Governor Peter Shumlin swore in Jeffrey Kilgore this morning as probate judge to replace George Belcher for the Probate Division of the Washington Unit of the Superior Court. ‘Jeff has solid experience in probate issues and an extensive legal career,’ Governor Shumlin said. ‘That experience, as well as his knowledge of county government, make him an asset to the bench.’Kilgore, who lives in Waterbury, is an attorney whose practice since 1988 has included trusts and estate planning, real estate, taxation, and various corporate matters. He has been an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School, an Associate Professor of Business and Economics at Norwich University, and Special Counsel to the Department of Public Service. He has also served as moderator for Waterbury’s town meeting for the past nine years. He graduated from Vermont Law School in 1978. He also received an LLM degree in taxation from Boston University School of Law in 1988 and a Master’s degree in economics from Michigan State University in 1975. The swearing in took place at the Washington Superior Court in Montpelier. Source: Shumlin’s office, 7.16.2012
Added board member and partner at Fresh Tracks Capital, Cairn Cross, “Bill is a well-known, proven leader here in Vermont and will be a great fit for Vermont Teddy Bear. We are thrilled to have him on board.” As a 5th generation Vermonter, Shouldice has a great love for the state of Vermont and a full understanding of the importance that VTB plays in the community. Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013; Shelburne, VT The Vermont Teddy Bear Company. www.VermontTeddyBear.com The Vermont Teddy Bear Company is one of the largest producers of premium teddy bears and the largest seller of teddy bears by mail order and Internet. The company handcrafts high quality teddy bears in Shelburne, VT, and produces almost 300,000 teddy bears each year. The Shelburne Teddy Bear factory is an especially popular tourist destination. VTB also owns Calyx Flowers, a luxury flower company specializing in artistically crafted floral designs, as well as PajamaGram, which specializes in providing pajamas as comfortable, creative, and playful gifts. The company is owned by The Mustang Group, a Boston-based private equity firm. “We are extremely excited to bring Bill on board as our CEO to lead Vermont Teddy Bear to its next level of growth and expansion,” stated chairman and partner at The Mustang Group, Bob Crowley. “Having a native Vermonter take the helm makes it even more special.” Vermont Teddy Bear Co,The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Inc (VTB) has announced the appointment of their new President/CEO, William C Shouldice IV (Bill). In his new role, Bill will have responsibility for all aspects of the business including marketing, merchandising, operations, IT, Ecommerce, organizational development, and finance.Shouldice brings with him a considerable knowledge in the direct-to-consumer business and a passion for the state of Vermont. Prior to joining VTB, Shouldice was the President and CEO of The Vermont Country Store (VCS), a position that he held for over seven years. Before joining VCS, he was President/CEO of the Orton Family Foundation. He also previously served in government, most notably as the Secretary of Commerce in Vermont for Governor Howard Dean. I am excited to have the opportunity to lead a company that has shown an incredible ability to manufacture and deliver quality Vermont products to customers across America, says Shouldice. Vermont is fortunate to have one of the most productive and committed employee bases in the country and the dedicated employees at VTB are second to none. When you couple the VTB dedication to premium products and customer service with the world class facilities and infrastructure at VTB, it is easy to see that the future potential for the business is bright.
by Anne Galloway March 16, 2013 vtdigger.org The annual make or break deadline for new legislation was on Friday. VTDigger.org has compiled a rundown of the bills that made the cut, which ones will go the Senate Rules Committee for exemptions, and which proposals are now in doubt.Here is a short list of the bills that passed out of House committees this week: pre-K expansion legislation; a provision prohibiting public schools from going private; new state reporting requirements for elder abuse investigations; new rules designed to curb opiate addiction; equal pay rules for employers; a program that will advance the state’ s commitment to improving the thermal efficiency of residences and businesses; a clarification of insurance rules for preventive medical care. In addition, the House passed a bill on the floor this week that requires the Vermont State Police to coordinate search and rescue efforts with municipal and volunteer groups.In the Senate, key legislation that has emerged includes: a bill requiring Act 250 regulation of an oil pipeline in the Northeast Kingdom; a controversial bill that requires the Public Service Board to consider Act 250 rules when approving renewable energy projects; a ‘ flexible pathways’ bill that would enable more high school students to attend state colleges; a change to the public records law that would allow public access to some information regarding criminal investigations. The patient-directed death bill that passed out of the Senate last month will likely be taken up by the House in early April. A bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize was shot down in the Senate Economic Development Committee this week. The Senate approved bills requiring non-union members to pay partial dues, expanding workers compensation allowances for firefighters and allowing independent home health care providers to collectively bargain with the state.A number of proposals that didn’ t make the deadline have a chance of resurfacing. There are 10 pieces of legislation that House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and the Senate Rules Committee will consider exempting from the deadline. A number of these measures are controversial and full passage this year is by no means guaranteed. Here’ s a partial list: a bill requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods; the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana; a shoreline protection bill; legislation requiring more intensive Taser training for law enforcement; unionization