Thank you to Lauren-Glenn Davitian for providing ongoing legislative news:
Gun ownership continues to be a cherished tradition among a large segment of the population, and part of that tradition is a deep-rooted distrust of state efforts to regulate guns. That may be on the verge of changing.
Gov. Phil Scott announced that he was open to considering a wide range of gun control measures in response to events in both Florida and Vermont. (DRM)
Public pressure is building and democratic legislative leaders – many of whom have been reticent to support gun restrictions – also lined up this week to support tighter gun laws. (Hewitt/VTDigger)
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that allows police to take guns away from those ruled to be an “extreme risk” to themselves or others. S.221 now advances to the Senate floor with support from domestic violence prevention and gun-control groups — and even grudging acceptance from some gun-rights groups. (Dobbs/7Days)
Vermont Mayors have also weighed in with a set of “common sense gun reforms”. (VTBusiness)
Policy differences between the Republican administration and Democratic legislature has grown sharper during the past two months. The Senate’s passage of an increase in the minimum wage highlights the gap between the two sides. The measure to increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2024 passed by a vote 20-10. If the House votes to approve and Gov. Phil Scott signs it into law, employers would be required to increase hourly pay every year through 2024. The first increase would come January 1, 2019, when the minimum wage would rise from $10.50 to $11.50 an hour. (Dobbs/7Days)
While Gov. Phil Scott has avoided threatening to veto the bill, he has made clear his belief that this is the wrong way to increase wages. The proposal has created growing anxiety among many of the state’s small business owners who wonder where they will find the money needed to pay higher wages. House leaders have portrayed the minimum wage bill, along with paid family leave legislation that passed the House last year, as the most important steps the legislature can take to help the economy. For his part, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, P/D- Chittenden, has made clear that increasing the minimum wage is his top priority, even suggesting that he would be prepared to lose his seat over the issue. (DRM)
House leaders, worried that the minimum wage effort is taking priority over paid family leave, are pressuring their Senate colleagues to take it up. (Neubauer/ VTDigger) “The Legislature is considering two proposals that will improve families’ economic security, and they are inexplicably being pitted against each other. Both a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program and increasing the minimum wage are important. Passing them together as an economic support package for working families (as our neighbors in New York did) makes all kinds of sense.” (Faye/ Voices for Vermont’s Children)
Education & Childcare
Republican Gov. Phil Scott and top Democratic lawmakers have spent much of the 2018 legislative session characterizing themselves as allies and protectors of Vermont’s working families. Still none has put forward a plan to address a $9.2 million funding shortfall in the state’s childcare system — which some advocates are calling a crisis. (Dobbs/ 7Days)
See Let’s Grow Kids Report: Stalled at the Start Vermont’s Child Care Challenge
Lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Commitee decided to postpone a decision on whether to pursue a plan that would reform the state’s education finance system. If they do move forward with the proposal, they probably would delay its implementation by one year. Chair Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, said the committee likely will decide before Town Meeitng whether to continue working on the proposal, which would change the state’s education finance system from one based on property taxes to one funded partially by property taxes and by a new income tax. (Hewitt/ VTDigger)
Meanwhile, the House Education Committee is drafting a bill that moves on recommendations from two studies to fundamentally change the way the state funds special education. Funding would shift to a census-based grant from the current reimbursement system, meaning that districts would receive funding based on the total size of the student population, rather than all funding being tied to students identified as needing special education This funding can be used as the discretion of local schools, freeing them up to implement programs and hire specialists to serve struggling students before they need special education, or at least that’s what lawmakers have in mind. (Pache/ VTDigger)
While Governor Scott mentioned the fight against opioid addition in his State of the State address last month, his proposed FY19 budget contains no new funding for opioid addiction services, to the consternation of legislative and community leaders. (Freese/ 7Days)
The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is looking at a new draft of the administration’s workforce development proposal along with the Administration’s Interagency Workforce Plan and ThinkVermont/MOVE proposal. While Democrats are pursuing economic initiatives based on equity, the governor has proposed a more traditional workforce development plan, with three parts: 1) increasing the labor participation rate; 2) recruiting and relocating workers to Vermont; and 3) assisting employers in accessing and retaining workers. That approach has received mixed legislative reviews. By far, the bulk of the funding would be a targeted traditional and social media campaign, called ThinkVermont/MOVE (Motivate Out-of-State Visitors and Entrepreneurs) aimed at identifying working-age individuals in other states and convincing them to move to Vermont. (DRM)
Lawmakers and the administration did agree on one issue this month, but even that ended in acrimony. After the Senate passed a bill on Net Neutrality and the House appeared ready to follow, the governor preempted further legislative action by adopting an executive order. The executive order largely follows the Senate bill by requiring all state agency contracts with Internet service providers to include net neutrality standards. Legislative leaders predictably criticized the order. (DRM) See also “Vermont takes Net Neutrality Action”
The House advanced a measure Friday that would raise more than $6 million to build out broadband infrastructure across the state. The bill, H.582, would temporarily increase a fee on telecommunications services from 2 percent to 2.5 percent for four years, ending in 2022. The money raised from the increase — estimated total nearly $6.3 million — would go to a fund that distributes grants to internet service providers that expand networks in underserved areas. (Hewitt/ VTDigger)
Earlier in February, Governor Phil Scott released details on his tax reform plan, the Working Family Taxpayer Protection Act, to ensure “Vermonters don’t see a surprise $30 million tax increase due to changes in federal law”. This included a proposed five percent tax credit for charitable contributions. Governor Scott said: “The large increase to the standard deduction and shift away from itemized deductions at the federal level might discourage many filers from donating to charity. This measure will re-incentivize charitable giving, make the benefits of giving available to all Vermont taxpayers (whether or not they itemize their deductions at the federal level), and strengthen the connection between Vermont charitable organizations and all members of the community.”
We checked with the House Ways & Means Committee to see if there has been any movement on the Governor’s proposal. According to committee member Representative Cynthia Browning, a bill combining both income tax reforms and education finance reforms is about to be voted out of House Ways & Means. “This includes a version of the Governor’s proposal but with a variation. The five percent deduction is in the HWM proposal to be applied to up to $10,000 in contributions. This means that all income levels can take advantage of the credit, but the amount that high income/big donors can use to reduce their tax liability is much less. They would still get the benefit of the federal deduction”. The bill will be voted out of the House and move into the Senate (likely the Education and Finance committees). After this bill is voted there will be a bill number under which we will be able to view drafts and testimony.
In the meantime, Governor Scott has issued a reminder to Vermonters to consider charitable contributions when filing their taxes. Vermont taxpayers have the opportunity to direct their tax refunds or tax payments to support four Vermont charitable organizations that have been specifically named in Vermont law.
Filers may enter the amount they wish to contribute to one or more of these charitable organizations on Form IN-111, Vermont Income Tax Return: