End of the session message from Montpelier

Dear Editor,

By the closing of the 2019 session in mid-May, the House and Senate legislators had passed 93 bills, only two of which were vetoed by Gov. Scott. The rest became law July 1, 2019, including the FY2020 $6.1 billion budget.

Low population growth and its impact on workforce development have been pressing concerns to both the legislative and executive branches throughout the 2019 session. Southern Vermont’s population has dropped 4 to 5% since 2014. To keep up with expected retirements and job growth, Vermont will need 10,000 new workers each year.

Which leads me to a question I received recently from a constituent: “What has been done to address the issue of southern Vermont’s depressed business development and growth?”

Following are a number of initiatives moved into law this year that will help business development, job growth, and make Vermont more affordable.

The Workforce and Economic Development bill includes a reimbursement program aimed at increasing the number of workers by offering up to $7,500 relocation incentives to workers moving to Vermont to work here. Along with the expansion of last year’s remote worker program, we believe the $1.1 million set aside for the program is a financially efficient way to build the state’s labor force.

With the Weatherization bill now law, an additional $2.3 million for a total of $17 million was made available for weatherization assistance for Vermonters of low and moderate incomes. The reduced heating bills will make available more funds to the participating families to be used for other basic needs.

The Broadband bill is the largest legislative effort in many years to expand the state’s broadband network into rural areas. If we want to attract businesses and younger people, expanding our broadband is critical. While we won’t do it overnight, this year’s bill will provide start-up financing programs and technical specialists, and will streamline procedures to get local initiatives off the ground.

The Child Care and Early Learning bill is a $7.4 million investment to make child care more accessible and affordable for families. The bulk of the money will be used to increase child care subsidies for low income parents and boost reimbursement rates for providers. This is a critical investment in putting parents to work and growing the state’s economy.

Coming out of my committee, Agriculture and Forestry, are bills that grow our farming and logging industries. $500,000 is specifically directed to Vermont’s struggling dairy industry to help shore up farming ventures. Farmers can now sell and deliver unpasteurized milk and expand on-farm slaughter operation services to the retail market.

For Vermont loggers, we offer a program aimed at lowering the high cost of workers compensation insurance by as much as 15%. We also eliminated sales tax on certain large forestry equipment to remain competitive with other states. Both these costs have been restricting the growth of the logging industry.

Two priority issues that could have a major impact on increasing our workforce and building a stronger economy stalled in the legislature. Due to the complex nature of the issues, the Senate and House were unable to reach agreement in time to advance a minimum wage increase and a paid family medical leave insurance program. However, the Senate and House leadership are committed to passing these significant pieces of legislation in the next session.

As always, I welcome any questions, opinions, thoughts, and concerns you may have on any legislative issue. You can contact me at tbock@leg.state.vt.us or tmbock@vermontel.net. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Rep. Tom Bock

Andover, Baltimore, Chester, and N. Springfield

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