of employees who work for state’ s attorneys; changes to the open meeting law; drivers licenses for migrant workers; a bill that would make electronic communication between lawmakers and constituents confidential; and proposed regulation of pet breeders and kennels.A few bills, including new pension forfeiture legislation, which allows the state to seize the pensions of public officials who have been convicted of embezzling, have passed out of both the House and the Senate.The flurry of activity, which took place largely in policy committees last week, will switch to the floor in the coming weeks, as lawmakers in the Senate and House begin the process of winnowing through the dozens of bills on the slate.But the real yeoman’ s work will be in the House money committees over the next few weeks. Lawmakers will decide whether to raise taxes to pay for roads and bridges; how to proceed with bonding for more than $70 million to pay for the new Waterbury State Office Complex; whether to assess $20 million in additional taxes to fill this year’ s budget hole; and how to manage state spending at a time when demand for state programs for low-income Vermonters has continued to grow, even after the recession. Lawmakers on the budget and tax committees say putting together the state’ s annual spending and revenue bills is tougher than the worst years of the recession because federal money is shrinking.Meanwhile, legislators in the House and Senate will also be moving dozens of bills forward in the last nine weeks of the session. Some will pass in one body or the other, but not make final passage, others will make it through the whole process. If history is any guide, by early May about 70 to 80 bills will land on the governor’ s desk.Here is a synopsis of some of the key bills that lawmakers will consider in the second half of the legislative session:House panel backs bill tackling opioid drug prescription abuse and treatmentThe House Human Services Committee unanimously approved a patchwork piece of legislation today that seeks to reduce opioid and methamphetamine abuse.Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chair of the Human Services Committee, outlined the intent behind the legislation.‘ What we hope to do with this is improve treatment, prevent deaths, improve access to treatment and appropriate prescribing, and to keep communities safe,’ Pugh said.The bill amalgamates a handful of bills that began in three different committees ‘ Human Services, Judiciary, and General, Housing, and Military Affairs. Human Services stitched the bills into a single piece of legislation just in time to make the crossover deadline Friday.Pugh described the bill and the collaborative drafting process, as ‘ a visual picture of the multifaceted way that we need to respond to these issues.’The bill seeks to make the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System a more effective tool for alerting doctors and pharmacies when people are ‘ doctor-shopping.’ It requires physicians to register with the hitherto voluntary database and to consult the database each time a patient requests a replacement prescription and whenever they prescribe medication to a new patient with chronic pain symptoms.The legislation also sets up a pilot program for distributing opioid antagonists and establishes an electronic database program that will require pharmacists to monitor the sales of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and other drug products that are used to make meth. It also lays the groundwork for a statewide drop-off program for unused medication, and it attempts to make it easier to crack down on drug sales that take place on abandoned properties.In addition, the committees had planned to wrap H.65, which would give limited immunity to people reporting drug overdoses, into the larger bill, but it was not included in the version that was approved by the Human Services Committee on Friday.What the bill doesn’ t address, due to budgetary constraints, Pugh said, is the lack of treatment options for people with drug addictions.‘ Alicia FreeseS.30 would give towns more say over wind and other renewable projects; $75,000 allocated for studyThe legislation requires the Public Service Board to conform with Act 250 criteria, which would give towns a greater say in how renewable energy projects, including wind projects, are sited. It also sets aside $75,000 for a study of the impacts of wind turbines.Act 250, the state’ s landmark land use law, uses a different set of criteria than the Vermont Public Service Board, which reviews power projects under its Section 248 rules.The study will zoom in on the health, environmental and economic impacts of wind. It would also examine sound and ‘ infrasound’ emissions ‘ an issue being raised increasingly by opponents and those living near utility-scale wind projects.Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia told the committee that a previous study on sound impacts from wind towers cost $60,000. Previously, the Senate Natural Resources Committee killed a proposed moratorium on wind projects, which had been unpopular with the Democratic leadership and the Shumlin administration. The Senate Appropriations Committee green-lighted $75,000 for a newly mandated Department of Public Service study due in October on how the state should proceed with renewable energy projects, particularly wind power.The study will also examine renewable energy credits, if renewable energy investment impacts the state’ s greenhouse gas emissions, and how to fund public participation in the siting process for energy plants. It calls for substantial public participation.This legislation also convenes an interim legislative committee, of undecided makeup, which will examine the Department of Public Service findings, and report back in December with recommendations on integrating regional and local planning, and standards applying to all wind turbines.‘ Nat RudarakanchanaBill granting migrant licenses in limbo after vote delayed; legislative leaders agree to waive crossover deadlineThe push to grant driving rights to migrant workers suffered a slight setback, as the Senate Transportation Committee failed to vote on the measure on Friday.Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell has granted the bill a waiver so that it can be considered at some point next week.The migrant workers legislation has been tweaked to include so-called ‘ driving privilege’ cards, rather than a standard driver’ s license, to 1,500 migrant farm workers who now lack the ability to drive legally in Vermont.Brendan O’ Neill, an advocate with Migrant Justice, which pushed for the driver IDs, says he supports the ‘ driving privilege’ cards.Campbell sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, which is currently reviewing the bill.‘ Nat RudarakanchanaSenate panel advances bill that subjects oil pipelines to Act 250 reviewThe Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee passed legislation mandating that any changes to how oil pipelines are used, excepting routine repairs, will be subject to Act 250 review. The vote was 4-0-1. Sen. Peter Galbraith was absent.Environmental groups including VPIRG, the Conservation Law Foundation and 350.org have argued in favor of the legislation. Ben Walsh, VPIRG clean energy advocate, told VTDigger that he believes the latest version is an update of existing law. The decision could affect a potential future route for Canadian tar sands oil through the Northeast Kingdom.Larry Wilson, CEO of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., told House lawmakers that he opposes the bill, that transporting tar sands through the pipeline is safe, and that he’ d like to pipe tar sands oil through Vermont in the future.In an attempt to avoid federal pre-emption issues, the legislation says that district commissions shall not address safety considerations when applying Act 250 criteria.‘ It also has language that really simply says that we’ re not going into safety issues that are pre-empted under federal law, and it cites the federal statute,’ Bob Hartwell, chair of Senate Natural Resources, said.Lobbyist Joe Choquette, who represents the American Petroleum Institute, said the legislation sets a ‘ terrible precedent’ by targeting one unpopular company and placing unreasonable burdens on it.‘ Nat RudarakanchanaFate of Statehouse bill regulating use of stun guns uncertainIt’ s unclear if action on statewide training and deployment policies for Tasers will have to wait until next year. The measure didn’ t come to a vote in the House Government Operations Committee by Friday afternoon.Committee Chair Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, told VTDigger she’ d asked Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell for an extension for the bill, but hadn’ t yet heard back on Friday, the deadline for bills to move between chambers.She emphasized, however, that she doesn’ t want the measure to be rushed through. ‘ There’ s still more information to come, and we decided that we should wait and hear what the attorney general is coming up with, from after his hearing,’ said Sweaney.She also plans to hold an evening hearing next month for public input regarding Tasers and their use, or misuse, by law enforcement.‘ Of course it would be hard to get it through this year, possibly, but certainly we want to get it through within the biennium,’ she said.Although there’ s broad committee consensus welcoming more training and standardized policy on use of the stun guns, which tend to be administered and managed at a local police level, law enforcement officials have said they object to legislators micromanaging how Tasers should be used, Sweaney said.‘ Police ask that we not be so prescriptive, as to what their procedures could be, when they need to intervene with a Taser,’ she said. ‘ It’ s an issue and a sticking point that we need to iron out.’One issue in the debate is whether Tasers should be considered lethal weapons, and whether police should only use them in situations that call for deadly force.Officials with the Vermont Police Academy support a proposal to increase required officer training for Tasers.‘ Nat RudarakanchanaBill setting social media protections for job applicants sidetracked for summer studyThe Senate Committee on Economic Development unanimously delayed legislation that protects the social media privacy of job applicants, delegating the issue to a summer study committee instead.An 11-person committee including labor representatives, civil rights advocates and lawmakers, will study the experience in other states as well as federal law before reporting back in January 2014.Allen Gilbert, ACLU-VT’ s executive director, told VTDigger that in the last few weeks, the bill somehow switched from a ‘ job applicant protection bill to an employer surveillance bill.’‘ This resulted in the bill being sidetracked to a summer study committee because of all the complicated issues involved with employers monitoring employees’ habits while at work,’ Gilbert said.Gilbert proposed eliminating any issues about employees and focusing again on job applicants only, but said last minute objections from the Department of Public Safety scuttled his attempts to pass legislation this year.Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn previously argued that candidates for state trooper positions should be forced to turn over their Facebook passwords, because screening the character and judgment of such candidates is crucial to hiring police the public can trust.‘ Nat RudarakanchanaReporting requirements for elder abuseLast year, Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a bill that would have mandated reporting of elder abuse investigations to a legislative oversight committee.The House Human Services Committee passed a new version of the legislation on Friday in a second attempt at requiring the state to regularly disseminate data about abuse, neglect and exploitation reports and investigations. The bill requires the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living to issue reports to lawmakers on a quarterly basis through July 2015.In its findings, bill H.105, states that the Adult Protective Services program received 1,829 reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation in 2012; of those, 872 were investigated. ‘ Currently, there are no data that explain why 957 reports received in 2012 were not investigated,’ according to the bill. In addition, ‘ consistent data are not available that explain what referrals were made to assist or protect the alleged victims.’Advocates say the state isn’ t doing enough to investigate elder abuse complaints.The state is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Vermont Legal Aid over the issue.‘ Anne GallowayPre-K bill would expand early ed programs; Vermont Strong Scholars program gets approval; provision would block another North BenningtonThe House Education Committee advanced a bill that allows school districts to expand preschool programs with money from the statewide property tax system. Qualifying districts would be able to include pre-kindergarten students as part of the average daily membership rate used to determine state reimbursement levels for schools.Rep. Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, chair of the committee, says the legislation will enable school districts to provide ‘ universal’ access to 10-hour a week preschool programs for students in about 15 communities,including Stowe, Colchester, Woodstock, Norwich and Rutland.The legislation would also make it easier for families living in areas of the state without programs for young children to get access to programs in other school districts.The pre-K education initiative is a key component of Gov. Peter Shumlin’ s education plan.The Joint Fiscal Office and the Agency of Education estimate that the total cost will be about $2 million a year.Another one of the governor’ s proposals ‘ the Vermont Strong Scholars Program ‘ was also backed by the committee. The program would repay a portion of the cost of tuition for post-secondary graduates who study science, technology, engineering or math at state educational institutions and choose to stay in Vermont. The scholarships would not be issued until 2015; consequently, the bill does not include an appropriation.In an attempt to ‘ prevent another North Bennington from happening,’ as Donovan puts it, the committee approved a provision in a technical bill that prohibits a community from closing a public school and re-opening it as a private school. The conversion of the North Bennington Village School from a public school to a private, nonprofit entity was recently approved by the State Board of Education. Several other schools around the state, including an elementary school in Burke are considering a similar switch. Donovan says there was previously nothing in state statute to prevent public schools from going private. Lawmakers in House Education are concerned about the use of public funds for private schools that do not comply with the same standards for universal student admittance, special education, teacher certification and free and reduced lunches for low-income students. The Senate Education Committee has proposed legislation, S.91, that would require private schools to adhere to state mandates for public schools.Thermal efficiency bill bifurcated; committee separates policy goals from revenue proposalThe House Natural Resources and Energy Committee divided and conquered this week. Most of the media attention on the committee’ s ‘ big bill,’ a thermal efficiency proposal that aims to facilitate the weatherization of 80,000 homes in Vermont (about 25 percent of the state’ s housing stock), between now 2020, has been focused on how the state plans to finance the proposal and the Clean Energy Development Fund.Discussion in committee this week ranged from funneling the gross receipts tax on fossil fuels to a new special fund, which would have effectively removed roughly $15 million a year from the General Fund, to applying a 55 cent monthly surcharge on meters. House Natural Resources Chair Tony Klein’ s gross receipts trial balloon was popped when Rep. Martha Heath, chair of House Appropriations, caught wind of the proposal.The latest iteration of the funding mechanism is the 55-cent monthly electric meter charge. An identical proposal two years ago passed the House then was reversed when Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Londonderry, launched a hue and cry over what he deemed a regressive tax proposal designed to subsidize renewable investors who receive subsidies through the Clean Energy Development Fund. Gov. Peter Shumlin asked the House leadership for a revote and the representatives then canned the idea.The 56-page thermal efficiency bill outlines why the state needs to continue to make investments in building weatherization.The proposal cites climate change and the economic impact of Vermonters’ dependence on heating oil as the two main reasons for accelerating efforts to insulate the state’ s aging building stock.Two-thirds of the sources of Vermont’ s greenhouse gases in 2010 were from transportation and heating buildings and water, according to a study the legislation cites. Household and business expenditures on fossil fuels for hot water and buildings, doubled between 2000 and 2010, from $300 million to $600 million.Rep. Margaret Cheney, D-Norwich, who helped to craft the bill, said the proposal makes economic and environmental sense. Insulation can save the average homeowner about $1,000 a year on heating fuel, she said.‘ If people invest in thermal efficiency and reduce the need for oil, they will have a positive impact on greenhouse gases and save money,’ Cheney said.The bill highlights the importance of investments in weatherization programs for low-income Vermonters who rely on the Low Income Heating Assistance Program. Cheney says the state must move ahead with these investments in order to save money over time, especially since the federal government has reduced its support for LIHEAP over the last few years.The state’ s $12.5 million low income weatherization program is currently funded by a 0.05 percent gross receipts tax (which was put in place in 1990) and funding from an agreement with Green Mountain Power as part of a $21 million payback to CVPS ratepayers.For middle and upper income Vermonters, the thermal efficiency bill sets up a clearinghouse program like Efficiency Vermont for residents who want information about how to get an energy audit; how to obtain loans for weatherization projects; what incentives are available; and how to find contractors to do the work.A new entity would coordinate the delivery of efficiency services and provide a one-stop shop for consumers with a web portal and a help line.The bill also allows IBM to pay $55,000 into a ‘ self-managed’ energy efficiency program in lieu of paying an efficiency fee on natural gas.In addition, the legislation sets new residential building energy standards. Homeowners must obtain a Residential Energy Building Standard certificate under the bill.‘ Anne GallowayEditor’ s note: This story was updated at 8:30 a.m. March 16.
Vermont Electric Cooperative, Inc,Vermont Electric Cooperative reported early Friday morning that all power outages from the initial wave of the ice storm have been restored. In all, about 35,000 outages were restored since they began to occur last weekend.’ As of 5:30 am Friday, 249 VEC members were without power as new snow caused trees to fall on power lines. These outages began on Thursday and Friday, and should be repaired by Friday at noon. The largest current outage affects 184 members in Fairfax, Fletcher and Fairfield which was hard hit in the storm.VEC members may see new outages Friday as trees continue to come down on lines. VEC will also be initiating some outages to safely make needed repairs to power lines, but these outages will be relatively short in duration.’ As snow accumulated Thursday a new round of outages began, with an additional 500 power outages developing throughout the day. With line workers and tree crews already in the field, VEC dispatched crews to these outages which should also be restored by the end of the day. Tree limbs and power lines already loaded with ice saw as much as 6 inches of snow build up in some areas making them more prone to sagging and breaking.The risk for additional scattered outages at this time has increased. VEC is asking its members to remain prepared for the possibility of losing electricity during the next few days.’ Utility crews from around Vermont and beyond continue to support VEC’s line workers and tree crews.‘This weather event has caused unprecedented damage to the VEC system,’ said spokesperson Liz Gamache. ‘We’ve been fortunate to receive an outpouring of support from utility workers near and far. They are committed to getting the lights back on and have been working in extremely challenging weather conditions,’ she continued.In addition, individuals and organizations throughout northern Vermont have helped to provide meals to the crews so that they could keep fortified and spend more time in the field making repairs. Local hospitals and fire departments opened their doors to provide dinner on Christmas Day. Families of VEC employees have also stepped in to make hundreds of hot meals and bagged lunches for the workers, and customers baked cookies and delivered coffee in frigid temperatures. ‘We are so grateful to many generous Vermonters who are supporting and encouraging the line crews and staff who have been working continuously since’ Sunday,’ said Gamache. ‘Mother Nature has dealt us some blows, but we feel like we’re in this together,’ she remarked.’
