Lawmakers eye improvements for rural Vermont in next legislative session

Local News

MONTPELIER – Ahead of the 2020 Vermont legislative session, a group of lawmakers took suggestions from rural Vermonters on what issues should take top priority next year.

The Rural Economic Development Working Group has used open hearings in the past to inform their work under the golden dome, most recently in 2017.

With a wide variety of issues at stake including job training, healthcare and high-speed broadband, Rep. Laura Sibilia (I-Windham) said hearing from people affected most is crucial.

“Coming to these hearings, submitting testimony, it all gets read,” Sibilia said. “We’ll have a meeting pretty quickly to talk about things we heard and what we should focus on.”

Testimony provided on Wednesday came from a diverse group of citizens including elected officials, business owners, and advocacy group leaders.

Coventry Town Manager Amanda Carlson expressed a desire for a more streamlined system for her community to receive state funding.

“You have to keep searching and hope somebody tells you which website or what agency to look at,” Carlson said. “It’d be nice to know where you can go to get funding and what’s available for small towns.”

In the group’s 2017 hearing, funding for training and lower worker’s compensation rates for the logging industry emerged as key efforts. On Wednesday, longtime logging expert and Vermont Woodlands Association President Putnam ‘Put’ Blodgett said two bills that didn’t pass last session related to the logging industry need another chance next year. They involve simplifying the State permit process for Act 250.

For decades, logging below 2500 feet elevation was exempt from Act 250. That was lowered to 2000 feet, adding a half million acres to its jurisdiction.

“I readily recognize the need for control on development, the question is, how much control and how specific before it stifles the economy and destroys the incentive to own land?” Blodgett said.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was in attendance to listen to suggestions. At the end of the meeting, he said universal healthcare and childcare should be part of the conversation as well.

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