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Weekly Legislative Update: May 12, 2023

S.5 - The “Affordable Heat Act” aka the Carbon Tax

Yesterday, the Vermont House of Representatives completed their long sought out goal of enacting a carbon tax by

overriding Governor Scott’s. I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto. According to the Secretary of Natural Resources, the per gallon tax on home heating fuels will likely begin at $0.70 per gallon. I suspect this will be, and should be, a major campaign theme next year.

S.39 - Legislative Pay and Benefit Increase

On the same day the Vermont House of Representatives overrode Governor Scott’s veto of the carbon tax, the body voted itself a pay raise. I voted no.

As Montpelier continues to raise taxes, fees, and balloons our state budget; and while Vermonters are facing record inflation, volatile food prices, a housing crisis and the threat of a recession, I cannot in good conscious vote in favor of legislation that will provide both a pay raise and more benefits to Legislators.

S.103 - An act relating to amending the prohibitions against discrimination

As an HR professional, I have dedicated my career to ending discriminatory practices in the workplace and know that a majority of employers want to do the best for their employees.

The underlying goal of this bill is good. However, employers and employees need the opportunity to take steps to address issues in their workplace and improve the overall health of the work environment for current and future employees.

I proposed an amendment that I believe does encourage progressive internal processes, such as restorative justice practices providing for protection of all employees, rather than effectively cutting out those internal grievance processes that the current legislation does.

I’ve been wanting to present this amendment for weeks, but once again, the Majority Leadership adjusted the process and I was unable to present an amendment until the day it’s being taken up on the floor and for only 15 minutes. The amendment failed, unsurprisingly, along party lines 7-3-2.

You can read the full testimony here:

In the end, knowing what was going to happen on the floor, I pulled my amendment and the bill passed without these protections.

S.100 - An act relating to housing opportunities made for everyone

I was proud to vote in support of S.100, the Senate omnibus housing bill. The bill passed overwhelmingly 135-11. If you recall, there was a lot of frustration over the process of this bill. My committee, the House Committee on General and Housing was unable to take up any of the Act 250 portions of the bill. I do believe, because of our loud protest and highlights of the fractured process, the House Committee on Energy and Environment left in much of the Act 250 portions of the bill.

After the vote I stated the following on the floor.

“Madam Speaker: While S.100 does not go far enough to address the housing crisis and much needed Act 250 reform, my hope is that we use the momentum of this bill as not only a vehicle but more importantly a promise to Vermonters to address pro-housing Act 250 reform next session.”

Child Care Update

There is a lot to digest with the Child Care legislation. There have been competing proposals on how to finance this legislation, in both bodies of the legislature. The House Majority Leadership wanted to increase income taxes to fund the bill while the Senate wanted to use a payroll tax.

The major issue I and many others have had with the House childcare proposal was the funding mechanism. The income tax increase would have been on all Vermonters receiving an income, regardless of income levels or age.

There seems to be support among the business community to support the payroll tax proposal. The Vermont Business Roundtable and many other pro-business organizations have clearly stated they believe this bill is a workforce development and economic growth bill. By providing more means for child care throughout Vermont, the payroll tax cost wouldn’t be a blip as productivity and growth in the labor force would provide further opportunity for growth.

An agreement was struck late last night between the two chambers on using the payroll tax option. The House also was able to return the Child Tax Credit which was stripped from the Senate proposal earlier in the year.

The bill is coming to the floor today and I anticipate it is going to be a long night. I ran on the child care issue and strongly believe this crisis needs immediate action. However, I am concerned about raising taxes on Vermonters and businesses; especially when we are already ballooning our state budget, passing the ramp up to a carbon tax, and increasing legislative pay by 50%.

I am watching this bill very closely and welcome any feedback on how to address the growing child care crisis.

In the news:

"Vermont House approves bill to double legislative pay by 2027" by Shaun Robinson,

After hours of debate this week, the Vermont House approved legislation on Thursday that would increase legislators’ pay by 2027 — a move supporters have argued will make serving in Montpelier more accessible for people from diverse backgrounds.

Under the bill, S.39, lawmakers also would be eligible for the same health insurance coverage — with the same premium split — as state employees. The pay increases would take effect starting in 2025, which supporters have been keen to note, arguing that they want to raise the salaries of future classes of lawmakers, not their own.

The legislation cleared the House Thursday afternoon on a voice vote, after gaining preliminary approval Wednesday, 102-44. While many Democratic and Progressive lawmakers spoke in support of the bill over some two hours of floor discussion on Wednesday, it faced strong pushback from a number of Republican members.

"VT. Bills would expand Medicaid child birth coverage" by Alexandra Montgomery, WCAX

“I had a child in early 2022 and had a really difficult time breastfeeding myself,” said Rep. Ashley Bartley, R-Fairfax. She says it was her own struggles postpartum that prompted her to sponsor the measure. She says Medicaid currently covers a pump after a baby is born.

“That leaves out any parent who might struggle or there might be a mother/child separation. So, in terms of NICU, premature babies often have a hard time feeding, any sort of anatomical issues that might happen that, obviously, doctors might not know about prior to birth."

The bill also requires Medicaid to provide a pump per child instead of one every three years. Ginger Irish with the Department of Vermont Health Access says Vermont Medicaid is evaluating breast pump coverage policies to ensure equitable, medically informed access to breast pumps and that they are expanding postpartum coverage from 60 days after birth to 12 months. Bartley says bills like these show a change in the Vermont Statehouse. “There’s this whole kind of subject of legislation that we haven’t seen before, but because we are seeing those younger voices -- especially younger voices of families come through -- they understand what our growing needs of young Vermonters need,” she said.

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