unions and create a smaller number of school districts in the state. It is my intention to follow-up and write on this topic more thoroughly in the coming weeks.

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