Editor’s note: The following is the Campaign for Vermont March 7 newsletter.
Friend, so here it is. We are less than a week away from the crossover deadline in the legislature. This is the drop-dead point where a bill must be voted out of one legislative body (the House/Senate) in order to be considered by the other. If a bill does not make crossover it will likely have to wait until next year for final passage. That being said, making the crossover deadline does not guarantee a bill will pass or that it won’t change significantly before it does.
So, now that that’s out of the way. What bills have already made crossover you ask? Here is a breakdown.
The House has passed:
- H.315 – An act relating to COVID-19 relief
- “Prefunds” the state employees pension and other post-employment funds with an additional $20M.
- Re-allocates $15M in unallocated reserves for school air quality measures.
- Creates $10M in business grants administered by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
- Gives the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board an additional $10M to combat homelessness.
- Bolsters mental health services with an additional $5.3M.
- Offers New Americans, refugees, and immigrants $700k in translation, telehealth, Covid-19 testing, and vaccination programs.
- Appropriates an additional $1.3M for families in the Reach Up program.
- Adds an additional $1.4M in funding for the Vermont Food Bank.
- Puts an additional $2.2M towards the Covid-response line extension program and customer assistance programs for broadband.
- Other various program enhancements related to pandemic response totaling $13.3M.
- H.338 – An act relating to reapportionment proposal deadlines
- H.199 – An act relating to validating legal instruments used in connection with the conveyance of real estate
- H.135 – An act relating to the State Ethics Commission
- Moves required disclosures for executive officers and commission members from every two year to every year.
- Staggers terms on the Ethics Commission so that no more than two seats expire in a given year.
- Allows the Executive Director to hire staff deemed necessary by the Commission.
- Limits who can request advisory opinions to just those persons covered by the code of ethics in order to avoid misuse.
- Prepares the Commission to introduce an official state code of ethics next year.
- H.89 – An act relating to limiting liability for agritourism
- H.122 – An act relating to boards and commissions
- H.81 – An act relating to statewide public school employee health benefits
- H.20 – An act relating to pretrial risk assessments and pretrial services
- H.18 – An act relating to sexual exploitation of children
- H.151 – An act relating to vital records, mausoleums and columbaria, and emergency health orders
The Senate has passed:
- S.11 – An act relating to prohibiting robocalls
- S.45 – An act relating to earned discharge from probation
- S.86 – An act relating to miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels
- S.87 – An act relating to emergency provisions for the operation of government
- S.18 – An act relating to limiting earned good time sentence reductions for offenders convicted of certain crimes
- S.42 – An act relating to establishing the Emergency Service Provider Wellness Commission
- S.36 – An act relating to modifications to the use of certain Coronavirus Relief Fund appropriations
Passed by both:
- S.14 – An act relating to deed restrictions and housing density
- H.138 – An act relating to fiscal year 2021 budget adjustments
- S.9 – An act relating to extending certain workers’ compensation amendments related to COVID-19
- H.48 – An act relating to authorizing alternative procedures for 2021 annual municipal meetings in response to COVID-19
Overall, we think this is a pretty uninspiring set of bills. Are the pandemic assistance bills necessary? Definitely. However, they do little more than plug holes in Vermont’s existing safety net programs. We consider the ethics bill a win, but it’s an incremental change at best. Senate Government Operations has also put together a comprehensive elections bill (which we expect to pass) to address some of the hurdles voters and government officials faced in November. Bills like the children exploitation, prohibiting robocalls, and criminal justice reforms might make legislators feed good but should they really be the priority right now? The highlights might well be the pension prefunding and statewide employee health benefits as they at least attempt to address financial issues facing the state.
What is noticeably missing is any ostensible effort at economic recovery or getting small Vermont businesses back on their feet. Arguably the only bill with even a tenuous connection to economic recovery is the agritourism liability bill. But even that is a stretch. Honestly, looking at the remaining bills in play we are not too hopeful that a comprehensive bill will pull together in the next week. Our hope at this point is that a bill being worked on by the House Commerce Committee makes it over to the Senate and can be used as a vehicle for a more comprehensive plan. This is something we are paying close attention to and are weighing in on now.