PO Box 440, St. Albans Bay, VT 05481
LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE BLOG
Contractor Registry Bill
S.163 –House General and Military Affairs will take up the Contractor Registry sections of S.163 on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday the committee will hear from:
Chris Curtis, Attorney General’s office
Gabe Gilman and Lauren Hibbert, Office of Professional Regulation
Matt Musgrave, Associated General Contractors
Dennis Wygmans, Addison County State’s Attorney
On Thursday morning:
Jim Bradley, HBRA
Ward Smyth, Turtle Creek Builders
Sandra Vitzthum, Architect
Brad Cook, Building Performance Services.
Dan Clar of Clar Construction has also been invited but not confirmed.
The Toxins Bill – aka – Strict Liability/Medical Monitoring Bill
S.37 – We coordinated a meeting with Paul Zabriskie, Program Director for the Weatherization Program at Capstone and his associate, Cory Boisvert along with Trey Martin, former Secretary of ANR to discuss contractor concerns as they relate to .37. Paul would be the best person to bring this concern before the House Judiciary Committee. He agreed to talk with committee members after our meeting. We also met with key committee members about language that would address our main areas of concern regarding the release of toxins by a “large facility”. We want to ensure that a “large facility” is actually the manufacturer, not the contractor who uses the product.
Association Health Plans
The Chamber of Commerce has worked diligently by bringing people in to testify in Senate Health and Welfare supporting these plans and highlighting the benefits for employees. The committee is interested in allowing AHPs now in place to continue. If the majority in this committee votes to support the existing plans there will most assuredly be a conference committee where the House and Senate members will have to come to a compromise. There is also a current federal court case which has challenged the viability of Association Health Plans. Here is a U.S. Department of Labor Q&A regarding this court ruling.
Paid Family Leave
H.107 The Senate Economic Development Committee is continuing to take testimony on this bill. Business groups are asking the members to consider a payroll tax opt out for employees who don’t want to avail themselves of this benefit. The committee’s concern is that this will raise the cost of the program for those who want the coverage. The counter point to this; people will be forced to pay into a program that they won’t use which doesn’t seem appropriate. The deliberations will continue next week.
S.108 – Supporters of this bill continue to push for the Attorney General’s office to share the responsibility for investigating complaints of employee misclassification with the Department of Labor (where these cases are currently reviewed). Solid testimony was presented to House Commerce from the Department of Labor highlighting the work they do with regard to complaints made. They strongly made their case that having the Attorney General’s office share the lead is unlike any other arrangements made with other state departments. If there was a difference of opinion between the two there is no way it could be resolved. We followed up with the most ardent committee members who support the bill and believe they are coming to understand the challenges here and are open to some changes that will be supported by HBRA.
In other news:
Minimum wage voted out of committee:
Act 250 Legislation Stalled:
S.163 – This coming week House General and Military Affairs will take up portions of S.163 that don’t pertain to the Contractor Registry. We anticipate the committee will consider this section the week after next. We met with Chris Curtis from the Attorney General’s office to check in. They would like a builder to consider submitting an Op-ed regarding why there is a need for this registry.
The Toxins Bill
S.37 – The committee was prepared to put aside the strict liability language and focus on medical monitoring. Medical monitoring is still a concern, but it was not as far reaching. On Friday we learned that the Governor’s Administration wants to add their own strict liability language. We met with the Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources to discuss the Administration’s perspective. He has met with others who share the Home Builders’ concerns and we will regroup this week. We continue talking with relevant legislators and allied groups regarding unintended consequences of S.37. This work will continue next week. We anticipate needing someone in to testify to this bill the week of 4/29.
Workforce Development Bill
We have prepared draft language to add a comprehensive workgroup for workforce training in the construction trades. This draft has been shared with HBRA board and when it is finalized, we will attempt to find a legislative sponsor and have this added to a bill. There are only about 18 more legislative workdays left so this may not be possible this year. It will be good to have it prepared and added to a bill that will be ready to go when the legislature convenes in January.
The committee regrouped and tried to find some aspect of this bill where they could find common agreement in order to gain traction to move forward. That attempt failed and it is all but certain, no bill will be coming from House Natural Resources on Act 250 reform this year.
H.107 The Senate Economic Development Committee is continuing to take testimony on this bill. There continues to be enough Democrats opposed to this bill to support a veto should the Governor decide to make that move. Here is a good article from Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) explaining her concerns.
Residential Building Energy Standards
Rep. Scott Campbell has finalized his draft for a working group and is now passing that around to fellow legislators and stakeholders to get support for placing this into a bill that will be passed this year.
S.108 – We met with the Legislative Policy Director for the Department of Labor (DOL) to confirm all that we were told regarding this bill. Right now, the DOL follows up on complaints of misclassification. If there are egregious employers who have repeatedly defied the law, DOL passes the investigation on to the Attorney General. The AG received two cases last year and no one anticipates this will dramatically increase but some felt the referral work done now needs to be codified, hence the consideration of this bill. There is also discussion about requiring a Memorandum of Understand between DOL, the Attorney General and also the Department of Financial Regulation to better parse out the chain of follow-up involved. It was confirmed that there has been no discussion about changing the independent contractor definition.
S.163 – This bill is now in the House General Housing and Military Affairs Committee. We spoke with the Chair of the committee and they may be taking it up for hearings this week but they haven’t posted a schedule yet. We will have Jim Bradley in to speak to the bill when it is up for action.
S.37 - This strict liability and medical monitoring bill passed the Senate and is now in the House Judiciary Committee. The key concern for members of HBRA are for those businesses with 10 or more employees. In its current form, S.37 may put these businesses at risk for liability for personal injury and medical monitoring costs due to the release of chemicals, even if the work was performed following federal and state guidelines. Manufacturers are at greater risk and they have testified stating their concerns. We have met with a number of people representing the weatherization groups to alert them as the products they use would also be included in S.37.
We spoke to key committee members regarding HBRA’s concerns. At this point it looks like the committee is ready to split the bill, putting the strict liability sections aside and focusing their work on medical monitoring. With this change, the bill will only impact those who were negligent in the use of a chemical. We will continue to monitor the committee’s work as we still have serious concerns.
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. Jon Guiffre, after testifying to Senate Economic Development, has drafted some input for a Construction/Trades Workforce Training working group that can be added to H.533. His key issues for this group would include:
Here is a good Seven Days article that highlights the challenges in the committee of jurisdiction working on Act 250.
H.107 The Senate Economic Development Committee is reviewing this bill now and everyone is aware that the Governor continues to have enough votes to prevail should he decide to veto H.107. The .55% payroll tax with no opt-out for employees who aren’t eligible or who don’t want the benefit are key areas of objection for many legislators.
Jim Bradley met with Rep. Scott Campbell on Friday to put together the first draft of a working group proposal to consider the best way to enforce RBES. While it is very late in the session to try to get this done we felt it is necessary to begin this work given the conversations in many committees. There is a lot of time being taken on weatherization considerations this year and many proposals include increasing residential building requirements and labeling. This work group is a responsible way to gather this energy into a place where ideas can be vetted and effective recommendations can be made.
S.108 – This bill focuses on who will oversee review and enforcement of employee misclassification, Department of Labor, Department of Financial Regulation or the Attorney General’s Office. There is a lot of discussion about who is doing what right now and this will continue next week. There has been no discussion about changing the independent contractor definition.
S.163 – Passed the Senate on a close vote. There was one change made and as the bill left the Senate, registration will be required if a job entails more than $2,000 in labor and materials. This bill now moves on to the House. It missed the “crossover” deadline to be considered in the relevant House committees so it isn’t certain it will pass this year.
S.37 - This strict liability and medical monitoring bill passed the Senate and is now in House Judiciary. This bill will be the focus of work for the upcoming week. We will be working closely with House Judiciary members before this bill moves on to the House Commerce for further consideration.
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. On Friday, Jon Guiffre testified on behalf of HBRA and was well-received in the Senate Economic Development committee. Chair Michael Sirotkin announced that his presentation was compelling. The committee wants HBRA to bring forth language that would be included in H.533 for a workgroup that would meet post-session to outline a proposal for legislation that would set up a long-term training effort for needed trade skills.
Updated Act 250 Draft
Little activity this week in House Natural as the committee failed to carve out the appeals section of the bill and send that on to House Judiciary as expected. The committee bill proposes to revert back to a board model for appeals as opposed to the current Superior Court model. The committee did make some progress on the discussion of eliminating the current Act 250 exemption for slate quarries, almost all of which are in Rutland County. The Natural Resources Board will establish a working group comprised of slate quarry owners, residential neighbors and local government to address any Act 250 concerns and bring proposals back to the committee on how the industry will come into compliance.
H.107 passed the House on a vote of 92-52. This gives the Governor the margin he needs to support a veto, should he decide to take that step. Governor Scott has been advocating for a voluntary Paid Family Leave initiative in collaboration with New Hampshire. In pushback to the House Paid Family Leave Bill (H.107) we have joined like-minded groups who have expressed concern for the payroll tax as well as the challenge to find staff to cover the work of employees who would take unexpected extended family leave. This bill will now move to the Senate. Details regarding the status of this bill can be found in this article.
We are building support to have an RBES enforcement working group put into a bill so HBRA can help guide constructive work in enforcing current requirements before creating new burdens on the building industry.
Association Health Plans (AHP)
H.524 Hasn’t been considered yet in the Senate. On March 28th a court rulingchallenging the future viability of AHP’s was issued in DC. This may weaken our efforts to defend these plans in Vermont but we are working with others to see how this decision affects our active AHPs.
S.108 - While the changes proposed here may result in more complaints being acted upon against employers who are inappropriately misclassifying employees, there is nothing in this bill that opens the door to changing the definition of independent contractor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Updated Draft of Act 250 Bill
House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife continues to lumber along in their testimony of their Act 250 Bill. This week the committee spent a lot of time on changes to the regulation of slate quarries. There was also testimony on the racial equity aspects of Act 250 that will continue next week. It is clear to most that this bill won’t be out for a vote this year.
H.107was voted out of House Ways and Means late Friday afternoon on a vote of 7-4 and will move to the House Floor next week.
This articledoes a good job at explaining the many changes that were made in the last two days. Of particular note, the payroll tax has been decreased from a proposed .93% to .55% and the employer would decide how that cost would be split between the employee and employer. This bill will move on to Senate Health & Welfare and we will make sure HBRA testifies to the challenge of finding temporary skilled workers to replace those who take this leave.
HBRA was on a call on Friday with the group of associations who support increased efforts to ensure RBES standards are being properly implemented. This is the group who signed on to an RBES Compliance Letter that Jim Bradley delivered to House Natural Resources when he testified to that committee. There are a number of bills being considered that call for expanding efficiency requirements on new and existing home structures. It was decided on this call that we would focus efforts on getting a work group established in legislation that would call for recommendations on enforcement of RBES. The intention would be that the recommendations that would be created after adjournment would then be drafted by key legislators to be passed into law next session.
Jim Bradley will be testifying in House Energy and Technology and Senate Natuarl Resources about the need for oversight of RBES before expanding more requirements on home builders next week.
S.171 is a new bill in Senate Natural Resources that proposed to address climate change by increasing weatherization and by establishing a statewide system for rating and labelling the energy performance of buildings.
Jim Bradley will testifying in this committee about the need for the aforementioned workgroup and the fact that we have standards in place that are not enforced at this point.
There is language in H.524that will effectively eliminate AHPs. Currently about 5,000 employees in VT will be affected and will have to go back to the health exchange to purchase their insurance. The committees took a lot of testimony in support of association plans but failed to convince the House of the benefit to these plans. This bill will move on to the Senate next week.
H.533 is now in House Appropriations. This bill will move on to the Senate and there will be opportunities for HBRA members to testify to the need for this training in our industry.
S.37 - This strict liability and medical monitory bill passed the Senate and is now in House Judiciary
If you have people who would like to testify please let us know.
S.163 – Was voted out of Senate Finance and will be on the Senate floor for a vote of the entire Senate next Wednesday and Thursday and then move on to the House. We will continue to monitor this bill to ensure this language remains as HBRA has agreed to.
The Tax Bill – aka:
The House Revenue Bill
This bill will be on the House floor for a vote next week. An easy to read chart with specific details can be found here. This bill proposes to reduce the capital gains exclusion, increase the estate tax exclusion, increase funding for the first-time homebuyers program and downtown and village center tax credit, clarify who pays the property transfer tax, and makes changes to the land gains and fuel tax.
