Legislative Update: March 26, 2023

The Clean Heat Standard bill (S.5) made a re-appearance this week as the House began to take testimony. Not much of an indication yet of how the Committee will handle the bill, but already there has been more vocal opposition to it than was heard in the Senate.

The independent schools bill was pulled back into the House Education Committee twice this week after they rushed the bill out at the end of last week with a lack of testimony. Some of the language was improved around enrollment for students on public tuition, but is still problematic. Additionally, students will no longer be allowed to use their tuition dollars at schools across the border in Quebec. No testimony on either of these issues was taken by the Committee. Not a good look for those responsible for our public policy supporting Vermont students.

Other topics this week:

  • A bill proposing to remove property tax appraisals from municipalities and instead create a statewide system surfaces in the House.
  • The annual property tax bill advances in the house - taxpayers can expect to see property tax bills increase just over 3.8% next year.
  • Workforce development price tag comes in $21M over Governor Scott's proposed budget.
  • A new Act 250 exemption added to S.100 in the Senate.
  • Senate not in a rush to pass the House elections bill.


Quote of the Week:

“I know that the public schools that [students] drive by to get to Canada may not be a perfect fit for them, but I don't believe that is a compelling enough argument to allow our tuition dollars to go out of the country.”


Tessa Buss

Representative, Windsor-5 District



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Message of the Week:


Pat McDonald

CFV President

Education should be all about our children, pure and simple. I think we can agree that there are many ways children learn. Some learn best in a hands-on environment, others in a classroom environment, some in small schools, some in big schools, others in a more active classroom setting. In order to meet each child’s learning needs, alternative learning environments should be made available to children so they can thrive. But there are some who think that Vermont’s independent schools should not be available to Vermont’s students unless their parents are wealthy enough to pay tuition on their own.

Personally, I think the backlash from public school administrators and the fact that public tuition dollars are going to competitor, independent schools (and now religious schools, in some limited cases) are the problem. It seems to me that if we are the second highest State in the nation when it comes to per pupil spending ($23,299) there must be funding available for alternative’s – especially if we all agree that Vermont’s public education system is about the children.

A House committee bill was introduced this legislative session which would put some restrictions on independent schools which, up until recently, weren’t so bad. However, a new provision was added last-minute that makes no sense at all. The provision would disallow any sort of normal application process to play out before schools (or students) can make enrollment decisions. How can a school identify the needs of each student and work to address those needs before the time they start school if they have never met the student? The first days of school are critical to making students feel comfortable and this regulation ties the hands of school administrators and teachers.

If the concern is really about the possibility of discrimination, there are rules in places already to prevent that. So, what’s really the concern? Vermont’s public tuitioning systems works. If I were still in state government, I would focus on the achievement of our public schools. Vermont’s ranking nationwide is #5 for pre-k to 12 and #44 for higher education. Lots of room for improvement. Consider also that United States ranks 22nd globally (something you don’t hear much about). Again, lots of room for improvement.



Fiscal Sustainability

What you need to know:

  • Clean Heat Standard bill resurfaces in House.
  • New system moving to statewide grand list appraisals proposed in House, municipalities opposed.

Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - Tuesday

On Tuesday the House Environment & Energy Committee began taking background testimony on S.5, beginning with Representative Sibilia providing a recap of what happened with H.715 (The Clean Heat Standard bill vetoed by the Governor) last year, and passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). The GWSA created the Climate Council which in turn created a Climate Action Plan. She emphasized that Vermont needs to reduce emissions from the thermal sector, and one recommendation was for a Clean Heat Standard. It did not quite make it last year, but a lot of work went into it, and here we are again with an “improved” bill.

Key Points:

  • Sibilia calls on House to slash two-thirds of carbon emissions, but not to forget about rural and low-income Vermonters.
  • Agency of Natural Resources provides overview of Green House Gas Inventory system.
  • Jared Duval repeats misleading $6.4B savings claim.
  • Electric utility says they can handle electrification up to 2030, but perhaps not beyond.



Property Valuation & Reappraisals (H.480) - Wednesday

The House Appropriations Committee met to review H.480 on Wednesday. The bill proposes to remove municipalities from the property reappraisal process and require instead that the Division of Property Valuation and Review within the Department of Taxes conduct full and statistical reappraisals on behalf of all municipalities in the State.

Key Points:

  • Vermont League of Cities and Towns not in favor of the bill as currently drafted.
  • Overall cost for FY2024 believed to be only $50K.




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What you need to know:

  • Priority Housing Project exemption to Act 250 added.
  • S.100 expected on the Senate Floor next week.

Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone (S.100) - All Week

This week the Senate Natural Resources Committee focused mainly on amendments and wording changes to S.100 and the amendments being offered. These language changes dealing with definitions of downtown development districts, areas affected by municipal sewers infrastructure and wastewater systems.

Key Points:

  • Senator McCormack was still very hesitant to support changes to Act 250.
  • Priority Housing Projects under 50 units exempted if within Designated Village Centers.
  • Concept of a Neighborhood Development Area re-introduced into the bill.
  • Bill expected to hit Senate Floor next week.







What you need to know:

  • Bill ending school choice gets second look in the Senate.
  • Admission process for public tuitioning softened, slightly.
  • Taxpayers likely will see property tax bills increase just over 3.8% next year.

Ending School Choice (S.66) - Wednesday

The Senate Education Committee heard from Senator Hardy on Wednesday about S.66. She described the bill as being about the changing education landscape in light of recent US Supreme Court rulings (Carson v. Makin, etc.). She stated that the bill prioritizes the designation of public schools only for public tuitioning of students (regardless of whether one is within a practical distance).



Independent School Oversight (H.483) - Tuesday

Chairman Conlon shared with the House Education Committee on Tuesday that over the weekend some technical changes relating to H.483 came to light.

Key Points:

  • The admissions policy was replaced with the model language for public schools. Will apply to both public and independent schools.
  • Removes private right of action against independent schools and restores the State Board of Education with oversight authority.
  • Moves some reporting and effective dates.



Independent School Oversight (H.483) - Wednesday

Returning on Wednesday morning, the committee heard from Sue Ceglowski (Executive Director, VSBA) to speak about their model policy for enrollment of public tuition students in public schools. Ceglowski shared that they develop model policies for their members so that school boards have a place to start.

Key Points:

  • Committee adopts new admissions policy.
  • Canadian schools are still banned under the amendment.
  • Attestations of compliance from independent schools moved up to August 1st of this year, Agency of Education must have forms available by July 1, 2023.



Independent School Oversight (H.483) - Thursday

H.483 was scheduled for the House Floor on Thursday. Representative Conlon was supposed to report the bill for the House Education Committee, but he moved that the House postpone action on the bill until Wednesday, March 29th. No debate or discussion of the bill happened.



Education Spending & Property Taxes - Tuesday & Friday

Brad James (Finance Manager, Agency of Education) joined the Committee on Tuesday. He informed them that all but three districts have reported their budgets so far and the remaining ones were very small. He noted that if they assumed the remaining districts came in at the statewide average, the overall average spending increase would come out just under 8%.

Key Points:

  • Committee opts for a $22M property tax reserve fund.
  • Average property tax bill increase projected at 3.84%.
  • Committee voted out unanimously on Friday.







Workforce Development

What you need to know:

  • Workforce development price tag comes in $21M over Governor Scott's proposed budget.
  • Career & Technical Education Centers propose a laundry list of proposed changes.

Workforce Development (H.484) - Tuesday

The workforce development bill, H.484, was presented to House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. The makes several appropriations for programs that educate, train, and help businesses hire and retain workers. It also includes appropriations for forgivable loan programs, scholarships, degree and certification programs, assistance to businesses and other miscellaneous proposals to enhance workforce and economic development opportunities in the state.

Key Points:

  • House Appropriations Committee reviews long list of program appropriations.
  • Proposal flagged as being $21M over Governor Scott's recommendation.
  • Committee interesting in seeing what they still have available through ARPA funding.



Career and Technical Education Funding - Wednesday

Jody Emerson (Director, Central Vermont Career Center) submitted a list of ‘wants’ to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on behalf of the Directors of Vermont’s Career & Technical Education (CTE) Centers. Chairman Campion asked members to review this and evaluate the status of each of the suggested ideas and identify those already being worked on, those that could potentially be pursued, and those that would take much more time than is available at this point in the legislative session.

Key Points:

  • Job shadowing flagged as a likely proposal to move forward this year.
  • CTE Centers repeated their ask for a statewide school calendar.
  • Assistant Directors ask for fully-funded positions.



Career and Technical Education Funding - Friday

The Senate Education Committee invited two Assistant Directors from Career and Technical Education (CTE) Centers to join them on Friday. The issues they spoke to the Committee about were on a list presented by Jodie Emerson earlier in the week.

Chairman Campion asked if the two Assistant Directors could on an upcoming Monday with Legislative Counsel so they could talk more about these issues and some of the remaining questions the he has.







Good Government

What you need to know:

  • Bill taking aim at independent candidates lands in Senate.
  • Senate not in a rush on elections bill.

Changes to Election Laws (H.429) - Tuesday

Representative McCarthy was introduced to the Senate Government Operations Committee on Tuesday by Chairwoman Hardy. Out of the gate she wanted to advise everyone they would be hearing from lots of others on H.429 and passage was not likely to occur soon. She acknowledged lots of media attention and outreach to her and other members about the bill.

Key Points:

  • "Sore loser" provision pitched as a solution to a problem.
  • McCarthy argues ballot access is too easy.
  • Bill framed as creating "meaningful nominations."



Ranked Choice Voting (S.32) - March 22, 2023

Senator Vyhovsky provided an overview of S.32 for the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. She noted that the $2M appropriation originally in the bill for the Secretary of States Office (SOS) has been removed. Since the SOS will not be working to implement Rank Choice Voting (RCV) by 2024 that appropriation was no longer needed.

Key Points:

  • Most of the appropriations removed from the bill.
  • The bill is largely a study committee at this point.
  • Senate Appropriations advanced the bill on a 5-1-1 vote.









Things to watch for next week:

VOTE: Divestment of State Pension funds of Investments in the Fossil Fuel Industry (S.42) - Senate Floor (Tuesday)

VOTE: Ranked-Choice Voting for Presidential Primary Elections (S.32) - Senate Floor (Tuesday)

Thermal Carbon-Pricing (S.5) - House Environment & Energy (All Week)

Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone (S.100) - Senate Natural Resources (Tue) & Senate Floor (Wed)

Creating a Rental Housing Registry (H.276) - House General (Tue) & House Floor (Wed)

Unemployment Insurance Modernization - House Commerce (Thursday)

Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative - House Commerce (Thursday)



We reviewed over 17 hours of legislative testimony to bring you this report, please consider supporting our work.


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