People's Team Reports from the State House: February 22, 2013

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 It's been a busy two weeks at the State House for the People's Team. This special report brings you two updates from People's Team Bloggers Liz Kane and Brittany Nevins, who have been monitoring S.59, a bill that would fulfill direct support providers' right to organize, as it moves through committee.

Liz Kane at the State HouseUpdate from People's Team Blogger Liz Kane – After sitting in on the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs committee meetings for the past few weeks, I have watched S.59 take many different forms. S.59 is a bill concerning the right of independent direct support providers (like home care workers) to collectively bargain. It was first introduced with the intention of not only granting this overworked, underpaid group of people the right to bargain with the State about terms and conditions of their employment, but also to set up a workforce council to advise the State and to outline other State responsibilities, such as providing a registry of qualified home care workers and training. Even from the bill's first reading, we got the sense that the Senators were leery about including language that would give the State extra responsibilities, including the job of forming a council. There was talk about stripping the bill of these integral parts to make it more simple. 

After speaking with representatives from both AFSCME and SEIU (two unions pushing for this bill), I learned that in order to really follow through with Vermont’s commitment to home-based care and put the people both receiving and providing this care first, the State responsibilities and the formation of the workforce council are necessary. With the council made up of both government officials and recipients of care, input can be made to ensure the best quality care for these recipients. The other State responsibilities outlined in this bill ensure that the State has authority in the areas that could be bargained about (including setting up a registry, establishing benefits and providing training). 

Unfortunately, in the committee on February 8, they had cut out all of these parts from the bill and left it solely setting up the right for home care workers to collectively bargain. The bill mostly pertained to the scope of bargaining allowed and logistics for setting up a bargaining unit and in place of the section about forming a council, there is a section where a mediator or “fact-finder” can be appointed if there is a disagreement between the bargaining unit and the State. The workers can now attempt to bargain with the State for training instead of it being guaranteed by the bill. Even more concerns were brought up, including the guarantee that the amount of services would not be reduced as a result of a collective bargaining agreement. Susan Wehry, the Commissioner for DAIL, explained that there is only so much money that can be allotted to certain programs, so if wages increase, the amount of hours will have to decrease or funding to other programs will have to be cut.

A lot of the important factors of this bill have already been compromised. I hope the committee remembers to put the working people of Vermont and their needs first.

Update from People's Team Blogger Brittany Nevins– On February 15, I joined the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs committee for what was scheduled to be a vote on S.59. Unfortunately, the bill was not voted on as the committee felt it was not ready.

Michael Hoyt of the Legislative Council described the changes to the bill. I was surprised as it appeared as though the bill had become much more minimal than last Friday. Susan Wehry, Commissioner of Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living said "there are three outstanding issues (with the bill as is),” two of which she predicted would have relatively smooth solutions, while the third would be much more complicated. The Commissioner expressed concern regarding the third issue, concerning page 10, lines 13-16, which states:

A collective bargaining agreement or award under this section shall not provide for a reduction in Medicaid funds provided to the state or for a reduction in the services that independent direct support providers provide to service recipients.

The latter part of the sentence was the most concerning to Wehry. The line insures that other programs (like Medicaid for example) will not be sacrificed or cut during the bargaining process. Though not entirely clear, the issue seemed to be essentially a worry regarding the state’s ability to ensure that a reduction of services would never occur as the state is subject to multiple spending caps. The Commissioner in essence said that the state may not be able to increase spending without taking money from other services. Therefore the bill must be altered so as to protect the state. Someone offered up the idea to simply strike the sentence. The point was made, however, by Matthew Mayers, Legislative Director for Vermont Homecare United, that this line is very important to the unions and should not be simply struck. The committee could not come up with a solution so Wehry, as well as Mayers, asked for the weekend to work on its language.

Committee in actionThe committee moved onto S.52, the right to organize for early childhood educators. There appeared to be general confusion during Senator Richard McCormack’s testimony regarding the subsidy process for parents. The confusion led to an unplanned testimony by Reeva Murphy, who is the Deputy Commissioner for the Child Development Division of the Department for Children & Families. She described the technical differences between legally exempt providers, registered home providers, licensed homes, and center based programs. This clearly was very informative to the committee. The committee asked if Reeva could bring in statistics for the number of each of these programs, and also of the center based programs as these programs could themselves potentially unionize, as described in the second part of the bill. Murphy’s testimony was particularly eye opening to me as there seem to be many exemptions in the S. 52 bill. Murphy said that many of the exemptions are the majority of the child care programs in the state.  The committee hopes to plan a public hearing within the next couple of weeks. Hopefully the committee will be able to get a clear sense of the number of programs across the state that currently will not be eligible under this bill and what consequences this may have on the overarching intentions and goals of the bill.

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The legislative report gives a weekly update on the Put People First People's Agenda.  For more background on the agenda, click HERE.

Healthcare Is a Human Right: Vermont nurses and other members of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign joined together this week to call for healthcare as a public good. Fletcher Allen nurses and health professionals who are members of Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals and the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign held a press conference Monday. The conference called on lawmakers to commit to shifting our healthcare system from one that increasingly treats health as a money-making venture to one that establishes it as a public good.

The Shumlin administration and legislative leaders created a nine-person panel to recommend a financing plan for Green Mountain Care in 2015. Governor Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith, and Senate President John Campbell will each appoint two people for the panel. They are also permitted to choose the three remaining seats. 

People's Budget: Members of Put People First have been hard at work drafting the People's Budget Bill. The bill will continue moving Vermont forward toward a People's Budget by mandating a formal, continuous process of public participation and needs assessment. Stay tuned for the public launch soon.

Work with Dignity: The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee continued to take testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Testimony will resume next Wednesday in committee. There will be a Public Hearing on Wednesday night (2/27/13) at the State House (Room 11) from 6-8pm. Sign up to testify for 3 minutes max beginning at 5:30. Vermont Early Educators United will provide pizza in Room 10 from 5:00-6:00.


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Phil Carleton"I'm on the People's Team because I don't see any politician presenting a big picture view that includes us people and gets us what we need." –Phil Carleton, Shelburne

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