VOTE: Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - April 27, 2023

The bill creating the Clean Heat Standard, S.5, made it back to the Senate Floor on Thursday. Senator Bray went through the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill:

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Divestment of State Pension Funds (S.42) - April 27, 2023

The House Government Operations Committee returned to S.42 on Thursday. Katie Green (Deputy Chief Investment Officer, Vermont Pension Investment Commission). She shared that the Vermont Pension Investment Commission (VPIC) established an Environmental, Social, and Governmental (ESG) committee. Green noted that climate change is a "significant threat," adding that it's "not just fossil fuel" but also automobile industry, land use, and water quality. She was adamant that VPIC was accountable and transparent, which is why they created the ESG committee to report up to the commission. 

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Ranked-Choice Voting (S.32) - April 27, 2023

On Thursday, the House Government Operations Committee returned to work on S.32, which would establish a ranked-choice voting (RCV) system for presidential primary elections. Katherine Schad (Chief Administrative Officer, Burlington City) joined the Committee. Chairman McCarthy asks her to comment specifically about operating an RCV system with multiple precincts.

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Letter to Senate Appropriations on S.5

Dear Senate Appropriations Committee,

While we may differ on whether or not the Clean Heat Standard is the best path forward at this time, it is clear that this is the intention of the legislature. We would like to offer some constructive feedback on aspects of the bill that we believe are problematic to the stated goals of accountability, affordability, and carbon-reduction.

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Increasing Housing Costs

The Senate Finance Committee met on Wednesday to discuss the impact of rapidly increasing housing costs. Chairwoman Cummings teed up the conversation by stating that some towns, like Stowe (as example) are seeing the number of people who qualify for income sensitivity drop, by no fault of their own. In some cases, homes have increased from $400K to $600K two years later (there is a $400k cap on house site value for income sensitivity). She mentioned the legislative goal of 80% of taxpayers being “income sensitized” (meaning they qualify for the property tax credit) and the state is now down to 64%. She was seeking solutions for how to address this long term.

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Establishing VT Saves (S.135) - April 25, 2023

Chairman McCarthy introduced Senator Brock to the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday, saying that he “loves this bill” as it solves a problem, does not cost much to start up, or to continuing operating, and does not raise taxes. It “actually gives something back to Vermonters,” he claimed. He continued that often they “pass things, we’re the first in the nation to do it. And then we pay the price because we don’t know how to do it,” he quipped.

NOTE: Perhaps this thinking could be applied to other areas.

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Ethics Commission Oversight (S.17) - April 25, 2023

Christina Sivret introduced herself to the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday. She talked about the Vermont Ethics Commission and the service they provide. The majority of their current responsibilities relate to training and providing advice; they have ability to receive complaints but not to investigate them. However, they do oversee that State Code of Ethics.

The concept, she explained, is that the State Code of Ethics should apply to all state employees. She discussed the fact that if there can be additional codes of ethics within a state department that may be more stringent than the statewide code.

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Prior Authorizations for Health Care

On Tuesday, Julia Boles, Health Policy Advisor at Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB), presented a report regarding Prior Authorization (PA) to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. She explained that “Prior Authorization” means the process used by a health plan to determine the medical necessity, medical appropriateness (or both) of otherwise covered drugs. It is also applied to medical procedures, medical tests, and other health care services. Prior authorization is a process by which a medical provider (or the patient, in some scenarios) must obtain approval from a patient's health plan before moving ahead with a particular treatment, procedure, or medication.

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Oversight of Independent Schools (H.483) - April 25, 2023

On Tuesday, C.J. Spirito, Head of School at Rock Point School in Burlington joined the Senate Education Committee to talk about H.483.

Rock Point is a small independent school with students ranging from “high-flying, college-bound students to kids in the hospital because they can't function or are not getting to school.” They are not competing with public schools or larger schools for students, he noted.

He was there to raise concerns about some of the major provisions in the bill and how they would impact his specialty school. He noted that if they “took any kid without an admissions process,” they would not be able to “protect the space for the kids that are here now” and continue to successfully serve them. The bill would put the school in a difficult place because they would have to deny publicly-tuitioned students that they could help, in order to protect the current students.

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Legislative Update - April 23, 2023

Before we dive into this week's update we need to get something unfortunate out of the way. Last week we had reported that the House had gutted the "check-back" provision in S.5 that requires the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to bring the Clean Heat Standard rules back to the legislature for a vote. This was in fact incorrect. The provision in question had been added in the Senate, not by the House Environment & Energy Committee as we had indicated. Our reporter on the bill didn't catch that provision until the walk-through in that Committee and didn't realize it was in the underlying bill, not the amendment being offered by the Committee. Our apologies for this mistake.

That being said, the provision in question is still concerning because it could potentially allow the PUC to skirt the "check-back" provision in the bill. The House did offer an amendment on the floor in an attempt to address this, but we will encourage legislators to strengthen the check-back provision and limit workarounds.

The bill creating the Clean Heat Standard (S.5) passed the House this week 98-46, two votes shy of a veto override. The bill now moves back to the Senate to see if they will agree with the (relatively minor) House changes or if a Committee of Conference will be called for. The Senate was one vote short of being able to sustain an override when they voted on the bill back in March.

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