The Mountain Times

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The House Chamber of the Statehouse was busy considering both House and Senate bills last week, and several committees continued to take long testimony, while the transportation bill met with final concurrence and should be signed into law next week.

The T-bill (H.510,) as passed in the Senate, reduces the House proposal to a 5.9 cents-per-gallon sales tax and adds 2cpg  for diesel fuel until 2014. Gas tax goes to 13.4 cpg (based on current prices) and diesel tax to 3 cpg in July of 2014. The bill also uses "toll credits" (earned when a new ferry was purchased) to reduce state dollars needed for the federal match. The bill includes a study of ways to raise revenue in the future as more alternative vehicles drive the roads. It also includes approval of a Sharon Academy program to pilot an alternative-fuel school bus. Students propose to adapt a bus to be fueled in part by vegetable oil. The student testimony on this project was most impressive, and was backed by thorough research.

A bill that charges agency fees (not to exceed 85% of union dues) to all union supported jobs in education and state government, passed in the House with my support. The new revenues will be used, in part, to reduce membership dues. Since all workers benefit from the negotiations of the union, the bill requires all workers to support the costs of negotiations. An amendment empowers those non-union workers to vote in the ratification process as well.

Research indicates that participation in 10 hours per week of preschool curriculum boosts the success of students as they move through grade school and beyond. The Pre-K bill proposes to allow any parent to enroll three- and four-year-olds in an accredited private program regardless of the availability (or lack thereof) of a public program in their town. These subsidies will not negatively impact towns who already provide preschool programs, and will not require towns to create new programs.

Another bill came out the House Ways and Means committee. H.538 makes some adjustments to education funding to alleviate pressures on property tax rates in FY 2015, and incentivizes lower spending by local school boards. If the Senate passes the bill, I can review details at that time.

The transportation committee continues to take much testimony on S.38 which would allow undocumented immigrant workers to apply for a driver's privilege card from the state. We have heard from law enforcement, public safety officers, farmers, workers, Migrant Justice volunteers, and others. Farmers have been unable to attract local laborers and now rely on the network of referred immigrant laborers. Many point to a failure of the federal government in providing legal programs in support of dairy workers, as seasonal migrant workers remain legal through H2A legislation. The exclusion of year-round workers who are critical to the survival of our dairy industry is an oversight. It creates unnecessary conflicted status for the predominantly Mexican and Guatemalan workers who assure the availability of a labor force.

The Senate passed a bill that provides for a driver's privilege card issued to applicants with satisfactory identification documents that fall short of the full real ID compliant standard that most drivers carry. The mobility allowed by this card would actually add a new level of safety and humanity to workers' and employers' lives, including the scope of citizen public safety. The House will decide next week whether this moves forward.

Outside of legislative happenings, I enjoyed reading the opinion piece in The Mountain Times last week by Jerry Greenfield. I agree with his statement "When times are tough, it makes sense to step back and assess whether there are corners we can cut for a short time.  We must always be ready to shift from austerity as soon as possible, though, because austerity never leads to prosperity."

This is the kind of thinking that has guided my decision-making. We need to spend wisely and invest in sustainable structures that allow for growth.