Commentary: Streamlining services, creating opportunity on the agenda

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Last week's Journal included commentaries by Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as another by committee chair Janet Ancel (D-Calais), about education tax changes that are under discussion in Montpelier. I encourage readers to follow that discussion closely.

On the spending side of the budget, Gov. Phil Scott has laid down firm expectations that Vermont's program needs be met without imposing new taxes or fees. The House Human Services Committee, to which I have been appointed, has begun to study the Governor's budget to identify how and where legislative priorities fit with those of the Governor, and where they differ. This difficult process has just begun, and will be the primary focus of the remainder of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, I'll take this opportunity to mention three bills I've introduced that are seeing some movement.

At the request of the administration, I introduced a bill to create the Child Fatality Review Team that would investigate unexpected child fatalities and recommend changes to reduce future incidents. This bill was approved by our Human Services Committee and is expected to be endorsed by the full House by the time you read this.

Another bill I introduced at the administration's request would modify Vermont's Reach-Up program, which provides temporary assistance to Vermont families with children that have fallen on hard times. The bill would streamline administrative burdens by re-aligning state regulations with those of the federal government, which funds most of the program.

By eliminating duplicative reporting rules and clarifying participant requirements, families and their caseworkers will have better opportunities to focus on the program's primary goal, which is to return parents to the workforce so they can improve their family situations and contribute to Vermont's economy. This bill is expected to be considered by the House next week.

A third bill would encourage state support for Vermont's budding film and television production industries. This past year, our region was fortunate to have hosted the International Television Festival (ITVfest) that brought over 1,000 industry leaders and experts for a competition among new shows and products showcasing the booming television media sector.

We want to build on this success by encouraging the state to assist us in building a market niche for our region to attract and encourage the workers and production activities that might become a key part of our regional economic landscape. We are working with other legislators and industry supporters to promote this unique opportunity.

Clearly, there is much that can and must be done. At the same time, there is no greater priority than setting our revenue and spending levels at sustainable levels that meet the needs of Vermont's most vulnerable citizens while also encouraging a robust economy that promotes job growth. In doing so, we enhance our quality of life and grow revenue to make Vermont a more attractive place to live, work and raise a family. Please feel free to contact me if you have suggestions or concerns.

Rep. Brian Keefe (R-Manchester) represents Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and part of Sunderland in the Vermont House of Representatives.

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