by Hilary Niles vtdigger.org A preliminary analysis of a potential boost in Vermont’s minimum wage shows that without concurrent policy changes to public assistance programs, low-wage workers might lose more in benefits than they gain in earnings. The finding was presented to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs on Tuesday afternoon. The committee holds jurisdiction over labor issues, and is pondering a graduated increase in the state’s minimum wage from $8.73 cents per hour to anywhere from $10.10 to $12.50 or higher.Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, chair of House General, said she is willing to take more testimony after a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Statehouse. She hopes to move the bill out of her committee by the end of next week, if not sooner.Gov. Peter Shumlin recently called for a gradual increase to $10.10 over three years, in line with President Barack Obama’s national campaign. A “consortium” of four New England governors have fallen in line with the initiative: Shumlin, Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.Legislative economist Tom Kavet, right, with economist J. VTDigger file photoLegislative economist Tom Kavet and Joint Fiscal Office staffer Deb Brighton wrote a memo based on an immediate wage hike to either $10.10 or $12.50, starting in 2015. They said impacts likely will vary by sector, and repercussions for workers and the state budget are complicated.Because some businesses theoretically will not be able to afford the same number of workers at a higher wage, about 250 job losses could occur from an increase to the lower threshold, they wrote. Those who retain their positions could earn about $30 million more, however. That would lift some people off public assistance programs, Kavet told lawmakers.“The reduction in federal transfer payments as a result of lower federal aid participation, however, could result in approximately $5 million in reduced Medicaid, EITC (earned income tax credit), SNAP (3 Squares) and other payments to the State,” the report states.Kavet said the effect of such a drastic hike in the minimum wage is difficult to predict because it’s uncharted territory. He said no matter the size of the raise, it will directly affect a tiny fraction of the state’s total labor force, and the bigger the raise, the bigger the impact will be.To that end, a jump to $12.50 per hour could result in approximately 3,200 lost jobs, or about 1 percent of total employment. Aggregate income gains for low-wage workers might reach $250 million. And the loss of federal funds the state would experience could be roughly $35 million.Kavet said he would need to conduct further study of the data to forecast more specific impacts. Lawmakers were particularly curious about the differential between Vermont’s minimum wage and that of neighboring states, especially New Hampshire, which reduced it to match the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour in 2011.They also may ask him to take a closer look at the interaction between the state’s minimum wage rates and federal assistance programs. Lawmakers are concerned that workers might lose more than they gain by working extra hours or earning more money, and they’re also worried about hidden, indirect pressure on state coffers should there be an exodus of low-wage workers leaving social welfare programs.Kavet suggested there might be ways to work around regulations to keep federal aid while directing more earned income back to the pockets of low-wage workers.Head said keeping the state’s minimum wage in line with neighboring states is particularly attractive because a group of states would have more leverage in negotiations with federal partners. TAKE VERMONT BUSINESS MAGAZINE MINIMUM WAGE POLL
by Laura Krantz vtdigger.org(link is external) Vermont’s homeless population grew by 9 percent this year, according to a report released Wednesday by two anti-homelessness groups.The 2014 Point-in-Time survey counted 1,556 homeless Vermonters the night of Jan. 28, including 227 people who said they were victims of domestic violence and 371 children.Formerly homeless people and those who help the homeless Wednesday said the actual number of homeless people in the state is likely much higher.Federal budget cuts slashed the number of Section 8 vouchers in Vermont and contributed to the rise in homelessness this year, said Jeanne Montross, co-chairwoman of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness.“We lost a lot of Section 8 vouchers due to sequestration,” Montross said.The number of people who have lost homes as a result of domestic violence is disturbing, Montross said, especially because that number does not count children.“When we think about children who have witnessed domestic violence and then they are homeless, you put those two things together and the trauma to that child is huge,” she said.The survey found 166 people living outdoors or in places unfit for human habitation, an increase of 58 percent from 2013.That number surprised Montross, who said there were new cold weather shelters this year.The Chittenden County Continuum of Care, which covers the state’s most populous county, along with the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, which covers the rest of the state, released the survey.It was performed via volunteers across the state who interviewed homeless people on the same night.The full survey report includes more specific data about the number of people chronically homeless versus those using motel vouchers. It also includes the number of homeless households versus single people as well as the number of homeless veterans and disabled people.The report, performed annually, only includes people who meet the federal definition of homelessness. It does not count people living with friends or “precariously housed.”Some said the study failed to capture an accurate picture of homelessness in Vermont.“It’s grossly undercounted, there’s way more people that are living homeless than what this report says,” said Morgan Brown, a member of the Vermont Council on Homelessness.The report uses a definition of homelessness that is too narrow and doesn’t count people who live in hotels on their own dime or people who double up with friends, he said.Brown said over the course of the 12-year period he was homeless the survey never counted him.Thirty-five percent of the state’s homeless people live in Chittenden County, according to the survey. Ten percent are located in Rutland.The cost of housing causes many people to become homeless, said Rita Markley, executive director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter, a Burlington shelter.“The fundamental challenge is that wages for many Vermonters are still low. They’re flat or falling. And housing costs are extraordinarily high,” Markley said.New state and private programs to prevent homelessness are effective but they it will take time for these efforts to affect the data, she said.Markley also said the number of homeless in Vermont is likely higher than 1,556.“We need to invest in more affordable housing, we need to attract higher wage jobs, and we need to support and increase the homelessness prevention resources,” she said.Whitney Nichols, a formerly homeless man who now serves on the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Governor’s Council on Pathways from Poverty, said formerly homeless people should share their experiences and point out that there is hope.“We can help one another to get through some of these difficult times,” he said.Two other recent reports also showed an increase in the number of homeless people in Vermont.Vermont has seen a 62 percent increase in shelter use since 2009, according to the One Night Shelter Count(link is external), released in December by the Office of Economic Opportunity.That report also found a 7 percent increase from the prior year in emergency shelter use and a 14 percent increase in transitional housing use.The number of homeless students in Vermont is also growing, according to an October report from the U.S. Department of Education.That report found that from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2012, Vermont’s homeless student population grew by 35 percent, one of the sharpest increases in the country.In the 2011-2012, there were 1,202 homeless students, according to the report(link is external).The findings help the two Continuums of Care apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and also help inform local and state groups about the status of homeless Vermonters.
