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March Public Policy Update

by Dan Barlow on Mar 20th, 2014

Vermont lawmakers returned to Montpelier this month after the week-long Town Meeting break, signifying the half-way point of the session. The week following town meeting is known as crossover - bills need to be approved by their committee of jurisdiction by that Friday if they stand a chance of becoming law this year. It was the week that some bills died and others advanced through the committee and floor process.

Here’s a few of the bills that VBSR worked on this year and where they are with about six weeks of the legislative session left.

Health Care - There’s no major legislation regarding Green Mountain Care expected this session, but several committees have held hearings on how Vermont would finance its own public health care system. Sen. Peter Galbraith sponsored a bill that funded Vermont’s new health care system mostly through a payroll tax. Legislators are also routinely hearing from the Shumlin administration about Vermont Health Connect updates.

Clean Energy - Both the House and Senate have approved legislation expanding the state’s net metering program, lifting the cap from 4% to 15% of peak load (several utilities had already hit the cap, slowing deployment of solar in some parts of the state). Meanwhile, the Senate is working has worked on bills aimed at bringing more regulation to the siting of energy projects, including small-scale solar. There have also been attempts to scale back the state’s long-term dedication to energy efficiency.

GMO labeling - This bill passed the House last year and is now in its second Senate committee this year. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the bill in a 4-1 vote and the Senate Judiciary Committee is now looking at the legal implications of the proposed law, including the threat of a lawsuit from the biotech industry. Senators are considering putting a “trigger” on the legislation that would not have it take effect until other New England states pass similar legislation or to establish a defense fund to pay for the legal fees.

Earned Paid Leave -  The Legislature is unlikely to pass a bill on earned paid leave this year. The proposal would have allowed all Vermont workers to earn access to paid leave at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked, with a  cap of 56 hours each year. The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, which approved the bill last month, already excepted businesses with less than four employees and made special accommodations for seasonal workers, but support for the measure is soft in the House after heavy business lobbying.

Minimum Wage Increase - This surprise addition to the legislation menu has support from Gov. Shumlin and legislative leaders, but gained steam so late in the session that its passage to law is not yet clear. The House General Committee is looking at a bill for a $12.50 minimum wage and the Governor endorsed President Obama’s plan for a $10.10 minimum wage by 2017.

Prekindergarten Expansion - A bill fast-tracking the statewide deployment of pre-k services across Vermont appears stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee after being passed by the House last year. Some senators are concerned that the expansion would increase local education costs - a sensitive subject in a year that saw a record number of school budgets get voted down at town meeting.

VBSR Holds Virtual Policy Forum

by Dan Barlow on Nov 12th, 2013