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Legislative Update – Week 6

This week’s Legislative Update is sponsored by:

February 14, 2020

Only six weeks in and already so much has happened. Years of work on legislative priorities of the democratic party are starting to come into the final stretch setting the stage for a stand-off between the legislature and Governor. 

In this week’s newsletter; 

Legislative Breakfast Series

Our Legislative Breakfast Series is designed to provide direct access to legislators and decision-makers in Montpelier to ensure that our business community’s voice is heard. Join us for the opportunity to connect and enjoy a hot breakfast on a cold morning.
We’ll be sure to see you at the next breakfast on March 16th at Costco!
Thank you to New England Federal Credit Union for sponsoring our Legislative Breakfast Series.

Global Warming Solutions Act Voted Out of Committee 

The House Committee on Energy and Technology voted out H.688 on a 7-2 vote on Tuesday. The latest version leaves little sense of comfort to those who thought that the rulemaking authority in the bill was too broad or that the state would be unnecessarily vulnerable to a lawsuit. The bill is now being looked at by the House Committee on Appropriations due to its financial implications.

Minimum Wage Veto Overridden in the Senate

On Monday of this week, Governor Scott vetoed S.23 a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $12.55 over the next two years citing the impact on employers in rural parts of the state. Wasting no time, Senate President Tim Ashe brought the bill to the Senate floor for a vote on Thursday, overriding the veto by a vote of 24-6. That expediency puts his colleagues in House Democratic leadership in an awkward position as they are unlikely to whip the 100 votes needed to override a veto. It is unclear when the bill will come to a vote in the House, however, by procedure it could be as early as Wednesday.

Student Debt Seen as Opportunity for Worker Retention and Recruitment 

The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs is  considering S.331 which considers multiple student debt related measures that would attract and retain young professionals. The committee is considering four measures:

  • A deduction to employees, or even possibly employers’, income tax for recruitment and retention programs focused on debt 
  • Additional first-time homebuyer assistance to those with student debt 
  • Changes to the existing Remote Worker and Worker Relocations programs to include student debt 
  • Creating continuity in the state’s language governing 529 college savings accounts to reflect changes at the federal level

LCRCC has been working with legislators on student debt relief since last February when we completed The State Of Greater Burlington Young Professionals Survey and saw convincing data that student debt is putting the next generation of Vermont’s taxpayers in jeopardy, stalling our housing market, and pushing people to leave the state. LCRCC’s Director of Burlington Young Professionals, Erin Bombard walked the committee through the results of the survey and made a strong case for action.

Burlington TCI Public Meeting Rescheduled 

Vermont state officials and regional planning commission staff are hosting four public information meetings to discuss the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). Each meeting will feature a brief overview of TCI and provide more details about the specific proposals in the draft regional MOU and the associated modeling results. After the initial presentation, they will take questions and hear feedback on the draft MOU. 

When: February 20, 2020 | 6:00 – 8:00

Where: Contois Auditorium, Burlington City Hall, 149 Church Street

Act 250 Clears First Committee 

Yesterday evening, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife voted 6-3-2 to pass out the latest version of the bill. The bill reflects some major changes to the over 50-year old program. The committee process, which follows an almost 2-year long commission reviewing the program, started last legislative session making this bill the product of years worth of work. You wouldn’t know it though hearing the feedback from those exiting the committee vote and the legislative process is far from over for this proposed legislation.  

One thing the committee has slogged through debate on is how a new Natural Resource Board will govern Act 250. Under this bill, district commissioners will continue to review and assist district coordinators with jurisdictional opinions and minor applications as well as decide which applications are major. Major applications will be sent directly to a new three-member board of professionals which will be joined by two commissioners from the permit-originating district who will also have full voting authority. The bill includes many other changes including designated downtowns and neighborhood areas from Act 250 jurisdiction and adding criteria around climate change. 

We’ll have a longer update covering the 94-page bill next week. You can find the final version here

Conversation Continues Around Changing Corporate Income Tax 

The House Ways and Means Committee continues its long look at changes to the corporate income tax in the attempt to pull more money into state coffers without disadvantaging in-state businesses. The committee was presented this week with a matrix of possible changes that they have discussed which will guide their work moving forward.

Economic Development Initiatives Get Airtime in Committees

Multiple committees are considering incentives for businesses to grow their workforce and make capital investments. H.641 would amend the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive Program to allow employers to receive grants in the form of forgivable loans. The loans would be underwritten by the Vermont Economic Development Authority and allow for up-front cash-flow for participants. Additionally, the bill would allow employers with more than 100 employees that make capital investments of more than $20 million to access new incentives. Finally, the bill would include authorization for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to contract with a technical service provider to assist Vermont-based tech companies applying for federal grants.

Legislative Committee Gets Glimpse of Finalized 3-Acre General Permit 

The House Committee on Corrections and Institutions heard more testimony on the 3-Acre Stormwater Rule this week due to the cost of the state to comply with the new general permit. Secretary of the Agency Natural Resources, Julie Moore, told the committee that they hope to finalize the general permit based on the comments they collected by the end of March. She also told the committee that they will be working on a number of programs to help property owners comply, mentioning in passing a linked deposit program utilized in Iowa and new low-interest loans, understanding that many borrowers will not be experienced with this type of compliance.

One member of the committee asked if the budget request is just for this year and if it is the intent of the administration to lead by example in doing all of its engineering assessments at the same time. The Secretary agreed with this assessment and acknowledged some cost efficiencies by doing them all at once.

The Laundry List

  • S.335 was passed in the Senate today creating a Task Force for Universal Afterschool Access to consider and make recommendations on the framework for, the costs of, and related long-term funding sources for access to universal afterschool programs. 
  • The Governor’s version of Paid Family and Medical Leave will continue moving and might be the only option in the wake of the House’s failed veto override. Its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee to discuss the money in the Pay Act and the budget needed to start it. 
  • A bill restricting non-compete agreements we’ve been reporting on passed the House Wednesday and is now headed to the Senate where it will be referred to the Senate Committee on Economic, Housing, and General Affairs. 
  • In case you missed it, WCAX ran an interesting story last week about the disconnect between school spending choices and property taxes. The reporter realized that everyone knew exactly how the large bond up for a vote would affect residential property taxpayers, but not renters. Turns out, nobody can answer that question. Give it a watch.

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: