Legislative Update- June 26, 2023
Veto Session Update
Thursday, June 22, 2023
Section: Advocacy News

The 2023 veto session came and went in one day which was a major surprise to Vermonts political observers who had surmised the session may extend through the weekend. Governor Scott vetoed 8 bills this session mostly due to the burden of costs associated via new taxes or fees. This year was host to many records including vetos, new legislators, and new policy priorities. The budget which eventually passed rose to $8.5 billion which Vermont has never seen. The loss of Federal one-time funds from COVID set the stage for legislative struggles to maintain programs like free school lunches and housing homeless Vermonters in hotels. 

The first veto of the session which was overridden several weeks before the end of the normal session was S.5 (Act 18) which was referred to the as the affordable heat act. This program would require home heating fuel dealers to reduce the amount of propane, oil and kerosene sold by helping customers switch to higher efficiency, electric or wood burning heat sources. If they are unable to reduce fuel usage, they will then be forced to pay for heating credits which will be handed down to their customers in what essentially is a carbon tax. The bill survived the veto because several Senators believe that a "look back" provision means that it is a study. The governor and others do not agree that it is a study because the Public Utility Commission will set up a program, and prior to activating the heating credit program must get legislative approval. We will see this return in 2026 where this will be decided.

The second bill vetoed and overridden by the legislature would allow an amendment to the charter of the City of Burlington to allow non-citizen voters to vote in local elections. A similar bill was vetoed and overridden that would allow people as young as 16 to vote in City of Brattleboro local elections. 

House bill #305 was vetoed and overridden by the legislature that would increase the cost of licensing for professionals housed withing the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR). OPR has continued to grow over the years by taking on more professions, with the latest being residential home builders. The office budget consists of only licensing fees to operate and asked for the increase due to inflationary issues.

A bill that would have ended the practice of deceptive investigations by Vermont police was vetoed and was not overridden. It was recommitted to the Judiciary committee in the Senate for more consideration. The bill would have prevented police from being deceptive with suspects while investigating crimes of minors. 

The legislature decided to give themselves a raise this year. They passed a bill that would increase the weekly pay, add eligibility to state health insurance plans and increase per diem fees. The bill was recommitted to the Government Ops committee in the Senate where it will be revisited next session.

The legislature successfully overrode the Governor on the "big bill" as its known or also "the budget". The governor expressed frustration with the unneeded increase of 20% across the board in DMV fees among other spending and revenue challenges. The bill has become law and people will notice these fees during the purchase and registration of vehicles, license renewals and other administrative fees. 

The last thing to mention was a change to childcare financing and the creation of a paid parental leave program. In the lead up to the 2023 legislative session childcare advocates were touting a broad plan that would increase opportunities for childcare, limit costs to no more than 10% of a family’s income for care, and create opportunities to bring thousands of people back into the workforce. The "Rand Report" which was released in January which was a legislative commissioned study on childcare costs and programs was a complete disappointment to many. It showed that there were zero to marginal people who would return to work, a HUGE cost to set up and run and had no clear financing mechanisms. Eventually the legislature wrote a bill that would expand Child Care Financing Assistance Program (CCFAP) eligibility for state subsidies to families making up to $170,000 per year, created a 3-month paid parental leave program eligible to everyone, and some improvements to subsidies paid to childcare providers. This was vetoed by Governor Scott due to the payroll tax but the legislature overrode again...... The childcare program passed by the Democrats and Progressives with the help from 5 Republicans Representatives will force individuals at the lowest income levels to pay into a program to subsidize the highest wage earners (families of 4 up to $170k) in Vermont. Think about that for a moment!