Chaotic 2012 Legislative Session Concludes
In the eyes of many, the 2012 Legislative Session was unlike any other both in process and the issues addressed. The need to rebuild following Tropical Storm Irene and important decisions surrounding the State Hospital drew some focus away from economic development. Intense lobbying on labor, energy and health care issues put employers on the defense. Yet as we reflect on what was accomplished, we see some hard-won victories, some bad choices averted, and a few losses.
We take our job as your voice in Montpelier seriously. Your ability to run your business, create jobs, and improve our communities should not be hampered by what happens under the golden dome. Many legislators were willing to listen to your concerns this session and many bills that were passed reflect significant influence from our members. Changes to health care, energy, employment, and tax bills were secured and we thank you for your expertise, your testimony, and your willingness to contact your legislators.
Thanks are also due to many others who worked on your behalf. Chief among them are Governor Peter Shumlin, Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, Minority Leader Don Turner, Senators Dick Mazza, Diane Snelling, Ginny Lyons, Tim Ashe and Vince Illuzzi; Representatives Bill Botzow, Mike Marcotte, Ann Pugh, Martha Heath, Linda Waite-Simpson, Tim Jerman, and Helen Head. We also want to take this opportunity to send special thanks to retiring Senator Hinda Miller. Hinda has been a strong voice of reason on behalf of our member businesses and she will be missed.
Tom Torti, President
Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce
~ Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation
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Health care reform included our priorities that the insurance exchange extends only to employers with 50 or less employees and a more affordable “bronze” insurance plan.
The renewable energy bill was largely scaled back as a response to employers’ concerns.
Cloud computing has a retroactive payment to employers that were assessed a sales tax and a one-year moratorium on taxation was enacted rather than an outright repeal of the tax the latter of which was supported by our organizations.
Shareholder liability for unpaid wages upon business closure was defeated.
The Vermont Employment Growth Incentive program was extended for 5 years; some legislative leaders wanted only a one year extension.
Labor bills that were defeated were ones that have have non-union agency fees, childcare unionization, workplace bullying, work place inspections, mandatory payment for employee apparel, workers’ compensation liens, and employment breaks.
Stormwater regulations were reauthorized and a proposal to assess fees on all properties and create a statewide utility was changed to a study of the issues.
A secondary packaging tax exemption and netting of business income provisions passed and there were no increases in the sales, gas, heating fuels or income tax imposed.
The Capital and Transportation bills will make important infrastructure investments for our state in our post-Irene disaster recovery efforts.
The position of Education Secretary will now be part of the Governor’s Cabinet and appointed by the Governor.
Incentives to encourage school supervisory union consolidation and shared services were adopted.
Truck weights were increased on interstates to lessen heavy traffic in Vermont’s downtowns and villages.
Regulations regarding wine and catering now provide more flexibility for businesses.
The Vermont Training Program will have a percentage of its annual allocation available for more flexible spending.
The Regional Development Corporations obtained some grant money for capital costs to increase jobs and were level funded.
Tourism and marketing efforts were level funded.
Next Generation initiatives for workforce development and training was funded at $4+ million.
Studies of sustainable funding sources for transportation, educational outcomes, water quality funding, and solid waste will be conducted.
Mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food products was postponed.
Building energy use disclosure requirements did not survive.
Improvements to the permit appeals process to include on the record review and burden of proof changes did not survive.
An effort to make the health insurance exchange voluntary, rather than mandatory, failed.
Dual enrollment which would have allowed more high school students to take college courses did not pass.
A solution to allow independent contractors to register as such did not pass.
A two cent property tax rate increase, projected to go to seven cents next fiscal year, was passed.
A wide range of fee increases were enacted.
The 2011 Legislative Session focused heavily on health care reform. Act 48 put Vermont on a path to implement single payer health insurance by 2017 using a federal provision (health insurance exchanges) as a way to begin to pool larger groups of Vermonters. With that heavy lifting out of the way last year, 2012 was much more about the nuts and bolts of implementation. Under consideration was who would buy insurance from the new Exchange starting in 2014, what kind of plans would be available for purchase, and whether buying through the Exchange would be mandatory.
The Chamber and GBIC spent Summer 2011 working with member businesses to understand the Exchange and what it would mean for them. As part of that process, we advocated that the Exchange be limited to employers with fewer than 50 employees, that bronze level insurance plans be available, and that purchasing in the Exchange be voluntary. Our members felt that launching the new system with employers having less than 50 employees, instead of 100, would allow for an easier transition. Bronze level plans would allow businesses more affordable options in the Exchange and might be the difference between a business buying or dropping coverage. Making the Exchange voluntary would allow businesses more choices and would drive the state to make the Exchange a more competitive marketplace.
In February, Governor Shumlin, Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, announced that they would adopt our priorities on the size of the Exchange and bronze plans. The Chamber and GBIC applauded the decision, however, whether the Exchange would be mandatory or voluntary was still up for debate. The House passed H.559, the health care reform bill, later that month on an 88 to 38 vote. When the bill moved to the Senate, leadership decided to split consideration of the bill between two committees. Senate Health and Welfare would focus on benefit-type provisions in the bill, while the Finance Committee would focus on insurance matters, such as whether small businesses with fewer than 50 employees would have no other option to purchase health coverage other than the Exchange.
For the Chamber, the lion's share of our members will be eligible to purchase insurance in the Exchange and the level of change these small businesses will see is enormous. Based on feedback from our members, the ability to purchase coverage outside the Exchange might give them other options that they would not otherwise have in the Exchange. Those options might allow them to maintain coverage more similar to what they currently offer. The additional choices would be reassuring when considering such a wholesale change. If the Exchange is competitive, businesses will gravitate to it. However, to make small businesses the test case puts them in a potentially uniquely difficult position. We have heard estimates that rates in the Exchange could be anywhere from 15% to 40% higher for our members, so this is not a subject we consider lightly. The Chamber and GBIC support health care reform as health care is a huge expense for our members. Allowing them choices over the type of coverage they purchase as reform moves forward does not mean that reform cannot move forward.
Ultimately, the Senate Finance Committee chose to keep the Exchange mandatory for Vermont’s small businesses. When the bill reached the Senate floor, Senators Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans Co.) and Hinda Miller (D-Chittenden Co.) offered an amendment to H.559 which would have allowed plans to be sold outside the Exchange for the first year of the Exchange’s operation. The amendment failed on a 12 to 15 vote with Chittenden County Senators Miller, Mazza and Snelling voting in support of the measure. The final vote on H.559 in the Senate was 20 to 7 with Senator Diane Snelling voting against the bill. Senator Snelling explained her vote saying, “Last year I stood here and expressed my hope that by this time this year we would have sufficient information to go forward with health care reform. Instead, I find that I still have too many questions and concerns to vote favorably.” H.559 now moves to Governor Shumlin for his signature.
This year’s budget adjustment act, H.558, also included a change to how the state spends the Catamount Health Assessment collected from employers. Originally, the Catamount Health Assessment was enacted in order to fund the Catamount Health Plan. This provided health care insurance to Vermonters who did not have access to an employer-sponsored plan. As such, employers who did not offer their employees coverage paid roughly $400 per employee per year into the fund. With the Catamount Health Plan set to go away in 2014 when the new Exchange becomes operational, legislators decided against doing away with the assessments and instead created a new “State Health Care Resources Fund” into which the assessments will be deposited.
