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Weekly Legislative Update: February 6, 2023

It was great to attend the Lake Champlain Chamber Legislative Breakfast on Monday, February 6th. We heard from Mayor Miro Weinberger who spoke on public safety. We also heard from the Lt. Governor, who reaffirmed his desire for universal health care and paid family leave; both which could come with substantial tax increase.

Paid Family Leave

In the General & Housing Committee, a majority of our time this week will be surrounding the Paid Family Leave (H.66). As written by the Lake Champlain Chamber:

“The bill would be among the most generous created. The proposal includes:

  • Offering 12-weeks of leave at 100% wage replacement up to the state’s average weekly wage of $1,001.

  • The system would be funded by a 0.58% payroll tax split evenly between the employer and employee.

  • Anyone employing one or more individuals in Vermont would need to comply while extending Vermont’s FMLA coverage

  • Only two-quarters of wages would be necessary to be eligible, designed to bring in seasonal and part-time workers who were previously ineligible.

  • Eligible employees would be able to take leave for parental bonding, bereavement (two weeks), their own medical reason, or the medical reasons of any family member.

  • A family member under the program is defined to include “other individual with whom the qualified individual has a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship”

The bill creates a Division of Family and Medical Leave within the Office of the Treasurer and appropriates $20 million of general fund dollars to start the insurance’s special fund, which would then need to grow to at least $80 million to remain solvent. The Legislature would be responsible for setting the tax rate, annually, to ensure that the fund can cover its obligations. Under the proposal, the rulemaking would subside by April 1, 2025, and the collection of a payroll tax would begin on July 1, 2025, with benefits eligibility in late 2026.”

As we face a pending recession, the question we have to ask is now a good time to increase taxes? Rhode Island has implemented a Paid Family Leave for decades and has only now increased the wage replacement rate up to 60%, should we really be starting at 100%? We agree with Governor Scott in that we should wait to see how the voluntary paid leave program works with the Vermont State Employees before we implement a mandatory program.

Clean Heat Standard

There is legislation in the senate (S.5) which the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources estimates the plan could effectively add a tax of $0.70 per gallon on kerosene, heating oil, and propane – a cost of $1.2 billion to the state economy. We will keep you updated on this bill, as well as other Carbon Tax initiatives sponsored by the other side.

Budget Adjustment Act Update and First Roll Call Vote

This past week in the statehouse the House of Representatives completed work on the budget Adjustment bill (H.145) and sent it over to the Senate.

All revenue bills have to start in the House, including bills that adjust former bills. The Budget Adjustment bill is an annual bill, which always takes work, usually one of the first tasks of the new legislative session.

This year the Budget Adjustment bill made several changes. These changes included:

  • $50 million to create perpetually affordable housing.

  • $13 million for temporary housing for those in need.

  • $1 for the Lund Center in Burlington.

  • $9.25 for mental health treatment for youth.

  • $925,000 for community based mental health teen treatment.

  • $1.5 mil for the computers in the court system.

  • $86 million for Medicaid.

  • $51 million for Graduate Medical Education.

  • $22 million Brattleboro retreat.

  • $6.8 million Dept. Of Corrections recruitment and retention for staff and $680,000 for health services.

  • And other programs.

There was one change that caught attention. An addition of $9.2 million for organic farmers to help them pay bills. We received several calls from organic farmers in the county about this appropriation and while it is true, the organic farmers, like many other businesspeople can certainly use the extra cash, the money did nothing to solve the structural problem that faces them.

The biggest problem faced by the organic farmers is that they are locked into a price for their milk by contract. Even though the costs they experience for supplies like grain and diesel and the costs for services like those from veterinarians may increase, their milk price does not change. Costs for these farmers have increased in the last few months by 30-40%. Most organic farmers have a profit margin of only 10-12%. Conventional farmers also do not have an easy row, but their milk has price protection.

During the discussion on the House floor Rep. McCarthy from St. Albans City moved to amend the bill and part of his amendment was to set $9.2 million new appropriation aside so it would be saved for use by organic farmers, The Agency on Agriculture was required to come up with a plan to help these organic farmers long term. This was a good idea. So the $9.2 million was a nice cash gift, but it did not solve the problem.

What do we do to solve their problem? That problem needs to be solved by the Agency of Agriculture. The $9.2 would no longer be a cash handout, it would be used with guidance from the Agency of Agriculture on a plan to help them with this structural problem. The amendment passed unanimously.

We expect to hear back from the Agency on Agriculture by mid-March and will act on their proposal to help the long-term troubles experienced by our 136 organic farmers in Vermont. Hopefully they will give us a plan that will start to solve the problem faced by our organic farmers with their locked milk prices.

So the $9.2 million has been set aside for organic farmers and will be set in motion next month after recommendation by the Agency of Agriculture. The rest of the Budget Adjustment Bill has been sent to the Senate for their action.

Please contact one or both of us with concerns about this or any other area of state government. We want to hear from you!

Rep. Ashley Bartley |

Rep. Carolyn Branagan |

Franklin-1, Georgia-Fairfax

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