Rep Stuart Reports on Legislative Accomplishments of Past Four Years

by Vermont State Representative Valerie Stuart

Over the last 8 years as West Brattleboro's State Representative, I have worked on legislation that supports youth and families; strengthens education; protects Vermont's agricultural and arts sectors; combats climate change; fosters economic development; generates jobs, particularly in the renewable energy sector; and raises revenue. This report outlines what I have accomplished, primarily during the last 2 bienniums. To find out more about my vision for Vermont, please go to valeriestuart.com, email me at vstuart@leg.state.vt.us or call 802-257-0249 to speak with me.

Launching the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone

As a House Commerce and Economic Development Committee member for the past 4 years, I have spearheaded initiatives that grow jobs, generate revenue and employ Vermonters. By broadening our tax base and giving Vermonters marketable job skills, I believe we can create a brighter future for all Vermonters.

During the last 2 bienniums, my committee wrote a law that appropriated $50,000 to the Bennington County Regional Commission to enable Bennington to grow its capacity to partner with Windham County and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) and develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for Southern Vermont. The Zone gives our counties the ability to apply jointly for federal funding available to help rural states strengthen their economies. It also facilitates our counties’ ability to:

  • Establish an integrated investment strategy for retaining and recruiting businesses to Southern Vermont,

  • Implement a joint employee and business recruitment and marketing program, and

  • Create a structure for a public-private partnership that will aggregate capital and promote investment in small and medium size businesses in our region.

I also spearheaded an economic development marketing campaign for Vermont. The General Assembly invested $750,000 in the program targeted to make young people who attend college here, take part in apprenticeships, or obtain trade certificates aware of the roughly 4,000 jobs currently open in Vermont. The marketing campaign also is designed to attract new residents to our state by positioning Vermont as a great place to work, play, raise a family and found a business.

First-Time Home Owners Loan, Blockchain and Cyber Security

To help first-time home buyers address one of the biggest challenges young people in particular face — coming up with a down payment — House Commerce passed a First-Time Home Owners Loan Program 4 years ago. This $5,000 loan, issued by the Vermont Housing and Finance Agency, provides a $5,000 loan that gets repaid when the buyer sells the home.

House Commerce also passed several bills that put Vermont on the map as a leader in innovation. One created two new corporate structures: Personal Information Protection Companies (PIPC) and Blockchain Based LLCs that position Vermont as a haven for software companies using Blockchain technology. Blockchain uses a cryptographically secure global system similar to the Internet to permit the exchange of information and assets in a cyber secure manner. Major banks, Fortune 500 companies, and governments around the world are exploring the uses of Blockchain. The bill creates corporate structures favorable to companies that use this technology to avoid the fast growing disruption caused by cyber thieves and hackers.

Recognized as a Climate Change Champion by VBSR

I believe passionately in protecting the earth for the benefit of generations to come. I also believe we can grow Vermont’s economy in the Climate Change Solutions sector. Our state generated 17,000 renewable energy jobs in 2014 — more jobs per capita than any other state in the Union. Several years ago at the Vermont Council on Rural Development's (VCRD) Climate Economy Summit, I generated the idea for a national conference I knew would position Vermont nationally as a leader in this sector. This past fall, the VCRD brought my idea to life with the three-day “Catalysts of the Climate Change Economy,” which attracted over 500 entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders from across the country to the University of Vermont in Burlington. Attendees benefited from lectures, renewable energy site tours, and lively conversations about this rapidly growing sector. My advocacy as a lawmaker on such climate change initiatives won me recognition by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility as a Climate Solutions Champion.

As a creative person, I recognized early on the arts sector could become an economic driver for our state in terms of both tourism and the potential economic clout of creative enterprises. In 2012, the cumulative compensation (including benefits) generated by Vermont’s creative sector was over $158 million. The creative economy also generated $14.7 million in state and local taxes. In 2014, over 7,300 Vermonters were employed in jobs in or related to this sector.

As a House Commerce member, I presented our Committee’s bill on the House floor that supports the Vermont Creative Network (VCN) with a $50,000 appropriation. The funding is being used to build a communications, advocacy and capacity-building entity for the arts sector.

Gun Sense Vermont Recognized My Role In Sensible Gun Laws' Passage

We passed several common sense gun laws in response to the ongoing mass shootings that plague our nation. One of the bills expands background check requirements to unlicensed (or private) firearm sales.

A second law empowers a State’s Attorney or the Attorney General’s office to petition a court to issue an order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to themselves or others.

A third law provides protection to victims of domestic assault by permitting, in specified circumstances, a law enforcement officer to remove a firearm from the scene if it's necessary to protect the victim, the officer or another person.  

Gun Sense Vermont awarded me a Certificate of Appreciation for my staunch support of this legislation.

Protecting Voters’ and Women’s Rights

Following President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity's demand that the state release sensitive voter information, Secretary of State Jim Condos requested that the legislature write a law that would make it illegal for his office to release any such data to any government agency. This bill protects all information not listed on Vermont’s publicly available voter list.

We also passed an excellent bill that extends pre-existing legal protections against workplace harassment to independent contractors, volunteers, freelancers, and interns. The bill makes it illegal for employers to force employees to sign away the right to file sexual harassment lawsuits in pre-employment contracts. This bill is near and dear to me; our daughter Lauren was sexually assaulted in Washington, D.C. while she was a student at American University. The incident occurred several years before she graduated and went overseas. Now, as a 1LT in the United States Army, she assists those dealing with the trauma caused by everything ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to rape after having completed the military’s SHARP training.

Helping Lower Income Vermonters and National Guard Members

As part of a tax bill we passed a provision that will progressively phase out the tax on Social Security benefits over the next 3 years for individuals making $45,000 or less and for couples making $60,000 or less. This is great news for low-income Vermonters of all ages!

To help Vermonters afford medications vital to their well-being, we passed a law that directs Vermont’s Agency of Human Services (AHS) to work with a Canadian wholesaler to identify the drugs Vermonters spend the most money on. AHS would then purchase such drugs on the Canadian market where profits are capped by the federal government. Vermont pharmacies that choose to participate in the program would be able to supply such drugs at a lower cost.  The federal government must grant permission before medications start crossing the border; if the  bill passes federal muster it will save Vermonters millions of dollars.

In an ongoing quest to provide more affordable higher education for all Vermonters, we passed a bill that provides National Guard members with free tuition at our state colleges as well as the University of Vermont. Tuition assistance for Vermont’s National Guard members is long overdue. Our goal is to encourage and prepare these service women and men for the nearly 400 of 3,500 positions currently available in the Vermont National Guard.

###