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Vermont Mayors Coalition 2018 Legislative Session Goals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 24, 2018
Contact:  Katie Vane
                  802.734.0617

 

**Please scroll down below the press release for a copy of the Vermont Mayors Coalition 2018 Legislative Policy Summary.

 

Vermont Mayors Coalition 2018 Legislative Session Goals

Mayors Push for Important Changes Related to Opioid Policy, Mental Health Reform, Clean Water, Environmental & Energy Policy, Public Safety, and Measures to Strengthen Downtowns

 

Montpelier, VT – The Vermont Mayors Coalition (VMC) today announced its 2018 legislative session goals and its commitment to collaborate on and advocate for these areas of common interest for their cities and towns. At a news conference in the State House Cedar Creek Room, the Coalition released its legislative policy summary for the 2018 legislative session, which includes:

 

  • Catalyzing Efforts to Address Opioid Use Disorders
  • Supporting Urgent Mental Health Reforms
  • Implementing a Common Sense Approach to Clean Water Funding
  • Supporting Measures Designed to Help Preserve Vermont’s Incredible Natural Environment
  • Reforming the Police Training Curriculum in Vermont
  • Supporting Housing and Downtown Tax Credits

 

The VMC was created in 2013 by Vermont’s eight Mayors. Six Mayors must concur on any recommendation for the Vermont Mayors Coalition to take a position. The eight Mayors of the VMC are: 

 

  • Dave Allaire, Rutland
  • Mike Daniels, Vergennes;
  • Liz Gamache, St. Albans;
  • John Hollar, Montpelier;
  • Thom Lauzon, Barre;
  • Seth Leonard, Winooski;
  • Paul Monette, Newport; and
  • Miro Weinberger, Burlington.

The Mayors offered the following statements about the issues of common interest they are collaborating on and advocating for during the 2018 legislative session:

 

Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon: “From Saint Albans to Barre to Brattleboro, Vermont’s investments in our downtowns and housing stock are paying huge economic and social dividends. Vermont’s Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit program has been an incredibly effective and efficient redevelopment tool for cities and towns across Vermont. An increase in this common sense program will yield even greater returns. In addition, as we all look forward to deploying millions of dollars in new housing capital as a result of the 35 million dollars housing bond, the Homeowner Tax Credit pilot program will ensure that the importance of investments in our existing housing stock isn’t overlooked. These strategic investments will ensure the availability and affordability of hundreds of homes for years to come.”

 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger: “Vermont continues to lead the way in fighting the opioid epidemic, but there is still much more we can and must do to save lives and turn the tide of this terrible crisis. The Mayors Coalition is united in believing that increasing access to the data in the State’s prescription monitoring system, expanding medication assisted treatment options in prisons and emergency rooms, and reviewing our treatment protocols will make a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of Vermonters.”

 

Montpelier Mayor John Hollar: "I'm pleased to join with Vermont's other mayors in support of these important public health initiatives. Mayors see firsthand the need for policy changes in the areas of substance abuse, mental health and clean water." 

 

St. Albans Mayor Liz Gamache: “Clean water is vital to economies and communities in our cities and towns. Pollution, particularly in Lake Champlain, is having a negative effect on the quality of life of many Vermonters. I’m proud to stand with the Vermont Mayors Coalition to protect our waterways and support the creation of a statewide Clean Water Authority to implement Vermont’s total management of daily load in a way that is effective, fair, and efficient.”

Winooski Mayor Seth Leonard: “Let us be clear that Vermont is competing for a piece of the modern economy and the 21st century workforce that is critical to driving our State's future. We must be unrelenting in our dedication to invest in sustaining and creating vibrant, livable communities where each generation of Vermont has an opportunity to thrive. The VMC recognizes the importance of supporting homeownership opportunities for Vermonters, creating financial tools for our village and downtown centers, and developing initiatives to improve our State's aging housing stock. These priorities are the backbone of our State's effort to be competitive while also doing it ‘the Vermont way.’ Continued investments in housing and economic development will ensure we are a state where our residents love to live, our businesses are able to grow, and our communities thrive.”

 

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Vermont Mayors Coalition

Legislative Session Goals
2018 Legislative Session

 

The Vermont Mayors Coalition (VMC) is advocating for State action to support municipalities in the following six areas:

Catalyzing Efforts to Address Opioid Use Disorders

 

The VMC supports the efforts of the Scott Administration to continue the work of prior administrations and improve the State’s response to what has become the most pressing public health crisis of our time. The Mayors believe that specific changes detailed below are urgently needed to begin addressing this crisis.