Tax and Fiscal Policy
Cloud Computing/Software as a Service Taxation (H.757/S.173/H.782)
The applicability of a sales tax on remotely accessed software became a significant issue this session. In the interim period between the Douglas and Shumlin administrations, the state tax department issued a technical bulletin which changed the interpretation of whether or not cloud computing services or the use of remotely accessed software could be considered “tangible personal property,” which is taxable. As a result, several Vermont companies had been audited and were on the hook for back taxes to 2006. Trevor Crist, owner of Inntopia which is a Stowe-based software company that provides online reservation services for the travel industry, was one of several companies that testified about the $100,000 hit his company would take as a result of this change in interpretation. Our organizations made the case for the issue to be openly debated in the legislative process, rather than a technical bulletin. Senators Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans Co.) and Richard Westman (R-Lamoille Co.), and Representatives Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia), Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe), and Sam Young (D-Albany), were champions on behalf of companies that use and sell cloud based services. In the end, the Legislature expressed concern about a projected $3 million dollar loss in revenues due to the retroactive payments and going forward. However, rather than adopting House and Senate versions of bill language, a one-year moratorium that sunsets on July 1, 2013 and retroactive payments to those companies that had paid the tax were adopted as part of the Miscellaneous Tax Bill (H.782). Studies of how to enhance the state’s software and information technology sectors as well as a more general study on the sales and use tax in the context of our changing economy were included as tasks to be completed by two different committees before the next legislative session. If you are interested in being on these committees, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other items of note included in the Miscellaneous Tax Bill (H.782):
A secondary packaging tax exemption for manufacturers
A five-year extension for the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program
Increases in the minimum tax on C corporations
Allowance for sole proprietorships to net business losses
Two cent property tax increases (it is projected the property tax may increase seven cents next year)
Fee Increases Adopted (H.769)
Businesses will see their costs increase as a result of changes in fees adopted by the Legislature as recommended by the Shumlin administration. Increases in motor vehicle fees for vehicle registrations and licenses range from 5% to 10%, while commercial driver license tests will go up 17% to 30%. Fees for restaurants, lodging establishments, bakeries, and food processors will increase by an average of 14%. An increase in water discharge fees paid by Vermont Yankee was also adopted. Finally, a bill back provision for Agency of Natural Resources review of applications was also approved.
This year marked the fifth straight year of difficult budgets. Senator Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia Co.) and Representative Martha Heath (D-Essex/Westford) are to be commended for their navigation of budget pressures from federal Medicaid match declines, increased retirement costs, dwindling revenues, and additional costs due to Irene. The $5.011 billion total budget is up 6.3% overall, but net of the above factors; the growth rate is 1%. The budget includes $14 million in reserves above the stabilization fund to provide some capacity to address revenue shortfalls and federal fund losses. Rather than the initial proposal of cutting checks for property taxpayers, any surplus revenue will go 50% to a supplemental property tax relief fund to be used to raise the general fund transfer to the education fund or other property tax relief, 25% to offset federal cuts, and 25% to add to the rainy day reserve.
Transportation Budget (H.440)
Transportation Committee Chairs, Representative Pat Brennan (R-Colchester) and Senator Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden/Grand Isle Co.), oversaw the preparation of the largest transportation spending plan ever adopted (H.770). “Revenues are flat, we have a limited pool of resources to dip into and we need a long term solution for a long term problem” reported Representative Brennan. The bill includes a study committee effort to examine the trends of state transportation revenues, determine the revenues necessary for Vermont to achieve its infrastructure investment goals, and study alternative and supplemental revenue sources.
Capital Budget (H.785)
The Institutions Committees, chaired by Senator Robert Hartwell (D-Bennington) and Representative Alice Emmons (D-Springfield), had their work cut out for them as they considered difficult decisions in replacing state office buildings in Waterbury as well as the state hospital due to the flooding caused by Irene. The rebuilding efforts in Waterbury will be bolstered by a reallocation of $12 million for renovations in the state office complex, $5 million for a new state hospital, and the dedication of $15 million of an anticipated budget surplus to reconstruction that will be flood-proof.
Renewable Energy Bill Enacted
The Shumlin administration adopted a new comprehensive energy plan for the state, prior to the legislative session, which set a goal for establishing a Renewable Portfolio Standard to obtain 75% renewable electricity within 20 years and making changes to Vermont’s standard offer program. With those goals in mind, the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee spent the first part of the session working on what would become H.468.
H.468 went through several revisions before it reached the House floor with two key components, the RPS and Standard Offer expansion, being reworked several times. The bill that ultimately made it to the floor included an RPS that would require Vermont utilities to increase the percentage of electricity they buy from renewable sources by 35% and increased the amount of power eligible under the Standard Offer from 50 megawatts to 150 megawatts. The number of proposals considered in the House Natural Resources Committee and the push to bring the bill to the floor left little time for utilities and business advocates to understand the rate impacts included in the bill. The House ultimately passed H.468 on a 91 to 46 vote.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee, led by Chair Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden Co.), made several changes to H.468 including adding provisions related to biomass as well as an amendment that would help IBM manage its greenhouse gas emissions. In one of the most talked about moments of the session, the bill failed to move out of the committee when Democratic Senator Mark MacDonald (D-Orange Co.) joined Republican Senators Joe Benning (R-Caledonia Co.) and Randy Brock (R-Franklin Co.) in voting against the bill. The House Natural Resources Committee ended up including their version of H.468 in a bill passed by the Senate relating to smart meters (S.214).
With businesses raising concerns that the RPS and Standard Offer provisions in the bill would increase electric rates and affect overall competitiveness, the last weeks of the session brought a significant change to the renewable bill. IBM leaders reiterated concerns that the bill’s mandates would limit their ability to invest in their plant and their employees and that keeping their $36 million annual electric bill flat is part of their business plan in Vermont. Under the House-passed version of H.468, the annual cost increase to IBM could have been as much as an additional $5 million per year.
The Chamber and GBIC raised concerns about the impact the bill could have on Vermont companies trying to compete both nationally and internationally and reminding legislators that while Vermont is recovering from the recession, there is still work to do. In late April, a new proposal was presented to the Senate Finance Committee. The proposal, which was ultimately adopted by the House and Senate, did away with the RPS, instead suggesting the issue be studied. The proposal reduced the Standard Offer expansion to an additional 75 megawatts over the next 10 years. We applauded this change as it allows time for more careful consideration of the cost impacts to employers while moving Vermont to the energy future we all envision.
The acquisition of Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) by Green Mountain Power was the subject of intense debate this session and one that crossed party lines. Proposals to return $21 million borrowed by CVPS to ratepayers were considered in both the House and the Senate and at one point looked to hold up adjournment. Opponents of the measures argued that legislative intervention in an open Public Service Board docket would send a bad message to anyone looking to the state for a fair and predictable regulatory process. In the end, such interference was averted and it is expected that the Public Service Board will rule on the merger this summer, based on its findings.
Given the priority of rebuilding Vermont as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, much of the focus for the Legislature was dedicated to funding and prioritizing projects for the state’s general fund, transportation, and capital budgets. Therefore, other than a bill passed to preserve Vermont’s working landscape, victories were declared in maintaining programs and funding for the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program, Vermont Training Program, Next Generation initiatives, and various workforce development programs.
S.246/H.496 is a working landscape preservation initiative created to stimulate Vermont’s agriculture and forest products sectors by providing $1.175 million for grants and loans and restructuring organizations charged with advancing job creation in these sectors.
The state’s spending plans include $25,000 in funding to develop the composite technology industry statewide, $225,000 in grants to assist regional development corporations with capital needs to create jobs, and level funding for tourism and marketing as well as the Vermont Convention Bureau. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development has also been asked to report on whether a separate department of economic development should be created; how partnerships with regional development corporations can be stronger to include an assessment of their effectiveness; and to recommend an effective model for a single portal through which businesses and entrepreneurs can access assistance.
H.640 was proposed to provide a steady source of revenue for tourism and marketing. It included an evaluation of performance-based funding and fast action funding for targeted promotional opportunities, however, no appropriation was provided in the bill and it did not advance.
H.365 designates skiing and snowboarding as the official winter state sports for Vermont.
Workers’ Compensation and Unemployment Insurance
At the end of the 2011 session, Representatives Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) and Chip Conquest (D-Newbury) had gained traction on fixing an issue many of our members have encountered when using independent contractors. In brief, the Department of Labor has been auditing businesses and ruling that independent contractors are actually employees and must be covered by workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. If an independent contractor’s work is related to the nature of work performed by the employer, they are an employee. Recognizing that in our modern economy and Vermont way of life there must be an opportunity for employers to legally use the services of independent contractors. Representatives Scheuermann and Conquest and Department of Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan convened a working group of business and union advocates to consider the problem.
The result of the lengthy working group process was H.762, a bill considered and adopted by the House Commerce Committee. The carefully negotiated bill included provisions to ensure appropriate enforcement tools for the Department as well as a new “sole contractor” registry. Under the registry, single-person independent contractors would apply for sole contractor status and after being placed on the registry, employers could hire them (if used appropriately) without fear of penalties. Following House passage of H.762 on an unusual unanimous roll call vote, the bill languished in the Senate Economic Development Committee which had worked on its own omnibus labor bill, S.137. The Senate bill had several provisions favorable to labor unions such as workers’ compensation liens, employee uniform compensation, non-union employee dues, and changes to how non-teacher school employees are paid.