S.108 - proposes to permit the Attorney General to enforce complaints of employee misclassification under the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance laws.
This has passed the Senate and is now in House Commerce and Economic Development.
Act 250 Bill
Jim Bradley, President of HBRA and Kemener Whalen, Blackrock Construction testified before House Natural Resources Committee on the Act 250 bill under consideration. Jim kicked off their presentation highlighting the need to enforce Residential Building Energy Standards before the committee considers expanding more requirements that won’t have proper oversight. The committee was supportive of his testimony, particularly when he detailed the importance of building energy efficient homes and the missed opportunities due to lack of proper enforcement of RBES. Kemener followed with a detailed explanation of how added permitting and requirements increase the cost of housing which is a real problem in Vermont.
Paid Family Leave Bill - H.107
House Ways and Means continues to take testimony on H.107 which, if passes as currently written would:
The employee’s job is protected while they are out unless:
This bill is expected to be up for a vote in the House later next week.
This proposal will provide for additional funding for apprenticeships and job training has been voted out of House Commerce. This bill will move on to the Senate and there will be opportunities for HBRA members to testify to the need for this training in our industry.
Toxins Bill – S.37
This strict liability and medical monitory bill passed the Senate and is on to House Judiciary on a vote of 22-8. The Governor would need 11 votes to sustain a veto. This bill has serious ramifications and would be the only legislation of its kind in the country.
Companies affected would be those with 10 or more employees and has a Standard Industrial Classification of 20-39. This bill, should it pass would potentially affect suppliers who would no longer want to do business in Vermont. We plan to schedule testimony in the House about the impacts of this bill should it pass.
Contract Registry Bill
This passed out of Senate Economic Development Committee in a larger bill. The Registry language can be found beginning on Page 10, Line 9 in the link provided.
This will be up for a vote of the entire Senate next week. We were able to get the additions in that Jim Bradley had requested.
Health Insurance Market Stabilization Bill – H.524
As it affects you Association Healthcare Plans
The House Health Care Committee passed H.524, a bill that imposes measures to stabilize the health insurance market. This bill proposes to implement Vermont’s individual mandate to maintain health insurance coverage. It would also codify in State law certain health insurance consumer protections included in the ACA such as, a ban on preexisting condition exclusions and a requirement to provide coverage for dependents up to 26 years of age. The bill would require looking through the structure of an association to provide health insurance plans based on the size of each underlying employer. It would prohibit licensed brokers from accepting payment for enrolling Vermont residents in certain health expense-sharing arrangements and would require the Green Mountain Care Board to quantify the impact of the Medicaid and Medicare cost shifts and uncompensated care on health insurance premiums. The bill would also direct the Agency of Human Services to develop strategies for increasing the affordability of health insurance and to evaluate options for the future of Vermont’s health insurance markets.
The so-called “look through doctrine” disallows small businesses and individuals to be treated as larger groups in the insurance marketplace thus eliminating an important regulatory and financial benefit of association health plans (AHP). Business groups that participate in association plans have protested the look-through proposal.
Advocates for AHPs said that they allow small businesses greater choice in plan
design and price. The potential ramifications of eliminating existing AHPs is “rate
shock” for these businesses and their employees as premiums would increase
significantly for the 2020 enrollment year.
The bill is now in Ways and Means where that committee is focused on the individual mandate penalty structure and it may propose changes.
Town Meeting Break
The Legislature is not in session this week so that legislators can attend their Town Meetings. They will return to the Statehouse the week of March 11th and then have a very busy next couple of weeks meeting their crossover deadlines. All remaining non‑money bills must be passed out of committee by the 15th. The “money” bills, including the tax bill, the fee bill and the budget bill are due by March 22nd.
The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife continues to take testimony on Act 250. Their focus laned to climate change sections of the Act 250 committee bill, hearing from severast week pertail witnesses on energy, efficiency building standards, and weatherization.
The committee continues to debate the level of increased building code requirements, including RBES, weatherization, Passive Home standards, on-site v. off-site mitigation costs, carbon offsets and stretch codes.
