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Legislative Update March 31, 2019

04/02/2019 1:43 PM | Denis Bourbeau

Contractor Registry Bill

S.163 – Will be up for a vote on the Senate Floor on Tuesday. A last-minute improvement was made on Friday. Registration will now be required if a job entails more than $1,000 in labor costs, rather than a combined $1,000 for materials and labor.

The Toxins Bill

S.37 - This strict liability and medical monitoring bill passed the Senate and is now in House Judiciary. We are meeting with a number of weatherization advocates to alert them about the risks this bill would place on their ability to weatherize homes. We have also met with members of House Judiciary and House Commerce to alert them of our concerns. We are preparing to have some HBRA members testify regarding the potential unintended consequences of this bill.

Workforce Development Bill

H.533 will soon be considered in Senate Economic Development. This Summary  outlines the areas in this bill that are of interest to HBRA as there are proposed increases in funding and training for workforce development. We will schedule members to testify in support of this work.

Act 250

Current draft Act 250 committee bill

Due to lengthy House floor debates, very little of the schedule in the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife was taken up this week. They did manage to continue discussion on permit appeals. Committee Chair Amy Sheldon - (D) Middlebury, stated her desire to carve out the appeals sections and send to House Judiciary as a stand-alone bill. Currently, appeals to district commission decisions are heard in Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division. Citing the cost(s) of hiring experts and attorneys’ fees, the committee bill proposes to create a new board model to hear appeals. VERB - Vermont Environmental Review Board - will mimic the original 1974 model of appeals. There is concern about non-professionals being responsible for making complicated legal decisions. The draft bill includes language for a 5-member board of paid professionals to address this concern.

The committee also managed some markup of the bill on Friday, and there is a change in language that caught our attention - P.42, in the section on Capability and Development Plan - addition highlighted;

“(F) Energy conservation and efficiency. A permit will be granted when it has been demonstrated by the applicant that, in addition to all other applicable criteria, the planning and design of the subdivision or development reflect the principles of energy conservation and energy efficiency, including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of energy, and incorporate the best available technology for efficient use or recovery of energy. An applicant seeking an affirmative finding under this criterion shall provide evidence, by certification, established through inspection, that the subdivision or development complies with the applicable building energy standards and stretch codes under 30 V.S.A. § 51 or 53. The Board shall adopt rules establishing an inspection process.”

We will clarify the inclusion of ‘inspection process’ language.

The committee also heard testimony from SP Land Co. in Killington on the effects of lowering jurisdiction from 2500ft. to 2000ft.  SP has been planning for decades and has permits to build a resort village at Killington, almost all of which is cited between 2000ft and 2500ft.  SP President, Steve Selbo, implored the committee to not make any changes to the elevation jurisdiction.

House Natural committee will begin next week with testimony on Undue Adverse Effect vs. Avoid / Minimize / Mitigate Standard, and appeals.

Paid Family Leave

H.107is still in House Appropriations while the committee considers the cost to run this mandatory program. The payroll tax remains at .55% and the employer would decide how that would be split between the employee and employer.

This bill will move on to the Senate and we will make sure HBRA testifies to the challenge of finding temporary skilled workers to replace those who take this leave.

Residential Building Energy Standards

Jim Bradley testified on Friday in House Energy and Technology and then in Senate Natural Resources. He shared the RBES Compliance Letter and spoke to the need for a working group that determines the best way to effectively implement RBES before the legislature looks to increase additional unenforceable well intentioned requirements on the building industry.

Jim was also able to highlight how the cost of housing has increased due to increased costs associated with permitting. This information was well received in House Energy. HBRA is establishing our Association as a professional, experienced resource that wants to be a responsible partner in ensuring Vermont’s homes are being built to the highest building and energy efficient standards. This puts us in a strong position as new bills are introduced.

Two of those bills, H.432and H.534will be reviewed in House Energy in the coming weeks. H.534 should receive a lot of attention and we will work with the bill’s sponsors to ensure their intentions align with HBRA’s priorities.

Weatherization Bill

S.171 continues to be considered in Senate Natural Resources. This bill states concern for the fact that Vermont is running behind in its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. S.171 seeks increased funding for home weatherization and includes a provision for a workgroup to consider the best way to create building energy labeling. The details for this workgroup’s charge begin on page 5 of S.171. This is a very specific detailed outline so please make sure you review it carefully and share your feedback.

Association Health Plans (AHP)

H.524passed the House. Associations put out action alerts requesting their members contact their legislators asking them to save their AHPs.  The Democratic majority fought hard to keep their members together when an amendment was offered to retain these plans. This amendment failed on a vote of 87-50. 

This bill is now in Senate Health and Welfare and we will continue to work to preserve members’ access to these plans.  

