Nitka’s notes from the Statehouse, Feb. 7, 2020

Dear Editor,

All the state agencies are presenting their budgets to the Legislature at this time of year. This past week, the administrator and members of the Board of Trustees for the Vermont Veterans’ Home presented their proposed budget for fiscal year 2021. The home, which is located in Bennington, opened in 1887 as a working farm on 200 acres for 25 Civil War veterans. Today, the residential and health care facility cares for 130 veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and in peacetime. Also served are their spouses and widows. Gold Star parents are also cared for at the facility. They have skilled nursing beds, an Alzheimer’s and dementia unit, palliative and hospice care, and an eight-bed assisted living residence.

Their respected 30-bed memory unit has a waiting list of 121 veterans. Their youngest resident is age 62 and the eldest is 99. Last year, 60 of their residents passed away. Vermont General Fund spending to support the facility is proposed at $2.95 million. Around the country, there are 156 state veterans’ homes.

There was good news from the Department of Liquor and Lottery who also presented their budget. The lottery earned over $29 million for the Education Fund in 2019 after all payouts and expenses. This was due to increased sales as larger jackpots were offered. Generally, the annual transfer to the Education Fund is around $23 million.

Although the lottery touts, “Play Responsibly,” they recognize that a small percentage of players are problem gamblers. Last year, they acknowledged that what they offered for help was simply a referral to a possible provider for counseling or group help, which was only available in limited locations. The problem gambler also did not have the means to pay for the treatment. Since then, they have developed with expert advice a program to provide no cost problem gambling treatment for anyone who wants to receive it. They ran a successful pilot program with the Howard Center and propose spending $200,000 in fiscal year 2021. They are looking at phone, text, and remote-based treatment as well as engaging with other providers to ensure availability around the state.

This week, there was an attempt in the House of Representatives to override the governor’s veto of H.107, An act relating to paid family and medical leave. All 150 members were asked by different sides to be present as it was seen as an important vote. All being present is very unusual. People who were sick were there. One member who had eye surgery in the morning was there sporting a large bandage; another who had had cataract surgery the previous day was in attendance. Another cancelled a flight to be present, and sadly two people who had had very recent deaths in their families even stayed to vote. It was a role call vote with even the speaker voting as happens on an attempted override. A two-thirds vote was required to prevail, which was 100 needed. All remain silent when a vote is taken except for the clerk calling out alphabetically each member’s name and their response of “yes” or “no.” The resulting vote was 99 in favor and 51 opposed – one vote short of an override. The veto was sustained and that was that.

Feel free to contact me at the Statehouse at 1-800-322-5616, on weekends at 802-228-8432, or anitka@leg.state.vt.us. Letters can be sent to P.O. Box 136, Ludlow, VT 05149-0136.

Sincerely,

Sen. Alice Nitka

Windsor County

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