Legislative Update Week 7
Activity continues at a furious pace under the Dome leading up to Town Meeting and cross-over (when bills cross from one body to the other or die). The trajectory is towards initiatives that will increase the burden on business, remove the few economic development tools available, and ignore the major issues that will impact the economy in the long run, such as the burgeoning state liability for retired state employee and teacher pensions.
The next Grange Legislative breakfast is Monday, Feb 24 at the Orwell Firehouse from 7-9.
A new category of taxation created: House Committee on Ways and Means created new, draft language to apply to Software as a Service which potentially expands what might be covered. The new language is aimed at “vendor-hosted prewritten computer software” which it defines as “prewritten computer software that is accessed through the internet or a vendor-hosted server regardless of whether the access is permanent or temporary and regardless of whether any downloading occurs.”
Potential increase in energy costs: Senate Committee on Finance considered S.267 this week, a bill aimed at increasing the Renewable Energy Standard, or RES, that the state imposes on utilities. Currently, under the RES adopted in 2015 utilities are expected to procure 75% of their energy from renewable energy by 2032. An additional Tier II requirement currently requires that 10% of that energy comes from small-scale, in-state renewable energy projects. Under the language in S.267, the overall RES would increase to 100% and the Tier II requirement would be doubled to 20%. Green Mountain Power told the committee that they can handle an increase in the RES to 100%, however, an increase in Tier II would be prohibitively expensive, costing ratepayers an additional $15-25 million per year.
VEGI Comes Under Continued Attack: The House Committee on Ways and Means has been discussing H.640 which would require disclosure of proprietary business information including payroll, employment and capital investments. Currently, that information is reported in the aggregate and company-specific information is available to policy-makers and the auditor through the Joint Fiscal Office. Fred testified against the bill as written on behalf of the RDCs. In a mid-week straw poll, nearly half of committee members showed support for putting the program on hold for a year.
Act 250 "Reform" limps along: House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife passed the Act 250 "reform" bill, H926, by a vote of 6-3-2 and it is very likely the two members absent would have voted against the proposal. The House Committee on Ways and Means voted 9-1 this week in favor of an amendment to strike increases in permit fees proposed in the bill. The fee increases, most notably an additional $3 dollars per $1,000 of project construction costs, were added to fund the operations of the new board model and appeals process. Friday's vote effectively terminates the controversial plan for a new Natural Resources Board. The work on this bill is far from over. The House committees on Judiciary, Appropriations, and potentially Commerce and Economic Development will need to review the proposed changes before the bill could make it to the floor. If it survives a full vote from the House, it might not have the warmest welcome in the Senate which will be left with little time to review and make substantive changes. A high-level overview can be read below and the full bill can be read here.
Vote on Minimum Wage Veto Override awaits arm-twisting: The State House was a-buzz this week with speculation and rumors of when the Speaker would bring a veto override of the minimum wage bill to a vote and pressure on House members to fall into party lines. The bill was procedurally fine for a vote on Wednesday, however, it was delayed and indicators point to a potential vote when the House reconvenes Tuesday.
Global Warming Solutions Act: The House voted 105-37 on Friday to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act, well above the 100 votes needed to override a veto, though there was no indication one might come. The bill sets emissions standards for the State and allows the State to be sued if the standards are not met.
Let’s Grow Kids Briefs House Committee with Childcare Solutions: Business leaders joined Let’s Grow Kids in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee to convey the message that the early education workforce is critical to support Vermont’s workforce goals. They recommended immediate investments, including additional funding for Vermont’s T.E.A.C.H scholarship program that supports early educators, as well as new initiatives like a student loan repayment program and a temporary wage support program for an early educator.
Working Lands Enterprise Initiative Update: House Commerce and Economic Development Committee received an update on the WLEI.The House Ag Committee is asking House Appropriations to add $200,000 to the Working Lands line, per request of the Agency. Several Addison County businesses have utilized this program.
See Downs, Rachlin, Martin Update Here