 

  1. Expand access to the information in the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System (VPMS).  Vermont should leverage the power of transparency by using our rich and comprehensive prescription monitoring data to inform assessments and decisions made by doctors, elected officials, public health professionals, government agencies, researchers and members of the public.  At a minimum, the VMC supports the UVM Medical Center (UVMMC) data transparency efforts internally and the Medical Center’s proposal to responsibly expand access to VPMS to allow for research to be completed on prescription habits.  Vermont should look to best practices in Massachusetts and other states to establish new standards for expanded access.

 

  1. Continue State efforts to restrict the over-prescribing of opioids.  The VMC applauds the State’s recent promulgation of new, restrictive prescribing standards and is encouraged by the early results.  Nonetheless, until definitive evidence exists that prescribers have stopped creating new addictions, additional controls should be considered, including:
    • Banning advertising and physician marketing of opioid products and related products.
    • Notifying the prescriber and the medical board every time a prescription kills.
    • Requiring all insurers to implement pre-authorization requirements for any new opioid prescription of more than three days’ duration.

 

  1. Expand medication assisted treatment (MAT) in Vermont prisons. The Department of Corrections has already implemented changes in recent months to improve prisoner access to medication assisted treatment. The Mayors appreciate the Department’s efforts, and believe that further steps are necessary to save Vermonters’ lives. Specifically, the Mayors call for the Department to take the following steps, and urge the Legislature to provide the limited additional necessary funding required to:
    • Apply a consistent treatment regime across all Vermont facilities that includes eliminating the 120-day limit on MAT treatment for individuals incarcerated;
    • Clarify and consistently apply a transition protocol, to include MAT medications and naloxone, for those departing prison with a history of opioid use disorder; 
    • Expand assessment for MAT eligibility to include crimes with an opioid use disorder nexus; and
    • Support a pilot allowing two Vermont prisons to become certified and accredited opioid treatment programs (OTPs) while utilizing best practice assessment protocols. Upon entry into a correctional facility (regardless of sentencing status), all inmates will undergo an addiction (co-occurring) assessment to identify diagnosis and appropriate treatment protocols to include MAT.

 

  1. Establish standards for immediate start of MAT in all emergency departments and supportive follow-up.  Such new protocols are being implemented by UVMMC as a result of the CommunityStat collaboration in Burlington.  Vermont should consider supporting this promising strategy for expanding the State’s effective Hub and Spoke treatment effort.

 

  1. Request a study reviewing Vermont’s short-term residential treatment protocols in comparison with national best practices. Vermont is a compassionate state that exerts great efforts to help those struggling with addiction. The investments we as a community make should be structured to provide the best possible opportunity for success. Answers to important questions, however, are not clear – does a less than 30-day treatment regime work well for addressing opioid addiction? What protocols or practices work best in other states, and does Vermont use similar approaches? What are treatment outcomes in Vermont, and do they differ from what other states experience? The Mayors believe that there is some evidence that short-duration treatment programs are ineffectual for opioid use disorders, and that the Legislature should task the Agency of Human Services with reviewing best practices, considering implementing changes based on this review, and reporting back to the Legislature prior to the next session.

 

Mental Health Reforms

 

The VMC believes Vermonters with acute mental illness are unable to access consistently the right care, at the right time, in the right setting.  Increasingly, the lack of adequate access to appropriate mental health care places our constituents at an unacceptable risk of harm.  It also makes it more difficult for our first responders and medical providers to protect and care for our citizens, at significant monetary and non-monetary costs to our cities and towns.  

 

The mental health treatment crisis is most visible in our hospital emergency rooms, where patients often wait days for an inpatient or other appropriate residential treatment settings to become available.  This compromises providers’ ability to care for these and other patients and families in need of emergency medical care. 

 

An increasing number of patients with mental illness enter the health care system through the criminal justice system, often after an encounter with law enforcement officers and a court appearance.  Those encounters carry unique risks and burdens to patients, officers, and court staff alike.  In the absence of an appropriately sized mental health treatment system, many patients are not receiving appropriate care.

 

Cities and towns are working hard to address the mental health crisis.  For instance, we are providing our first responders with specialized training and partnering with mental health treatment providers to make crisis counseling available on our cities’ streets and in our citizens’ homes.  But those efforts cannot effectively help the most acutely ill citizens who need a higher level of care. 

 

The Mayors support policies and investments that improve inpatient and other residential mental health treatment capacity for Vermonters in need, particularly those who have become involved in the criminal justice system. The Mayors call for:

 

  1. The prioritization of construction of a State-owned and operated facility to provide court-ordered mental health assessment and treatment to criminal defendants (a so-called “forensic facility”). 
  2. The temporary repurposing of an existing State facility while a permanent facility is constructed to address the inhumane, often long-term placement of the mentally ill in hospital emergency departments. 

 

Clean Water

 

In 2015, the State of Vermont passed the landmark Vermont Clean Water Act (H.64), designed to protect Vermont’s lakes and streams from excess nutrients such as phosphorus.

 

The Mayors strongly support the creation of a statewide Clean Water Authority to implement Vermont’s total management of daily load (TMDL) plan in a way that is effective, fair, and efficient.  The Mayors continue to support a target for State funding a percentage of each TMDL investment area and to believe a tiered per parcel fee that reflects each parcel’s usage and impact is the fairest and most sustainable funding mechanism to support clean water.

 

The VMC remains strongly opposed to the State increasing the sales and use or rooms, meals, and alcoholic beverage taxes, as those are already primary sources of municipal revenue. To the degree that the State continues to fund cleanup efforts through a real estate transfer tax, the State should strongly consider the use of a transfer tax assessed against the Seller, rather than the Purchaser. 

 

Environmental/Energy

 

During the summer of 2017, members of the Vermont Mayors Coalition joined Governor Scott and many leaders from around the State to launch the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition. The Coalition’s goal is to help achieve the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement pledge by the United States and to mitigate the impact of the Federal government’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

 

Vermont municipalities, non-profits, colleges and universities, businesses, and community members have joined the Coalition and in doing so have committed to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to help Vermont meet the U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions levels from 2005 by 26-28 percent by 2025.

 

In the spirit of this effort, the Mayors call on the Legislature to take two steps in 2018:

 

  1. Support a study of the Essex Plan, a revenue neutral proposal that would capitalize on the remarkable Vermont power grid and its renewable energy foundation to help the State reduce carbon emissions while lowering electricity costs.

 

  1. Prioritize continued investments in electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, to make electric vehicle alternatives even more desirable.

 

Reforming the Police Training Curriculum in Vermont

The Mayors again call on the Administration to review the training curriculum, certifying exams, and structure of the Criminal Justice Training Council. Vermont has good reason to be proud of its police agencies and the initial training those officers receive at the Police Academy in Pittsford, Vermont. The Academy trains officers to serve a wide range of communities across the State. The Mayors believe those communities should have a voice on the Council that runs the Academy, and urge the Legislature and Administration to consider revising the existing appointment structure of the Council to give Vermont’s cities and towns a voice in the training their officers receive, given the unique needs encountered in policing Vermont’s population centers. The Mayors also believe the Criminal Justice Training Council should have a clear oversight authority within State Government, whether the Attorney General or the Commissioner of Public Safety.

 

Housing and Downtown Tax Credits

 

The Vermont Mayors Coalition looks forward to working with all our partners and with Legislature to expand our efforts to grow the economy and build strong communities. The Mayors call on the Legislature to:

 

  1. Support a $250,000 increase in downtown and village center tax credits that offset the costs of rehabilitation and major investments in elevators, sprinklers and other code improvements needed to make downtown buildings safe and accessible. Vermont’s Mayors have seen firsthand how downtown tax credits positively affect communities and entire regions. The State historic tax credit program is one of the most effective redevelopment programs the State offers – with every dollar of tax credit leveraging an average of $17 in outside investment. These investments have helped transform communities – supporting new housing, attracting new businesses, fostering business expansions, and creating good jobs in downtowns and villages across the state. We are pleased that the Governor is committed to downtown revitalization and is continuing to make investments to make them stronger.

 

  1. Support a $625,000 Homeowner Tax Credit pilot program to improve the quality and quantity of housing in and around downtowns and village centers. Despite the $35 million housing bond and the good work of many Vermont-based institutions to improve and increase the supply of housing in Vermont, there is a growing gap between existing housing availability and need. More public investment in homes that are affordable, desirable, and within a reasonable distance of work, schools or shopping, is needed to attract and house the young families and the workforce needed for businesses and communities to thrive. The Governor’s proposal to pilot a homeowner tax credit will show that strategic investments will help communities address this need by improving the quality and quantity of housing opportunities in and around downtowns and villages. It will also help improve an aging housing stock and aid homeowners.

 

  1. Support $125,000 tax credit increase for Vermont Down Payment Assistance Program. Vermont’s first-time homebuyers have long struggled to afford a home due to the ongoing disconnect between high home prices and wages. The Vermont Legislature added funding to the Vermont Affordable Housing Tax Credit in 2015 for the creation of a statewide down payment assistance program to be administered by the VT Housing Finance Agency. This has been an invaluable tool getting first time borrowers into homeownership, however, due to higher than expected needs from primarily young homebuyers, demand for the program has been more than double the initial projections.  To continue serving this need, an increase of $125,000 in State housing tax credits which is a five year credit for investors. The repayments of the DPA loan, which are due on sale or refinance, will create a revolving loan funds for future assistance.

 

 

 

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