2013 Legislative Report
VBSR entered the 2013 legislative session with priorities related to the continued roll-out of state and federal health care reform efforts, the labeling of genetically engineered food and to block efforts to pass a moratorium on new renewable energy development.
The session was marked by further budget and revenue difficulties and strong disagreements between Gov. Peter Shumlin and leaders in the House and Senate over how to fund new programs. In the end, lawmakers acquiesced to the Governor’s desire not to raise new broad-based taxes and put off discussion of broader tax reforms until 2014.
There were two major taxes raised by the Legislature this year. This included an increase of six cents in the gas and diesel tax – revenue needed to match $56 million in federal funds for roads and bridges. The Legislature also increased the state property tax following school budget votes at Town Meeting.
We want to thank all the members who helped support VBSR’s legislative agenda this year. Many of you took time away from running your business to contact legislators, come to the Statehouse to testify and make the case for socially responsible business policies under the Golden Dome. Your advocacy truly had a positive impact.
Legislation Influenced by VBSR in 2013:
Health Care Reform
Vermont’s health insurance Exchange is scheduled to begin enrollment in October as part of the federal health care law. Action this year focused on how to sustainably fund the Exchange after 2014 and how to address expected higher costs low-income Vermonters may face when moving from state health programs into the new system. Lawmakers allocated $4.5 million in premium assistance for Vermonters in the Exchange and extended the health insurance assessment on businesses not paying for worker health care premiums to cover the operational costs of the Exchange. VBSR advocated for increasing premium assistance for low-income Vermonters.
Renewable Energy (S.30)
VBSR came out in opposition this year to the initial draft of this bill, which would have placed a three-year ban on new large-scale energy development in Vermont. After months of hearings and negotiations between the House and Senate energy committees, the final version of the bill now simply directs lawmakers to hold a series of summer and fall hearings on the findings of the Energy Generation Siting Commission, which released its report at the end of April.
Thermal Efficiency (H.520)
Vermont may very little progress this year toward reaching the goal of weatherizing 80,000 homes by 2020. While thermal efficiency programs enjoy strong support at the Statehouse, the administration and lawmakers were divided on new funding sources for the various programs. Funding remained level from last year for thermal upgrades and the bill passed this year simply helps prioritize which older homes will receive assistance.
Food and Environment
GMO Labeling (H.112)
The Vermont House voted 99-42 in early May in support of H.112, a bill requiring all genetically engineered food sold in Vermont to be labeled. It was the first time a body of a state legislature has passed a GMO labeling bill. The Vermont Senate is expected to take up the legislation during the second half of the biennium. VBSR supports this bill and thanks the House lawmakers for their votes.
(Bill passed by the House, not taken up in the Senate)
People and Community
Equal Pay (H.99)
VBSR was the only business group in Vermont to actively support these important updates and changes to state laws prohibiting gender discrimination in pay. This bill also encourages businesses to consider flexible work schedules for employees, if it makes sense for the company, position and scheduling. H.99 was passed by strong margins in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin at VBSR’s spring conference on May 14.
Marijuana Decriminalization (H.200)
Vermont is the 17th state to turn possession of small amounts of marijuana into a civil violation, rather than a criminal one. This legislation places a $300 fine for first-time possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. VBSR believes that personal use marijuana should not be a crime and that these arrests are a waste of public resources and limit future job and education prospects for employees.
Fraudulent Patent Claims (H.299)
Vermont has become the first state in the country to strike back against baseless patent-infringement lawsuits. This new law expands the state’s consumer protection law to include businesses targeted by illegitimate patent claims. The law is intended to give businesses more legal tools in defending against these claims.
Summary of 2013 VBSR Legislative Testimony
– House Health Care Committee, re: Health Care Priorities (1/11/13)
– House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, re: Legislative Agenda (1/18/13)
– House Commerce and Economic Development, re: Economic Development Priorities (1/18/13)
– House Agriculture Committee, re: GMO Labeling (2/20/13)
– House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, re: Equal Pay (1/30/13)
– House Health Care Committee, re: Health Care Budget Proposals (2/3/13)
– House Agriculture Committee, re: Labeling of GMO Food (2/17/13)
– Senate Finance Committee, re: Revenue policies and health care reform (4/7/13)
– Senate Economic Development, re: Equal Pay (4/16/13)
Other Legislative Outreach:
– Letter to House, re: Health Care Reform (3/5/13)
– Letter to Senate, re: Energy Generating Projects (3/12/13)
– Letter to House, re: Equal Pay (3/24/13)
– Letter to Senate, re: Equal Pay (4/9/13)
– Letter to House, re: Marijuana Decriminalization (4/15/13)
– Letter to Senate, re: Pre-K Expansion (5/8/13)
– Letter to House, re: Labeling of GMO Food (5/12/13)
– Letter to Senate, re: Marijuana Decriminalization (5/12/13)
– Rutland Herald, “Health Insurance Penalty Questioned” (2/3/13)
– WPTZ, “House Panel Approves GMO Bill” (3/1/13)
– Press conference on proposed Paid Leave legislation (3/13/13)
– VPR, “Vermont Chamber Opposes Paid Leave Bill” (3/13/13)
– Press conference on House passage of GMO Labeling bill (5/9/13)
– VPR, “House Finalizes GMO Bill” (5/10/13)
– In October VBSR’s Executive Director contributed pre-filed testimony in support of the Public Service Department’s position in the Public Service Board case regarding the re-licensure of Vermont Yankee. VBSR supported the position that the Board not re-license Vermont Yankee and supplied testimony regarding the surveys and studies relating to the Vermont “brand” and how Vermont is perceived by residents, businesses, and visitors. In February Ms. Cohen appeared before the Board.
– VBSR held a successful Legislative Reception on Feb. 7th for members and lawmakers at the Goddard College Art Gallery on Main Street in Montpelier.