2019 Washington County Legislative Delegation
Congressional Delegation 2019-2020 115th Congress
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Legislative Update- May 3, 2019
Paying the Piper
Vermont’s business community often complains about the cost of legislative mandates – grievances that are frequently met with a degree of apathy in Statehouse committee rooms.
This year, lawmakers are getting a more up-close view of the impact of unfunded mandates on the cost of other state programs. Costs that some legislators seemed to think could be buried in business balance sheets or spread across state government have become impossible to ignore.
A case in point is a bill, S.23, which would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. The bill was expected to sail through the legislature early in the session, but instead, with only two weeks to go in the session, lawmakers are grappling with the unanticipated effect it will have on several areas of the state budget.
The most noteworthy impact is on frail elderly and disabled Vermonters who rely on the state’s home health agencies, adult day centers, nursing homes, and other long-term care providers for help with bathing, dressing and other basic needs – services which are largely provided by low-wage employees. Because these programs are provided almost exclusively under the Medicaid program, those organizations have asked the state for a Medicaid rate increase to keep pace with a higher minimum wage.
Last week, the House General committee agreed to a one-year fix that is anticipated to provide an additional $1.52 million in payments to these organizations. The bill is pending in the House Appropriations Committee where a final decision is expected next week.
Lawmakers are finding that the minimum wage debate is interwoven with other state programs as well. A higher minimum wage means a net loss of income for many low-income workers due to the loss of child care subsidies. And if child care subsidies are increased, that can result in a loss of food stamps. Legislators are trying to figure out how to keep all of these threads from unraveling one of the highest-priority bills for Democratic leaders.
The cost of cleaning up Lake Champlain has proven to be equally elusive, with the legislature struggling to raise the money to pay for an EPA-mandated cleanup plan.
The House Ways & Means Committee finally settled on a plan today that would, in part, pay for cleanup costs by diverting 4 percent of the state’s rooms & meals which would otherwise go the education fund. Ironically, that diversion comes two days after the Senate Finance Committee found out that the Education Fund is projected to have a $4 million shortfall next year.
The biggest deferred obligation that the legislature faces, by far, is the state’s unfunded pension plan liability, which has grown by a whopping 5,000 percent in nine years – from $46.6 million in 2009 to $2.3 billion in 2018. As we wrote in last week’s Legislative Update, the legislature’s failure to pay for its earlier pension plan commitments is, by default, slowly consuming an ever-greater share of the state budget.
While a handful of lawmakers have begun to sound an alarm, the issue of unfunded liabilities has received scant attention from legislative committees. That is likely to change next year when the state’s required annual payment to amortize past unpaid liabilities reaches $208 million.
Senate committee overhauls paid leave bill
The Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee plans to vote Monday on H.107, the paid family leave bill.
House committee approves cannabis legislation
The House Government Operations Committee completed several weeks of exhaustive review of a Senate-passed bill to tax and regulate cannabis on Thursday night and passed it on a 10-1 vote. Read more
Clean water funding debated in Ways and Means
As expected, the House Committee on Ways and Means worked this week to identify funding for the clean water governance proposal that would be created by S.96. Read more
Panel supports opt-out for health records
The House Health Care Committee took testimony this week on the Vermont Information Technology Leaders current consent policy.
Panel passes social services integration bill
The House Health Care Committee advanced S.7, a bill that evaluates the extent to which social services are integrated into Vermont’s health care system and OneCare Vermont, the state’s only accountable care organization. Read more
Panel advances informed health care decisions bill
The House Health Care Committee on Friday gave its approval to S.31, a bill that aims to provide consumers with information to make informed health care decisions. Read more
Rural health bill passes Senate
The Senate gave its final approval to H.528, a bill that creates a Rural Health Services Task Force. Read more
House panel approves ambulatory surgical center licensing fee, declines to add provider tax
After the House Health Care Committee advanced S.73 last week, the Ways and Means Committee voted to approve a proposed $600 licensing fee that would pay for the Department of Health to administer the bill’s ambulatory surgical center licensing program. Read more
Senate panel proposes next steps to drug importation
During its final meetings this session, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took testimony this week on S.136, a bill that would establish a wholesale importation program for prescription drugs from Canada. Read more
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For more information about this Legislative Update, please contact Tricia Augeri.