Check here every week during the legislative session for a Legislative Update from Downs Rachlin Martin Government Affairs Group.
Legislative Update March 17, 2017
For at least a decade, Vermont lawmakers have had to close an annual budget gap. It was a relatively smooth process during the six years of the Shumlin Administration, with lawmakers working behind the scenes with agency officials to cobble together balanced budgets by raising fees and taxes and tweaking spending. With a Republican now occupying the Fifth Floor office, it is not surprising that the collaboration with the Democratic General Assembly has ended. Nonetheless, budget writers have become increasingly frustrated at the administration’s unwillingness to assist them with alternatives to Gov. Phil Scott’s budget. That frustration erupted into public view this week after House budget writers asked agency heads to model what would happen if their budgets were cut by ten percent. Budget and Finance Commissioner Andy Pallito sent a memo to department heads directing them to support the governor’s original budget and not to work with House Appropriations Committee members on alternative spending reductions.
In some respects, the lawmakers’ frustration is understandable. The governor’s education spending plans were based on the premise that the legislature would pass a bill in January to freeze school spending and force school districts to raise teacher health care contributions. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. Democrats argue that because the governor’s proposal was politically unpalatable, he should help them design an alternative.
The problem Democrats face is that their complaints about budget details are lost on a public that seems entirely sympathetic to the bigger picture that Scott has painted of fiscal austerity and job growth. After presenting lawmakers with a budget, the governor can plausibly tell lawmakers to develop their own plan if they don’t like his. Democrats are further hamstrung by their adoption of the basic premises of the governor’s economic plan. They have agreed not to raise taxes or fees. They agree with the need for new spending on pre-k and higher education. And they agree that on the need for more economic development. The foundation of any successful negotiation is the ability to walk away, but having tacitly accepted Scott’s basic governance principles – and facing a nearly-immutable deadline for passing a budget – lawmakers have little leverage to force a compromise.
Use Tax ‘Hold Harmless’ Option May be Cheaper
The House Ways and Means Committee is considering a proposal from the Vermont Department of Taxes to reduce the amount of use tax a person can pay without providing records to prove his or her tax liability. Read more
Senate Committee Approves Economic Development Bill
A Senate committee has put together a broad-ranging economic development bill, S.135, that makes modest changes to economic development programs, includes a study of how changes to the minimum wage affect the “benefits cliff” and a study of the risks and rewards of new developments in the field of financial technology. Read more
Far-Reaching Toxic Chemical Bill Takes Smaller Bite
A toxic chemicals bill that incorporates recommendations of a working group on the use of chemicals of “emerging” concern has been narrowed to include a provision that would create an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management and another that would require testing of groundwater before it is used as a potable water supply. Read more
Commission on Act 250: The Next 50 Years
The House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee worked late on Friday to approve a bill, H.424, that recognizes the historical significance of the state’s first land use control law, Act 250, and creates a commission to recommend revisions aimed at development in the next 50 years. Read more
Employee Use of Social Media Topic of Debate
An employee’s right to use his or her own blog, Facebook account or electronic device without oversight by an employer is the topic of a bill approved late today by the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. Read more
Committee Raises Age for Tobacco Purchases
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave its unanimous approval on Friday to a bill, S.88, that would increase the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21. Read more
Emergency Responders Seek Coverage for PTSD Claims
The House Commerce Committee spent two days this week considering a bill, H.197, that would create a presumption that post-traumatic stress suffered by police officers, ambulance workers and firefighters is work-related and therefore compensable under the workers’ compensation system. Read more
Committee Declines Effort to Create New Telecom Merger Standard
The House Energy and Technology Committee took testimony this week on H.392, a bill that would have required any merger or consolidation of telecommunications companies be consistent with the state’s telecommunications plan. Read more
Changes Approved for Telephone Lifeline Program
The House Energy and Technology Committee approved legislation this week, H.216, that makes changes in the state’s Lifeline program in response to changes in federal regulations. Read more
Commerce Recommits to Independent Contractor Reform
Mid-week rumors of the death of independent contractor legislation turned out to be unfounded. After a long and divisive hearing on Tuesday, it was reported that House Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, had thrown in the towel until the various parties could reach agreement. Read more
Panel Advances ACO Governance Bill
The Senate passed S.4 this week after a unanimous vote by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday. Read more
Hospitals May be Required to Employ Sexual Assault Nurses
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Friday passed S.95, a bill that would require all critical access hospitals to offer patients care from an employee who is also a certified sexual assault nurse examiner or have access to a shared regional staffing pool that provides that service. Read more
Unanimous Support for Mental Health Commission
The House Health Care Committee on Thursday unanimously approved H.145, a bill that would establish a Mental Health Crisis Response Commission within the Office of Attorney General. Read more
Committee Advances Mental Health Legislation
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee unanimously approved a bill on Friday to examine various aspects of the mental health system in order to improve access to care and care coordination throughout the mental health system. Read more
Panel Considers Bill Back Assessment
In 2012, the legislature authorized the Green Mountain Care Board to bill hospitals and insurance carriers for the cost of oversight and regulatory activities. As part of the GMCB’s budget presentation, the committee noted a significant increase in bill-back revenue. Read more
Lawmakers May Exercise Oversight of ACOs
The House Health Care Committee on Friday passed a bill that would require the Department of Vermont Health Access to provide periodic reports to the Health Reform Oversight Committee and legislative committees of jurisdiction regarding the implementation of the one-year Medicaid Pilot Program contract with OneCare Vermont, the state’s largest accountable care organization. Read more
Paid Family Leave Passes Committee
Over the objection of four committee members on Friday, the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs passed H.196, a bill that would mandate the provision of 12 weeks of paid family leave for Vermont employees. Read more
Committee Requires 10-Year Telecom Plan to Consider Education, Public Safety, Health Care Needs
The House Energy and Technology Committee this week easily passed H.347, a bill that adds requirements to the surveys that the Department of Public Service must conduct in preparation of its 10-year Telecommunication Plan, a process that is currently underway at the department. Read more
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