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
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
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.