Vermont nonprofit leaders are headed to the Vermont State House on Thursday 3/22 to get the latest on decisions being made under the Dome, including proposed charitable tax credits (see more below), net neutrality, gun control, importation of prescription drugs, and paid family leave.
All eyes are on the House floor early this week, where legislators are expected to vote on theFY19 Budget as well as changes to Vermont’s personal income tax and education financing. The House Appropriations Committee signed off on a budget proposal Monday that would moderately increase spending and restore funding to health and disabilities programs the Scott administration has proposed cutting. The budget sailed out of committee in a unanimous vote and will likely go up for debate on the House floor by the end of the week. The chair of the committee, Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, said the proposal makes “critical investments” for Vermonters and doesn’t increase taxes or fees. “I am optimistic and hopeful. I think it’s a responsible budget,” she said in an interview after Monday’s vote. The House budget’s total proposed spending is close to the $5.86 billion mark set by the Scott administration’s proposal, according to a Joint Fiscal Office analysis. Last year’s budget totaled at about $5.78 billion. (VT Digger/Landen)
Charitable Tax Credits
Earlier in February, Governor Phil Scott released details on his tax reform plan, the Working Family Taxpayer Protection Act, to ensure that “Vermonters don’t see a surprise $30 million tax increase due to changes in federal law.” He included a proposed five percent tax credit for charitable contributions that does not cap on the amount eligible for the tax credit. The House Ways and Means Committee amended the Governor’s proposal in H 911 – An act relating to changes in Vermont’s personal income tax and education financing system and put a $10,000 cap on giving for all Vermont households (itemizers and those taking the standard deduction), yielding a maximum tax credit of $500. Vermont nonprofit leaders will be testifying before Senate Finance Committee at 1 p.m. on Thursday 3/22 on this proposal. If you would like to send testimony to the Committee, email the Clerk Cheryl Jette at CJette’@’leg.state.vt.us
Gun Violence Prevention
During the course of the week, the House is scheduled to review a Senate bill that raises the age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21. The proposal also includes a universal background check. At the same time, the Senate will consider a House plan to allow police officers to temporarily confiscate a firearm in domestic violence cases. (VPR News)
Tobacco Settlement Windfall
On Thursday, state officials announced the receipt of $28 million in additional funds from a universal settlement with tobacco companies. Last Friday, House budget writers made the big decisions on how to spend the money. There was agreement between Gov. Phil Scott, Attorney General T.J. Donovan and top legislative leaders to devote half of the windfall to addressing the opiate crisis. And there was general agreement that the money should be spent on short-term expenditures that would have real impact but wouldn’t create ongoing budgetary obligations. The House Appropriations Committee had the initial say on how to spend the other $14 million. As it wrapped up its work on the state budget Friday, it also made those decisions. “We devoted $10 million to the teacher pension fund,” said Appropriations chair Kitty Toll (D-Danville). “We put $2 million into our rainy day reserves, $1.5 million to higher education … and $500,000 to a revolving loan fund for energy improvements in state-owned properties.” State Treasurer Beth Pearce had lobbied for the pension contribution and was very pleased with the outcome. “This is a very good investment for the taxpayer,” she said. “That $10 million will result in $29 million in savings on interest.” In response to the federal repeal of net neutrality regulations, H. 680 has become a priority for the House Committee on Energy and Technology, despite potential federal preemption issues. (7Days/ Walters)
Vermont is one of 27 states taking action to protect internet users in response to the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”, adopted on 12/14/17 and released on 1/4/18. Governor Scott signed an executive order requiring all ISPs that do business with the state to abide by net neutrality provisions. The Legislature is trying to determine if it should follow the lead of other states and go further. The proposed Vermont bill H. 680 not only prohibits throttling content and paid prioritization, but also requires Internet Service Providers to obtain certificates of net neutrality compliance in order to operate in the state. On Friday, Lauren-Glenn Davitian of CCTV Center for Media & Democracy told the House Committee on Energy and Technology that the loss of net neutrality standards could limit content if providers choose to favor specific content. A Vermont media producer said that it could be “potentially catastrophic” to small production companies if their ability to quickly share large amounts of information is compromised. The committee will continue to take testimony on the bill next week. The Senate passed a bill on Net Neutrality in February. (DRM/ Hollar)
Legislation approved by the Senate last week would require private schools that accept public tuition dollars to admit special education students and share additional information to show their financial viability. “It is a civil rights issue,” Sen. Philip Baruth, D/P-Chittenden and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said of the special education requirements. The bill, S.229, has been sent to the House Education Committee for review. Federal law requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment to children with learning disabilities. Whenever possible, these students should go to school with students who aren’t disabled and should go to the school closest to their home. Under the new law, private schools would be required to accept students with an Individualized Educational Program, or IEP, a customized learning plan put together by the school’s special education team and parents. (Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce)
Paid Family Leave
Last session, the House of Representatives passed H.196 a proposal which includes six weeks of paid family leave capped at either 80% of an employee’s average weekly wages or two times the Vermont livable wage of $13.03 per hour (whichever is less), up to $1,042 per week. The benefit applies to care for a newborn, an adopted child, or an ailing family member and not for the employee’s personal illness or injury. This new insurance program will be paid for by a new payroll tax on all employees of 0.141% for the first $150,000 of the employee’s wages. The bill allows this rate to be reassessed and changed each year based on the Vermont Department of Labor’s report on the fund’s solvency, essentially allowing the demand to dictate the tax rate. There is a question about whether the Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe will support movement of this bill. He has said that minimum wage is his priority.
Sexual Harassment Prevention
H.707 is aimed at preventing workplace sexual harassment. It would require employers provide written copies of policies upon hire or following sexual harassment policy changes, and encourages employers to provide annual training. It would prohibit employment agreements that prevent a worker from disclosing sexual harassment or that waive a worker’s rights or remedies and bans settlements that prevent an employee from working for the employer. Additionally, employees may settle a claim with their employers, but are not foreclosed from bringing a sexual harassment complaint to the Attorney General or any other state or federal agency. (Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce)