PO Box 440, St. Albans Bay, VT 05481
LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE BLOG
Home Builders Contracting Registration Update
We met with Chris Curtis from the Attorney Generals’ office who again told us that they were standing by the very limited registration bill. We found out on Friday afternoon that this new registration requirement will be added to an Omnibus Housing Bill being discussed this Wednesday, February 13th at 12:45. The committee may want some people from HBRANV in to testify at this time. We’ll confirm that and report back.
We spoke with Lauren Hibbert of the Office of Professional Regulation who told us there is interest in putting more requirements around certifications but they don’t want to do this and they barely have capacity to implement this basic new registration so we remain hopeful that the AG and OPR won’t support increasing oversight on the homebuilding industry beyond what we have all agreed to.
The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife had a long second week of testimony on the Act 250 Committee Bill. The Administration testified several times advocating for Gov. Scott’s vision of Act 250 reform - “breathing new life” into our communities, without reducing planning and environmental protection, by eliminating criteria that are addressed in other State and Federal permits. They are also asking legislators to simplify the construction approval process for rural industrial parks, as well as downtowns and village centers as long as there were stricter community flood control and habitat protection regulations in place.
The Committee, led by Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Addison, trended towards a somewhat different vision this week. The focus is on environmental protection and a need to confront the cumulative impacts of small-scale development, as well as addressing forest fragmentation and climate change. Prevalent were the themes of ‘jurisdiction’ and the desire to get away from viewing Act 250 on a project by project basis. Early in the week the phrase “tyranny of small decisions” was coined and oft repeated, alluding to the cumulative effect of decisions on critical natural resources.
There does seem to be some interest in how to incentivize greater regional and municipal planning by exempting projects located in designated centers. We will continue to closely monitor Act 250 proceedings in the coming weeks.
Paid Family Leave
The Paid Family Leave bill is being considered in the House General Housing and Military Affairs Committee. They are taking testimony, but by all accounts, they will be passing out their mandatory version of paid family leave and not supporting the Governor’s opt-in approach. At this point it appears this bill will provide for up to 12 weeks of 100% wage coverage every year for all employees. This will be supported with a .93% payroll tax split between employees and employers and there is currently a $150,000 salary cap.
Once this bill leaves this committee it will move on to Ways and Means and then Appropriations. We’ll be talking with those committees and you may want to testify.
Other bills that may be a concern to HBRANV:
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.
Please let us know if you want to testify on any of these bills.
Testimony on Home Improvement Contracting Registration
The Senate Economic Development Committee took testimony on Wednesday hearing from Gabe Gilman, General Counsel, Secretary of State's Office and Charity Clark from the AG’s Office.
Gabe Gilman opened by reviewing the Sunrise Report. He stated that before this report opinions were merely ahead of the data. Now they have valid information to act upon. Big projects are taken to court. The majority of smaller offenses are between the $1,000 and $10,000 range. This is the problem the registry bill is looking to address. The committee asked about registration compliance and Gabe reported that OPR believes those contractors who are compliant with the law, “annoyed competitors”, will report those who are not. From OPR’s perspective, this registration is meant to combat repeat fraud. Gabe stressed that we are a small state with limited capacity, and this was as far as they wanted to take the registration.
Conversation moved on to certification which Gabe stressed was voluntary and he went on to explain that taking certifications away from businesses isn’t possible. There was conversation about “hitching” certifications to government certification by Senator Clarkson. Gabe discouraged this proposal. He spoke highly of the professionalism of the Home Builders and the committee concurred. They want you to testify soon.
Fee bill testimony will begin next week in the Ways and Means committee. Attached is a spreadsheet with proposed Administration fees. So far the contractor registry fees are not on it but the Secretary of State will likely submit those proposed fees later when there is more clarity on the contractor registry proposal.
The House Committee on Housing, General and Military Affairs heard testimony about the paid family leave bill H.107 throughout the week. This bill proposes to create a Paid Family Leave Insurance Program within the Departments of Labor and Taxes that will be funded by contributions from employers and employees. The bill also proposes to amend Vermont’s existing Parental and Family Leave Act to make it applicable to additional employers and to clarify certain provisions. The committee heard from many stakeholders (testimony) and will continue taking testimony, but this bill is a stated priority for House leadership.
In the meantime, the governor continues to pursue his voluntary paid family leave proposal and issued a Press Release stating that an RFI would be issued for the Dual Voluntary State Program. The RFI solicits responses and information from insurance carriers and financial professionals regarding rate development, benefit structure and pricing for state employees, employers and individuals. The RFI specifically requests pricing information regarding higher wage replacement for lower wage earners and progressively pricing individual premiums.
We are meeting on Tuesday with allied group leaders concerned about this bill to strategize possible improvements. We’ll be sharing them with you.
Jim Bradley and Patrick O’Brian met with Chris Cochran from the Agency of Commerce on Tuesday to review the Administration’s priorities in the Act 250 Report. They are happy to get the support of Home Builders where you are all aligned. We are following actions as the develop on the House Natural Resource Chair, Amy Sheldon’s, Act 250 Bill.
We met with Diane Snelling, Chair of the Natural Resources Board, and she is very aware of your challenges. She offered to meet with any of you with specific problems. She understands that there can be challenges with the local district commissions.
Other Bills of Potential Concern
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. Please let us know if you have concerns and want to testify.
Articles of Interest
Construction Employment Climbs in January
Statehouse Activities of Interest
The Office of Professional Regulation is still working on their draft. We are going to meet with Chris Curtis this week to remind him of our concerns about more requirements being added to this bill.
This Wednesday, the Senate Economic Development Committee will hear from Lauren Hibbert and Gabe Gilman, of OPR on “Home Improvement Contracting”. We will coordinate with them in advance to see if they are hoping to make the case for a committee bill with broad buy in after making sure they have made the case for light regulation.
Jim Bradley will be meeting with Chris Cochran from the Agency of Commerce on Tuesday to review the Administration’s priorities in the Act 250 Report.
Minimum Wage Bill
S.23 proposes to increase the minimum wage so that it reaches $15.00 per hour by January 1, 2024.
This bill is being considered in Senate Economic, Housing and General Affairs. A similar bill was vetoed by the Governor last year. S.23 will most likely move easily through both Chambers towards passage. The Governor will have to struggle to pick up some Democrats to support another veto.
Paid Family Leave
The legislative leaders’ counter to the Governor’s opt-in proposal that we detailed in last weeks’ update increases the benefits they were looking to offer last year. This proposal is a mandatory .93% payroll tax (to be split between employer and employee) and will offer 100% of wage coverage for up to 12 weeks per year. We anticipate that members of your organization will want to testify on this issue.
Standard Contracts and Waivers
S.18 proposes to create a rebuttable presumption that certain contractual terms are substantively unconscionable when included in certain standard-form contracts.
This bill could affect you if your business requires anyone to sign a waiver of liability. This is of particular concern to the outdoor industry, but we wanted HBRANV to be aware of it.
The Governor delivered his Budget Address on Thursday. The text of the speech can be found here.
Budget Address subjects that are of particular interest to Home Builders and Remodelers:
“Our biggest threat is our declining labor force. As our working-age population continues to decline, we simply need more people helping to pay the bills.
Together, we have an opportunity to change this, with polices that better prepare students for a career, keep more of our kids after graduation, provide training for Vermonters so they can get a good job and attract new workers and new families to join our communities.”
“We can enhance our high environmental standards and breathe new life into our downtowns and village centers. Specifically, let’s give communities the opportunity to raise the bar when it comes to planning and environmental protection. And when they meet these new standards, let’s reward them and encourage growth by exempting them from Act 250.”
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the 20-year, $2 billion project ahead of us is as much a major infrastructure program as it is essential environmental policy.
That’s why my budget fully funds the Clean Water Board’s recommendation. This includes about $15 million for the State’s Clean Water Fund, over $12 million in capital funds and $1 million in transportation dollars. Combined with over $19 million in federal funds, all told, this budget dedicates nearly $48 million to clean water projects.”
“Eliminate land gains tax to unlock older housing stock to renovation and re-development.
Next, let’s make sure these updated properties are efficient. Eighty percent of our housing stock is at least 40 years old, and nearly half of that is 80 years old. We know the cost to heat these older homes can push them out of reach for some. So, my budget includes $1 million to restore these units if weatherization is part of the project. and increasing the Downtown and Historic tax credit to $2.6 million.”
Gov Paid Family Leave
“First, we can launch more quickly, more affordably and more reliably than if the State had to create the program from scratch. Second, it ensures we aren’t placing the burden of startup costs, or the risk of underfunding and insolvency, on taxpayers. And third, we’re not mandating another cost on our employers and employees for an expense they may not be able to afford.
I understand your concerns that a voluntary approach might not have a big enough pool to sustain a program. That’s why our proposal places all eligible state employees from both states into the plan, creating a large and diverse pool overnight. And my budget includes funding to offer this coverage to our state employees if we move forward.”
Workforce and Moving to VT
“This year, my budget includes a total of $2.5 million to identify those most likely to consider moving to Vermont, tell them our story and make it easier for them to get here. It includes funding for relocation support to really sell Vermont by helping those who want to move here find a great job, housing and a community they’re drawn to, in the regions and job sectors that need them most.”
The Statehouse is beginning to heat up during the second week of the legislative session and bills are being introduced at a breakneck pace. As of Friday, January 18th, there were 56 bills introduced in the House and 47 in the Senate. So far there are multiple bills about Act 46 mergers (and about the undoing of Act 46), and the first three of four proposed amendments to the Vermont constitution have been released. Proposals of amendment can be initiated every four years by the Senate.
Amending the state’s constitution is a lengthy, complicated process that is meant to withstand the vicissitudes of political fortune.
Home Builders and Remodelers Update
The OPR Registration Bill
We have been in contact with the Office of Professional Regulation and they are still working on finding a sponsor for their bill. As soon as they have done that they will share their draft. At that point we will arrange to meet with Chris Cole, Lauren Hibbert and the bill’s sponsors to ensure that they understand that this is meant to be a very limited registration requirement.
We met with people from the Governor’s Administration to review their priorities in the Act 250 report. They believe Home Builders and Remodelers will support their efforts and we’ll have more details in the following weeks.
Here is their Act 250 Handout
Act 250 Modernization
What: The Natural Resources Board along with the Agencies of Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and Natural Resources have been working with the Act 47 (“Act 250 at 50”) Commission to evaluate opportunities to improve the Act 250 process and outcomes for Vermont. We look forward to working with the legislature to ensure that over the next 50 years Act 250 supports Vermont’s economic, environmental, and land use planning goals.
Why: The following recommendations, which were provided to the Commission, are of critical importance to protect Vermont’s environment while facilitating economic activity and development in suitable locations. Overall these recommendations are intended to focus Act 250’s attention on the locations and projects where environmental protection is most important and to promote development in other areas.
How: Key policy decisions to focus on during the 2019 session:
• Encouraging development in the State’s existing designated centers through the creation of an enhanced designation process that would remove Act 250 jurisdiction within the designated center provided the municipality can demonstrate that it has adopted municipal flood hazard planning and river corridor protections for the entire municipality, design review standards (including historic preservation), wildlife habitat protections, and coordinated capital investments .
• Creating a process to subject unique natural resource areas, such as contiguous blocks of primary agricultural soils, high-value forest blocks, and high-value connectivity habitat to Act 250 jurisdiction regardless of whether a project in such area would trigger jurisdiction under existing thresholds.
• Including impacts on forest blocks and connecting habitat in the review process under Act 250 Criterion 8 to address the issue of forest fragmentation, while giving due consideration to the positive effect of enterprises that add value to forest-derived commodities.
• Updating Act 250 Criterion 1(D) (floodways protections) for consistency with the State’s Flood Hazard Area and River Corridor Protection standards, eliminating potential confusion and ensuring that Act 250’s standards align with best practices.
• Clarifying the appropriate use and reliance on other state permits as evidence that various Act 250 criteria have been satisfied, to streamline and make the process more predictable.
• Clarifying the circumstances in which an Act 250 permit application fee waiver and/or partial refund are warranted.
• Recommending changes to support rural industrial park development with a simplified master plan process for obtaining construction approval and reduced fess when some impacts have already been reviewed.
• Allowing flexibility, when appropriate, in the hours of operation of value-added forest product businesses to respond to the logistical challenges these operations face due to climate change.
• Clarifying the circumstances in which an Act 250 permit or permit amendment is needed for recreational trails to ensure Vermont’s recreation economy remains compatible with environmentally responsible development.
• Exempting federal aid transportation projects, which require significant federal review and oversight, from Act 250 review.
• Updating Act 250 to recognize that modern Vermont farms increasingly rely on on-site agritourism and direct-to-customer businesses to remain economically viable, and that these activities should not trigger Act 250 jurisdiction.
The governor announced his plan to explore a voluntary paid family leave program that would be a joint venture with the state of New Hampshire. Legislative leadership, Senate President Pro Tem, Tim Ashe, and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson held a press conference coming out against the proposal. They plan to introduce a mandatory paid family leave bill that is funded through a payroll tax.
We met with a group of allies and heard from the Governor’s staff who answered questions about the details of the Governor’s proposal. This is in early planning stages but the highlights are as follows:
This proposal was immediately met with opposition from the Legislature and from the State Employee Association. So there will be a lot more on this issue to follow.
This session brings forty new representatives in the House and five new Senators. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson shook up committee assignments quite a bit to balance the "challenges and opportunities" of having so many new representatives as well as five committee chair slots to fill. To top that off, three moderate Republicans in the House lost seats causing some shifting around to fill necessary seats in important money committees.
On Thursday Governor Scott gave his Inaugural Address laying out his priorities, while making a plea to the legislature to work collaboratively and set an example for the country. He said that he would be laying out a plan to fund clean water through an existing, sustainable source (meaning he does not want to raise new taxes). There will be a proposal to make health insurance more affordable for young people. Governor Scott proposes to use money from the Volkswagon settlement to subsidize electric vehicle purchases in the state. High speed internet statewide will also be a priority. Details for these efforts will be outlined in the Governor’s budget address.
Act 250 Activity
We will be following this closely as we are being told that the smaller contractors may be more affected than most in upcoming initiatives. No testimony was taken this week that would pertain to HBRANV. We have a meeting next week with the Administration to hear their thoughts. The Governor alluded to their proposal in his speech.
“Act 250 was created nearly 50 years ago to address a rapidly growing state. At that time, there wasn’t the regulatory oversight to deal with the population expansion brought on by the baby boom and the interstate highway system.
But those circumstances no longer exist.
That’s why I’ll propose reforms to modernize Act 250 in a way that expands growth in our struggling downtowns while continuing to protect the environment.
We can and must do both.
This proposal builds on work we did together last term to modernize regulation and support the development of affordable housing in our downtowns and growth centers. This year, we can do even more to build stronger communities by updating Act 250 and encourage more compact development while preserving our working lands and rural character.”
Link to Introduced Bills
Thirty bills have been introduced in the House this week. The senate hasn’t published their list yet.
Senate Standing Committees (New Chairs are highlighted)
Chair, Bobby Starr (D-Orleans)
Vice-Chair Chris Pearson (P/D-Burlington)
Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington)
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland)
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison)
Chair, Senator Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonai)
Vice-Chair, Alice Nitka (D-Windsor)
Bobby Starr (D-Orleans)
Dick McCormack (D-Windsor)
Richie Westman (R-Lamoille)
Tim Ashe (D/P – Burlington)
Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs
Chair, Michael Sirotkin (D-Burlington)
Vice-Chair Alison Clarkson, (D-Windsor)
Becca Balint (D-Windham)
Randy Brock (R-Franklin)
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland)
Chair, Phil Baruth (D/P Burlington)
Vice-Chair Deb Ingram, (D-Burlington)
Jim McNeil (R-Rutland)
Corey Parent (R-Franklin)
Andrew Perchilk (D-Washington)
Chair, Anne Cummings, (D-Washington)
Vice-Chair, Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
Michael Sirotkin (D-Burlington)
Brian Campion (D-Bennington)
Chris Pearson (D/P Burlington)
Health and Welfare
Chair, Ginny Lyons (D-Burlington)
Vice-Chair, Richie Westman (R-Franklin)
Anne Cummings (D-Washington)
Deb Ingram (D-Burlington)
Chair, Joe Benning,
Vice-Chair John Rodgers (D-Orleans),
Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle)
Ginny Lyons (D-Burlington)
Chair, Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
Jeanette White (D-Windham)
Joe Benning (R-Caledonia)
Phil Baruth (D/P- Burlington)
Natural Resources Energy
Chair, Chris Bray (D-Addison)
Vice-Chair, Brian Campion (D-Bennington)
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
John Rodgers (D-Orleans)
Chair, Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle)
Vice-Chair, Tim Ashe (D/P-Burlington),
Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia)
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington)
House Standing Committees
Chair, Carolyn Partridge (D-Windham)
Vice-Chair, Rodney Graham (R-Williamstown)
John Bartholomew (D-Hartland)
Tom Bock (D-Chester)
Charen Fegard (D-Enosburg Falls)
Terry Norris (I-Shoreham)
John O’Brien (D-Tunbridge)
Vickie Strong (R-Albany)
Chair, Kitty Toll (D-Danville)
Vice-Chair, Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier)
Peter Fagan (Rutland City)
Chip Conquest (D-Newbury)
Marty Feltus (R-Lyndon)
Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven)
Diane Lanpher (D-Vergennes)
Linda Myers (R-Essex)
Maida Townsend (D-South Burlington)
Matt Trieber (D-Rockingham)
Dave Yacovone (D-Morristown)
Commerce and Economic Development
Chair, Mike Marcotte (R-Coventry)
Vice-Chair, Jean O’Sullivan (D-Burlington)
Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock)
Bill Bancroft (R-Westford)
Jim Caroll (D-Bennington)
Lynn Dickinson (R-St. Albans Town)
Matt Hill (D-Wolcott)
Stephanie Jerome (D-Brandon)
Emillie Kornheiser (D-Brattleboro)
Zach Ralph (P-Hartland)
Tristan Toleno (D-Brattleboro)
Corrections and Institutions
Chair, Alice Emmons (D-Springfield)
Vice-Chair, Butch Shaw (R-Pittsford(
Terry Macaig (D-Willistno)
Sara Coffey (D- Guilford )
Carl Demrow (D-Corinth)
Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington)
Felichia Leffler (R-Enosburgh)
Marcia Martel (R-Waterford)
Mary Morrissey (R-Bennington)
Linda Joy Sullivan (D-Dorset)
Curt Taylor (D-Colchester)
Chair, Kate Webb (D-Shelburne)
Vice-Chair, Larry Cupoli (R-Rutland City),
Peter Conlon (D-Cornwall)
Sarita Austin (D-Colchester)
Lynn Batchelor (R-Derby)
Caleb Elder (D-Starksboro)
Dylan Giambatista (D-Essex)
Kathleen James (D-Manchester)
Jay Hooper (D-Randolph)
Chris Mattos (R-Milton)
Casey Toof (R- St. Albans)
Energy and Technology
Chair, Tim Briglin (D-Thetford )
Vice-Chair, Laura Sibilia (I-Dover)
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P-Middletown Springs)
Scott Campbell (D-St. Johnsbury)
Seth Chase (D-Colchester)
Mark Higley (R-Lowell)
Avram Patt (D-Worcester)
Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe)
Mike Yantachka (D-Charlotte)
General, Housing and Military Affairs
Chair, Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury )
Vice-Chair, Chip Troiano, (D- Stannard)
Diana Gonzalez (P-Winooski)
Matt Birong (D-Vergennes)
Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton)
Mary Howard (D-Rutland City)
John Killacky (D-South Burlington)
Emily Long (D-Newfane)
Randall, Szott (D-Barnard)
Tommy Walz (D-Barre City )
Chair, Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford)
Vice-Chair, John Gannon (D- Wilmington)
Rob LaClair (R-Barre Town)
Nelson Brownell (D-Pownal)
Marcia Gardner (D-Richmond)
Jim Harrison (R- Chittenden)
Bob Hooper (D-Burlington)
Warren Kitzmiller (D-Montpelier)
Mike Mrowicki (D-Poultney)
John Palasik (R-Milton)
Chair, Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg)
Vice-Chair, Anne Donahue (R-Northfield)
Lori Houghton (D-Essex)
Annmarie Christiansen (D-Weathersfield)
Brian Cina (P-Burlington)
Mari Cordes (D-Lincoln)
David Durfee (D-Shaftsbury)
Ben Jickling (I-Randolph)
Woody Page(R-Newport City)
Lucy Rogers (D-Waterville)
Brian Smith (R-Derby)
Chair, Ann Pugh (D South Burlington)
Vice-Chair, Sandy Haas (P-Rochester)
Topper McFaun (R-Barre Town)
Jessica Brumsted (D-Shelburne)
James Gregoire (R-Fairfield)
Logan Nicoll (D-Ludlow)
Dan Noyes (D-Wolcott )
Kelly Pajala (I-Londonderry)
Marybeth Redmond (D- Essex)
Carl Rosenquist (R-Georgia)
Theresa Wood (D- Waterbury)
Chair, Maxine Grad (D-Moretown
Vice-Chair, Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland)
Martin Lalonde (D-South Burlington )
Kevin Christie (D-Hartford )
Selina Colburn (P- Burlington)
Kenneth Goslant (R-Northfield)
Nadir Hashim (D-Dummerston)
Kim Jessup (D-Middlesex)
Will Notte (D-Rutland City)
Barbara Rachelson (D-Burlington)
Patrick Seymour (R- Sutton)
Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife
Chair, Amy Sheldon (D- Middlebury)
Vice-Chair, Paul Lefebvre R-Newark)
Trevor Squirrell (D-Underhill)
Chris Bates (D- Bennington)
Kari Dolan (D-Waitsfield)
Bob Forguites (D-Springfield )
Jim McCullough (D-Williston)
Leland Morgan (R-Milton)
Carol Ode (D- Burlington)
Harvey Smith (R-New Haven)
Tom Terenzini (R- Rutland Town)
Chair, Curt McCormack (D-Burlington)
Vice-Chair, Barbara Murphy (I-Fairfax)
Tim Corcoran (D-Bennington)
Mollie Burke (P-Brattleboro)
Mike McCarthy (D- St. Albans City)
Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney)
Dave Potter (D-Clarendon)
Connie Quimby (R- Concord)
Brian Savage (R-Swanton)
Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington)
Becca White (D-Hartford)
Ways and Means
Chair, Janet Ancel (D-Calais)
Vice-Chair, Bill Canfield (R-Fair Haven)
Joey Donovan (D-Burlington)
Peter Anthony (D-Barre City)
Scott Beck (R-St. Johnsbury)
Pat Brennan (R-Colchester)
Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington)
Jim Masland (D-Thetford)
Robin Scheu (D- Middlebury)
George Till (D-Jericho)
Sam Young (D-Greensboro)
A storm water bill that would amend the requirement that the Secretary of Natural Resources issue a general permit for discharges of stormwater from impervious surface of three or more acres in size, (when the stormwater discharge previously was not permitted or was permitted under an individual permit or general permit that did not incorporate requirements of a stormwater management manual issued after 2002) made it out of the house and now sits in Senate Natural Resources. It isn’t up for discussion
The Sunrise review to determine if home improvement contractors should be licensed is stalled in Senate Government Operations. The Homebuilders have been in preliminary discussions around the concept of positioning themselves as the source of education for the potential certification process. We will be meeting with the AG’s office and the Chair of Senate Government Operations soon to talk about this.
All independent contractor bills missed crossover deadline. We will continue to monitor for committee bills, but it appears as if we dodged all the truly terrible misclassification bills.
Facing little debate, the budget bill passed overwhelmingly in a vote 122-10. While representatives put four amendments on the table, none of them passed with the exception of a proposal by Rep. Kitty Toll D-Danville, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who offered technical changes. The bill also incorporates $28 million the state will receive as a result of a tobacco settlement. About half of the windfall, $14 million, will be used to fund efforts to fight addiction. Of the second half of the funds, $10 million would be used to pay down teacher’s retirement obligations. Lawmakers say the additional payment on the unfunded pension liability could lead to about $30 million in savings on interest. About $2 million would be placed into the state’s rainy day funds, in part as a safeguard against a future economic downturn.The House proposal now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
We have been asked to help support the administration move a bill that would give tax credits to homeowners who rehabilitate their houses. We meet this week with members of the Scott team to talk about how we can best help them.
Now that the budget has passed, things will begin to speed up legislatively. We will offer weekly written reports again to track the busy end of the session.
Office of Professional Regulation (OPR)
Discussion of Sunrise Assessment: Home Improvement and Construction Contractors
The Sunrise Review from the Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation has been completed on the home improvement/builder industry. It recommends mandatory registration for providers of home-improvement services, which include work done in or on residential homes, and voluntary state-backed certification. The yearly fee for registration would be $100. Certification standards will have to be developed. Registration licenses are “licenses” and consequently could be publicly warned, conditioned or revoked by the Office of Professional Regulation in the event of misconduct: “Registrants are answerable to civil and criminal process, are insured, and are compliant with other state law and obligations, such as child-support, taxes, judgment orders and, where applicable, the presence of workers’ compensation insurance.”
Colin Benjamin, Director, Office of Professional Regulation, Secretary of State's Office
Gabe Gilman, General Counsel, Secretary of State's Office
Christopher Curtis, Chief, Public Protection Division, Attorney General's Office
Representative Mark Higley, House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
William Badger, AIA Vermont
Sandra Vitzthum, self
Maureen Connolly, Executive Officer, Home Builders Association of Northern Vermont
Jim Bradley, HBRA
Robyn Steward, Director, Building Trade Association of Vermont
Carol Miklos, Executive Director, AIA Vermont
Maureen Connelly and Jim Bradley spoke on behalf of HBRA in support of voluntary certification and registration, but opposed the notion that a builder would be forced to register. They also offered the much needed perspective of the homebuilder who is taken advantage of by a home owner, and brought up the possibility that education, not registration, would be key to mitigating harm in this area.
Rep. Mark Higley testified in opposition of mandatory registration, calling it a “slippery slope toward full licensure”.
Some key arguments by witnesses in support of mandatory registration:
- The report from the AGs office states that the program “received 587 consumer complaints about home-improvement services, with claimed losses exceeding $3.1 million.”
- AIA representatives testified to the damage they have seen left by sloppy home builders. Most of the complaints they spoke of either fell well below the threshold and would be small claims, OR were of a criminal nature.
We are working with HBRA National to offer the educational component of certification in Vermont.
We will continue to monitor and weigh in when necessary.
The Sunrise is not slated for discussion this week.
This remains a huge issue for legislative and executive branch officials as the 2018 legislative session begins to unfold. Ellis Mills, along with a summer working group, assisted the Vermont Department of Labor (VTDOL) and the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (VTDFR) in drafting guidance regarding misclassification, which was finally issued late last month. The guidance extends the ruling for the Bourbeau case (which determined a single member LLC qualifies as an independent contractor for purposes of unemployment insurance) to include workers’ compensation insurance. VTDFR has issued this guidance to insurance carriers across the state.
Even though the guidance is an encouraging interim fix for our members and allies, there is still a desire among legislators and relevant state agencies (and certainly among Vermont homebuilders/remodelers) for a clear and emphatic legislative “fix” for the misclassification issue.
This bill proposes to establish a common definition of “independent contractor” for the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance statutes. Doesn’t use the totality of the circumstance, instead it allows for any two circumstances out of the list to qualify someone as an I.C
This bill proposes to amend the definitions related to independent contractors in the workers’ compensation
and unemployment insurance laws. Tracks closely with FLSA.
This bill proposes to amend definitions related to independent contractors in the workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation statutes.
This bill proposes to amend definitions related to independent contractors in the workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation statutes. Track closely with FLSA and attempts to close the person vs individual LLC loophole.
This bill proposes to provide for
notice at worksites of the requirements regarding employee classification; permit the Department of Labor to enter an employer’s premises for the purposes of investigating compliance with the workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation laws; permit the Department to obtain an injunction to enforce a stop-work order related to a violation of the workers’ compensation law; It also transfers misclassification enforcement to the Attorney General’s office.
