Week 11 of the Vermont Legislative Session - March 24, 2023
We’ve all likely heard the tune, ‘it’s raining men (hallelujah) and this week at the golden topped Statehouse, that tune could be changed to ‘it’s raining bills, upon bills, upon bills as the scramble ensued primarily through the Committees on Finance and Appropriations as, one by one, bills were brought up and voted on in rapid succession. Spring is certainly in the air but there is still a fog lingering from the mass amounts of bills floundering about with an uncertain future.
The bottle bill was aggressively tossed from committee to committee adding and removing language, just be added, or taken away again. The hymn was a little like this, You taketh away, I giveth, then I taketh it away again. This was all just within the House Committees, so we’ll see what kind of dance takes place when it gets punted over to the Senate.
Another interesting battle in the making is the Senate version of a childcare bill (S.54) which added a component of Paid Parental Leave for one parent for up to 12 weeks at a maximum weekly benefit of $600, utilizing the child tax credit and a much smaller payroll tax. The House version, much more generous and expansive conditions for which the leave is eligible, H.66 Paid Family Leave bill, providing up to 90% wage replacement and paid wholly through a payroll tax.
Governor Scott was less than impressed with the passing of H.66 on the floor and had a few choice words for the Legislature.
“It’s important to know, I support universal access to paid family and medical leave. That’s why my Administration put forward a voluntary program that is now being implemented.
“With record state surpluses and high inflation, it is counterintuitive to force a new broad-base tax on already overburdened Vermonters – especially when there is an alternative path to achieve our goal.
Rest assured, the boxing gloves will be coming out on this one as the showdown between House and Senate volleys for a stronghold with each believing their bill is the best step forward as the clock ticks forward toward a May adjournment.
H.479 An act relating to the Transportation Program and miscellaneous changes to laws related to transportation (Summary) (DMV Fee Analysis)
The FY 2024 Transportation Bill (H.479) applies the policy and funding for the State of Vermont’s annual Transportation Program. The funding authorizations included in H.479 are subject to appropriations contained within the FY 24 Appropriations Bill (Big Bill).
Several provisions were added to address the entrance of electric vehicles & bikes to Vermont roadways.
• Electric Vehicle Incentive Program Changes: H.479 would reallocate $550,000 of FY 2023 one-time General Fund appropriations from Replace Your Ride to the e-Bike Incentive Program ($50,000) and a newly created Electrify Your Fleet ($500,000) program.
• Mileage-Based User Fee: H.479 would authorize the design of a mileage-based user fee for battery electric vehicles to begin in 2026 but does not explicitly establish or define that fee. Therefore, this provision does not have any direct revenue impact.
The bill will also add fee increases which are being reviewed by House Ways & Means. The fee increases will not provide revenue for the FY24 budget but will do so in the context of the FY 2025 budget. See fee proposal here.
The bill also adds two new positions within District Maintenance and makes 10 limited-service positions within the aviation program permanent.
The bill is in line with the Governor’s recommended budget, except for dedicating an additional $1M on a one-time basis for Green Mountain Transit.
S.56 Child Care & Parental Leave
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee advanced S.56 on a 3-2 vote.
The scaled back version of S.56 creates a Child Care Financial Assistance Program. Assistance will be provided through subsidies funded through the childcare tax credit. The bill does not address the overwhelming need for additional child care options.
Sponsor of the bill, Sen Ruth Hardy (D)-Addison District said, “the bill increases both subsidies for families and reimbursement rates for providers, meaning that childcare would be less expensive for families and more financially viable for childcare centers and home-care programs.”
H.56 also includes a parental leave benefit that would enable at least one parent to stay home with an infant or newly adopted child for up to 12 weeks, making financial support for parental care. As outlined in the Senate legislation the weekly reimbursements would max out at $600 a week. Families at or below 600% of the federal poverty level — $180,000 for a family of four — would be eligible.
Later in the week, Senate Finance advanced the bill with one opposing vote- Sen. Randy Brock (R) Franklin District.
The combined annual cost of paid leave and childcare subsidies at about $190 million in 2025, which would be the first full year of operation. (Roughly 90% of that price tag would be attributable to childcare.)
H.66 An act relating to paid family and medical leave insurance (Passed House preliminary 99-32 and by voice vote on Friday)
The House, on the other hand, is advancing an up to 12-week family leave benefit, which would be one of the most generous in the country, if enacted. That bill, H.66, has projected startup costs of $117 million and ongoing costs of over $100 million annually, including the hiring of over 40 new employees for the Treasurer’s office. It is proposed to be funded by a new payroll tax on employers and employees.
As it is currently written, it will require $111M in 2024 of General Funds for startup and anticipates additional appropriations will be needed in 2025 and 2026. The actual amount is unknown but estimated at a total of over $300 million. One clarifying point is each parent can take 12weeks so a family will get 6 months paid leave.
View the Joint Fiscal Note here based on the draft as recommended by the House Committee on Ways and Means and proposed for amendment by the House Committee on Appropriations.