One of the most interesting factors this session was the role a push to unionize child care workers had on the Senate floor. S.137, as well as several other bills, were delayed in the Senate for fear that an amendment to provide child care workers with collective bargaining rights would be attached. While delays continued in the Senate, the House took a Senate bill, S.152, and included the provisions in H.762 in that bill as well. The Senate refused to accept the House changes to S.152 but also refused to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences between the two bodies. In the final days of the session, House Commerce Chair Bill Botzow and Vice-Chair Mike Marcotte worked tirelessly to get the Senate to adopt their bill without additional labor union provisions or provisions that would increase workers’ compensation costs. Senators Vince Illuzzi and Tim Ashe met with Republican legislators in the House on the final day of the session to try and gain their support for a compromise which included measures in H.762 but also several measures that would have increased workers’ compensation insurance rates. House Republicans raised concerns with the proposal and the compromise died. While we supported H.762 and specifically the sole contractor fix, we could not support the Senate compromise as it would have increased workers’ compensation rates on our members. We will continue to push for a legislative fix for independent contractors.
We extend special thanks to Representatives Bill Botzow (D-Pownal) and Mike Marcotte (R- Coventry) for their work on H.762. Their commitment to, and support for, the work so many had put into the compromise provisions in H.762 made the effort worthwhile regardless of the outcome.
Labor union lobbyists were extremely active this year pushing for fair-share representation fees to be paid by non-union education and municipal employees, increases to benefits under workers’ compensation insurance, childcare unionization, work place inspections, workers’ compensation liens, and many other provisions, almost all of which were defeated. At the end of the session, there was an attempt on the part of labor unions to undo some of the unemployment insurance benefit changes enacted in 2010. The changes made that year were the result of two years of negotiations between unions, business groups, legislators, and the Douglas administration. The Chamber and GBIC strongly oppose undoing any benefit changes as the lion's share of the burden to restore the unemployment fund was put on employers. Speaker Shap Smith and the Shumlin administration opposed reopening the deal and the proposal died. While the move was thwarted this year, it is likely that labor unions will continue to push for additional benefits and undo reforms that have been enacted.
Education Reform Initiatives
Several bills passed that take steps toward addressing some of our organizations’ priorities. We are supportive of educational reform efforts that will increase education quality outcomes and invest resources effectively and efficiently in concert with economic, demographic and enrollment trends.
Governor’s Cabinet will now have Education Secretary (H.440)
Under the leadership of Representative Joey Donovan (D-Burlington) and Senator Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland Co.), the General Assembly passed one of our long-held priorities by establishing an Agency of Education headed by a Secretary of Education appointed by the Governor with advice and consent of the Senate (H.440). The bill allows the Vermont Board of Education to propose no fewer than three candidates for the Governor’s consideration and includes some restructuring of the Board and its responsibilities.
School Merger Incentives and Studies (S.113)
In the final hours of the session, Representative Donovan and Senator Mullin also championed the passage of a bill (H.753/S.194 became S.113), that provides school district merger incentives, a study of supervisory union sizes and structures by the Shumlin administration, and an educational opportunities working group to evaluate how the education system allocates financial and other resources to promote high quality, equitable educational opportunities for students. At the beginning of the session, the consulting firm of Lawrence Picus presented their findings about Vermont’s education finance system. Many felt this study did not have a broad enough scope and had numerous shortcomings and therefore, an analysis was conducted by Northern Economic Consulting for the Vermont towns of Dover and Wilmington. Because of the lack of comparative data statewide (a deficiency identified by the Business/Education Alliance of which we are members), yet another study to determine the data necessary to compare how all schools are able to offer substantially equal educational opportunities for students is included in S.113.
Dual Enrollment and Flexible Career Pathways Fails (H.776/S.233)
The House (H.776) and Senate (S.233) both worked on bills to encourage dual enrollment by high schoolers who wish to obtain college credits as well as other opportunities that would allow a student to acquire knowledge and skills thorough applied work or work-based learning options. Unfortunately, the bill entitled “Encouraging flexible pathways leading to secondary school completion and career and college readiness” was left as unfinished business due to a lack of funding for dual enrollment and a concern about the impact on the education fund.
For the past several years, the Chamber and GBIC have fought back on numerous legislative proposals that boil down to legislating for one bad apple. Last year it was a proposal to mandate when and how employees should take work breaks. This year it was unpaid wages, credit checks, and employee uniforms.
Shareholder Liability (H.78)
Following the closure of a company in Northern Vermont that left employees owed wages, H.78 was introduced in the House in order to bring Vermont’s laws up to date and give the Department of Labor additional tools when seeking wages on behalf of employees. One provision included in the bill, as it passed the House, would have made boards of directors and shareholders personally liable for any unpaid wages. The Chamber and GBIC were very concerned about the effect the provision could have had on investment in Vermont companies. Such personal liability could have made investors reluctant to purchase shares in Vermont corporations. Further, corporations facing difficulties could have lost access to the guidance of their board when directors resigned in order to avoid liability. The Senate Economic Development Committee, understanding our concerns, removed the liability section from the bill. Armed with new information on the possible unintended consequences of the liability provision, members of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, led by Chair Helen Head (D-South Burlington) moved swiftly to consider other ways of ensuring employees get paid any wages owed them. In the end, H.78 was approved without making shareholders and directors liable. We appreciate both the House and Senate Committees’ understanding of our concerns and their work to modify H.78 in response.
Credit Checks (S.95)
A bill to prohibit credit checks as part of the hiring process would have banned employers from using credit checks when considering whether an applicant was fit for a position. The Chamber and GBIC feel that employers in Vermont are not abusing the use of credit checks for job applicants. In speaking with our members, few employers routinely use credit checks. Of those who occasionally use credit checks, they are most often used when the job duties include fiduciary responsibilities. The House included several exemptions to the bill which was ultimately adopted as part of S.95 this year. The exemptions should allow employers who have employees handling their company’s or customer’s financial data to continue performing checks, if they so desire.
A provision to require employers to provide apparel or uniforms free to employees was included in several bills this session. The provision was spurred by labor unions concerned that one company which operates in Vermont, with a unionized workforce, requires their employees to purchase and wear logo socks. That concern spawned provisions that would have required any employer who requires employees to wear a uniform, logo-wear, or clothing they manufacture or sell to provide it free of charge. Once again, the Chamber and GBIC reached out to members who indicated that they do provide such items for free. However, our members felt that the control over how many uniforms should be provided free of charge should remain with them. In the final days of the session, the proposal was not passed.
Environmental/Land Use Issues
The General Assembly took advantage of public sentiment on the Irene disaster to enact some comprehensive legislation governing water bodies, river corridors and floodplains. A number of other proposals to modify the environmental protection/land use regulatory process were reviewed this past session, but given all of the other priorities of the Legislature this year, the appetite and time to tackle some of the thornier issues such as permit appeals reform and controlling sprawl was not there.
Environmental Enforcement (H.258)
H.258 was a bill designed to increase citizen participation and notification in environmental enforcement actions by the Agency of Natural Resources. This bill was required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. Governor Shumlin and Speaker Shap Smith spoke to the increased public transparency that will result from the bill.
Water Quality and River/Flood Hazard Areas (S.202)
As originally proposed, H.529/H.779 would have required the Natural Resources Board (NRB) to establish a statewide water resources preservation program. This program was designed to provide funding and technical assistance to prioritized projects that would improve water quality and prevent flooding as well as fund measures to reduce phosphorous pollution. The NRB was to have established a fee on all developed property and farmsteads in proportion to the area of impervious surface. At one point, all uncollected deposits on redeemable bottles were also proposed to be deposited to this fund. Our organizations testified against the fee, but indicated a willingness to assist with research on what other areas of the country are doing to fund water clean up. We also expressed frustration with the lake being “studied to death,” and the lack of resources for implementation and best management practices. The bill that evolved during the session wound up in S.202, and includes:
A study of how to fund, design, implement and administer water quality programs including whether to establish a statewide clean water utility.
Encouragement of better management, identification and use of flood hazard areas.
The adoption of state rules to regulate development that is located in a flood plain and now exempt from land use regulations.
Transfer of Water Resources Panel rulemaking authority to the Agency of Natural Resources to include adoption of wetland rules.
Stormwater Reauthorization (H.752)
H.752 amends the state permit program for discharges of regulated stormwater runoff to re-codify the permitting standard for discharges and clear up encumbrances on land titles.
Solid Waste (H.485)
H.485 is a bill designed to encourage more recycling and diversion of wastes from landfills. This bill has implications for all businesses as a proposed phase-in over the next five years of mandatory recycling for recyclables as well as leaf/yard waste and organic wastes from the processing or disposal of food will require additional separation, handling, storage, and disposal of these wastes. Increased fees can probably be expected as landfill facilities and haulers will look to recoup their costs for investing in additional infrastructure to separate these wastes. During consideration of the bill, business advocates explained that businesses already have a financial and competitive incentive to recycle. This bill includes an assessment of the state’s solid waste disposal and recycling efforts and calls for more study regarding the expansion of recycling for electronics, mercury and beverage containers.
Bills that died:
Permit Appeals and Act 250 Reforms (S.28, H.513 and S.110)
At the beginning of the session, Governor Shumlin requested passage of legislation that would eliminate the need to hear environmental permit application cases all over again if appealed from the District Environmental Commission to the Environmental Court. S.28 originally included a proposal to change the Environmental Court to a three to five member professional board modeled after the Public Service Board and changes to various Act 250 criteria. Our organizations were successful in our advocacy against the more significant structural changes to the permit appeals process. Toward the end of the session, the bill included the following:
A review of the record developed at the District Commission level by the Environmental Court rather than having to present the entire case, evidence and witnesses a second time before the Court for controversial cases.
Clarification of party status to meet federal and state constitutional standards.
A requirement that the burden of proof be upon the appellant instead of the applicant in the event of an appeal.
Conflict of interest standards for the District Commission.
A study recommending changes to Act 250 so as to address climate change, sprawl, loss of agricultural/forest soils, and the cumulative impacts of development.
Our organizations, along with other business groups, offered testimony in support of the record review for controversial cases, but expressed reservations with the possibility of expanded party status. The environmental community took the position that a clarification to party status might make the process more efficient as there would be less disagreement over party status and who qualifies. These issues are certain to come up again next session and the Natural Resources Board may hold meetings over the coming months to see if consensus can be reached. Contact email@example.com if interested.
H.97 would have provided collective bargaining rights to child care providers was passed in various forms by the House and Senate, but did not survive.
S.143 would have required the disclosure of building energy performance prior to the sale of commercial and residential buildings but did not pass.
S.131 began as a study of whether licensure should be required for building contractors and then building inspectors, roofers and solar collection installers were considered. Ultimately, language was adopted that requires a study as to whether building inspection services should be licensed.
H.59, a bill designed to encourage mobile home ownership and affordable housing by prohibiting discrimination in land use decisions or the permitting of developments because a proposed project contains affordable housing units, was passed.
H.506 consolidated a number of bills related to the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages. This bill increases the amount of wine a producer can ship and allows a producer to serve beverages made by another manufacturer on its premises.
H. 593 would allow jewelry stores to serve malt or vinous beverages on their premises.
All of the above mentioned bills will be posted on the General Assembly’s website within a week or two and once signed by the Governor, will be renumbered as an Act. To research these bills, go to http://www.leg.state.vt.us/ResearchMain.cfm
We here at the Chamber and GBIC are just as busy during the summer and fall months preparing for the next legislative session as we are during the session. Many legislative study committees and state policymakers meet during the months ahead and we will be part of these discussions. We will also have our own study committees to better understand the issues and help inform legislators of our perspectives on issues. Topics we will be monitoring and considering include:
Water quality – how to fund, administer and implement water quality improvements
Transportation funding – analyze options for user fees and fee collection mechanisms for motor vehicles that are not currently taxed and evaluate sustainable revenue sources
Education finance – evaluate equity in resource allocation and outcomes as well as identify data necessary to compare school districts statewide
Cloud Computing/Remotely Accessed Software – examine ways to enhance Vermont’s technology sector
Sales Tax – address sales tax issues in an changing economy
Health Care Reform – input into state’s reform efforts
Renewable Energy Mandates – how to encourage renewable energy sources while maintaining competitiveness
Environmental/Land Use Permitting – recommend process efficiencies and opportunities to address sprawl and the cumulative impacts of development
We need you to help shape the decisions of lawmakers and provide your input! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and get involved in the issues that affect your business.