On the Issues

Michaels priorities in the State Senate are the same that he has advocated for in the Statehouse for several decades.  In addition to representing the interests Chittenden County and its citizens, he hopes to be an effective voice in Montpelier for those who frequently lack access to policy making – working families, seniors, children and Vermont  consumers.  Economic justice issues and a strong economy are of particular concern to Michael, as is an education system that is both of high quality and cost effective.

With little fanfare, Senator Sirotkin continued to deliver on multiple consumer bills in 2016.

1. Combating Opiate Addiction (S. 243)
After visiting a community forum in Richmond on that town’s struggle with heroin and opiate addiction, Michael became the lead sponsor of this bill, which ultimately passed the full legislature. It takes a comprehensive approach, including increased monitoring of prescribing habits, pharmacy and doctor shopping, and
potential limits on number of pills to be dispensed. It also calls for a statewide disposal program of unused medication as well as greater mandatory education for doctors, medical students and other providers. Pharmacists will become more involved in a team approach to pain treatment and monitoring abuses. Telemedicine will also be used to enhance team treatment. Towns will be eligible for local financial grants to fight opiate abuse. More prescribing of withdrawal blockers like buprenorphine will be supported and most of the money for all these proposals will come from pharmaceutical manufacturers, who we now know benefited greatly from the sales of pain killers such as oxycodin.

2. Paid Sick Days and Medical and Family Leave(H. 187; S. 15; S. 254)
Vermont became the 5 th state to grant paid sick days (3 days, growing to 5 in two years) to its workers. Noteworthy, was the legislature’s preservation of the sick day protection for 12,000 employees of businesses with fewer than 5 employees. Senators Baruth and Sirotkin were the lead sponsors of the Senate version of this bill. Senator Sirotkin was also the lead sponsor of a broader bill, (which did not get considered this year) to grant paid maternity and family/medical leave.

3. Burlington Downtown Development(H. 873)
At the end of the 2016 session, Burlington officials thanked its House delegation and the entire 6 member Chittenden Senate delegation for giving greater flexibility to the city’s borrowing power for the public infrastructure (e.g. new streets, utilities, etc.) of any new proposal for downtown mall redevelopment. It is important to note that even with these new financing options, the voters with recommendation form the City Council, not the legislature, must ultimately approve the final project design and any borrowing. This is how it should be. However, without the financing, the newly envisioned opening up of Pine and St Paul’s Streets ( through public investment in infrastructure) may not have occurred or these streets may have remained privately owned. The legislature did not take any position on the controversial building height or other scale issues. Again, that is a decision appropriately left up to the voters of Burlington.

4. Attorney General Oversight of Utility Ratepayer Advocacy (S. 209; H.577)
The Department of Public Service has recently been under increased scrutiny for their independence and effectiveness in representing utility ratepayers. Without passing judgment, these two bills seek another set of eyes (the Attorney General) to review these rate cases on a pilot basis.
Michael was the primary author of both bills and the pertinent portion of H.577 has become law with the cooperation of both the AG and DPS.

5.Farm to School; Universal School Meals (S. 169)
After visiting and having lunch with elementary school students at the Sustainability Academy in the Old North End, Michael was so impressed that he became the lead sponsor of
successful legislation to expand VT’s farm to school programs and to access untapped federal dollars for universal meals. Universal meals will allow more Vermont schools to serve breakfast and lunches to all their students without the administrative hassle and economic stigma of collecting fees from some students and not others. Michael was also successful in getting $75k in a tough budget this year to jump start these initiatives.

6. Dental Therapists(S.20)
After decades of representing consumer groups at the Statehouse, including the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE), Michael has seen first hand the long standing problem of access to dental care for seniors and other Vermonters of moderate means. Thus, he is proud to have been one of 3 lead sponsors of successful legislation making Vermont the first state east of the Mississippi to license dental therapists as a new mid level dental practitioner. This will not only improve access – like nurse practitioners and physicians assistants did with medicine- but will also
provide a lower cost alternative to routine mid level dental care.

In past legislative session’s Michael was proud to support and vote for the following:

  • Increasing Vermont’s minimum wage
  • Transparency in food labeling  ( GMOs)
  • Statewide pre kindergarten  opportunities
  • Labeling/prohibition of toxic chemicals in children’s products
  • Alternative treatments for Lyme disease
  • Collective bargaining rights for child care workers
  • Ban on hand held cell phones while driving
  • safe gun storage for domestic abusers

Prior to his appointment, Michaels firm led campaigns ( many of them leading the nation) for laws in the following areas:

Economic Justice

The growing national and state disparities in  personal  wealth and income is troubling .  I have worked hard on economic justice issues for over 30 years in the Vermont legislature.

  • Expanded  Family and Medical Leave beyond federal  requirements
  • Stronger enforcement of unfair misclassification of workers
  • Job security and compensation laws for people injured on the job
  • Public employees’ pension reform and protection
  • Nation leading  indoor workplace smoking restrictions
  • Fair rights to basic unemployment insurance benefits
  • Fair drug testing laws
  • Collective bargaining rights  for personal care workers

Housing and Conservation 

For two decades my firm led a coalition that has secured over $250 million dollars in the competitive state budgeting process. Spread across 200 Vermont communities, this funding brought tangible outcomes:

  • Creation of 11,000 permanently affordable homes and apartments for 26,000 Vermonters
  • Conservation of nearly 600 working farms covering over 113,000 acres, and 250,000 acres of natural and recreation lands
  • Preservation of more than 60 historic properties
  • Sustained public investment into regional planning
  • Smart Growth development incentives: streamlined regulations and tax credits targeted at downtowns, villages, and growth centers
  • Laws allowing accessory apartments as conditional uses in all residential zoning
  • New state offices in Barre City

Environmental Protection/Conservation
I believe that we need to protect our precious natural environment for future generations.  My firm’s previous work in this area includes:

  • Establishment of the Clean Energy Fund to promote renewable energy
  • Enactment of a Standard Offer Contract law for community sized renewable energy projects
  • State property tax certainty for wind and solar energy generators
  • Sustained support for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program

Health Care

It is in Michaels conviction that all patients deserve access to affordable, high-quality health care.  My work in this area has included:

  • The nation’s first mental health  parity law,
  • The creation of the nation’s first consumer health care ombudsman
  • Minimum nursing home staffing laws
  • First in the nation legislatively adopted Physician-Aid-in-Dying law
  • Advance directives laws
  • Pharmacy assistance programs to help low-income elders
  • Opiate addiction treatment  authorizing the use of methadone in  Vermont
  • Medical marijuana protection and Dispensary
  • Marijuana Decriminalization
  • Minimum standards for Long Term Care Insurance Policies
  • Prohibition against balance billing ( overcharging) Medicare patients
  • Consumer protections for hearing aid purchases

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