Legislative Update: Budgets, Vetos and Action

With just two weeks left in the biennium, the legislative committees are moving their bills to the floor of the House and Senate.

Restructuring of income tax and education financing remains on the table as Senate Finance voted H.911 out of committee. Swayed by concerns of the nonprofit sector, the Committee voted to remove the cap on charitable giving credit. But there remains “a long road ahead” for the bill.  Read all about it here.

Starting with the FY19 Budget, the Senate gave preliminary approval last Friday to $5.86 billion budget proposal that would prioritize spending on the state’s mental health system, restore funding to programs that serve vulnerable Vermonters and make investments in workforce development. In the Senate’s budget bill, spending would increase slightly from last year’s $5.8 billion budget, but match the level in Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal which lands just under $5.86 billion, according to the Joint Fiscal Office. The Senate’s budget makes several changes to Scott’s proposal, and restores millions of dollars to social service and health programs that his administration proposed cutting or eliminating. (VTDigger/Landen)

Committed to “no new fees or taxes”, the Scott administration proposed a plan on Tuesday to plug a $58 million hole in the education fund with one-time money. The impetus behind that plan is the 7-cent increase in statewide property tax rates that homeowners and businesses face next year, if lawmakers and the governor do nothing. Scott says taxpayers can’t afford the hike, and the plan he unveiled Tuesday uses $58 million in one-time money to keep rates stable in fiscal year 2019. The reaction to the plan from Democratic leaders at the Statehouse was swift and mostly negative. (VTDigger & VPR)

 

The Legislature is pushing back against the constraints the Governor is putting on spending and his veto threats. Key disagreements on school funding and other programs have yet to be resolved. But thanks to the way the main tax bill is structured, the governor could be forced to choose between two of the biggest revenue increases. “I don’t believe we need to have a veto session,” Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P Chittenden, said in a radio interview Friday. “I hope we don’t have a veto session. And frankly in our adjournment motion, we may not put in a veto session.”  (VTDigger/Gram & VPR/ Wertlieb & Smith)

 

The House last week did fail to overturn the first veto of the session when a 94-53 roll call vote fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s action on S.103.  Three independents joined with 50 Republicans in voting to sustain the veto. In his veto message Scott said that he was not opposed to everything in the bill and would sign it if it is returned to him without the objectionable sections. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to add such language to another House-passed bill, H.736. (DRM/Hollar)

Attorney General TJ Donovan announced that Vermont has received $58.9 million from tobacco companies; $29 million of the total amount is the result of a recent settlement with tobacco companies. This $29M is on top of the annual payment Vermont receives each April from these companies related to the 1998 “Master Settlement Agreement” (MSA). Between the recent settlement and annual MSA payment, Vermont received the $58.9 million last Thursday. (VTBiz.com)

The Vermont House gave unanimous approval last Thursday to a bill that would make medication for opioid addiction available to all inmates who need it. Inmates are currently taken off their buprenorphine or methadone after 120 days. The bill, which cleared the Senate last month, would eliminate the time limit. And it would allow inmates to get a prescription while in prison, instead of limiting treatment to those who had one before they were incarcerated. “This is a really important step for us … in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), who pushed for the change. (7Days/Freese)

The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee has approved S.40, the Senate-passed bill dealing with increases in the minimum wage. The bill will next be considered by the House Committee on Appropriations. As recommended by the committee, the bill is little changed from the Senate version and calls for annual increases in the minimum wage that grow larger over time until the wage reaches $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2024. The House bill would establish a new lower minimum wage for secondary school students which is $3 per hour less. (DRM)

The paid family leave bill could come to the floor of the Senate as the legislative session winds down. The Senate Committee on Economic Development passed H.196 on Monday in a 4-1-0 vote. The panel amended the House version of the bill. The new draft expands the length of leave time, while decreasing the amount paid out to employees caring for family members by 10 percent. The program is funded through a 0.141 percent payroll tax. The draft legislation features a 12-week combined paid parental leave and six-week paid family care with 70 percent wage replacement. The House plan included an 80 percent wage replacement and a six-week paid leave, six-week unpaid parental leave plan. In addition, the committee’s draft of the bill expands eligibility to include anyone who has made more than $10,710 at a company in the 12 months prior to the leave. (VTDigger/Neubauer)

The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee on Friday approved its version of H.919, a bill dealing with workforce development. The bill seeks to continue the work of the state’s Workforce Development Board toward building a more coordinated system for job training and to encourage better access to career and technical education for both secondary students and underemployed adults. The committee also added language it passed earlier creating an income tax credit for people who move to Vermont and work remotely. The committee fears that the bill, S.94, will not receive due consideration in the House. (DRM)

The House is advancing a Senate-passed bill to promote blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. The bill also proposes a first-in-the-nation structure for a new business that would protect personal information. The provision is included in S.269, which was approved by the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee this week.  The idea for the new business came from a faculty member at Vermont Law School. According to the bill, it would allow someone to create a personal information protection company regulated by the Department of Financial Regulation. The company would develop a comprehensive information security program that contains administrative, technical and physical safeguards to protect personal information. There is no similar program in any other state. Advocates admit that no such business currently exists, but they hope that a favorable regulatory climate will invite entrepreneurs. S.269 was also approved by the House Ways and Means Committee and will be on the House floor next week. (DRM)

 

The Senate Finance Committee took testimony from David Hall of the Vermont Attorney General’s office on the Data Brokers Bill (H. 764) which– proposes to adopt consumer protection provisions relating to data brokers, data security, and consumer privacy. The bill includes a $100 fee for data broker registration which the Governor has signaled he will oppose. According to Zach Tominelli of VPIRG, the biggest concern at the moment is the definition of data brokers and what constitutes “Personal Information” . The AG has crafted language that they think will still work to achieve the goal of the legislation but alleviate some of the concerns that have been raised.

 

On a vote of 6-5, the House Health Care Committee passed S.53, a bill related to a universal, publicly financed primary care system. The version passed by the committee was approved by the Senate Heath and Welfare Committee in early March. This version of the bill requires Accountable Care Organizations and Bi-State Primary Care Association to create a draft operational model for universal primary care that is taxpayer funded. The committee declined to support the version approved by the full Senate. That bill would have required the GMCB to develop recommendations on how to achieve universal coverage through a combination of publicly-funded programs and commercial insurance. Committee members supporting the measure cited their philosophical belief that all Vermonters should have access to primary care services without cost sharing or deductibles. Those opposing said that the state is implementing a new model of paying health care providers but it has a limited amount of money and resources to expend. The Scott Administration is opposed to the bill because it requires a new tax and conflicts with the state’s current payment reform efforts.  The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee where its fate is unknown. (DRM)

 

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