Federal pandemic recovery funding: The House Appropriations Committee is continuing to hear from the administration about the status of state spending of federal pandemic recovery funding known as American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Eligible uses of ARPA funds include housing, broadband, economic, workforce, community support, water supply and wastewater infrastructure. The challenge is that funds must be obligated by the end of the 2024 calendar year and expended by the end of the 2026 calendar year.
Housing, S.100: Representative Dara Torre, D-Moretown, and I have been reporting on the status of this bill almost weekly because of the level of interest and certainly its need. Note that when bills span the subject matter jurisdictions of multiple committees within the House or Senate chamber, the relevant portions of the bill must be reviewed by those committees. As Rep. Torre described in last week’s article, the bill is now under review by the Environment and Energy Committee. Her committee is evaluating the housing-related land use portions of the bill on a wide range of topics that include: parking space requirements, allowances for duplexes where there is water and wastewaster, multi-unit dwellings of up to four or more units per acre, accessory dwelling units, building heights to accommodate an additional habitable floor, consistency in energy codes, streamlining the appeals process, additional housing designations, permit streamlining, master permitting, emergency shelter provisions, a proposed three-year adjustment to Act 250 jurisdictional trigger from 10 to 25 units in five years within five miles, and updates to regional planning.
Child Care, S.56: I spent quite a bit of space in my last article about this bill, describing how child care access supports working families, businesses needing employees, and the vibrancy of our communities and economy. I also described how our early childhood education/child care system is struggling because of issues surrounding affordability, lack of capacity (current demand is estimated to be approximately 8,000 spots), the difficulty to attract and retain early childhood educators, and the general difficulty of centers to maintain financial stability. I also described how the Legislature has been focused on these issues for the past number of years, but it has not been enough to address these issues effectively.
Here's an update on the bill, S.56. The bill was just passed out of the House Human Services Committee and focuses on:
- Increasing access to child care and after school and summer care, while maintaining the mix of public and private program offerings.
- Increasing equitable access to prekindergarten education for 4-year-olds.
- Providing financial stability to child care programs.
- Stabilizing Vermont’s child care workforce.
- Assigning school districts with the responsibility of ensuring equitable prekindergarten access for 4-year-olds.
The bill is now in front of the committees on Education and Ways and Means. Ways and Means is looking at how to pay for the system-wide improvements and has been taking testimony from a wide range of businesses, urging for a bill that addresses these challenges in a comprehensive manner.
School safety, S.138: I have heard from a number of constituents inquiring about school safety initiatives. The Senate passed out S.138, which is under review in the House Education Committee. The bill has provisions that include conducting response drills, implementing an emergency operations plan, and adopting an access control and visitor management policy. Another provision of the bill expands the use of behavioral threat assessment teams and training for those teams. Such teams are used in a few schools today. The committee is also reviewing the adequacy of the state’s current Hazing Harassment and Bullying policy.
Vermont State Colleges system: As you may have heard, Vermont State University president Parwinder Grewal recently stepped down, and Mike Smith, former secretary of Human Services, will serve for six months as interim president. A major priority of the Legislature is to work closely with the State Colleges System to ensure long-term financial sustainability.
Next Coffee with Kari: Monday, May 1, The Warren Store (9-9:50 a.m.); Three Mountain Café in Waitsfield (10-11 a.m.). Feel free to contact me: