2018 Legislative Wrap-Up

Posted on 7/5/2018 by Fred Kenney

2018 Legislative Wrap-Up

The Governor’s decision on June 24 to let the latest budget version pass without his signature signaled the end of the 2018 legislative session. Here is a summary of legislation passed during the 2018 session impacting business and economic development.

First, what didn’t get signed into law? Governor Scott vetoed, and the legislature did not take action to override, the Paid Family Leave (H.196), Minimum Wage bill (S.40), and two toxic substance bills (S.197 and S.103). The Governor also vetoed several versions of the budget, but the last version passed without his signature. Click here for more detail on these bills and text of the Governor’s veto statements.

Bills Passed and Signed or Allowed to go Into Effect: (For more detail on a bill, click the bill number)

H.16: The budget bill, making appropriations for FY19. The bill harnesses $20 million of surplus revenue to buy down the residential tax rate next year, and also includes language to create a statewide teacher health benefit and a task force to drive down staff-to-student ratios at preK-12 schools. While the bill would prevent a residential property tax hike, it will allow the nonresidential property tax to increase by 4.5 cents. The nonresidential rate is assessed on properties like camps, second homes and small businesses. Effective July 1, 2018.

H.136 (Act 21): Accommodations for pregnant employees. Requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s pregnancy-related condition, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Effective January 1, 2018.

H.294 (Act 126): Forbidding Inquisition of Applicant’s Prior Salary History. Prevents employers from asking applicants questions pertaining to their salary history. The bill does not make it unlawful to ask an applicant his/her desired salary if they are offered the job. Effective July 1, 2018.

H.333 (Act 127): Gender Neutral Bathrooms. Requires single-user public restrooms in Vermont to be designated gender neutral. Does not apply to restrooms with multiple toilets in the same room, which can still be restricted by gender under Vermont law. Effective July 1, 2018.

H.410 (Act 139): Energy. Adds efficiency standards for 16 products to Vermont’s appliance efficiency law. And requires the State Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) to include recommendations for State agency energy and transportation planning and requires those other plans and utility resource plans to be consistent with the CEP. Also requires submissions to the General Assembly by the Public Utility Commission and the Department of Public Service on issues relating to renewable electric generation and constrained areas of the electric utility grid. The act clarifies the enforceability of parking restrictions related to electric vehicles. Multiple effective dates, beginning on May 21, 2018

H.462 (Act 37): Social media privacy rights for employees and applicants. Prohibits an employer from requiring, requesting, or coercing an employee to provide a social media account username or password, or to present or divulge social media content to the employer. Prohibits employers from requiring or coercing an employee to add the employer to his or her list of contacts for a social media account. Includes exemptions for certain activities conducted by law enforcement agencies and for social media accounts provided by employers. It also allows an employer to request an employee to disclose specifically identified content necessary for compliance with legal or regulatory requirements, or as part of an investigation of unlawful harassment, threats of violence, or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. Effective January 1, 2018

H.511 (Act 86): Marijuana. Removes civil and criminal penalties for possession of one ounce of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants by adults 21 years of age or older. Any marijuana harvested from the plants allowed does not count toward the one-ounce possession limit. Each dwelling unit is limited to two mature marijuana plants and four immature marijuana plants regardless of how many persons 21 years of age or older reside in the dwelling unit. Personal cultivation of marijuana may only occur: (A) on property lawfully in the possession of the cultivator or with the written consent of the person in lawful possession of the property; and (B) in an enclosure that is screened from public view and is secure so that access is limited to only the cultivator and persons 21 years of age or older who have permission from the cultivator. Consumption of marijuana in a public place or in a vehicle is prohibited as is possession of an open container of marijuana in a vehicle, and violations are subject to civil penalties. Various crimes are created related to dispensing marijuana to a person under 21 years of age, enabling marijuana consumption by a person under 21 years of age, and using marijuana in a vehicle while in the presence of a person under 18 years of age. Multiple effective dates, beginning on January 22, 2018

                Article Regarding Impact of Law on Employers.

                Guidance from the Vermont Attorney General

H. 593 (Act 179): Consumer protection. Adopts consumer protection provisions relating to automatic renewal of contracts; retainage for construction materials; credit protection for vulnerable persons; and use of credit information for personal insurance. Multiple effective dates, beginning on May 28, 2018.

H.620 (Act108): State Owned Airports and economic development. Requires the Secretary of Commerce and Community Development to update the State’s Economic Development Marketing Plan to incorporate the marketing of State-owned airports. Requires the Agency of Transportation to evaluate the feasibility of installing electric vehicle charging stations at the airport, of installing electric aircraft charging stations at the airport, and of siting one or more renewable energy generating plants at the airport; and specifies that a designated area or areas at an airport may be leased to a business entity consistent with Federal Aviation Administration requirements. Effective April 25, 2018

H.707 (Act 183): Sexual Harassment. Makes numerous changes to Vermont’s laws related to sexual harassment, including:

  • requiring that a working relationship with a person hired to perform work or services be free from sexual harassment;
  • prohibiting employment contracts from containing provisions that prevent an employee from disclosing sexual harassment or waive an employee’s rights or remedies with respect to a claim of sexual harassment;
  • prohibiting agreements to settle a claim of sexual harassment from including provisions that prevent an employee from working for the employer or an affiliate of the employer in the future;
  • requiring an agreement to settle a claim of sexual harassment to state that it does not prevent the employee from reporting sexual harassment to an appropriate governmental agency, complying with a discovery request or testifying at a hearing or trial related to a claim of sexual harassment, or exercising his or her right under State or federal labor law to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection; and
  • permitting the Attorney General or Human Rights Commission to inspect a place of business or employment for purposes of determining whether the employer is complying with the law related to sexual harassment.

In addition, the act requires the Attorney General and Human Rights Commission to develop enhanced mechanisms for reporting instances of sexual harassment or workplace discrimination, directs the Vermont Commission on Women to develop education and outreach materials regarding the laws related to and best practices for preventing sexual harassment, and requires a person who files a civil action related to a claim of sexual harassment under Vermont law to provide notice of the action to the Attorney General or Human Rights Commission. Multiple effective dates, beginning on May 28, 2018

H.711 (Act 184): Crime Victims. Amends Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices Act to add crime victim status to the list of characteristics that are protected from discrimination under Vermont law. and adds a definition of “crime victim” to 21 V.S.A. § 495d. This act also allows employees who are crime victims to take unpaid leave to attend a deposition or court proceeding related to certain criminal proceedings; relief from abuse hearings; order against stalking or sexual assault hearings; or relief from abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult hearings. The act requires employers to continue employment benefits during the leave, to post notices of the provisions of the law, and, with limited exceptions, to offer an employee the same job upon his or her return from the leave. The act provides an exemption from the leave requirements if the employer provides goods or services to the general public at a location open to the general public and granting leave to the employee would require the employer to suspend all business operations at that location. Effective July 1, 2018

H. 739 (Act 150): Energy Efficiency. Makes multiple changes to the self-managed energy efficiency program, including: changing the qualifications for customer participation; authorizing energy productivity programs and measures as an eligible investment; allowing funds from outside entities to count toward a participant’s monetary commitment; and requiring that the electric energy savings from projects in the program be bid into ISO-New England’s Forward Capacity Market program if the Department of Service determines it is cost-effective to do so. The act also directs the Public Utility Commission to establish the Energy Savings Account Partnership (ESA) Pilot Program as an expansion of the existing ESA option. The Pilot Program will allow a participant, working with Efficiency Vermont, to place the participant’s electric efficiency charge payments in an ESA and then use 100 percent of the funds on the participant’s own energy efficiency projects. The Pilot Program will last for three years after which the Public Utility Commission will conduct an evaluation and report to the General Assembly about whether or not the Pilot Program should be continued Effective July 1, 2018

H.919 (Act 189): Workforce Development. Adopts multiple provisions relating to workforce development, including: creating a stakeholder alignment, coordination, and engagement process; adopting provisions relating to career pathways, Career Technical Education programs, adult training programs, and workforce training; creating the Vermont Returnship Program; adopting provisions to grow the workforce and increase participation in it; and adopting provisions relating to data collection and monitoring of programs. Effective July 1, 2018

S. 34 (Act 77) Rural Economic Development. Enacts multiple provisions related to rural economic development:

  • Creates a Rural Economic Development Initiative at the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to facilitate economic development in small towns and rural areas of the State.
  • Requires cross-promotion of various State policies in State loan, grant, and other financial assistance programs.
  • requires the Department of Public Service to report to the General Assembly regarding self-administration of the energy efficiency charge by industrial and commercial customers.
  • Requires the Public Service Board when adopting the energy efficiency charge to give due consideration to State energy policy, including the maintenance and enhancement of economic vitality.
  • Exempts forestry equipment and repair parts from the sales and use tax.
  • Caps the air contaminant permit fee for emissions from anaerobic digesters at $1,000.00.
  • Clarifies that phosphorus removal technology is eligible for assistance under the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets’ capital assistance program.
  • Requires the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets to reconvene the Vermont Milk Commission to review recommendations for the 2018 Federal Farm Bill.
  • Requires the Commissioner of Financial Regulation to study ways to reduce the workers’ compensation rates and costs for occupations that have a high risk of workplace injuries, small policyholder pools, and high premiums.

 Multiple effective dates, beginning on June 12, 2017

S.85 (Act 196) State Government’s Business Portal. Directs the Secretary of State and others to review and report on substantive steps to enhance the Secretary’s one-stop portal for businesses. Multiple effective dates, beginning on May 30, 2018

S. 94 (Act 197): Remote Workers. Creates a new remote worker grant program; creates the ThinkVermont Innovation Initiative; funds economic development marketing. Effective July 1, 2018

S.269 (Act 205): Blockchain Technology. Modifies the definition of “blockchain” and “blockchain technology”; enables the creation and regulation of personal information protection companies; creates studies for expanding the use and promotion of blockchain technology; enables the creation of blockchain-based limited liability companies; and creates a study for the potential use of blockchain technology in government records. Effective July 1, 2018

S.276 (Act 194): Rural Economic Development: Enacts or amends provisions related to rural economic development, forestry, and agriculture:

  • Amends the authority of the Rural Economic Development Initiative to focus on grant assistance to small towns and rural areas.
  • Establishes an Outdoor Recreation Friendly Community Program administered by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (DFPR) and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) to provide incentives for communities to promote outdoor recreation assets.
  • Provides that a forest operation requiring an Act 250 permit shall be reviewed as a minor application if it is: a sawmill annually producing 3.5 million board feet or less; or is a forestry operation annually producing 3,500 cords or less of firewood or cordwood or 10,000 tons or less of bole wood, whole tree chips, or wood pellets.
  • Requires the Commission on Act 250: the Next 50 Years to evaluate Act 250 regulation of trails and the economic impact of Act 250 permits on forestry operations.
  • Renames the Farm Viability Program as the Farm and Forest Viability Program and amends the program’s authority to address both the agricultural and forest sectors.
  • Requires the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) to adopt by rule a process for certifying nutrient management technical service providers.
  • Beginning on July 1, 2019, a nutrient management technical service provider shall not create a nutrient management plan for a farm unless certified by AAFM.
  • Provides that until July 1, 2019, a farmer installing a pipeline in a wetland for manure transport shall pay a $200.00 permit fee instead of $0.75 per foot, when the pipeline serves a water quality or conservation practice.
  • On or before January 15, 2019, the act requires the Secretary of Natural Resources to report to the General Assembly regarding whether or how wetlands permit fees should be lowered for activities that serve a water quality benefit or conservation practice.
  • Grants AAFM authority needed to enforce the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce for human consumption. The enforcement authority granted to AAFM includes authority to issue cease and desist orders, administrative orders, and verbal orders to protect public health.
  • Provides that livestock are not transported to a slaughter facility until offloaded from a transport conveyance at a facility.
  • Provides that motor vehicles used for forestry or harvesting shall not be subject to the purchase and use tax for motor vehicles.
  • Exempts advanced wood boilers from the sales and use tax.
  • Requires ACCD to recommend to the General Assembly a program under which parcels in rural areas are designated as industrial parks for the purposes of providing regulatory and permitting incentives to businesses sited in the industrial park.
  • Requires the Department of Public Service to report to the General Assembly on the effect of electric utility demand charges on the ability of industrial enterprises to locate in rural towns of the State
  • Makes several technical amendments to the process for participation of managed forestland in the use value appraisal program (UVA).

      Multiple effective dates, beginning on May 30, 2018