Report from Montpelier

by Rep. Joan Lenes

It was great seeing so many of you at Town Meeting. Thanks for your questions, feedback, and support. The last two issues of the Shelburne News ran the Town Meeting Report put together by Kate Webb and me. The report was just a short synopsis of some of the work committees have been involved in since the beginning of the session. Crossover happened last week and that means we are in the second half of this session. Bills, other than the money Bills, had to be talked about in Committees of jurisdiction by March 15 to be dealt with by the other body before we adjourn in May. If they have not met this timeframe, they can continue being worked on in the 2014 session.

My committee, House Corrections and Institutions, has been in the throes of the Capital Bill making decisions on spending. We have just over $159,000 of bonded dollars to allocate over the next two fiscal years. This amount is about $56,000 short of what has been requested and that is nowhere near what is needed.

We have found that a two-year funding cycle (with a Capital Bill budget adjustment the second year) has worked well and given us more flexibility.

No final decisions on dollar amounts have been made but we know we will proceed on certain projects. These projects range from major maintenance projects within Buildings and General Services, the state health lab, the state hospital, the Waterbury Complex, the heat plant collaboration between the State and City of Montpelier, drinking water, and waste water projects managed by the Agency of Natural Resources to name a few. We are fortunate to have such a capable Department of Buildings and General Services with its staff working with us on these projects. The Capital Bill also contributes to the University of Vermont and the State College System as well as repaying some of the State’s share of aid to school construction. We contribute to the Vermont’s Veterans’ Home, to the Dept. of Public Safety, and the Agency of Agriculture. This is not a complete list of what the Capital Bill funds but I have highlighted some areas it covers.   

We have been updated on the state hospital under construction in Berlin. This 25-bed facility is on schedule. Just last week excavation work had been done and they anticipated pouring footings on March 18. The secure residential facility in Middlesex is due to open in mid April for staff and shortly after that for residents.

Our Committee on Education has been working on the Vermont Strong Scholars Program. The program proposes to repay a portion of a Vermont resident’s postsecondary debt in order to encourage Vermonters to major in fields that prepare them for employment in targeted work force sectors upon earning a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree from an in-state public or independent postsecondary institution. The Governor’s proposal applied solely to those studying in the “STEM” fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – because those are currently some of the most promising job sectors here in Vermont. After much discussion, the Education Committee broadened the Vermont Strong Scholars Program’s eligibility requirements to permit students pursuing other fields of study targeted to fill the needs in other workforce sectors in Vermont as well as the STEM areas. The Secretary of Education, Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, and the Commissioner of Labor will determine which fields of study qualify for the program as the labor market changes.

Please Join Kate Webb and me Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30 am at Bruegger’s Bagel. You can reach me at (802) 999-9363, or through the Sergeant at Arms (800) 322-5616.

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