Tuesday, January 7, was the first day of the second half of the Vermont legislative biennium and it was off to a quick start. By the end of the second half of the biennium, proposed legislation either lives or dies, and bills that do not pass this legislative session must start all over again in the new biennium in 2021.
AARP VT is advocating on behalf of our members on issues that impact older Vermonters, such as lower prescription drug prices, coverage for adult hearing loss services and hearing aids, and access to more affordable housing options, among others.
H.107 - Paid Family Medical Leave: This key piece of legislation was left unfinished at the end of the 2019 legislative session because House and Senate leadership could not come to a final agreement. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill and in early February, the legislature came up one vote short of overturning that veto. Sadly, the issue is unlikely to be revisited in this legislative session. Access to paid family medical leave is an important benefit for those who need to provide care for a loved one of any age, but cannot afford to take time off from work. Family-based caregiving is an essential part of Vermont’s caregiving system and AARP VT strongly advocated for a broad definition of who an employee could take leave to care for, including to care for a grandparent. AARP VT vows to continue to work toward a solution for Vermont workers going forward.
S.246 - Rx Affordability: This legislation would create a prescription drug affordability board that would have authority to establish a statewide upper payment limit for certain high cost prescription drugs that create affordability challenges in Vermont. AARP VT is working with our health care coalition partners to pass this legislation. Hearing Loss Hearing loss is an invisible but common health issue. Based on national rate of hearing loss, there are potentially between 62,000 and 125,000 Vermonters of all ages experiencing some degree of hearing loss. It is important to note that the incidence of hearing loss increases dramatically with age. For older people (age 65 and older) the incidence of hearing loss can be as high as 33% - 50%. Based on Vermont Census Data (July 1, 2018) 18.7% or 117,000 of Vermonters are age 65 and older which means that there could potentially be between 39,000 and 59,000 older Vermont experiencing hearing loss. With an aging demographic in Vermont, these numbers will continue to rise. AARP VT is working with the VT chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America to support legislative improvements for those with hearing loss.
H.312 - Captions in Some Movie Screenings: This legislation would require VT movie theaters to provide some showings of motion pictures to be with open captioning. Open captioning allows those with hearing loss to read captions of dialogue and sound effects. Attending movies can help combat isolation and this proposed legislation would make such entertainment more accessible for those with hearing loss. If you are interested in supporting this legislation then please contact members of the House Human Services committee, whose names and contact information can be found here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2020/16
Insurance Coverage for Adult Hearing Aids and Services: Vermont is the last state in New England that lacks health insurance coverage for adult hearing loss services and hearing aids. Legislation is being introduced in the VT Senate that would require VT health insurance companies to provide coverage for these essential services.
H.736 - Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Kinship Care): This bill proposes to treat kinship care payments as exempt income comparable to foster care payments for the purposes of calculating Vermont personal income tax liability and Vermont property tax credits. The bill also proposes to create a study committee on kinship care in Vermont. AARP VT is working with the Kinship Coalition to support this legislative proposal.
Community Revitalization: Governor Phil Scott is proposing a community investment package aimed at helping the state address its housing, revenue and demographic changes by aligning state and local regulations and funding opportunities to increase the availability of quality housing and to supercharge successful revitalization efforts that enhance livability in VT’s downtowns, villages and neighborhoods.
Housing: Expand small-scale and ‘missing middle’ residential development opportunities in state designated downtowns and neighborhood development areas by providing technical assistance to municipalities to help them adopt zoning that welcomes housing; offer training for missing middle developers and landlords to grow the next generation of local housing providers. Better Places Grant Program: This program leverages local efforts and investments to improve the livability of our communities, making them more walkable, vibrant, and socially connected. This new program will establish a scalable, 50/50 matching community grant program that strategically coordinates the efforts of several funders supporting place-based economic development projects like walking and biking trails, public art, parks, and farmers markets. The Better Places proposal aims to simplify the funding process by creating a one-stop-shop for funders to collaborate and provide communities a more nimble, flexible source to quickly fund and launch local place-making projects.
Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI): TCI is a cap and invest system (see definition here) that has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate revenue to help transform our transportation system. AARP VT will continue to monitor the TCI process to ensure that it is a strong and equitable program, as there are opportunities for TCI to modernize our state’s transportation system to meet the mobility needs of all Vermonters. It is critical that the program does not disproportionately disadvantage low-income and vulnerable Vermonters. If the Governor moves forward with TCI we believe strongly that the funds generated must advance goals through a variety of complementary short and long-term strategies – for example, through investments in housing near transportation options, infrastructure for safe walking and biking, and expand rural transportation choices by specifically addressing the needs of older adults and people with disabilities who are unable to drive.
More information on TCI and how to provide public input can be found here:https://anr.vermont.gov/content/transportation-and-climate-initiative
Medicare (H.505): This bill proposes to create annual open enrollment periods for Medicare supplemental insurance policies and to prohibit health insurers from charging additional premiums, fees, or penalties based on an individual’s failure to enroll in a Medicare supplemental insurance policy within six months following the individual’s 65th birthday. The bill would also permit enrollees to change at any time from one Medicare supplemental insurance policy to another policy with comparable or lesser benefits.
Burlington Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance: AARP VT has been working with community partners and the City of Burlington to make it easier for people to build small Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as an addition to their main home or a separate standalone dwelling. ADUs are a traditional home type that is re-emerging as an affordable and flexible housing option to meet the needs of older adults and young families alike. AARP VT would like to see ADUs become a more viable option for older homeowners as they choose to age in place. The Burlington Planning Commission unanimously approved changes to the City’s zoning ordinance to make it easier for homeowners to create ADU’s in Burlington. All three changes that we’ve prioritized are part of the zoning changes: 1. Enables ADUs as a permitted use in all zoning districts; 2. Removes Parking Requirement; 3. Increases the permissible dwelling footprint size, but not to exceed 800 square feet. This is the first significant step as it now goes to City Council.