That’s a Wrap: Another Legislative Session Ends with Big Changes Ahead
Sunday, June 9, 2024
Section: Advocacy News




 

It was another supercharged legislative session. Lawmakers grappled with how to manage dwindling federal dollars with massive property tax increases largely caused by education spending, and ongoing recovery efforts that have crippled numerous Vermont businesses, home owners, municipalities, and even state government buildings. There is still a veto session pending for important bills like the property tax yield bill and a likely veto of an expansion of Act 250 with minimal housing elements.
Despite the financial hardships facing the state, AGC/VT achieved numerous wins for its members, the construction industry, and the Vermont business community as a whole.  
This session closed the two-year biennium, which saw an historic number of new lawmakers join the ranks in Montpelier. “This was an emotionally-charged session,” said Matt Musgrave, deputy executive vice president of AGC/VT. “About 30 percent of the legislators were new this year, and while the supermajority didn’t have big disagreements over policy, there was tension over what policies should be prioritized and passed.” 
Lawmakers tried to stay within the key areas that Vermonters wanted to address including housing, public safety, and affordability. However, some bills, like the housing bill, were vetoed by the governor. “The biggest disappointment was the housing bill,” said Musgrave. “Early in the session there was a tri-partisan housing bill that had a lot of support and that would have helped move Vermont forward in addressing crisis. Unfortunately, the housing bills became conservation bills and they will do little to addressing the growing housing shortage and runaway costs facing Vermonter.” 
One bill that faced very little opposition was the Transportation Bill, considered to be one of the three “must-pass” bills. “The Transportation Bill was largely uncontroversial,” said Musgrave. “Lawmakers across the aisle recognized the need to find matching dollars so we could take advantage of the federal match. This is a great win for our members but really all Vermonters and our communities. 
Just as this biennium saw big change, next year will too, especially in the Senate. “The Senate will have a dynamic shift in its makeup that will define the state of Vermont for a decade or more,” said Musgrave.  
Many long-serving senators and chairs of powerful committees including Senator Jane Kitchell (D-Caledonia) chair of Appropriations will vacate her seat after serving 20 years. Senator Bobby Starr (D-Orleans) is retiring after 46 years, while Senator Dick McCormack (D-Windsor) will leave his post after 30 years. The Senate also lost two influential senators at the end of the session. Senator Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle), chair of the transportation committee, and Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chair of Judiciary both passed away. 
“It’s the end of a major era with these long-standing, well-respected, and influential senators leaving the chamber, and with them goes a lot of institutional knowledge and experience,” said Musgrave.  
“This creates a power vacuum, and we must fill it with lawmakers who will listen to Vermonters and prioritize their needs over political party agendas. We have major challenges facing our state from a housing crisis to an aging workforce, to infrastructure that needs upgrading and repair, to rising property taxes and health care costs, and I do worry about a growing trend that I’ve witnessed where national party politics are seeping into Vermont and driving priorities.” 
“We need to elect officials who will listen to the needs of Vermonters and not follow national party trends and politics, regardless of party,” he continued.  
In the coming months, AGC/VT will again offer training to all candidates running for office, and will be members go-to-resource for this election cycle.   
 
Legislative Recap 2024 
S.184: An Act Relating to the Temporary Use of Automated Traffic Law Enforcement (ATLE) Systems 
This was the culmination of five years of lobbying by your AGC/VT team, which was triggered by the death of a flagger caused by a member of the traveling public. Five years ago, our advocacy efforts began when approximately 50 flaggers visited the State House where we held a press conference and testified in the House and Senate Transportation Committees about the need for more enforcement in work zones.  
After five years of answering questions about privacy, the technical equipment, how it would impact law enforcement officers, and other concerns the bill passed. The bill creates a three-year program, so VTrans can install automated license plate readers with speed cameras that will transmit the plate numbers of people exceeding work zone speed limits by 10 mph.  
It will start on interstates and in other higher speed areas. Violators will first receive a warning, and if they reoffend within a year, then tickets will be issued to the vehicle owner. 
 
H.868: An Act Relating to the Fiscal Year 2025 Transportation Program and Miscellaneous Changes to Laws Related to Transportation 
Despite a more than $20 million gap in the state match program due to reduced gas tax revenues, your AGC/VT team successfully advocated to increase transportation funding by 2.8%, bringing the total budget to almost $900 million. In 2025, contractors can expect to see an increased focus on bridge repair and municipal maintenance projects.  
 
S.96: An Act Relating to Privatization Contracts 
The bill sought to change the definition of a “privatization contract,” which currently is defined as a state contract that replaces the work of a state employees job. Current law requires the termination of a state employee or position to be classified as “privatization,. “Privatization Contracts” has many different requirements to normal contracting including much more state oversight and auditing, employee educational qualifications, and wage and benefit requirements that state employees carry.  
The proposal in S.96 was to expand the definition to include contracts that state employees may be able to do, but does not remove a position or employee. This in effect could, or would, label most state contracts “privatization” and interfere with the existing Davis Bacon or Prevailing Wage requirements and established employer/employee negotiated jobs. We successfully advocated for specific language, which added an exemption to capital construction. However, the bill did not pass. 
H.704: An Act Relating to Disclosure of Compensation in Job Advertisements 
This bill is intended to eliminate “wage disparity” in the employee marketplace. The bill which passed into law requires employers to display pay ranges for job advertisements. Your lobbying team successfully advocated to ensure that employers were not handcuffed by the law and clarified what an “advertisement” means. Your government affairs team confirmed that an employer can post a job with a pay range, but if the applicant demonstrates abilities or experience above and beyond the advertised rate, they can negotiate higher wages.  
Additionally, your team confirmed that the “advertisement” is a media-based traditional ad, but that employers could still have a simple “Help Wanted” sign or could make job offers to people without requirements pertaining to the law. 
S.102: An act Relating to Expanding Employment Protections and Collective Bargaining Rights 
The bill that passed included a “captive audience” meeting clause that would prevent an employer from retaliating against an employee for leaving a company meeting that related to religion, politics, or pro/anti-union discussions. It also gave farm workers the right to organize a labor union. The bill also allows employees, who are under the Vermont Labor Relations Act to organize a union using a process called “card check.”  
The “card check” provision does not apply to employees under the National Labor Relations Act, which are the majority, if not all employees of AGC/VT members, except for municipalities 
The bill also included a controversial “just cause termination” clause that eliminates Vermont’s employers ability to terminate employees without cause, warning process and required severance. Your government affairs team successfully lobbied to have the “just cause termination” clause removed prior to passage. 
S.253: An Act Relating to Building Energy Codes 
This was a compromise bill between members of the Act 47 working group from 2023, which recommended to the legislature that regulating single-family homes should be transferred to the Department of Fire and Safety, required contractor licensing, and inspections and immediate adoption of the Internation Residential Code.  
Your government affairs team worked with legislators to push forward the study of whether, how, and what residential building code should Vermont or would adopt. AGC/VT will be represented on the S.253 committee. Passage of this bill prevented the additional requirements sought by a small group of home builders who desired to create a burgeoning licensing system. 
 
Miscellaneous Bills 
  • Licensing contractors. Several bills seeking to license contractors of all types were debated during the session. Your government affairs team successful opposed all of those policies and no licensing bills passed this session.  
 
  • There were about 30 bills that would relate to construction, environment, business, and employment requirements that your government affairs team tracked. Their efforts amounted to preventing the passage of the negative policies in almost every bill, with about two-thirds of the proposals never even considered, and the remaining third either had carve outs for contractors or didn’t pass.