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DRM Advocacy Update – Week 6 – 2023

This Update is Created by the Lake Champlain Chamber for Distribution by

February 10, 2023

As we finish week six of the 2023 session, things are starting to feel as you’d expect from any other session. The Committees are in the thick of the legislative process, which consists of hours taking testimony to refine their proposals. As the common, old Vermont saying goes, “there’s plenty of grist for the mill.” While they’re milling that grist, there is less to report, so this week, we have some rapid-fire updates. 

In this week’s update; 

Quick Updates on the Week’s Events

Here’s a quick view of the week under the golden dome. 

  • The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development continued its discussion around H.10, which would change the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive program. They heard from multiple businesses that have used the program and support continued incentives for their peers. 
  • The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare is diving into the Senate’s childcare bill. Committee Chair made it clear that this is the Committee’s primary priority this session. The committee started with an overview of the existing system. The House’s version of the bill was introduced this week.
  • The Senate Finance Committee had a high-level overview of various tax mechanisms that have been identified for numerous new programs. The Committee was provided an overview of a report we previously covered that identified the cloud tax, among others, to fund universal school meals. The Committee also received an overview of existing payroll taxes
  • The House Committee on General and Housing continued its discussion around its paid family and medical leave . The Committee spent some time contemplating the differences in eligible reasons for leave under existing law and what they are proposing with subsequent coverage with pay. The Committee also heard from representatives from the Administration about the Governor’s version of a voluntary paid family and medical leave program that is already underway and administered by a third-party insurance carrier. 
  • The Senate Committee on Finance heard from the Commissioner of the Department of Taxes as well as the Lake Champlain Chamber on behalf of a coalition of businesses in support of implementing the workaround for the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap. Recent estimates show it could save eligible taxpayers collectively between $10 and $20 million in federal taxes while netting the State about a half a million in new, additional tax revenue. 
  • The House Committee on Environment and Energy took up H.158, commonly  called the Bottle Bill. This perennial bill seeks to expand Vermont’s existing container redemption law to include additional containers while increasing the fees per container on manufacturers and distributors who would need to participate in a producer responsibility organization that manages the collection and disposition of beverage containers. 
  • The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development also started work on a data privacy bill that aims to minimize data collection by companies to that which is necessary to carry out their functions. The bill is an attempt to minimize the consequences of data breaches and further protect consumers. The bill also mandates an “opt-out” feature for consumers and envisions a general opt-out from the Secretary of State’s Office. 
  • Do you have contracts with the state? We want to hear from you; Reach out at [email protected] 

Legislators Look to Lessen Liquor Liability to Address Insurance Issues 

Vermont has for some time had higher rates of insurance for liquor liability, however, this has recently boiled over to a level in which some businesses with third-class liquor licenses have found themself uninsurable or paying extremely high rates. The International Organization of Standards (ISO) rates state’s on a scale of 0-10 based on their risk of insuring due to the state’s liquor laws, and insurers/actuaries then use that rating to set insurance premiums for businesses. A rating of 10 means the state has very strict liability. Vermont and Alabama are the only two states that have a rating of 10. Six states have 0 ratings, with the majority of other states falling equally between those extremes.  

If you are experiencing difficulty insuring or re-insuring a property for liquor liability, please reach out at [email protected]

The Legislature is responsive to the needs of the business community on this issue and is moving towards a solution. The issue had multiple overlapping committees of jurisdiction due to it covering the dram shop statute (Judiciary Committee), insurance products (Commerce Committee), and liquor control (Government Operations). At this time, the House Committee on Judiciary will take the lead on the issue, and the other two Committees will weigh in after.  

Legislators have been provided with model language that would move Vermont to the middle of the pack. Broadly, the language would need to:

  • Address our State’s strict liability statute and create accommodation for when those serving have followed their duty to the letter of the law.
  • Cap the total amount of liability as it pertains to undefined damages.
  • Better target the liability in the chain of liability to restrict the right of action to the party responsible.  

You can watch this committee discussion here. 

Public Hearing Announced on Omnibus Housing Bill 

The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs and the House Committee on General and Housing will hold a hybrid virtual and in-person public hearing on Thursday, February 16, 2023, starting at 5:00 p.m. Anyone interested in testifying about housing should sign up here in advance of the hearing through the following online form no later than 12:00 noon on February 15, 2023. Written testimony is encouraged and can be submitted electronically through e-mail at [email protected]

If lack of housing and housing affordability are challenges for your workforce, we encourage you to testify or submit written testimony. Contact [email protected] for assistance.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development is continuing to work through the details of the bill which we covered here.

The Laundry List 

There are many moving pieces, and we do our best to add the ones that don’t get a section in the newsletter yet should be on your radar here. On any given day in the State House, there are about 175 hours of committee time outside of floor time, and then the hallway, cafeteria, or other time spent legislating. 

  • Read past updates here – week 1week 2week 3week 4, week 5, and the last session’s wrap-up
  •  week 5, and the last session’s wrap-up
  • We received word this week that as of February 4th, the Vermont Economic Development Authority’s Forgivable Loan Program is closed. They are currently holding all applications received since then in the queue. The was designed by advocates to assist businesses that are suffering financially from the impacts of the pandemic. The program has $19 million appropriated to it and is now oversubscribed. This took a tremendous amount of work on the part of business advocates to create.  
  • The Greater Burlington Young Professional Community Report is here and some messages came through loud and clear. While we need more single-family homes and a manageable cost of living, there were some distinct changes between this survey and the last. Previously,  “meaningful work” ranked the most important component of a young professional’s job search. This time it was replaced with “compensation.” Additionally, safety is now one of the top concerns for those respondents, and it was listed as one of the top three challenges that a respondent would tell a friend about if they were considering relocating to the area. Despite all of this, 70% of respondents would still refer a friend to move to the greater Burlington area. 
  • Noncompete agreements for the past four years have been a topic of discussion in statehouses across the country, including our own. Now the FTC is looking to potentially ban these agreements and announced a Public Forum on the Proposed Noncompete Ban
  • The Vermont Department of Labor’s 2023 Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Report is now available and was presented to multiple committees this week.

Hey! You read the whole update. You probably have some thoughts on the content or how we delivered it. Feel free to reach out with those at [email protected]

Bills of Interest Thus Far 

We follow a wide range of bills each session, as any issue that affects the day-to-day operations of our employers warrants monitoring. While many bills are still awaiting release for introduction, here are some on our radar.