Richard Faesy of the Energy Futures Group urged the committee to make sure Act 250 prioritizes renewable energy sources over fossil fuels, and to “set the bar high” for energy efficiency in his presentation.
Enrique Bueno of Vermont Passive House gave a presentation on implementing Passive House Building Standards to minimize the energy intensity and CO2 emissions in buildings. With seemingly obvious (according to his presentation) energy efficiency benefits without significant building costs, the committee asked why these standards were not more uniformly followed? Enrique cited a lack of codes requiring adoption of passive house building standards and necessary certifications and acknowledged a general resistance to change.
When the legislature returns from town meeting break the committee will continue discussing climate change and begin discussion of administration and appeals processes of Act 250. The Chair of House Natural, Rep. Amy Sheldon, (D)-Middlebury has expressed a desire to hear from builders on energy and efficiency standards. We’re working to schedule Home Builders for testimony.
House Ways and Means heard from the Governor’s Administration on their alternative Family Leave proposal. The committee took interest as there are some concerns with the proposal that is moving through the House. Jim Bradley followed that testimony from the perspective of the Home Builders and Remodelers members. He talked about the challenges that businesses would face should skilled employees avail themselves of this benefit. This was the only time the committee formally heard of potential problems for some labor sectors. Jim talked about the cumulative effect of various bills in the building affecting this industry. H.107 will be taken up in the committee again after the legislative town meeting break.
The registration bill is still in one of two omnibus housing bills in Senate Economic Development. This topic hasn’t received recent attention. We will keep you updated.
The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife spent the week focused on land use planning, hearing testimony from state agencies, environmental advocacy organizations and working lands groups.
Kate McCarthy of the Vermont Natural Resources Council spoke to the committee at length on the importance of planning at the local and regional levels. Currently, there are not sufficient resources for planning on a state level but identifying critical resource areas ahead of Act 250 permit applications procedure would greatly streamline the process on local and regional scale.
Ed Stanak gave a review of the Act 250 process from his perspective as a past District Coordinator. He strongly defended the process and outcomes over the years, citing statistics that 95% of applications are approved and only 25% are ‘major’ applications that require hearings. He warned of the trend toward more administrative amendments and approvals, where no hearings take place. Stanak suggestion that in 21st century, instead of the original criteria of ‘10 acre towns and 1 acre towns,’ Act 250 should be triggered by ‘compelling state interests’ - protecting the state's most critical finite natural resources.
Rep. Charlie Kimbell, (D)-Woodstock, addressed the committee to explain why he introduced H.197 (known as the Administration bill). Kimball said he believes the changes to Act 250 in the bill strike the right balance in encouraging development while protecting Vermont’s critical environmental resources. He pointed out the key parts of H.197 that would accomplish modernization of Act 250;
· Removing jurisdiction in enhanced designation areas.
· Identify, through planning, unique value resource areas.
· Updating criteria so they are consistent with agency programs and rules.
· Flexibility in forest industry hours of operation.
· Exempting recreation trails from jurisdiction.
Rep. Kimball reminded the committee of the trusted experts who work in the Agencies of Natural Resources and Commerce and Community Development, saying they are diligently working within this framework of balance.
Ed Larson from the VT Forest Products Association gave a presentation that strongly defended the importance of the industry in Vermont, and warned of potential dangers to industry if the exemption for farming, logging, and forestry below 2,500 feet is repealed. Larson encouraged the committee to ask themselves - “what problem are we trying to solve?”
Mark-up of the Act 250 Committee Bill continued Friday afternoon. The committee completed a first read through of habitat and forest block definitions, though several members were clear that they would like to return to review the definitions in the near future. The committee will begin testimony on climate change next week.
Other documents of interest-
Summary Comparison of Act 47 Commission Draft (Committee Bill) Legislation and Executive Branch Draft Legislation H.197
House Ways and Means will be taking testimony from Home Builders on the Paid Family Leave Bill, H.107, on Wednesday, February 27th. Six of the eleven members of this committee have co-sponsored this bill but we hope to raise issues of concern that are compelling to the group as a whole.
A helpful PowerPoint prepared by the Joint Fiscal Office on the tax treatment of paid family leave benefits can be found here.
