Montpelier, Vt. – The Vermont House of Representatives today passed a comprehensive education reform package that proposes to address growing disparity in learning opportunities for Vermont’s students, and places firm restrictions on local education spending growth.
“Vermonters want property tax relief and greater equity in education across our delivery system,” said Speaker Smith. “Balancing what’s best for our kids at a price we can afford is no easy task, but Vermonters are counting on us to make tough decisions that provide better outcomes. The House bill advanced today marks a step toward real progress for students and taxpayers.”
The House education bill (H.361) proposes to create larger school districts, promote greater equity in the delivery of high quality education to the state’s prekindergarten to grade 12 students, impose a moratorium on unfunded legislative requirements, cap spending, and focus districts on achieving greater efficiencies through economies of scale.
“Our committee felt strongly that all children should have access to an equitable array of services and opportunities. The viability of many schools is in real jeopardy as enrollments are projected to continue to decline over the next decade,” explained Rep. Dave Sharpe, Chair of the House Education committee and a retired teacher. “We have a responsibility to remove barriers to operational efficiencies, cross-sector collaboration and meaningful program evaluation.”
The bipartisan bill was developed over several months and incorporates feedback from over 100 proposals submitted by citizens and stakeholders. On February 27, the House Education Committee passed a preliminary version of the bill in a unanimous, bipartisan vote.
Rep. Bernie Juskiewicz, Vice-Chair of the Education Committee and a former school board member, noted the importance of moving a bill that improves Vermont’s education system for the 21st century: “I think this is a great day. This bill creates educational opportunities for the students of Vermont and it puts us on the road to consolidation and more efficient use of people and resources.” Ultimately, Juskiewicz said, “it’s going to have a positive effect for the taxpayers in the state of Vermont.”
“Vermonters asked us to pass a bill that will make a real difference in the classroom and on their tax bills,” Speaker Smith noted. “The passage of H.361 marks the first step in a process to improve education quality, control costs, promote sustainability, and provide students with opportunities to succeed. I would like to thank Representatives Dave Sharpe and Bernie Juskiewicz, as well as the entire Education Committee, for their thoughtful and inclusive work,” he concluded.
The education bill will proceed to the Senate for consideration.
MONTPELIER, VT. – The Vermont House of Representatives today passed a bill to enhance protections for residents of mobile home parks. The proposal, H.123, requires that mobile home park owners ensure tenant safety by maintaining safe roads and access points for emergency use.
“The protections advanced by the House embody the essential role of state government,” explained House Speaker Shap Smith. “Working to ensure the health and safety of all Vermonters – rural, urban, low and moderate income – is vital to the health of our communities and state."
When Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont, sixteen mobile home parks experienced flooding. First responders and advocates reported that the dilapidated roadway conditions in some mobile home parks slowed disaster response times. As a result, the General Assembly directed the Department of Housing and Community Development to investigate the difficulties confronting mobile home communities. Rep. Bill Botzow introduced H.123 to act on the Department’s recommendations.
Rep. Helen Head, the Chair of House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, praised the outcome of the bill: “This bill creates a path for enforcement of health and safety, ensuring that ambulances and fire trucks can get in to help residents in our mobile home parks. All Vermonters should have access to emergency services in their time of need,” she concluded.
House Speaker Shap Smith today asked Vermonters, employers, policy makers and stakeholders to submit proposals for economic development and job growth strategies for consideration in the legislative biennium.
“On the first day of the session, I called on lawmakers to work together as we strive to create an atmosphere of opportunity across Vermont. It is in this spirit that we are asking for public input on state economic development strategies,” announced Speaker Smith.
House Speaker Shap Smith announced tri-partisan support today for public hearings to investigate the cost of gasoline in Northwestern Vermont, which can be up to 30 or 40 cents higher than prices found in other parts of the state. The hearings will be held on Thursday, January 22 from 5:00 – 7:00pm in Room 11 of the State House.
“Folks who live or travel around Northwestern Vermont ask why filling up at the pump is so expensive,” explained Speaker Smith. “Although fuel prices have dropped nationally and across Vermont, the cost reduction has not kept pace in our Northwest communities. I have instructed the House Transportation and Commerce Committees to hold a public hearing to investigate this matter and report back with recommendations for next steps.”
As January winds down, the State House is humming with activity. Our first weeks included the Governor's election, the State of the Union speech and the Budget address. I was honored to be elected to my fourth term as Speaker on the first day of the session, and share my colleagues’ sense of urgency to tackle key priorities.
Legislators heard during the 2014 campaign that Vermonters are feeling the financial pinch. Many hear about the growing economy and rising stockmarket yet don't see it in their paychecks. They feel the impact of rising health care costs, property taxes, food and other items. People are having a hard time making ends meet, plain and simple.
Four years ago, this body first elected me to serve as Speaker of the House. I am humbled now, as I was then, by the faith that you have placed in me to serve as your Speaker. I hope to honor that faith over the coming two years as we work together to make Vermont a better place.
In the years since I was first elected Speaker, our state and country has experienced a grave economic downturn and politics have become increasingly polarized on the national level. The political culture in the nation’s capital has left many discouraged and, quite frankly, disgusted. As the country faces monumental challenges -- huge future fiscal imbalances, crumbling infrastructure and an education system that is not preparing our children for citizenry or the work force, many openly wonder whether our leaders and systems are capable of putting aside their differences, rolling up their sleeves and laying a foundation for a strong future.