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Weekly Legislative Update: May 2, 2023

Below is our weekly legislative update!

Rep. Carolyn Branagan Update

With just a couple of weeks left in the first year of the legislative biennium, the Ways and Means Committee is putting in a lot of hours to get must-pass bills into the legislative process.

Among those bills studied are:

H.53, An act relating to driver’s license suspension

This bill gets rid of the punishment of loss of license due to non-payment of a moving violation. It also allows town clerks to charge $80 for marriage license with $15 going to the town clerk, $50 going to the Domestic and Sexual violence fund and $15 to the state treasurer.

S.100, An act relating to housing opportunities made for everyone. This bill makes changes to land use regulations, municipal zoning laws pertaining to construction and maintenance of the housing supply. The bill also appropriates funds to housing development and retention programs. We looked at the fiscal impacts of $115 million.

H.490, An act relating to approving the merger of the Village of Lyndonville with the town of Lyndonville. This is something the voters in these two communities want. Fiscal impact on the state is very low.

S.56 An act relating to child care and early childcare education. This bill continues to receive daily testimony with no end in sight. Yet, the child care and preschool bill is one I wrote to you about last week. This is a bill that would do a lot to help providers, facilities and families, but the cost is incredibly high. Nearly $130 million the first year, increasing in later years. We are getting down to the wire with adjournment a couple of weeks away. We really need input from you. The plan is to increase income tax on corporations up to 10% for the very highest earners. And also to increase the income tax on individuals at every earning level, meaning in each of the four brackets:

  • 3.35% percent would increase to 3.65%

  • 6.60% would increase to 7.30%

  • 7.60% would increase to 8.30%

  • 8.75% would increase to 9.60%

There would be an additional increase in individual income taxes coming in 2028.

During the campaign we heard from many child care providers and parents that we needed improvements to the state childcare program. What do you think of the increase in income taxes to pay for childcare? There are other changes in the bill too, but the income tax increases are the ones that bother Rep. Ashley Bartley and I the most.

Rep. Ashley Bartley Update

S.100, An act relating to housing opportunities made for everyone, once again was a focus of the House General and Housing committee, as we worked on an amendment to introduce different issues facing the housing crisis. The General and Housing committee will offer a committee amendment on eviction diversion and lead paint laws. This amendment will take two stand-alone bills that have been on the committee wall all season, H.391 an act relating to creating an eviction diversion program and H.184 an act relating to exempting an owner of rental housing from renovation, repair, painting and maintenance (RRPM) licensing agreement.

This amendment will create a pilot program for eviction diversion in both Lamoille and Windsor County, and recognizes that a majority of evictions could be solved with the aid of less than $3,000. The second portion of the amendment coming from H.184 addressed an issue within lead paint removal licensing rules and allows the owner of the property to make renovations within the property without additional painting insurance. A fee of $110 a year is required but no longer requires licensing and additional insurances that are only reserved for commercial painters.

The committee took testimony on S.103, an act relating to amending the prohibitions against discrimination. This legislation would remove the statute of “severe and pervasive” as well as abandoning the standard of “severe or pervasive” for unlawful harassment or discrimination. Current harassment statute states that harassment needs to be both “severe and pervasive”, while it is understood that the Vermont standard is harassment must be “severe OR pervasive.”

The committee also discussed including schools in the definitions of public accommodations, which would issue this new standard to schools. Many feel that the education department is not prepared nor does it have the means to implement this change. It is understood that if this bill becomes law, litigation will likely be incurred as courts must define new guidelines for unlawful harassment and discrimination.

The intent behind changing the current statute is good but this has caused many concerned within the business community. As the only member in committee with human resources experience, I have voiced my concerns and that of the many I have heard from on this topic. Due to my concerns, I will be offering an amendment that will follow California’s harassment statute that will offer enhanced protection of employees as well as provide guidance for our courts. My amendment is gaining traction among all parties.

Updates on S.5 - The Carbon Tax

Governor Phil Scott has announced he will veto S.5, the “Affordable Heat Act,” which we know to be a carbon tax. It appears the House will likely sustain the veto but in the Senate, we only need one Democrat to flip their vote and sustain Governor Scott’s veto. Contact your Senators and urge them to say no to the Carbon Tax!

His statement released last week is below.

Yesterday, the Legislature passed S.5, the so-called 'clean heat standard' bill. I will veto it, and I need your help.

From the start of this conversation, I have clearly, and repeatedly, said I agree we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, including in the thermal sector. However, I strongly believe the right approach is to help people make the transition, not financially punish those who cannot afford to do so.

Unfortunately, the Super Majority in the Legislature decided to take a completely different approach by giving an unelected commission, the Public Utility Commission (PUC), the power to design and adopt a system -- without guaranteeing the details and costs will be debated transparently through the normal legislative process, in full view of their constituents.

For these reasons and more, I will veto S.5, and I’m asking Vermonters, even the many who have already contacted their legislators, to make their voices heard and ask their representatives and senators to sustain this veto.

When I resisted the Legislature’s original approach to the bill, they inserted a ‘check back’ provision, saying it satisfied my concerns. It does not. Some claimed the bill is essentially a study. It is not.

As recently as Thursday’s debate on the Senate floor, Senators from both parties have called the check back in the bill contradictory and confusing. Even Democratic senators who voted for the bill acknowledged the check back is a ‘leap of faith,’ meaning a future Legislature could interpret the language much differently and only pass legislation that rubber stamps the rules and insulates themselves from the tough policy conversations, including details and costs. I believe it is irresponsible to move forward on a policy with such enormous consequences based on a ‘leap of faith.’

Contrary to the claims of some of the bill’s proponents, components of this program will begin implementation as early as this July – long before the legislative check back in 2025. Over, and over again, I have said if the Legislature truly intended for this policy to be transparently debated in a future legislative session, it would be crystal clear, in plain language, and there wouldn’t be this much confusion and contradiction.

This is not the kind of government Vermonters expect or deserve. But I will continue to stand up for them.

Thank you,

Rep. Carolyn Branagan

Rep. Ashley Bartley

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