A state by state comparison of paid family leave benefits was also reviewed in Ways and Means.
Further testimony revealed that the payroll tax will have to be collected for two years before any benefits can begin to be paid out since the state will need to build up a reserve fund. Also, by year five the fund faces a projected shortfall so the payroll tax will have to be increased.
New Bill Up for Consideration
H.351 proposes to clarify the purposes for which the Workers’ Compensation Administration Fund may be used, to repeal the Short-Time Compensation Program, and to permit the Passenger Tramway Board to expend funds for ski lift mechanic training, education, and apprenticeships.
House Commerce and Economic Development is asking Home Builders to testify on this bill on Friday, March 1st at 10:00 am.
And in other news:
Home Builders Contracting Registration Update
Jim Bradley and Byron Gokey, owner of Wallboard Supply Company testified to the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs on Friday. They addressed the committee’s omnibus housing bill as it relates to mandatory contractor registration. The language can be found beginning on the bottom of page 11.
Jim and Byron were well-received, and their suggestions will be addressed. Jim also highlighted concerns about the lack of state enforcement for Residential Building Energy Standards. The committee is interested in learning more about this issue.
Following this testimony, we all met with Chris Curtis, Chief for the Public Protection Division in the Attorney General's Office and Lauren Hibbert who is the Director of Office of Professional Regulations. They will request that the committee add language that would require another Sunrise Report before additional mandates are added to the new proposed registration.
We will continue to track this bill to make sure the committee doesn’t add more the registration requirements as was discussed a few weeks ago. There is no doubt that Jim and Byron did a great job of establishing HBRANV as partners and not adversaries in this work.
Work continues in House Natural Resources but the committee hit a snag on Friday as the members shared their confusion regarding the proposed changes to Act 250 they have been discussing over the last few weeks. It is clear there is a lot more consideration of this bill before it is ready to be voted out of committee.
Their committee bill is a work in progress. Pages 1-3 encompasses the bill’s proposed intentions. Enhanced Designation language begins on page 54. We strongly recommend having some of your members, who have a strong passion for Act 250, review this bill and get back to us with their questions and comments. We think there will be opportunities next week to weigh in with concerns.
The Paid Family Leave bill H.107 was voted out of House General Housing and Military Affairs Committee with only one dissenting vote. This bill now is in House Ways and Means where we anticipate there will be a deeper dive into the costs to run this proposed program.
We told the Committee Chair that we would like Home Builders to testify to this bill.
Other bills that may be a interest to HBRANV:
A Workforce Development Bill will be coming out next week from House Commerce and Economic Development. The committee wants to move money into specific adult skills development courses and would like testimony to support their bill. You will receive that language as soon as it’s available. If HBRANV is supportive we can schedule members to speak to the committee.
Proposes to prohibit agreements that prohibit individuals from competing with their former employers following the conclusion of their employment. This bill is being considered in House Commerce.
This bill proposes to increase the minimum wage so that it reaches $15.00 per hour by January 1, 2024 and was voted out of Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs on a vote of 4-1 and will move on to Senate Finance.
Association Health Plans discussed in House Health Care
The House Health Care Committee considered the impact of association health plans (AHP) on the health insurance market. AHPs are designed to allow small employers
and self-employed individuals to access health insurance plans. Changes to federal
law last year allowed the creation of AHPs in Vermont.
MVP does not currently offer AHPs and, along with the Health Care Advocate has
raised concerns. Blue Cross Blue Shield is offering AHPs through both the Vermont
Chamber of Commerce and Business Resource Services. There are already several
thousand people signed up for association health plans in the state. Chief Health
Care Advocate Mike Fisher said AHPs threaten Vermont’s health insurance
marketplace by splitting a larger risk pool into smaller pools and could drive up
prices on the Health Exchange. The health care advocate and MVP testified that
states have the authority to regulate AHPs, and they are suggesting Vermont
consider a look-through doctrine”. That would take away a major financial and
regulatory advantage of association health plans by not allowing small businesses
and individuals to be treated as larger groups in the insurance marketplace.
The health care committee signaled that they would like to address the issue of
association health plans but as of yet there is not a bill related to this specific
And some good news:
Workers’ Comp Rates decrease