First, let me say what an honor and a privilege it has been serving the people of Middletown Springs, Pawlet, Rupert, Tinmouth, and Wells in the Vermont House of Representatives for the past two years. Between Covid policies, inflation, and rising energy prices these have been especially challenging times for folks trying to make ends meet.
One of the major concerns that I heard from the start has been that people did not want and could not afford a new tax on gasoline and diesel fuels that was being proposed. I was delighted to serve on the Energy & Technology Committee where I could really have some influence over these policies. I opposed the Carbon Tax on motor fuels and sent a letter to the Vermont Climate Council encouraging them to officially eliminate the Transportation Climate Initiative from their suggested programs. The letter can be found on my website. The suggested action was taken.
Similar taxes on home heating fuels were proposed in the Clean Heat Standard bill. That program could have raised the cost of heating our homes even higher than they are now. I proposed to my committee that we appropriate all funding for the design of the program. Once that was done, the VCC could then present the complete program for a vote. This was turned down by most of my committee. The bill was finally vetoed by the Governor (who had agreed with my proposal) and his veto was sustained by one vote, including mine. My op-ed explaining “Why I Voted No” on the Clean Heat bill can also be found in the blog section on my website.
I firmly believe that the legislature should work to move our state toward cleaner energy options while always considering the fiscal impact upon Vermonters.
Another important issue I heard about was broadband coverage. The pandemic really shined a spotlight on the inequity in broadband. There were children sitting in their mom’s parked car in the school parking lot or behind the town library to attend a remote class. There were vulnerable senior citizens who might have benefited from tele-health appointments but couldn’t for lack of an internet connection. I am gratified that the 2021-2022 Energy & Technology Committee did end up passing a law that is already leading to better and more equitable access to broadband. The Board created in this law, the Vermont Community Broadband Board, has been so successful that they are now looking beyond the programs to bring high speed internet to “the last mile”. They are considering the design of programs to address “the middle mile”, which would provide resiliency between districts.
People also expressed concerns about the lack of cell phone coverage. I was told same story
more than once. How could an individual who lived alone on a remote road call for help if they had car trouble when returning home after a late-night shift in the middle of the winter? Cell coverage is more than just a convenience, it is also an issue of safety. I voted YES on a plan put forth by the Department of Public Service. The first step of the plan was appropriated funds and an update of the data regarding cell coverage along state highways is already underway.
Another topic I was able to address was Artificial Intelligence used in computer software. You may be asking yourself if this is really something of concern. I heard someone answer that by comparing it to the comments in the 1990’s about “this www. stuff”. I volunteered to be part of a subcommittee which met during the summer of 2021 to address three very complex bills looking at AI. The first question we asked was if the State of Vermont was using software with AI capability. No one knew the answer, so we revised the bills to address this question first. I am pleased to say that the inventory is being taken and will be presented to the next legislature. Step two of this process will be to work on setting safety parameters for the use of Artificial Intelligence software by the State of Vermont. For example, if you are being interviewed on-line would you like to know if it is a computer or a person conducting the interview?
There were of course many other topics addressed during this legislative session. Two more that I was proud to be able to vote “YES” on were: increasing the level of Social Security income which is exempted from Vermont income tax and beginning to apply the same program to the income from military pensions.
With deepest thanks and respect,
Representative Sally Achey Serving Middletown Springs, Pawlet, Rupert, Tinmouth, & Wells