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Legislative Update – Week 2

This week’s Legislative Update is sponsored by:

January 17, 2020

With the last session ending the way it did last May, there is a great deal of unfinished business in Montpelier, making it feel like the final weeks of the session and not the first. Mix that with the voracious speed of a new session, and it can feel as if a lot has happened and that nothing happened at all. 

In this week’s newsletter; 

Legislative Breakfast Series

Our first Legislative Breakfast of 2020 will be Monday, January 27 from 7:30 – 9:00am at Delta Hotels Marriott Burlington (formerly Trader Duke’s Hotel).

The second breakfast will be Monday, March 16 from 7:30 – 9:00 am at Costco in Colchester. This year we are doing more to encourage connections between legislators and their constituents at our breakfast.

Thank you to New England Federal Credit Union for sponsoring our Legislative Breakfast Series.

photo of group sitting down at tables at last year's legislative breakfast event

Paid Family and Medical Leave

The Conference Committee negotiating the differences between the House and Senate versions of H.107 seem to have reached a close-to-final agreement. The agreement is very similar to that which the Senate passed late in the last legislative session. The bill would provide 12 weeks of parental bonding leave to each parent of a new child and 8 weeks of leave to care for a family member. This benefit is paid for by 0.2% payroll tax assessed on the employee; the employer has the option of covering some, or all of, the cost. 

The bill also provides the opportunity for Vermonters to receive voluntary, opt-in coverage for their own illness or temporary disability for an additional 0.38% payroll assessment. This portion of the bill has become a major source of contention with Progressive Party members and with some members of the Democratic caucus. Each are vowing to vote against the bill because this portion is not mandatory. 

Negotiations stalled Wednesday over a disagreement regarding the wage threshold to participate in the program. This threshold was agreed upon every step of the way, however, the House-side of the committee hoped to lower it when the committee met again. Traditionally, things that are ubiquitously agreed upon during the bill’s life are off-limits in the Conference Committee, with their work restrained to where the two chambers differ. 

Act 250 Consensus Changes Get More Consideration 

We reported briefly last week that a proposal representing the consensus of the administration and the environmental groups made waves when introduced to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife. This week, the reception was warmer with the exception of a proposal to remove district commissions. In all, there are about 24 proposed changes which can be read here. Some of the more substantial ones are below. 

  • Adapting Jurisdiction – expands and contracts the boundaries of what is in the program. The bill would lower the elevation threshold for the program, bring in roads over 2,000 feet into forest parcels, and expand jurisdiction to development within 2,000 feet of interstate interchanges. This section would also eliminate the program’s jurisdiction over areas of enhanced designation 
  • Modifications to criteria – many new criteria are proposed to be added, including climate change, consistency with local plans, and forest connectivity. 
  • Modifications Permitting and Permit Conditions – most significantly this section changes presumptions around permits from the Agency of Natural Resources. 
  • Creation of a new Natural Resources Board – this proposal came under some scrutiny as it would do away with district commissions to create a centralized, professional board in Montpelier, similar to the Public Utility Commission. 

You can read all the 79-pages of proposed changes here.

House Committee Considers Online Service Tax, Again 

On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee began taking testimony on the topic of taxing prewritten software that is accessed remotely. The House has two bills pending introduction, one from Rep. Michael Yantachka (D-Charlotte) and one from Rep. Scott Beck (R-St. Johnsbury). The House passed this tax last session only to have it meet strong resistance in the Senate. This area is opaque and has a long history due to multiple interpretations over the years as to what constitutes  tangible personal property. The Joint Fiscal Office expects $6-7 million dollars in revenue. The committee is also expressing interest in creating a tax on digital ads as is being discussed in Maryland. 

The information presented to the committee on this issue can be found here.

Tourism Day Takes Over the State House

You quite literally could not get into the House and Senate Economic Committees’ hearing on tourism on Wednesday. The largest hearing room in the State House was packed with business owners from across the state who made their way to Montpelier to highlight the importance of this vital sector of our economy. The testimony of the day focused on the need to invest in marketing our state as a tourism destination to keep pace with our competing markets, attract new residents, and retain the economic activity this sector brings to the state. To do so, the sector is asking the state to invest $500,000 in tourism marketing. 

The Laundry List

  • Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) told the media Wednesday to expect the conference committee considering minimum wage to meet early next week, saying that they can begin work on that bill after paid family and medical leave is finalized. The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs walked through differences between the House and Senate versions.
  • The Governor’s proposal for Universal Afterschool care was embraced by members of the Democratic Party this week, with some disagreement on a timeline of implementation. Also agreed upon, how to fund it; with both sides looking to potential revenues from cannabis commercialization.
  • This week, WPTZ reporter Stewart Ledbetter scooped a story that the Governor plans to propose in his Tuesday budget address an income tax exemption for Vermonters between 18 and 26 years old in hopes to attract and retain young Vermonters. The Governor hinted at targeted tax relief in his State of the State and all indications point to Stew’s scoop being just one component. 
  • Senators Andrew Perchlick (P – Washington) and Debbie Ingram (D – Chittenden) introduced S.291, a bill aimed at lowering the level at which one is driving under the influence from a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content to a 0.05 percent. 
  • Last legislative session, a bill was introduced to ban covenants not to compete, or non-compete agreements. After testimony from LCRCC, other business organizations, and attorneys, the proposal was scaled back but not passed. The bill is back up for consideration this year and will be discussed this afternoon. We’ll provide you with a further update next week. 
  • Speaking of legalizing, regulating, and taxation of something new; there is interest in both in the House and Senate to commercialize sports betting. Rep. Matt Birong (D – Vergennes) traveled to San Diego this past week to better understand legislation legalizing and regulating sports betting that is sweeping the nation since the landmark Supreme Court decision Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. 
  • The Vermont Business Roundtable released a policy paper entitled, Policy Options for Vermont State Employee and Teacher Pension and Health Care Retirement Systems. The report addresses the largest liability that the state has, and offers lawmakers a series of policy recommendations.  Click here for the report.

 Sponsor Legislative Updates 

Would you like to show others you support LCRCC’s advocacy? Sponsoring our legislative updates supports our business advocacy and gets your message out to a diverse business audience. If you would like to sponsor an update, please email [email protected].

Concerned or need to learn more about anything in this newsletter? Email our team at [email protected]. 

We look forward to working with you this session.
The Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Team

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Tom Torti, President
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Cathy Davis, Executive Vice President
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Austin Davis, Government Affairs Manager
Thank you to this week’s sponsor of the Legislative Update: