PO Box 490, St. Albans Bay, VT 05481
LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE BLOG
The end is nigh. Is the end nigh? That pretty much sums up the talk around the State House’s proverbial water cooler. Token Floor sessions on Saturday advanced the calendar, and in-person working floor sessions are happening today, Monday. The work schedule has ramped up to a “get it done” pace. Will the legislature be able to complete all its business by Friday or Saturday of this week?
There are some substantive bills left to resolve before adjournment - housing, childcare and the budget, chief among them.
This morning, on a 20-10 vote, the Senate overrode the Governor's veto of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act which creates a performance standard and marketplace of credits for greenhouse reducing activities in the heating sector. The House is expected to follow suit.
RBES update- S.100, the housing bill, will hit the House floor this afternoon with a number of amendments. In particular, Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell will offer an amendment that pushes back any required adoption of updated RBES to July 1, 2025.
VBRA members have been very involved in the 2023 RBES updates, making recommendations to the advisory committee and participating in the public hearing process. Concerns have focused on the lack of inspection and enforcement of the codes, which leads to a lack of compliance by some builders. As the codes increase in complexity that gap in compliance will only increase.
Currently, the Department of Public Service has presented its final rule update recommendations to the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR). LCAR will meet on May 25th to consider the new rules. VBRA members are scheduled to testify and have been engaged in legislative outreach.
At the same time there is language in S.100 that, if passed, would create a study committee to recommend strategies for increasing compliance with RBES and Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES). VBRA has been named as a participant on that committee.
Though a longshot for success, Rep. Higley's amendment is intended to delay adoption of the new rules until the study committee delivers its report (on or before Dec 31, 2023) and the administrative and structural flaws present in the code are addressed.
Housing Bill - S.100 will be on the House floor this week. The House Committee on Environment and Energy passed out S.100 out with language that slightly raises the threshold of who may appeal a municipal permit decision. Currently, "any 10 who may be any combination of voters or real property owners within a municipality" may appeal. The bill adds, "an appeal shall not include the character of the area affected if the project has a residential component that includes affordable housing."
You can find a side-by-side comparison of the bill as it passed the Senate with the House Committee on Environment and Energy version here.
After strong advocacy from the House Rural Caucus, The Environment and Energy committee also included language that the construction of four or fewer units in an existing structure (think large old colonial being converted) located entirely within a designated center would count as one unit toward the total number of units.
Furthermore, the bill increases the Act 250 threshold to 25 units within five miles and five years in designated downtowns, neighborhood development areas, growth centers and village centers with permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws, but only until July 1, 2026. In order to secure the exemption, by June 30, 2026, a person must request and receive an Act 250 jurisdictional opinion that construction will be substantially complete by June 30, 2029. The 10/5/5 rule remains in effect outside designated areas, in other words.. the rest of the state.
One item of promise that did not move was a plan pushed by Chittenden County municipalities, spearheaded by Mayor Miro Weinberger, in which the legislature would delegate Act 250 criteria review to local governments that adopt bylaws addressing Act 250 criteria and demonstrate the capacity to administer Act 250 locally. This "municipal delegation" would eliminate duplicative and expensive permits that cost developers time and money as an alternative to the longstanding ask of removing designated areas from jurisdiction. Instead, the bill creates a report by December 31, 2023, from the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies with a proposed framework for delegating the administration of Act 250 permits to municipalities.
Other - In addition to the issues that the legislature continues to work on, the House has shelved two bills that seemingly had momentum after being passed by the Senate: S.9 – the bill permitting the Auditor’s office to examine finances of companies and organizations that do business with the state, and S.42 – the bill that would require the Vermont Pension Investment Commission to create a plan to divest Vermont’s pension plans from the fossil fuel industry by 2031.
What to expect in Week 19 – May 8–May 12, 2023
Note: Legislative Committee Agendas are updated frequently throughout each day. The latest committee schedule can be found on this link. A list of weekly hearings for all committees can be found here.
Clean Heat Standard - S.5, the Clean Heat Standard bill was approved by the House this past week. The bill sets up a marketplace for credits that would provide a system of carrots and sticks towards incentivizing greenhouse gas reducing activities in the thermal sector. Each fossil fuel dealer would be assigned a certain amount of credits they must seek through clean heat activities such as weatherizing homes and installing cold climate heat pumps. Dealers that do not meet the requirements would be penalized and the price of heating fuel would rise accordingly.
The Public Utility Commission will be responsible for designing the system of credits and demerits. The 2025 legislature will then act on the draft rule, containing all the design details of the program, by passing another bill that approves the design. The program would then go into place by June 2025.
Governor Scott vetoed a similar bill last year and the legislature failed to override the veto by a single vote. If a veto comes again, the legislature, with its Democratic super-majority, would likely have the votes for an override.
The Budget - The Senate Appropriations Committee also unanimously voted out their $8.5 billion budget on Friday. The bill, which will be on the Senate floor this week, leaves untouched many of the House’s proposals, but makes some changes including ending the motel voucher housing program, increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates to some service providers, removing the funding for universal school meals to be considered separately in H.165, providing an initial appropriation for after school grants, and allocating over $9 million to a youth inpatient psychiatric facility.
Housing Bill - The housing bill, S.100, saw a new party enter the fray last week – The Rural Caucus. In a letter to the Speaker of the House, Jill Krowinski, over 30 tri-partisan members of the House of Representatives supported regulatory changes, including expanded exemptions for Act 250, to address the housing crisis. As the bill currently stands in the House Committee on Environment and Energy, it focuses on the very small footprints of the states developed designated areas and does little to help rural areas.
Two weeks ago, Democratic leadership sided with special interests in deciding that housing development regulation would not be discussed in the Housing Committee, leaving that task instead to the Environment and Energy Committee, a committee not known for being friendly to development. For now, the Rural Caucus is siding with campaign promises to constituents in addressing the states housing crisis and not with the diluted bill favored by leadership.
Childcare - S.56, the childcare bill, passed out of the House Committee on Human Services and will now need to make stops at multiple other committees before it can be passed by the House. Chief among those committees is House Ways and Means, which has rolled out their proposed funding package that includes an income tax increase (in lieu of payroll) and a corporate tax.
The Senate had funded the bill with a 0.42% payroll tax, a reallocation of the funding for the Vermont child tax credit, and the roughly $50 million base funding the Governor found. The House, in response to testimony that funding should be "broad-based" where businesses and individuals each pay their fair share, has instead proposed:
House leadership, by all evidence, is adamant that both childcare and paid family and medical leave (which has its own price tag of $120 million per year) are enacted this year, while the Senate is looking to only act on childcare. If the bill passes out of the House, it would then be sent back to the Senate, where that chamber could start to address the major divide between the two chambers.
What to expect in Week 17 – April 24 – April 28, 2023
Note: Legislative Committee Agendas are updated frequently throughout each day. The latest committee schedule can be found on this link. A list of weekly hearings for all committees can be found here.
The front door of the state house was opened wide at the end of last week, signaling the advent of warm weather and the quickly approaching end of the legislative session. With likely less than five weeks left in this first session of the biennium, legislators are attempting to finish work on proposals, or are tacking them back up on the wall until January of 2024.
In a week defined by process over policy, observers saw tensions rise over S.100, the housing bill, as members of the House Committee on General and Housing were informed they were being prevented from working on Act 250 sections that impact housing development. Those sections, they were told, would be handled by the House Committee on Environment and Energy. A tri-partisan effort to introduce an amendment restoring Act 250 reform measures (that were stripped out in the Senate) was crushed when the chair of the Housing Committee said he would not allow a vote on the amendment.
Originating in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, S.100 made significant changes to municipal zoning regulations designed to incentivize infill development in places already served by water and sewer. But it was Act 250 reforms in the bill that housing advocates had set their sights on to help solve the state’s housing crisis. By the time time the bill left the Senate, a change to raise the jurisdictional trigger from 10 to 25 units had been scrapped.
S.100 section summary
The bill passed out of the House General and Housing Committee without discussion of zoning or Act 250 sections. The Act 250 sections still currently in the bill increase the number of planned units that would trigger the need for a permit, but those provisions are temporary with a 3-year sunset, and are confined to the state’s designated areas – areas that, all told, equal .03 percent of the state’s lands.
Housing advocates say it’s just not enough to meet housing goals, and fear that even these Act 250 sections could be stripped from the bill, leaving legislators in the unsuccessful position of making no meaningful headway on what has been identified as the most important issue to Vermonters - and by candidates during campaign season.
Recent VTDigger article - Legislature’s housing bill advances, and hopes for Act 250 reform wane further
The House Environment and Energy Committee approved S.5, also known as the Clean Heat Act or the Affordable Heat Act. This extremely ambitious bill seeks to create a market of credits that would incentivize greenhouse gas reducing activities such as weatherization and electrification of home heating, whilst penalizing the sale of fossil fuels. This market would be the first of its kind in the nation. The bill moves to the Appropriations Committee next.
Going up on the wall in the House Committee on Human Services is a bill that passed the Senate with momentum – S.18, a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products and e-liquids. The committee has assured supporters of the proposal that they will work on the bill next session, but has its plate full with their continued work on the child care bill and has aspirations to work on a safe-injection site proposal.
In the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, members have decided to use their deliberations on the Attorney General Office’s (AGO) proposed data privacy bill as a valuable educational exercise and will be working (when time permits) during the rest of the session and over the summer on a new comprehensive consumer data privacy proposal. Chair Mike Marcotte has stated that he’d like his committee to be ready with a new proposal, crafted with input from stakeholders and the AGO, that’s ready for introduction at the beginning of the next session.
Legislation that continues to be on the move for this session include H.127, the bill authorizing the Department of Liquor and Lottery to design and operate an online sports wagering system in the state. The Commissioner of DLL will be authorized to select a minimum of two but not more than six operators to operate a “sportsbook” through a competitive bidding process, with a revenue share to the state not less than 20 percent of adjusted gross sports wagering revenue.
The House continues to debate S.56, the early childcare bill. How to fund this costly program remains undecided as the Ways and Means committee considers payroll taxes, sales taxes, taxes on services and taxes on software accessed remotely (cloud tax) or some combination of them.
What to expect in Week 16 – April 17 – April 21, 2023
Week 15 of the 2023 Legislative Session
As we headed into week 15 of the legislative session, the House Ways and Means committee was continuing its work on determining alternative funding mechanisms for the Senate passed child care proposal. The Senate has proposed eliminating last year’s child tax credit to help fund their expansion of child care subsidies and the implementation of a new parental leave program. Without acknowledging this proposed elimination of the tax, but seemingly rejecting it, the House Ways and Means committee reviewed a proposal that would keep the tax credit in place and add advanced quarterly pre-payments of 50 percent of the tax.
As a substitute to the child tax credit repeal, Ways and Means Chair Emily Kornheiser asked her committee to “pivot” to looking at taxation on services. One possibility that the committee considered is an amendment to S.93 that would remove the current sales tax exemption for all types of software accessed on the cloud, aka a Cloud Tax: Software as a Service (Saas), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Patrick Titterton, Joint Fiscal Office, testified that removal of the exemption would raise an estimated $18.4 million for the Education Fund, about half of what the child tax credit repeal would raise.
The committee is spending time to further review child care financing options, including consumption taxes.
The House General and Housing Committee took up the S.100, the housing bill as it passed out of the Senate. The committee has been told by Democratic leadership that they are to focus on housing-specific programs and will not be reviewing any provisions related to municipal zoning and Act 250. Any review of changes to state and municipal bylaws will be done in the House Energy and Environment Committee, a committee not known for being friendly to addressing Act 250 barriers.
S.100, the HOME Act, as it passed the Senate can be found here, a section summary can be found here.
The House Committee on General and Housing heard some initial testimony on and discussed H.132, a bill creating a “homeless bill of rights.” The bill adds “perceived housing status” to the list of immutable characteristics protected by law and sets forth that no law or ordinance should “penalize the individual engaging in harmless activities that are associated with homelessness.” Concerns in the past have centered on that the legislation making it more difficult to handle poor behavior in Vermont’s downtown areas, especially when that behavior might be attributed to a “perceived” status. It's anticipated that this legislation will be added to the HOME Act.
Closing out Week 12 of the 2023 Legislative Session
Last week, the Senate Committee on Finance spent two afternoons working on S.56, the childcare bill, that was sent to them by the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare. After months of anticipation, the committee finally proposed a funding mechanism for the expansion of the Child Care Financial Assistance Program and a new parental leave program. The committee amended the bill by:
The payroll tax would be split 75% on the employer and 25% on the employee, and would increase in the second year to an estimated 1%. FY24 cost estimates are $90 million for the program, growing to $190 million in FY25. The House is considering alternative taxes including a corporate tax and consumption taxes, leaving the bill’s funding sources still in flux.
The childcare bill also contains an amendment that establishes a new parental leave program, intended to be an alternative and compromise to the paid family and medical leave bill favored by the House. The program would offer 12 weeks of paid leave, up to $600 a week, for one parent. It would cost $2 million to implement and administer, and $5.6 million a year in benefits - far less expensive than the House bill.
As mentioned above, the House passed its version of a paid family and medical leave bill, H.66, which has remained largely unchanged since it was first introduced with its 103 sponsors. The bill seeks to create the most generous paid family and medical leave program in the country, with an initial cost of $111.5 million to start - including 65 new employees - and ongoing annual costs of $94 million. A showdown is expected between this bill and the Senate's preferred parental leave program.
The House Committee on Ways and Means took up H.10, a bill regarding the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program (VEGI). The bill extends a sunset on the program by two years, increases transparency in how grants are determined and awarded to businesses, and creates a study committee on what an effective business incentive program would look like. However, as the week went on, time constraints seemed to prevent the committee from getting to the bill, and it is likely to miss any extensions for crossover deadline.
The Senate Economic Development and Natural Resources committees spent the week going back and forth with amendments to the housing bill, S.100, also known as the HOME Act. By Thursday, they had arrived at a version that they felt was a suitable compromise to bring to the Senate floor.
However, advocates are frustrated with how Act 250 sections have been scaled back from the original bill to an almost inconsequential scale. The bill as introduced increased the jurisdictional trigger from 10 units to 25 for the entire state. The Senate Natural Resources Committee restricted that trigger to only in “designated areas,” which represent about 0.3% of the state.
There is an amendment that will be considered to meet halfway with an Act 250 exemption for towns that have permanent planning/zoning and subdivision bylaws.
A new Green Mountain State Poll, (a States of Opinion Project, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center) shows that Vermonters consider housing to be the state's most serious problem - by a wide margin.
The news comes in a week in which there is contention around how best to create more housing while legislators discuss what could conservatively be estimated as more than $400 million in new taxes.
We need your help! Please reach out to your Senators and ask them to support housing in Vermont by moving the 10/5/5 trigger for Act 250 to 25/5/5 in more areas than the bill currently allows. You can find your Senators here.
Closing out Week 11 of the 2023 Legislative Session
It’s the end of crossover week in Montpelier, meaning legislation needed to be voted out of committees by the end of today, or the legislation is done for the session. There are some ways around it; a committee can seek a waiver from the rules committee, legislators or a committee can add a piece of legislation that didn’t make crossover as an amendment to a piece of legislation that did make the deadline. Finally, money committees - Ways & Means, Appropriations, Finance - have another week before crossover deadline. Bills in those committees have until next Friday.
Crucial Housing Bill Gets Watered Down
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy proceeded with an amendment that watered down, S.100, also known as the HOME Act, removing essential components of the bill for broad support.
The amendment downgrades the positive changes to the Act 250 "10/5/5 rule" that were made by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs. The rule means that if a developer builds ten units of housing within five miles of each other within five years, they trigger Act 250. Senate Economic moved that threshold to 25 units. To counter this, the Senate Natural committee agreed to the 25 unit increase, but only within areas of enhanced designation which comprise only about 0.03% of the state’s land. This is a temporary provision that sunsets on July 1, 2026.
The Senate Natural Resources Amendment also does the following;
Here’s what was added in the Senate Natural amendment;
Housing advocates and VBRA recognize the Senate Economic Development committee version of S.100 as the bill that could truly result in a reduction in barriers to building affordable housing for Vermonters. Your help could be crucial in this effort. Click here to find your state Senators and Representatives and ask them to support the version of S100 "as it came out of the Senate Economic Development Committee."
Childcare Bill Voted Out
The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare concluded their work on S.56, the childcare bill. The fiscal picture and footprint of the bill are still unclear at this time, however, it is expected that the Committee will seek a payroll tax for about $100 million in spending under the bill for this year and then about $200 in the next fiscal year.
The bill provides full reimbursement for those making up to 185% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and then reimburses on a sliding scale up to 600% FPL or about $180,000 for a family of four. The bill also includes $7.3 million in grants distributed by the Department of Children and Families to retain childcare workers.
As a potential alternative to the separate Paid Family Leave bill, Senator Jane Kitchel brought to the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, as well as the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs, a proposal to include parental leave only in the childcare bill. The proposal would cost about $15 million and would provide 12 weeks of leave to one parent. The plan would fully replace wages up to 200% of federal poverty guidelines, with a decrease in benefits up to a cap of 600% FPL.
Meanwhile.. Paid Family Leave Passes Out of the House Committee on Ways and Means
The House Committee on Ways and Means passed H.66, advancing what will likely be the most generous paid family and medical leave program in the country. Estimates are that the program altogether would cost $117 million per year, a number higher than previous calculations.
The bill proposes 90% wage replacement for 12 weeks for an expanded list of eligible recipients. It would be paid for by a .55% payroll tax split between employee and employer.
As noted above, the Senate has already made movements to preempt the bill by adding parental leave only to their priority, the childcare bill. A House/Senate battle is sure to ensue.
Labor Bills Advance Out of Committee
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs passed S.102 and S.103 this week, bills that have numerous consequences if they proceed to final passage.
S.102 had language that would have ended at-will employment in the state and created a "good cause standard for termination," and would have created new severance pay requirements. That language has now been removed, and the bill now does the following;
S.103. Initial language that would have barred noncompete agreements has been removed. The bill now contains the following:
We encourage you to reach out to your legislators and vocalize your concerns on these bills.
The House Committee on Government Operation and Military Affairs passed the miscellaneous alcohol bill, which does the following;
Increases the annual limit on fourth-class licenses allowing the Board of Liquor and Lottery to grant up to a combined total of 20, instead of the current 10, to a manufacturer or rectifier.
Repeals the sunset on the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption or, as it’s commonly called, alcohol to-go.
Replaces the term “cider” with “hard cider” in the Vermont statute when referring to alcoholic beverages.
The House Committee on Judiciary continued their discussion around dram shop legislation this week and passed legislation that seeks to assist in the high cost of liquor liability insurance. The legislation also requires all proprietors of businesses with a liquor license to acquire liquor liability insurance. The bill passed out of Committee unanimously and represented changes beneficial to Vermont businesses. It is estimated that this could lower VT’s ISO rating from it’s current 10 (the highest it can be) to something closer to a 6.
Closing out Week 8 of the 2023 Legislative Session
With only two weeks left until crossover and town meeting break sandwiched in between, many committees spent last week working on bills that they are hoping to get across the finish line this session.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee took up the omnibus housing bill.
The bill takes square aim at duplicative and onerous regulations that slow development in areas that already have water and sewer infrastructure. The bill is expected to have a rough ride in Natural Resources as the committee will also pay particular attention to several changes to Act 250 - including the 10/5/5 rule. A section by section summary of the entire bill can be found here. A summary of the Act 250 changes can be found here.
Residential Building Energy Standards
The Public Service Department is in the process of finalizing its recommendations to meet the states statutorily required updates to RBES codes. Several VBRA members have been very engaged in the process since last summer. Of paramount concern to Vermont's building community is the total absence of statewide enforcement of RBES. VBRA is advocating for postponement of the updated codes until a plan for outreach, training, inspection and enforcement is in place to unsure compliance.
Rep. Scott Campbell, D-St. Johnsbury has introduced H.332 - The bill proposes to increase compliance with RBES and CBES by establishing a study committee to recommend the designation of a State agency as the authority having jurisdiction to recommend other compliance mechanisms such as incentives and enforcement. Recent estimates are that only 50% of Vermont homes are built to RBES code. This bill is a good first step in improving the states housing stock and leveling the playing field for the states responsible builders.
Also on the RBES front, Richard Faesy, Energy Futures Group, is leading an effort to apply for a U.S. Department of Energy funding opportunity that has the potential to bring >$4 million to Vermont over the next three years. The grant money could help develop an energy code administration system and support our construction industry with training and technical assistance. The DOE has accepted a concept paper on the project and has "encouraged" the submittal of a full application, due March 27th.
Early Child Care Bill
Two committees continued work on the Child Care bill – the Senate Committee on Education working on the pre-kindergarten provisions and the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare focusing on the child care provisions. During testimony to the Health and Welfare committee, administration officials shared concerns stakeholders have expressed about moving away from a mixed delivery system, but said that the governor would support expanding weekly pre-k assistance from ten to thirty hours.
The expansive Paid Family and Medical Leave bill was taken up by the House Committee on Ways and Means after being passed the previous week by the House Committee on General and Housing. The committee heard from the Department of Taxes that administering a new payroll tax to support the program would require an additional fifteen full-time employees and $2–3 million in IT implementation funding. The total estimate for setting up the program would be $100 million.
Climate Change Initiatives
Last year’s “Clean Heat Standard” has been reintroduced as the Affordable Heat Act. The bill - paired with other incentives - would let businesses, fuel dealers, and others earn so-called clean heat credits for helping customers weatherize their homes or switch to eco-friendly heating sources like cold air heat pumps. It would then essentially increase prices for fuel dealers and their customers over time if they continue to heat with fossil fuels including propane, kerosene, and heating oil. The Secretary of Natural Resources projected the program resulting in about 70 cents per gallon of heating fuel. Many observers believe that estimate might be off by a factor of two.
In addition to their policy work, the House committees discussed FY2024 budget priorities ahead of the March 1 deadline to submit their recommendation letters to the Appropriations committee.
What to expect in Week 9 – February 27 – March 3, 2023
Note: The Legislative Committee Agendas are updated frequently throughout each day. The latest committee schedule can be found on this link. A list of weekly hearings for all committees can be found here.
Closing out Week 7 of the 2023 Legislative Session
The House Committee on General and Housing passed out H.66 Thursday, which would create the most generous paid family and medical leave program in the United States. Employees who have been employed with the same employer for a period of six months, during which time they averaged 20 hours a week, would be eligible. The bill provides employees with up to 12 weeks leave for their own health, maternity/parental, family care, safety, and bereavement (bereavement would be only two weeks), and provides a wage replacement of 100% up to the state’s average weekly wage of $1,135 per week. The program would be paid for by a 0.55% payroll tax split between the employer and the employee. The Committee heard from the Office of the Treasurer that administering this program would double the size of their office, and they would need upwards of $100 million to stand up the program.
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development continued their conversation this week around H.10, which seeks to make major changes to the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI) program that would render it inoperable. The Committee walked through a counter proposal from the current director of the program with the new name “Think Vermont Investment Program.” which would simplify the program by providing an annual cash award of $5,000 for every qualified job created and an enhancement of $7,500 for each job created in economically disadvantaged areas over a period of three years instead of the current five year period.
The Senate passed S.3 banning paramilitary training camps. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden-Central said, “There haven’t been adequate levers for the state to intervene or prevent such a camp from forming. This bill gives the state the authority it needs to protect Vermonters from fringe actors looking to create civil disorder.”
After weeks of testimony, the Senate Natural Resources Committee advanced S.5 creating a Clean Heat Standard for the thermal heating sector on a 5-0 vote. The bill requires fossil fuel heating companies to acquire “clean heat credits.” They could do so through incentivizing greenhouse gas emission-reducing actions such as weatherization, electrification through heat pumps, or fuel switching to their customers. The fuel companies could also buy clean heat credits to fulfill the obligation from organizations that deliver such clean heat activities. Many are concerned the program - initially intended to cover “heating” and “thermal” use - could pull in all fuels, including “process fuels,” which will add cost to sectors such as farming, construction, and manufacturing.
Public hearing on the Governor’s Recommended Fiscal Year 2024 Budget on February 21 at 3:00 and February 28 at 5:30 in Room 11 or via zoom.
For more information regarding pre-registering or watching the hearing see here.
What to expect in Week 8 – February 20 - February 24, 2023
Contractor Registry -
The contractor registry continues on a wayward journey. Governor Scott vetoed a stand-alone bill in February, arguing that the dollar amount in time and materials for a job that would trigger registration was too low ($3,500). Too many small-time contractors would be over-burdened with registry requirements.
But, the registry was revived when the Senate Economic Development Committee took a different tack and attached the same language to the “must pass” Omnibus Housing Bill.
The Governor had been sending signals that his line-in-the-sand amount for registration was $10,000. Last week, in a clear sign of compromise, Democratic and Republican Senators offered an amendment to the housing bill on the Senate floor that raised the registration threshold to $10,000. The trigger for requirement of a written contract is also raised to that amount. Other registry language remains the same, including proof of adequate liability insurance.
Now the bill moves through the House. The registry is only one section of an important bill loaded with initiatives to address Vermont’s housing crisis (see below). VBRA’s advocacy has been instrumental in keeping the registry moving forward and will stay engaged.
Act 250 -
Having already passed out of the Senate, the House now begins deliberation of S.234, the Act 250 bill. The bill shares language with the Omnibus Housing Bill that attempts to ease restrictions on development in areas of downtown flood hazard zones where there is pre-existing development. It also extends Priority Housing Projects to designated Neighborhood Development Areas and increases the allowable number of units from 25 to 50 in towns under 6000 population. PHPs are development projects that are exempt from Act 250 review if they are located within a Designated Program area and meet affordability requirements.
S.234 also creates new definitions of “forest blocks” and “connecting habitats” intended to address forest fragmentation and sprawl into the states forested regions. Presently, the bill contemplates a new jurisdictional “road rule” that would trigger review in these forest blocks. The road rule says Act 250 is triggered for any road or driveway designed over 800ft., or for any combination of roads or driveways over 2000 ft. In lieu of the road rule, the committee has also discussed an elevation trigger of 1500ft as a possible jurisdictional alternative.
The Administration has expressed serious concern over inclusion of the road rule, arguing it may not provide the level of protection proponents desire – developers will still figure out ways around the rule, and it could even discourage thoughtful, appropriate development. Rather, to encourage development away from forests and into already developed areas, the administration has proposed Act 250 exemptions for downtowns, neighborhood development areas and village centers who have earned Designation Program status.
VBRA supports Act 250 exemptions for areas with a high level of local review. Local planning and zoning professionals provide a level of oversight that doesn’t need duplicative Act 250 processes that add cost and time to projects. The Senate and House Natural Resource Committees have been reluctant to adopt exemptions for Vermont’s designated areas. Please consider reaching out to legislators on your district with support for these initiatives.
As mentioned above, Omnibus Housing Bill S.226 has also made its way to the House. In addition to the municipal zoning changes related to infill development and PHP language (also seen in S.234) and the contractor registry, the bill has several programs and appropriations designed to spark housing:
S.226 also exempts a project that receives a water/wastewater connection permit from a local municipality from needing to obtain a duplicative State permit.
The interplay between the similar language in S.226 and S.234 still needs to be ironed out.
Workforce Development -H.703 is the Omnibus Workforce Development bill. It has passed the House with almost $42 million in spending and is now taken up by the Senate Commerce Committee. Specific to contractors, it contains:
More detail can be found in this fiscal note. Many of these programs may be changed or combined as budget pressures become more apparent, and there will be opportunity for VBRA to testify on the current needs in the industry.
RBES Update -
The Vermont Department of Public Service will soon begin updating Vermont's Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES) and Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES), with the target effective date of Fall or Winter 2023. The code update process will include multiple opportunities for stakeholders to provide input and feedback.
Vermont's Building Energy Standards set minimum efficiency requirements for new and renovated buildings. The standards are designed to reduce energy use and emissions over the life of a building, saving money in the long term and helping Vermont meet its climate goals.
There will be two RBES public stakeholder meetings and two CBES public stakeholder meetings, coordinated with the Energy Futures Group, taking place in April and late May and will be held remotely. To participate please contact Liz Bourguet at the Energy Futures Group (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions.
We have a date for the Annual VBRA Golf Tournament! Friday, September 16th 2022! This year’s tournament will again take place at the beautiful, family run Cedar Knoll course in Hinesburg, VT. It’s never too early to start practicing your swing! Save the date and stay tuned for more info.
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