Op-Ed: Senator Nitka’s notes from the State House

The Governor’s State of the State speech was given today to a crowd packed into the well of the House of Representatives. In attendance were the governor’s cabinet members and staff, the five Justices of the Supreme Court, the heads of agencies, the 150 members of the House with a few exceptions, the 30 members of the Senate and the public from around the state. Police officers from various forces and departments were present, along with several dogs to assist the Capitol Police and the Sergeant at Arms with security. There were many television cameras and all ilk of reporters from TV, to radio, to newsprint, to digital on hand to spread the word about the content of the speech.

The governor’s opening words setting the stage were: “Since 1778, Vermonters, elected by their neighbors and bound by a common oath, have gathered to open the legislative session. They left farms, families and businesses, traveled over rugged mountain gaps and winding valley roads, from every corner of our state to come together to solve problems and shape the future.”

This is certainly true when you meet members serving from towns such as Derby on the Canadian border to Pownal on the Massachusetts border. It is generally a positive day filled with hope for what the Governor feels needs to be accomplished during the session.

One of the Governor’s proposals is to eliminate the income tax on Veterans’ pensions. This is currently done in some states and has been proposed as a possibility in Vermont several times in the past but never materialized. It is not known to me at this time what the amount of lost revenue might be. The deadline for submitting new Senate bills has passed but there is still time to introduce a new bill in the House that could address this.

Another proposal is related to the National Guard and our state’s need to increase our workforce. There are 3,500 Guard members in our state and one-third of them are not Vermonters. The Governor states that when they leave the Guard, they leave Vermont. The Governor will propose a package that will include offering tuition free college in Vermont to those who commit to serve in our National Guard.

Also proposed is to work with the Secretary of State to expedite professional licensing so Veterans receive credit for the skills and training they received while in the service which might entice them to stay in the state. The Governor also mentioned a “bold, sophisticated state of the art campaign to identify and persuade working age individuals, families, and entrepreneurs to locate to Vermont.” The details of this will be presented in his Budget Address later in the month.

Marijuana voting on a bill and amendments was taking place in the House before and after the address. That bill will next come back to the Senate. In the Appropriations Committee where I serve, we are taking testimony on the Budget Adjustment bill. In my second committee, Judiciary, bills that persons have testified about are: S-105, which proposes to prohibit forced arbitration of consumer disputes and employment disputes recontracts.

A second bill, S-107, speaks to the issue of immunity from liability for persons associated with safer drug consumption programs. None of these programs exist in Vermont right now but have been talked about for Chittenden County to combat drug overdose deaths.

Visit the State House, have lunch in the cafeteria, and take a tour. Contact me at home at 802-228-8432 or anitka@leg.state.vt.us. I am able to read all of your e-mails and appreciate you sending them, however the volume received makes it impossible to respond to all of them.

Article by Senator Alice Nitka.

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