Legislative Update: April 2, 2023

This week we saw three major initiatives clear key votes on the House and Senate floors. The major housing bill this session, S.100, cleared the Senate floor on Tuesday, as did the bill divesting state pension funds from fossil fuel investments (S.42). In the House, the bill (H.483) tightening admissions and other requirements on independent schools that publicly tuitioned students choose to attend passed on a voice vote after passionate speeches from both sides.

Other topics this week:

  • State Auditor voices that concerned federal monies will run out well short of reaching the last mile on broadband.
  • Ethics Commissions wants to add teeth to disclosure requirements in elections bill.
  • Administration officials again ask for a pause on the Clean Heat Standard.
  • House sets a moderate increase in property tax bills for next year.


Quote of the Week:

“Am I the only one who thinks we need to know what a carbon credit costs before we pass this bill?”


Brian Smith

Representative, Orleans-1 District



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Message of the Week:


Pat McDonald

CFV President

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Sevret, Executive Director of The Vermont State Ethics Commission both on radio and public access tv over the past two weeks. It’s been puzzling, however, listening to the reaction from the Legislature when she asks them to add some teeth to the financial disclosure requirements.

The State Ethics Commission was established in 2017 as an independent body with the authority to review and refer complaints regarding ethical conduct in State government, provide training, and issue guidance and advisory opinions. No enforcement powers were granted to the Commission. Every year since the Commission has requested the Legislature to authorize the complete package of tools it needs to be an effective entity within State Government, bringing Vermonters the transparency and accountability we deserve.

In 2018 the Commission was tasked with creating a non-binding code of ethics. They delivered that, and last year they received legislative approval to move forward with a statutory code of ethics that all public servants in state government could abide by. However, the Commission still does not have investigatory or enforcement powers.

This year, the Commission is asking for a relatively small piece of regulatory authority which would allow them to levy fines for failure to file the financial disclosure forms that are already in statute. Additionally, they would like to do a study on what it would look like to include municipalities in the statutory Code of Ethics. Sevret has been met with a lukewarm response. Why are we limping along with giving the Ethics Commission the tools they need? We are way behind other states.



Fiscal Sustainability

What you need to know:

  • State pension divestment passes Senate floor.
  • Clean Heat Standard showing cracks in the House, Administration officials again ask for a pause.

Divesting State Pensions (S.42) - Tuesday

Senator Clarkson presented S.42 to the Senate on Tuesday, positioning the bill as a "win-win." She listed a number of individuals that were involved for the bills development, including the Treasurer, the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC), and several other experts. She cast the bill as the result of "productive negotiations" lead by the Senate Government Operations Committee with with the intent of divesting fossil fuel investments while simultaneously protecting the state's pension funds and Actuarial-Defined Employer Contribution.

Key Points:

  • Review of existing investments due next February
  • Phased-in approach taken
  • All new fossil fuel investments will stop immediately
  • Passed on voice vote



Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - Wednesday

The House Environment & Energy Committee picked up S.5 again on Wednesday with testimony from Matt Cota (Lobbyist, Vermont Fuel Dealers), who shared that the “first misconception” being repeated is that this bill only affects large companies. Big companies are not the ones the bill obligates to buy credits, according to Cota. It is not size, but rather who owns title to the fuel when it crosses state lines that determines who is required to buy the credit.

Key Points:

  • Fuel Dealers call for better separation between fuels used for heating and transportation.
  • Concerns raised about the viability of the fuel assistance program if S.5 passes.
  • Heat pump installers reiterated that not all homes are compatible.
  • Fuel deliverers claim Vermonters can't afford S.5 and prefer incentives for more efficient heating systems.



Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - Thursday

Thursday morning the House Environment & Energy Committee returned to testimony on S.5. Neale Lunderville (President & CEO, Vermont Gas Systems) was first to speak. Chairwoman Sheldon gave an introduction Lunderville’s terms as Transportation Secretary, Secretary of Administration (under Douglas), and General Manager of the Burlington Electric Department.

Key Points:

  • VT Gas launched their own climate action plan in 2019 and are "rapidly evolving" their business model.
  • They are pursuing a number of alternate technologies, such as hydrogen and geothermal.
  • Acknowledged that “the thermal sector transformation proposed in S.5 is not costless.”
  • Clear that the bill will largely impact small dealers.



Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - Friday

The House Environment & Committee returned on Friday morning to hear from TJ Poor (Director of Planning, Department of Public Service). He was following up on a question from his last time in the Committee regarding the Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP). The CEP actually calls for a full evaluation of the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) in terms of cost, societal impact, and equity. This didn’t happen in the Climate Action Plan (CAP) process due to the tight timelines.

Key Points:

  • Not enough workers to do the projects called for in S.5.
  • Agency of Natural Resources is asking to wait for end-to-end study to be completed before proceeding.
  • Current weatherization efforts under threat when federal funds dry up in 2026.
  • Committee members unsure how realistic the goals in the bill are.




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What you need to know:

  • The "big" housing bill clears the Senate floor.
  • Rental Housing Registry gaining steam in the House.

Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone (S.100)

The Senate Natural Resources Committee reviewed S.100 with Legislative Counsel on Tuesday morning. They were reviewing a substitute amendment to the bill.

S.100 was brought to the Senate Floor on Tuesday afternoon and was passed unanimously. It returned to Senate Natural Resources Committee for a typographical error.

Anne Sosin (Interim Director, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition) spoke to the House General & Housing Committee on Thursday about Housing and Homelessness. She cast homelessness as a housing problem and a "policy choice," reiterating that they are "aligned" with other advocates supporting the S.100 housing bill.



Rental Housing Registry (H.276)

On Tuesday, the House General and Housing Committee did a walk through of H.276 with Legislative Counsel. The bill essentially requires landlords provide identifying information on the owner, landlord, property manager and other identifying information about the unit, location of the unit, and construction of the unit by March of next year.







What you need to know:

  • Independent School choice bill clears House after passionate speeches on both sides of the issue.
  • Property tax bill clears House, setting up a moderate increase in property tax bills.
  • House introduces their miscellaneous education bill in the Senate.
  • Senate begins testimony on Independent Schools.

Independent School Oversight (H.483) - Tuesday

The House Education Committee met briefly on Tuesday to review two changes to the committee amendment being offered on H.483. The first change was to remove the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) model policy for admissions for publicly tuitioned students to public schools (the language was maintained for independent schools). Concerns had been raised about the model policy, and VSBA is currently re-evaluating it. However, the rationale for removal of this requirement was the that title of the bill only referenced independent schools.

The second change was to allow independent schools to require proof of the student’s previously completed grade level. This was in response to issues raised around schools needing to know what grade level students would be coming in at so they could understand capacity constraints.

On Wednesday, Chairman Conlon asked Legislative Counsel to review if H.483 conflicted with the 2200 series rules. Legislative Counsel did not believe that there were any conflicts, however there are some provisions in the rules that are not in statute and vice versa.



VOTE: Independent School Oversight (H.483) - Wednesday

Representative Conlon spoke for the bill on on the House Floor Wednesday on behalf of the House Education Committee. He called it a “long and thoughtful bill drafting process” that focused on “core values that should be attached to every dollar spent on public education.” He voiced concern that the town tuitioning program had “strayed” from its original purpose and that it was hard to imagine that the founders of the system intended their dollars to go across oceans. This was the justification for the new 25-mile radius in his mind.

Key Points:

  • Codifies some existing rules into statute.
  • New reporting and admission requirements for independent schools.
  • Representatives from choice towns advocated for the benefits of school choice.
  • Some Representatives not convinced that a complaint-driven process is sufficient.



VOTE: Setting Property Tax Yield (H.492) - Thursday

The House took up a bill, H.492, on the floor Thursday that sets the statewide yields which determines local property tax rates. The average rate would decrease in FY2024, but much of that decrease will be “masked” by the Common Level of Appraisal (the leveling mechanism to account for disparities between when towns last did an appraisal) and school district spending.

Key Points:

  • 8% overall increase in spending by school districts.
  • 3.8% increase in average education tax bills.
  • $22M set aside to stabilize taxes next year.



Independent and Public Schools - Friday

On Friday, Emily Simmons (General Counsel, Agency of Education) gave the Senate Education Committee an overview of the statutory obligations surrounding public tuitioning for independent schools.

Key Points:

  • New requirements related to Act 173 going into effect July 1st.
  • Schools must now comply with anti-discrimination procedures.
  • Schools must be willing to take students on an IEP.



Miscellaneous Education Changes (H.461) - Friday

On Friday afternoon, Representative Conlon (Chair, House Education Committee) provided the Senate Education Committee with an overview of their committee bill, H.461.

Key Points:

  • Scraps common chart of accounts software.
  • Overhauls home study statutes.
  • Extends Ethnic Studies Working Group







Economic Development

What you need to know:

  • Department of Economic Development lays out FY2024 budget requests for the Senate.
  • State Auditor is concerned federal monies will run out well short of reaching the last mile on broadband.

Department of Economic Development - Friday

Joan Goldstein (Commissioner, Department of Economic Development) joined the Senate Economic Development Committee on Friday, along with Abbie Sherman (Executive Director, Vermont Economic Progress Council).

Key Points:

  • Requested funding for RDC's to buy and refurbish buildings for resale.
  • Requested funding for brownfields cleanup.
  • Requested funding for the Vermont Training Program.
  • Requested funding for the New Workers incentives.



Universal Broadband Audit - Friday

On Friday, Doug Hoffer (State Auditor) shared a presentation with the Senate Finance Committee regarding universal broadband in Vermont. He wanted to examine some “risks” at this stage, after nearly twenty years of talking about this. Even with a “river of money” from the Federal government, he anticipates the Communication Union Districts (CUDs) are going to be asking for “a couple of hundred million dollars more.”

Key Points:

  • Committee recognized they "kicked the can down the road" on broadband affordability.
  • CUD's struggling to simultaneously provide transparency and maintain a competitive business environment.
  • Workforce capacity issues may become more acute in future years.







Good Government

What you need to know:

  • Ranked Choice Voting passes Senate Floor.
  • Ethics language pitched for elections bill.
  • No consensus yet on "sore loser" candidates.

Candidate Ethics (H.429) - Wednesday

Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Vermont Ethics Commission) presented to the Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday a proposal to add language to H.429 surrounding candidate financial disclosures and the compliance with such requirements.

Key Points:

  • Financial disclosures are an important part of the ethics framework
  • Compliance with disclosure requirements is lacking
  • Proposed language would allow for fines to be imposed for failure to disclose



VOTE: Ranked Choice Voting (S.32) - Wednesday

The Senate took up S.32 on Wednesday with Senator Vyhovsky reviewing the bill. She noted that Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is used across the country and even internationally. In fact, the bulk of other democracies around the world used ranked choice voting. Here in the US, both conservative and liberal states use RCV. One reason for this is that millions of votes are not counted in the last round of presidential primaries as candidates drop out.

Key Points:

  • RCV helps prevent "strategic voting" for candidates that have the best chance of winning.
  • Goes into effect statewide in 2028, municipalities can opt-in sooner.
  • Amendment introduce to fix the way votes winners are determined in each round.
  • Concerns raised that "we are rushing this."
  • Passed Senate 23-7



Ethics Commission Budget - Friday

Christina Sivret presentation for the Vermont Ethics Commission budget to Senate Appropriations on Friday. The total budget came up to $190K, which includes two half-time personnel, plus a contractor. The Committee asked Sivret a number of questions, but they were very receptive to the presentation.



Changes to Election Laws (H.429) - Friday

The Senate Government Operations Committee resumed testimony on H.429 on Friday with Betty Keller (Member, Vermont League of Women Voters) who promoted Ranked Choice Voting as a solution to the “sore loser” issue this bill was trying to address. The Vermont League of Women Voters (LWV-VT) opposes the first two sections of the bill, which deal with the “sore loser” candidates. The legislature should not be limiting choices in the general election, she argued.

Key Points:

  • Some concerns linger about e-voting, but not in the limited context of the bill.
  • Major party leaders hold same positions as in the House.
  • Publicly listing addresses of local party officials raised as a concern.
  • Only the Democratic Party supports "sore loser" provisions.











Health Care

What you need to know:

  • ER Doctor from Central Vermont Medical Center appointed to Green Mountain Care Board

Dr. David Murman GMCB Confirmation - Wednesday

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee held confirmation hearing on Wednesday for Dr. David Murman to be appointed to the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB).

Murman is an Emergency Room physician and has been a member of the GMCB for six months. The Committee asked him to comment about his experiences with the GMCB during his time there. He noted that the Board appears to be very dedicated to their mission, and for the health care of Vermont residents. He commented that it can be "quite intense" at times.




Things to watch for next week:

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

Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone (S.100) - Senate Floor (Tue)



We reviewed over 24 hours of legislative testimony to bring you this report, please consider supporting our work.


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