Vermont House and Senate Move on Big Bills
The second half of the Vermont legislative session kicked into high gear last week as both chambers began moving some large, must-pass bills. This included approval of a tri-partisan budget, new control measures, and a revised education tax formula in the House while the Senate tackled clean water and toxic chemical reform legislation.
Meanwhile, House and Senate committees began working on bills passed by the other chamber. This includes the start of hearings on the minimum wage in the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee, paid family leave in the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee, and testimony on the data brokers bill in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
UNIVERSAL PRIMARY CARE - The Vermont Senate easily approved S.53 last week after also passing an amendment that restored some of the important provisions of the bill, which aims to create a universal primary care system in Vermont without barriers such as co-pays and deductibles. The new amendment was a compromise between the Senate Health and Welfare and the Senate Appropriations committees. The bill now moves to the House.
CLEAN WATER ECONOMY - The Senate approved S.260, the latest bill aimed at finding resolution over Vermont’s ongoing water quality crisis. The bill sets up a legislative council to consider long-term funding options to finance clean water projects and remediation in Vermont, including a per parcel fee. Unfortunately, Gov. Scott has indicated that he does not support the bill because it considers (although does not approve) a new tax.
STATE BUDGET - The Vermont House easily approved a $5.8 billion 2019 state budget after a marathon floor schedule Friday night. The budget, which represents a 1.1% increase over the current budget, passed in a vote of 122-10. As requested by Gov. Scott, it contains no new taxes or fees, but did get a financing boost from a $28 million windfall from tobacco settlement funds. The House budget includes a $120,000 allocation for an independent, non-partisan economic analysis of carbon pricing in Vermont, a provision that VBSR supports.
Lawmakers Take Minimum Wage Pledge; Hearings Begin in House
The Raise the Wage Coalition is leading a Raise the Wage Challenge, which tasks participants to spend one week living on $10.50 an hour, the current minimum wage in Vermont.
Raise the Wage kicked off last Tuesday with a press conference led by Rights and Democracy Vermont and remarks by multiple legislators. The Raise the Wage challenge aims to demonstrate the issues of poverty in Vermont and demonstrate the hardship of living on the minimum wage to meet even basic needs. There are currently over 25,000 Vermonters who earn the minimum wage, and the challenge aims to highlight the importance of raising the wage to $15 an hour, which would benefit over 70,000 Vermonters.
Over 15 Vermont legislators have committed to participating in the week-long Raise the Wage Challenge, where they will need to align their costs of living, including healthcare, housing, travel expenses, and food, with the amount one would earn working full-time at minimum wage. The goal of the challenge is to highlight the need for more education and legislation to end wealth inequality in Vermont and throughout the country.
Join the American Sustainable Business Council for a webinar on April 5th 1 – 2 PM ET with two of these champions, Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas of Vermont and Rep. Jen Benson of Massachusetts, both members of the Carbon Costs Coalition. Hear them discuss the details of their proposals to put a price on carbon, the most efficient, business friendly way to reduce emissions, and why there is so much regional momentum around this solution.
Read more about the ESSEX Plan, a proposal created by VBSR businesses to use a price on carbon pollution to lower green electricity rates.