Legislative Update - February 19, 2023

The Senate Natural Resources Committee passed the Clean Heat Standard (S.5) on Friday, paving the way for $1.2B in subsidies to clean energy groups. Affordability and equity advocates cautioned that this bill was a blunt instrument and unintended harm would be done to Vermont's most vulnerable, but to no avail. Adequate safeguards were not included in the bill passed by the Committee.

Also noteworthy is that a pair of bills (one in the House and another in the Senate) were introduced this week to end Vermont's 150-year-old town tuitioning program. This will be one to keep an eye on.

Other topics this week:

  • Local municipalities are unhappy with Senate's Omnibus Housing bill.
  • Lieutenant Governor and others come out against election law changes.
  • House turns eyes back towards workforce development efforts.

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Quote of the Week:

"I just need to express a real concern or perhaps a warning about [S.5]. It’s now my third or fourth session in the state and one of the things I often hear from legislators is, oh yeah sorry the equity piece isn’t quite there but we’ll fix it in January. We’ll fix it later. And what that says to me is there is something that motivates us to do this that is more important to us than justice. So, the justice will have to wait….”


Xusana Davis

State Equity Director


Pat McDonald

CFV President


Message of the Week:

Kudos to the House Commerce Committee for inviting representatives from UVM, VT State University, and CCV as well as from Advance Vermont to discuss the variety of offerings for higher education pathways to Vermont’s workforce. It was encouraging to learn of their focus on the unemployed and underemployed, those who want to upscale their skills and education and the many industry partners who are stepping up to be part of the solution. Also encouraging is the effort to reduce barriers and increase access to high wage career pathways for low income, disabled, BIPOC and other Vermonters in need.


Vote for Vermont: State Court Administration

The head of the state court administration joins Pat in studio to talk about Vermont's court system and how it works.

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Fiscal Sustainability

What you need to know:

  • Tradable credit market eliminated. Only special players can trade credits.
  • A number of beneficiary recipients recounted their experience with housing in public hearing.
  • Despite admitted deficiencies, the Committee voted 5-0 in favor.

Thermal Sector Carbon Reduction (S.5) - Tuesday

Matt Cota (Lobbyist, Fuel Dealers Association) was first to testify. He lodged several objections (see link below). Drew Carlson (Global Partners) shared that his organization is one of the Northeast’s largest independent suppliers and operators of liquid energy terminals, as well as gasoline stations and convenience stores. Global Burlington is a key distribution hub and the only bulk liquid energy products terminal located in Vermont.

Key Points:

  • Fuel dealers do not like this bill.
  • Global Partners is pushing for the bill to allow swapping less efficient fuels for more efficient ones that qualify for clean heat credits.
  • PUC is pushing hard to eliminate the “tradable” credit market that has been a key part of this concept up until now.



Thermal Sector Carbon Reduction (S.5) - Friday *VOTE*

Xusana Davis, Vermont’s Director of Racial Equity, went through the bill point by point. Senator McCormack asked if Davis is prepared to sign off on the bill in terms of equity. She responded, “I don’t think the bill in its current version quite meets the mark on equity. Simple things can be done to bring it closer.”

Key Points:

  • State Racial Equity Directors says the bill does not measure up on social equity.
  • Committee voted the bill out 5-0, anyway.



Fossil Fuel Divestment from State Pensions (S.42)

The Senate Government Operations Committee reviewed S.42 on Thursday, which would divest state pension funds from fossil fuel investments.

Key Points:

  • Restricting investments puts returns at risk - a projected $750M in state spending would be required to offset.
  • Harvard-backed study indicates that divestment is ineffective at affecting change.




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What you need to know:

  • Local municipalities unhappy with the draft bill.
  • Vermonters support expanding population and housing.
  • Key senator indicates uneasiness with housing bill.

Senate Omnibus Housing Bill - Tuesday

This week the Senate Economic Development Committee reached the mark-up stage of their Omnibus Housing Bill. There was discussion in the Committee that many local governments in Vermont were unhappy with their governing authority that is being taken away in this bill.

Key Points:

  • Local municipalities unhappy with the draft bill.
  • Perceived issue that nobody wants low-income housing near them.
  • Parking requirements (overriding local zoning) are still a concern.



Senate Omnibus Housing Bill - Wednesday

Maura Collins (Executive Director, Vermont Housing Finance Agency) proposed changes to the First Homeowner Generation homebuyer definition. She wanted to shift from applicant to homebuyer to require only one attestation. She further requested to remove the three year restriction for other household members’ eligibility and to remove the three year restriction on losing homes to foreclosure, short sales, or deed-in-lieu issues.

Key Points:

  • Discrimination penalties increased 10x.
  • "Compassionate housing" is needed.
  • Rights & Democracy calls for a "just food system."



Senate Omnibus Housing Bill (public hearing) - Thursday

On Thursday Senator Ram Hinsdale opened a public hearing (held jointly between the Senate Economic Development Committee and the House General and Housing Committee) with introductions of the Legislators present. She stated that Vermont was the leading state in homelessness. She also went on to say that nationally, Vermont ranked fifth in racial ownership gap.

Key Points:

  • Many beneficiary recipients recounted their experience with housing.
  • Potential issue with eviction notifications identified.
  • Fair Haven Town Manager urged "less expensive" housing that middle-income people can afford.



Senate Omnibus Housing Bill - Friday

Legislative Counsel continued walking through the Omnibus Housing Bill with the Senate Economic Development Committee on Friday. Chairwoman Ram Hinsdale expressed that she wants money for mobile home communities in the base budget instead of only at times of crisis.

Key Points:

  • Senate Chair responds to Governor's mobile home initiative.
  • Senator Brock indicates he has concerns with "every section" of the draft bill.






What you need to know:

  • School budgets are coming back closer to 8.2%, lower than previously expected.
  • Small independent schools weigh in on potential accreditation requirements.
  • Twin bills introduced to end Vermont's public tuitioning system.

FY2024 School Spending Update - Tuesday

Brad James shared with the House Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday that now 73% of districts are reporting (a significant jump from last week). With the latest budgets, the Agency is now showing an 8.2% increase from FY2024. Champlain Valley and Burlington are still not in yet, which are both large budgets and could sway the final numbers. James noted that if both went up by 10% it would increase the statewide average to 8.4%.



Ending Independent School Choice (S.66)

Mary Newman (Head of School, Sharon Academy) introduced her school and the students that were with her. Eighth grader Chloe Evans was the first student to testify. Chairman Campion asked what she likes about the school, what she doesn’t like, and what her message was to the Committee.

Key Points:

  • Students share previous experiences with bullying and racial harassment. School choice offered a solution.
  • S.66 introduced to do away with Vermont's 150 year old town tuitioning system.
  • Rationale given was that “across our country public schools are under threat.”



Ending Independent School Choice (H.258)

Representative Graning introduced the House Education Committee to her bill, H.258, which she claims is to support high quality public education. The bill effectively restricts public tuition to the four traditional academies, which essentially removes school choice for students that reside in districts that do not operate a school. She admitted that this bill was about stopping the “siphoning of money” away from public schools.

Key Points:

  • Unclear what would happen if schools designated as the "public option" couldn't meet student needs.
  • Sharon Academy student shares that independent schools are often misunderstood. Hers provided a safe haven from bullying and harassment.



Public Tuitioning (School Choice) Bill - Thursday

The House Education Committee came back to their draft bill on Thursday dealing with independent schools. Timothy Newbold (Head of School, Village School of North Bennington) introduce himself after Chairman Conlon prefaced by saying that they were interested in hearing from some of the smaller independent schools.

Key Points:

  • NEASC accreditation described as a "very robust way for a school to go through self-reflection."
  • Committee Chair questions if asked if the accreditation process was too much of a lift to ask small schools to do.



Education Quality Standards

The Senate Education Committee revisited Education Quality Standards (EQSs) on Wednesday with Heather Bouchey (Deputy Secretary, Agency of Education).

Chairman Campion expressed the same concerns that Senator Gulick has shared about quality standards in independent schools. He admitted these are policy areas that they dive into at their own risk as it is the Agency of Education (AOE) professional policy that may be hard to understand for non-teachers. He asked Bouchey what factors may differ between public and independent schools.



Reorganizing State Board of Education and Creating a Statewide SU

On Tuesday, Representative Elder introduced his bill, H.179, that re-organizes the State Board of Education (SBE). He believes it is important to recognize that the SBE is staffed by the Agency of Education (AOE).



Financial Literacy (H.228)

On Tuesday, Representative Jerome presented her bill, H.228, which would require high school juniors and seniors to receive financial literacy instruction as a condition of graduation. She shared a conversation she had with a 26-year-old where she was shocked about how little this person understood about personal finance and how concepts like retirement savings, loans, and credit scores worked and what impacted them.



Workforce Development

What you need to know:

  • Advance Vermont shares it's MyFutureVT and Vermont Credential Transparency projects with legislators.
  • UVM and state colleges affirm their commitment to continuing and adult education.

Workforce Development Testimony - Tuesday

The House Commerce Committee met on Friday with representatives from higher education and Advance Vermont, at the invitation of Chairman Marcotte, to discuss alternatives to higher education as a pathway to Vermont's workforce.






Economic Development

What you need to know:

  • Tourism brings 13M visitors and $3.2B in travel spending to Vermont annually.

Marketing Higher Education

The Senate Education Committee met on Thursday to discuss marketing our higher education institutions.






Good Government

What you need to know:

  • Lieutenant Governor, Progressives, and Republicans push back on banning fusion candidates.
  • Ranked-Choice Voting and universal primaries pitched by progressive advocates.

Changes to Election Laws (draft committee bill)

The House Government Operations Committee took up a draft elections bill on Tuesday that would, among other things, ban fusion candidates.







Health Care

What you need to know:

  • S.54 passes Senate, lands in House.

Small Group Insurance Markets (S.54)

The bill would force registered insurance carriers to offer separate individual and family health benefit plans in the individual market and to small employers in the small group market. Community ratings would apply to both sets of plans with separate rate calculations and approvals from the Green Mountain Care Board.





Things to watch for next week:

VOTE: Omnibus Housing Bill - Senate Economic Development (all week)

School Choice & Independent Schools (H.258) - House Education (Wed/Thurs)

Amending the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program (H.10) - House Commerce (Tue/Thurs)

Paid Family Leave (H.66) - House General & Housing (Wed/Thurs)

Universal School Meals - House Agriculture (Tue/Wed) & Senate Education (Tue)

Public elementary school choice within a supervisory union (H.209) - House Education (Tue)




We reviewed over 28 hours of legislative testimony to bring you this report, please consider supporting our work.


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