A year in . . .

The legislature is now on its annual Town Meeting Week break. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in my consciousness. Last year, the week before Town Meeting felt normal. My focus was on the policy issues making their way through the State House, most notably legislation to raise the minimum wage. By the time we returned to the State House, just a week later, everything was different. It was clear that COVID-19 was becoming a crisis. We spent a final week “in the building” the week after Town Meeting. On Thursday and Friday of that week, draft legislation that would provide the flexibility the Vermont health care system would need to respond to the pandemic went from a blank page to a bill that had been voted out of committee.

The language was crafted by a coalition of health care trade associations working with policymakers, State House attorneys who draft legislation, the Scott Administration and partners at state licensing boards. The bill included provisions like licensing flexibility, so every trained and willing clinician in Vermont could practice during the crisis—from student nurses, whose exams were cancelled, to nurses who had recently retired. That the bill has required few revisions or additions since it was originally passed is a testament to the policy depth and expertise of the people who first crafted it.

During this year’s Town Meeting Week, home health agencies are urging legislators to support:

  1. An increase for home and community-based Choices for Care services as recommended by the House Human Services Committee. Under this program, personal care attendants keep Vermonters independent at home, instead of in long-term care facilities. 
  2. Passage of the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact. To date, 34 states including Maine and New Hampshire have joined the compact and Massachusetts and New York, along with 8 other states, have bills pending. The compact creates licensure reciprocity between participating states. Nurses with a compact license can practice in any compact state, but need a special license to work in a non-participating state like Vermont. Thank you to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for recommending passage of S.48 on Friday.
  3. The governor’s proposed tax incentives for nurses.
  4. Additional funding for nurse scholarships first passed in 2020, administered through VSAC.

A lot will happen when legislators return from the break. March 12 is the deadline for policy committees in both bodies to wrap up work on policy bills. March 19 is the deadline for money bills to be finalized by House money committees. The VNAs of Vermont will provide a detailed update on where things stand in our annual Crossover Report in a few weeks.