Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Next Meeting: 2/28 (9:00 AM) at the "new" Village Pizza

Hi Everyone,

Looking forward to seeing you all on Saturday, Feb. 28th at 9am at Village Pizza for coffee and breakfast. Lots to talk about. Am sending around the agenda by email.

See you Saturday!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rep. Maxine Grad: Legislative Update


This week I will update you on my committee work, work of other committees and pass on some resources that maybe of interest or help to you.

My Committee Work: The House Judiciary Committee continues to work on S.13 the comprehensive sex crimes bill. It is very unusual for the House to work on a Senate bill before Town Meeting or “cross-over”. Usually we do House bills first. However, because this is such an important issue to Vermonters we have made it our top priority. Our goal is to vote the bill out this week and get it back to the Senate, through conference committee and on the Governor’s desk before Town Meeting Day.

Committee on Judicial Rules, Foreclosure Notice to Homeowners: I also serve on the joint committee on Judicial Rules. There are 4 members of the House and 4 members of the Senate. We review rules that the Judiciary has proposed that relate to judicial procedure. The Legislature’s review is part of the checks and balances of our system. The Supreme Court has proposed a rule that is now in effect that requires a notice to homeowners who are subject to foreclosure information on foreclosure counseling. The rule recognizes that the number of foreclosures has been increasing in Vermont. Many foreclosure defendants are not represented by attorneys and may not be aware of resources or not learn of them in time to take effective advantage of them. The notice give names of Vermont Homeownership Centers and the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities & Health Care Administration’s (BISHCSA) Toll-free Mortgage Assistance Program. I have listed those numbers below.

COMMITTEE REPORTS—submitted by House committee members

Government Operations: We are continuing our quest for an understanding of the impact of the 600 state employee cuts and the projected 17 million dollar savings. Trying to understand the impact on services to our constituents, how the RIF process is affecting the skilled state government workforce and what impacts it will have on the unemployment fund. Why does the plan call for laying off employees who received federal funding for part or all of their salary? What is the rationale in the projected cuts for each department? For background, there are 8900 state employees but the 600 cuts will only come from a pool of 5300. No commissioners, deputies, public safety, or 24/7 employee will be affected.

Fish Wildlife & Water Resources

In the past two weeks much of our time has been devoted to H.15, "an act relating to Aquatic Nuisance Control." The goal is to allow the State to respond quickly to newly discovered invasive species. The Farmer's Watershed Alliance and Friends of Missisiquoi Bay, among others, testified that algae blooms are a serious threat to tourism. H.15 is supported by many advocacy groups in part because it puts together all the laws on invasive species in one place. Permitting is the number one barrier to a rapid response and if chemical controls are needed, rapid response is not possible. There was consensus that ANR needs resources and authority to react quickly to invasive species.

As might be expected, funding the Invasive Species Act is the most controversial part of the bill. Some groups support a sticker program for non-powered craft to bring in revenue. Others have said that this is not the time to add yet another fee for Vermonters to pay. Instead they advocated a "Waterways License" that would allow a license holder to use any boat without paying a separate charge for each non-powered craft he/she owned.
All the testimony we heard on H.15 agreed that water recreation is an important driver of Vermont's economy and that aquatic resources support much economic activity.

Another area of economic concern is addressed by H.16, a bill relating to deer doing damage to forest resources. Deer problems occur in the regeneration stage. During natural regeneration, there is a period of time when saplings are vulnerable to deer browsing. The deer like to feed on Sugar Maple, Red Oak, White Ash, and Black Cherry, four of the State's most valuable hardwoods. Estimates show that in some areas of VT there are twelve to twenty-three deer per square mile on forestland, which should support only a third to a half that number. Testimony shows that the land's carrying capacity for deer is out of balance with the ability to regenerate forest. To get the number of deer down to a sustainable number we need to harvest more each year. Because trees are not now considered an agricultural crop, woodlot owners are not allowed to shoot problem deer on their land as farmers can. Provisions in H.16 are a start in helping control deer browsing. ANR told the Committee that it is neutral on the bill, saying H.16 doesn't provide any new authority that they don't already have.

In addition, we heard from the Secretary of ANR about the agency's budgeting process. While he feels that ANR is still able to adequately carry out its mission, some services have been cut because of the loss of positions. In FY 2010 the Agency will have 515 employees, down from 623. While most of the cuts to date have been by attrition, he estimates that the bulk of the additional 45 cuts planned will be by layoffs. While they have been able to leave the enforcement and permitting programs pretty much untouched, educational programs, overtime for wardens and other small cuts should be sufficient to meet their budget targets. However, one major cut is the La Rosa Lab in Waterbury. Testing currently done at that lab will be outsourced and will have a significant impact on public and non-profit groups needing water testing.

We have also been working of H.28, which would allow temporary wastewater system permits in cases where a dwelling has been rendered uninhabitable and no link to a more permanent wastewater disposal system is available. H.28 should come out of the committee fairly quickly. Committee also held hearings on, H.56 Mercury in Compact Fluorescent Bulbs, H.83 on leaking underground storage tanks and H.80 on the use of Chloramines as a water system disinfectant. These topics will be taken up in future reports.

Film Series - Domestic Violence:
Battered Women’s Services and Community Connections are co-sponsoring a film series this winter on domestic and dating violence, gender, and the media. All films are 1 hour or less, and will be followed by a discussionRefreshments are provided. No charge, but donations are accepted.Defending Our LivesTuesday, February 17th, 20097:00 pm, Montpelier High School, room 103 Defending Our LivesThe women in the documentary are members of 'Battered Women Fighting Back!' a grass-roots organization dedicated to exposing domestic violenceas a critical human rights violation threatening the majority of the population: women and children. 'Battered Women Fighting Back!' began as a prison support group for battered women who had killed their abusers,with the support of human rights activist, Stacey Kabat.
Federal Stimulus Package

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns web site has a list of "shovel ready" projects in our towns that might be eligible for federal stimulus money. To view the lists go to: www.vlct.org

Northfield Childcare ForumRecently the Northfield area has lost many childcare options. Parents and employers have expressed concern about the potential shortage of childcare. Additionally, new individuals to the community often find it hard to locate childcare. If you are a parent, employer, or a childcare provider, please join us for an open forum on childcare issues at Brown Public Library on Monday, February 16 from 6:00-7:00p.m. to discuss concerns and questions of what childcare options are or could be available.

How to File An Unemployment Claim:
Tips on getting through to the Department of Labor to file an unemployment claim: Labor recommends that an applicant try to dial repeatedly in one sitting rather than trying to get through 10AM, noon, 2PM, etc., and to expect about a 20 minute wait time on hold once they have gotten through. Unemployment Insurance - (802) 828-4000 http://www.labor.vt.gov/

[Eds. Note: If you don't want to wait on the phone, you can file electronically, or by mail. Follow the instructions at the DOL website above].

Mortgage Payment Help:
If you are having a problem paying your mortgage, you should call BISHCA before you start missing payments and certainly before foreclosure proceedings have started.
Mortgage Assistance - 1-888-568-4547 www.vermontbanking.info

Also there is a Vermont Homeownership Center in Barre at 476-4493—www.cvclt.org.

Please stay in touch—828-2228 (State House); 496-4244 (home) or email: maxjg@wcvt.com.

Local Considerations... Public Health, and the Veterans Place

Local Letters Digest:

1) Gordon Bock recently submitted this letter to the editor on the issue of public health - in particular head lice among school-age children - in our public schools. Don't know about you, but if your kid has ever had it, or been exposed to it, your ears prick up. Nasty little nits. An excerpt:

"We parents were hearing for months about different instances in which entire class sections were brought to the school nurse for lice checks. But it was our children, not school officials, who were keeping us apprised of the situation, and then only in a piecemeal, anecdotal fashion. The responsibility for keeping us informed -- - fully informed, and on an ongoing basis --- rests with the school officials, not the children."

** Eds. Note: the school district did send out a flyer regarding the public health threat posed by head lice and what to do about it.

2) Nate Freeman says the proposed Veteran's Place Lacks Answers in this letter to the editor on the issue of the proposed Veteran's Shelter here in Northfield:

"Asking questions or raising concerns about anything related to veterans can feel downright unpatriotic. But lets face it: here in Northfield we are all patriotic and we are proud of the service men and women in our community. In one way or another, we are all connected to Norwich University, the oldest and most forward thinking private military school in the United States. Many of us volunteer in the community and help provide for people who are in need. Yet we can also ask legitimate questions about a development that can create a significant impact in our town."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

S.O.S. - Save Our State - Rally 2/2/09 at 5pm

Concerned Vermonters everywhere are rallying to protest further budget cuts that erode our social safety net and harm low-income and working families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Join in! Go to a rally site near you. In Northfield, folks are meeting up at 5pm at the Village Green/Depot Square. Bring yourself and add your voice to the chorus saying "stop the cuts", "raise sustainable revenues", "put people first."

What: SOS (Save Our State) Rallies (Statewide)
When: Feb. 2nd @ 5pm
Where: Village Green/Depot Square in Northfield (other locations statewide)
Why: To protest budget cuts and advocate for raising new revenues to help low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities.

For more information about this effort, just go to the SOS Vermont blog and get involved!