Thank you to this week’s sponsor of our Advocacy Update:
April 1, 2022
This week, we’re doing something slightly different due to how legislative business has played out. The update has two sections; a check-in on items that have been passed from one legislative body to the other and the typical laundry list. These sections link back to the most recent updates we’ve put out in previous weeks on these issues for your convenience.
In this week’s update:
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at [email protected]
The House and Senate Assess Each Other’s Work and Position for Future Negotiations
As we discussed in last week’s update, the beginning of this week marked a turning point in the session. Legislators sent their larger bills, which they spent the first half of the session on, to the other legislative chamber and are now working through what their colleagues have sent them.
- The Senate was able to advance S.226, the omnibus housing bill, after agreeing to language to resolve the long-disputed contractor registry attached to the bill. The floor amendment to the bill raises the threshold for the registry to $10,000 and creates a two-year full-time position within the Consumer Assistance Program. As the floor amendment broke the potential impasse on S.226, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife had already begun walking through the bill.
- The House Natural Committee also began walking through S.234, the Senate’s Act 250 legislation. As we’ve previously covered, the House’s legislation was much more narrow than the Senate’s. It appears that the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy does not intend to take up H.492, the Act 250 bill the House sent them.
- The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy began walking through the House’s Clean Heat Standard bill and took some initial testimony.
- While not in possession of the omnibus economic development bill yet, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee walked through the VEDA forgivable loan program, replacing the economic recovery grant program passed last session.
- The Senate started to walk through their House counterparts’ Omnibus Workforce Bill with somewhat muted initial input. What will be important to watch is how each of these Committees handles the price tag of what was sent to them. The Workforce Bill had its appropriation cut in half, and the House budget did not accommodate for the roughly $100 million in spending from the Omnibus Economic Development Bill.
- This week, the House Education Committee worked on S.100, which provides universal school meals, and decided to go beyond the $36 million reserved in the yield bill, which would cover the program’s cost next year after federal funds are not available. The Committee decided to add taxes on candy, sugar-sweetened beverages, and internet services (this might complete your 2022 legislative bingo card; please send it to our team). While LCC has supported universal school meal funding this session, we cannot support these regressive and unnecessary taxes or a massive change in state policy to start taxing services. This is especially unnecessary when the yield bill has the funding to cover the cost.
- The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to not concur with the Senate’s amendments to S.53, the corporate tax bill. The latest fiscal note can be found here. The bill will now go to a Committee of Conference as we’ve long anticipated. As VTDigger explored this week, the conversation likely won’t be limited to this bill and will cover the many differences between Ways and Means and Senate Finance on the cloud tax, child tax credit, and other tax proposals.
- Legislative reapportionment has passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously. Despite the ease of passage, not everyone is happy with the result, as to be expected. Of course, there is still some annoyance that the House did not take the Legislative reapportionment Board’s recommendation for single-member House districts. There are some oddities to the new maps; for example, Stowe is getting pulled into Washington County to be represented by its three Senators. Chittenden 6-5, which contains Burlington’s south-end neighborhoods, will be split off into a Senate district with Jericho, Underhill, and other more rural towns. Fairfax will be moved into a two-member district with its neighbor Georgia.
The Laundry List
- Here are links to our past advocacy updates from this legislative session: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, and Week 11.
- Great news on H2-B visas: the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security is adding another 35,000 non-agriculture visas starting today, a large relief to our tourism industry. About 23,000 of those will be for returning workers here in the previous three fiscal years.
- Congressional Directed Spending (formerly called earmarks) requests are due April 18th for Congressman Peter Welch’s office and April 27th for Senator Sanders’ office.
- The Senate unanimously passed S.286, addressing unfunded liabilities in the pension fund by implementing the final recommendations of the Pension Benefits, Design, and Funding Task Force created by the Legislature in Act 75 (2021). The steps in the bill will save the state upwards of $1.7 billion. This bill contains a $200 million one-time General Fund appropriation in FY 2022 and a $13.3 million one-time Education Fund appropriation in FY 2022 to begin pre-funding health care benefits for retired teachers. You can read the whole JFO fiscal note here.
- The House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs discussed H.681, which looks at creating a statutory definition for “cider,” something some in the industry have long considered. The new definition would be: “cider would be a vinous beverage, made a majority from the fermented natural sugar content of apples or pears, that contains an alcoholic content of not less than one percent or more than 16 percent by volume at 60 degrees F. Cider includes sweetened, flavored, and carbonated cider.” Anything covered under this definition would be taxed at 26.5 cents/gallon instead of the current vinous beverage tax of 55 cents/gallon.
- S.181 passed the Senate, providing a smorgasbord of miscellaneous regulatory authority for municipal governments. One item that caught our eye was new language expanding the enumerated powers to address “uninhabited” properties under 24 V.S.A. § 2291 to “vacant, or blighted” properties.
- H.329, a bill lowering the threshold of discrimination bill, has been moving right along despite missing crossover, and this week, the Committee came to an agreement on the language around public accommodations and struck language that would have instructed the courts to “construed liberally to accomplish its remedial purposes…” (see full language in earlier version). The latest amendment can be found here.
- The Tax Foundation rolled out its annual Tax and Figures report. Vermont ranked number 1 in revenue per capita and unfavorable in a few other categories. See the full report here.
- The Joint Rules Committee changed mask policies in the legislature this week: masks will not be required in most places other than committee rooms, while Washington County is listed by the CDC as at high risk for transmission. Still, many members and lobbyists in the building continued wearing masks.