This bill proposes to create an interagency commission to investigate, evaluate, and address the negative impacts from employee misclassification in Vermont on workers’ compensation rates, unemployment insurance contributions, and State tax revenues.
This bill proposes to establish a common definition of “independent contractor” for the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance statutes. Tracks closely with FLSA.
It’s worth highlighting a couple of the bills listed above. H.574 is the newest iteration of a misclassification bill, introduced by Rep. Paul Poirier (I-Barre). It tracks closely with pending misclassification bills that use the FLSA standard but it also attempts to close the LLC loophole exposed by the Bourbeau Supreme Court case.
H.681 is also a bill that would provide even more potent enforcement powers to the VTDOL. In addition, H.681 proposes to spread enforcement power to the Vermont Attorney General’s office. The AG’s consumer protection office has increasingly focused on contractors/homebuilders in recent years and H.681 is yet another chance for them to scrutinize Vermont small businesspeople (the AG’s office was the driving force behind the Sunrise Review discussed later in this report).
In addition to misclassification, HBRANVT will be actively engaged in the following issues before the Vermont General Assembly:
Sunrise Review, Contractor Certification
Senate Committee on Government Operations reviewed a preliminary sunrise assessment for identifying the need to regulate home improvement and construction contractors. The Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) did not recommend full licensure, but does recommend the following:
1) Mandatory, minimally intrusive registration for providers of residential home-improvement services, that work above a specified monetary level, and
2) Voluntary, State-backed certification, benefitting those practitioners wishing to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, and those consumers seeking verified skills.
The recommended registration fee is $100 per year. Registration requirements would be the same requirements that all professionals must comply with (taxes, child support) but would not attach a level of qualification to perform the work. In addition, the recommendation to include a voluntary State-backed certification that would add another level of confidence for consumers seeking information on who they hire to work on their home.
Last year, the bill to reduce the threshold on operational stormwater permits (H.39) made it out of the House Natural Resources Committee in time for the cross-over deadline on a 7-3-1 vote. Because it involves revenue, it was then committed to the House Ways and Means Committee. They discussed it only briefly and it squeaked by with a 6-5 vote. The decision was made not to release it to the floor with such a weak committee vote, so it's fate is now uncertain. It is not slated for discussion in the next couple of weeks, but we are monitoring it closely as water quality remains a major focus of the Vermont legislature.
The past 3-4 years of efforts from the Vt Homebuilders has aidied in providing all Small Buisnesses in VT favorable new Guidelines regarding Workers' Comp requirments.
You can view the Guidelines Here.
The press release below has been released this week.
Vermont Builders Association Welcomes New State Workers’ Comp Guidelines
Burlington, Vt. –– The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont (HBRANV) is celebrating new state guidelines issued to help employers understand the difference in workers’ compensation coverage requirements for employees and those for independent contractors.
The new “guidance,” as the document is called, follows a major victory for the association – and all small businesses in Vermont – embodied in a June 2017 ruling by the state Supreme Court. In that ruling, the court voted unanimously that a worker with a Limited Liability Company (LLC) could not legally be considered an individual, and therefore could not be an employee. That decision applied to unemployment insurance for contract employees. The new guidance, which was jointly issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR), extends the court’s decision to apply to workers’ compensation for contract employees.
The DOL ensures employers have coverage for their employees and adjudicates disputes between injured workers and workers’ comp insurers. The DFR regulates workers’ comp policies and rates.
“The collaborative work of DOL and DFR, and the guidance we authored, will go a long way to providing clarity in the often-complex area of independent contractors,” said Michael Pieciak, Commissioner of DFR.
DOL Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle said the new guidance would help businesses understand a “confusing and cumbersome” law. “The department believes it is important that workers who ought to be covered are covered, without discouraging the use of true independent contractors and entrepreneurs,” she said.
Maureen Cregan Connolly, executive officer for the HBRANV, said that the Association, with the help of the Legal Action Fund of the National Association of Homebuilders, has taken the lead on the independent contractor issue. “We are proud to work to protect Vermont's small businesses, which makeup a vast majority of HBRANV membership.