by Ryan Patch, VAAFM The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has released a draft copy of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for a period of public comment which will run through December 18, 2015. This is a pre-filing period which will afford the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to review the Draft RAPs and provide initial comment before VAAFM will formalize the draft this winter and will then enter into the formal rulemaking process in the spring of 2016. Additional public comment periods will follow both the draft rewrite as well as the formal rulemaking period.For a copy of the draft RAP document, visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/VAAFM-Draft-RAP.pdfTo help facilitate this comment and input process, VAAFM scheduled ten public meetings across the state, some of which were held in November. The December meetings will be held at various venues on the eastern side of the state starting December 3. These public meetings will include a detailed presentation of the draft RAPs, with a question and answer session to follow. In order to maximize public input, VAAFM is also offering to hold smaller group meetings for interested organizations and stakeholders to review the rules in greater detail. For the current list of scheduled public meetings, please visit VAAFM’s webpage at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/public-meetings“It is important for all stakeholders to understand the rules are in draft form – and that their feedback in this process is critical,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “We are holding these meetings because we want to engage with the public, to gather their feedback, and to ensure we are implementing a realistic, workable framework for agricultural practices in our state that effectively protects our lakes and rivers. We hope, and expect, that key stakeholders will step up and attend these meetings, to ensure their perspectives are heard.”VAAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015. Act 64 amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the State. The “Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)” were rewritten to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).” VAAFM was charged with revising the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016. Act 64 requires that the revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, and nutrient management.“The Agency of Agriculture wants to be very transparent with this process,” said Jim Leland, VAAFM’s Director of Agricultural Resources Management Division. “This collaborative process will ensure VAAFM develops a rule which meets the intent of Act 64, and is workable and implementable by the diversity of agricultural operations in the state.”In addition to requiring the implementation of RAPs, Act 64 instructed VAAFM to establish a program certifying and training small farm operations. With over 7,000 farms in the state, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census, a significant portion of small farms could be required to newly certify compliance with the RAPs when the program is implemented on July 1, 2017.“Farms of all sizes will be impacted by the RAPs, which is why it is important for all farmers to attend a meeting and provide comment,” said Leland.Significant and expanding technical and financial assistance is available from Federal, state and local organizations—including Vermont’s new Clean Water Fund established by Act 64. This will help ensure farms of all sizes are able to continue to access resources to assist in the planning and implementation of management changes and conservation practices to improve water quality on farms. “Farms of all sizes are already making significant progress at developing plans and implementing conservation practices statewide,” said Leland. “When implemented, the RAPs will set a roadmap and standards to ensure current and future planning efforts are as effective as possible at improving water quality on farms in Vermont.”Act 64 also requires that a VAAFM submit a draft report on water quality considerations regarding tile drainage to the legislature in January 2016, with the RAPs revised to included requirements for tile draining by January 15th, 2018. Successful implementation of the RAPs will assist in Vermont’s mission to meet the goals of Act 64 as well as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Phosphorus for Lake Champlain.For more information about the RAPs, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rapA timeline for RAP public input, revisions and implementation can be found at AAFMs webpage http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap#Q9VAAFM will seriously consider all comments received during this pre-filing period, though there may be no formal response to individual comments received. Comment can be e-mailed to: [email protected] or mailed directly to: 116 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620Comment received by VAAFM regarding the draft RAPs will be used solely for consideration during the revision of the RAPs and will not be used for water quality regulatory enforcement purposes. VAAFM encourages farm operations to submit comment with examples of areas on their farm where their current management meets state water quality standards, but would be out of compliance with the draft rules.
Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Community Loan Fund, (VCLF) a 501(c)3 nonprofit, mission-driven lender, has been named the 2015 Vermont Mission Lender of the Year by the US Small Business Administration (SBA) Vermont District Office. VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia accepted the award at the SBA Annual Meeting and Awards Breakfast in Montpelier on Thursday, December 9. The award was presented by SBA Region 1 Administrator Seth Goodall and SBA Vermont District Director Darcy Carter.“Financial institutions that made SBA loans in FY15 played a key role in supporting small business and economic development in Vermont,” said Carter. “SBA loans provide low-cost capital to start-ups and small businesses on reasonable terms,” she added.SBA’s Microloan program loan capital for small business owners through intermediary, local lenders like the Vermont Community Loan Fund. VCLF reviews and administers these loans to eligible small business owners throughout Vermont.Since making its first SBA-financed microloan in 2010, VCLF has loaned almost $2,000,000 in SBA-provided funds to 65 Vermont small businesses and child care programs, creating and saving 224 jobs. In 2015, VCLF issued eight SBA micro-loans totaling $140,000 VCLF’s current SBA-financed loan portfolio consists of 28 businesses with over $500,000 outstanding.In 2015, VCLF became an SBA Community Advantage loan guarantee lender. The Community Advantage program guarantees loans up to 85% of their value, enabling qualifying applicants with strong credentials but fewer assets to access loans of up to $250,000. In its first year of lending through the program, the Loan Fund made three Community Advantage loans totaling $300,000, saving or creating 28 Vermont jobs. Accepting the Vermont Mission Lender of the Year Award, VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia said “We’re so grateful for SBA financing that has positively impacted tens of thousands of Vermonters to date. The loan capital from their Microloan enables VCLF to better serve Vermont’s small businesses and sole proprietorships.”“The Community Advantage program has further extended our reach, resources and services to highly promising Vermont businesses, making it possible for qualified borrowers to make significant next steps in their growth,” Belongia added.In addition to funding, VCLF provides borrowers with a broad range of business skills training, as part of their overall commitment to extend tools and services that will help borrowers succeed.About the Vermont Community Loan FundThe Vermont Community Loan Fund is a mission-driven, community-focused alternative lender. Our mission is to create opportunities that lead to healthy communities and financial stability for all Vermonters. We develop and promote capital-based approaches to issues of poverty and opportunity.VCLF has loaned over $90 million to local businesses, affordable housing developers and community-based organizations that has created or preserved 4,800 jobs; built or rehabilitated 3,600 affordable homes; created or preserved quality care for over 3,400 children and their families; and supported community organizations providing vital services to hundreds of thousands of Vermonters.About the US SBAThe U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. We recognize that small business is critical to our economic recovery and strength, to building America’s future, and to helping the United States compete in today’s global marketplace. Although SBA has grown and evolved in the years since it was established in 1953, the bottom line mission remains the same. The SBA helps Americans start, build and grow businesses. Through an extensive network of field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations, SBA delivers its services to people throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the U. S. Virgin Islands and Guam.
by Maureen Cregan Connolly Nearly 97% of Vermont’s businesses are classified as “small” according to the Small Business Association (SBA). Statistics provided by the SBA report that between 2010 and 2013 Vermont had 77,726 small businesses and that, of that number, 60,067 businesses were without employees. These businesses primarily survive through contract work with other business entities. H.867 was written to protect Vermont’s cottage business industries and to protect an individual’s right to self-contract. The days of a single contractor building a home from foundation to roof are no longer. Homes are built by teams and individuals with specific skills and knowledge; team development is based upon the elements of design selected by the homeowners. Last year the Home Builders and Remodelers of Northern and Southern Vermont launched a public relations campaign to bring awareness to a policy of the Vermont Department of Labor that forced independent contractors into “employee” status, regardless of the fact that they self-identified as self-employed business entities.Home Builders were not the only sector in conflict with the Department of Labor: The tech sector, farmers and even artists all found themselves facing findings that ran contrary to their personal choice to remain self-employed.There are appropriate laws in place – that should remain in place – to protect workers from unfair employment practices H.867 would be a major step towards defining Vermont’s workforce of the future. The legislation revisits the definitions of “employee” and “independent contractor” for the purposes of workers’ compensation coverage and unemployment insurance for all sectors impacted by the current state Department of Labor audits. H.867 is not a panacea, but it is a crucial chapter in further defining Vermont’s workforce now and in the future. The bill creates a specific definition for an independent contractor while preserving the protections we want for all workers. It allows employers to pay their fair share of the costs. Provisions in the bill levy stiff fines against poor employer practices; yet the definitions of the employee vs. independent contractor in H.867 clarifies the rules so an employer looking to provide a service can clearly understand when it is appropriate to hire an employee and provide the necessary benefits required by law.H.867, a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Bennington), Chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, is the product of months of collaboration with diverse stakeholders and a thorough legislative review. The bill was voted out of committee on March 11th with a unanimous 11 to 0 vote. It’s time for approval by the Vermont House. Contact your Representatives and encourage them to act on H.867 and allow Vermont’s small business economy to thrive!Maureen Cregan Connolly, Executive Officer, Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont (HBRANV)