Employee Misclassification

S.108 - proposes to permit the Attorney General to enforce complaints of employee misclassification under the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance laws. This bill will be taken up in House Commerce on Wednesday afternoon. We met with the House Commerce chair, Rep. Mike Marcotte, who explained that in the past the Department of Labor (DOL) alone addressed complaints. This bill proposes to share this work between DOL and the Attorney General’s office. Rep. Marcotte said he is aware of HBRA’s past work with regard to the independent contractor classification issue and said he didn’t believe this bill challenged the work that was done but he is open to hearing concerns HBRA may have.

Other Bills of Interest

Budget and Revenue Bills Pass the House

The House passed, in near unanimity, H.542, the $6.1 billion appropriations bill. Read more about key measures in this Budget Highlights document. This year’s budget bill increases the state’s reserve fund and sets aside $215 million in the reserve fund for next year. The budget committee estimates this would be enough to help the state weather a recession.

Notable budget provisions:

  • ·         Provides $2 million for a 2% rate increase for Home and Community based providers including Home Health Agencies, Adult Day Providers, Meals on Wheels, and TBI Waiver service providers. 
  • ·         Funds a $1.5M electric vehicle incentive program and $300K for electric vehicle charging stations around the state.
  • ·         Allocates $500K for electric vehicles and charging stations for state government.
  • ·         Provides $350K for training to provide weatherization services in H.533, the workforce training and development bill.
  • ·         Provides a $3M increase to the base funding for the Vermont State Colleges.
  • ·         Provides $over $2 million for 12 new beds at the Brattleboro Retreat that are scheduled to come on line in the Spring of 2020.
  • ·         Budgets $1.5M one-time funds for grants towards development of an electronic medical/health records system for the Designated Agencies.
  • ·         Increases child care funding by $7.96M in the first of a multi-year commitment to align with H.531, the Child Care Bill.

The House also gave final approval to the tax bill, H.541, Details of the revenue bill can be accessed in this H.541 Sec. by Sec. document.

Provisions in the miscellaneous tax bill, include reducing the percentage of the capital gains exclusion from 40% of certain assets to either 30%, or a total gain amount of $450,000, whichever is less; increases the estate tax exclusion from $2,750,000 to $5,000,000; and makes changes to the room tax so that “booking agents” is included in the definition of “operator” and “rent” the result being that online travel companies and short term rental platforms have to collect the rooms tax.

Weatherization and the Fuel Tax

House members debated a two-cent fuel tax increase more than any other measure this week.  It is estimated that this tax would generate an additional $4.25 million in FY2020. The bill, H.439, that contains the language for that increase allocates all of the additional revenue to the Home Weatherization Assistance Fund.  Karen Lafayette, of the Low Income Advocacy Council testified about the Weatherization Assistance Programs (WAP).  They estimate that the two-cent fuel tax would cost the average homeowner who heats with oil about $15 per year.

Throughout the Statehouse, different committees are examining the subject of home weatherization and the most effective ways to spend that additional fuel tax money.  In part, these conversations were spurred by a report commissioned by the legislature from the Regulatory Assistance Project last year about Non-pricing carbon reduction strategies.  The report says that Vermont has an outsized proportion of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the transportation and residential heating sectors compared to the rest of the country. Not altogether surprising in a rural state with very long, cold winters.  And those two sectors are relatively inelastic – that is – people will continue to spend money in those areas - on heating their houses and on driving because they are necessities.  One of the key findings of the report is that weatherization of both low-income and non-low‑income homes is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Committees are considering everything from workforce development for weatherization jobs, to the organizational capacity necessary for absorbing more money into various programs, and the concept of “weatherization for all”. 

Single Use Plastic Bag Ban

S.113, an act relating to the prohibition of plastic carryout bags, expanded polystyrene, and single-use plastic straws

The Senate gave preliminary approval on Friday to S.113 a bill that would prohibit stores and restaurants from providing single-use plastic bags to customers and require them to charge 10 cents or more for single-use paper bags.  Retailers would be banned from providing Styrofoam containers such as coffee cups, and other takeout containers. Certain foam products, like egg cartons and packaging for raw meat and seafood, would still be allowed.

Under the proposal restaurants could only provide plastic straws to customers upon request. The bag ban and other changes would go into effect in July of next year. You can read more about the bag ban bill here.

Broadband Expansion

H.513 An act relating to broadband deployment throughout Vermont.

H.513 establishes measures designed to support broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas in Vermont and it passed the House this week. It allocates $1.54 million to include support a loan reserve at VEDA to administer the Broadband Expansion Loan Program, grants through the Broadband Innovation Grant Program for feasibility studies in underserved areas, Connectivity Initiative grants, and Think Vermont Initiative technical assistance to municipalities planning broadband projects. 

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