The House and Senate have closed the book on the 2021 legislative session. This ended up being one of the least controversial conclusions of a legislative session in recent memory. Conference committees wrapped up their work quickly, no major budget disputes erupted, and the Governor has only promised veto action on one bill. Speaking of vetoes, the legislature is coming back for a brief veto session on June 22nd where additional legislation may be taken up. However, this seems unlikely.
The House Commerce Committee looked at S.62 on Tuesday. The bill combines the relocated and remote worker programs into one regulatory framework. The House is not particularly enthusiastic about this bill, but conceded to the Senate after some clarifications around what types of costs would be covered. They also rolled a separate bill on UI benefits into this bill. Another addition was $100M for adult learning programs through technical education centers.
In an interesting turn of events, H.159 (the economic development bill) was inserted into the budget and passed by both chambers. The bill had been stuck in the Senate Economic Development Committee and looked to be at-risk of not passing this year.
The broadband bill raced through conference committee on Tuesday prior to being voted out by the House and Senate. There were some minor governance changes for the new broadband board as well as some additional definitions around universal service, but they largely passed the Senate version of the bill.
The House Education Committee began digging into post-employment benefits for teachers and understanding how the system is working currently and how underfunding has impacted it. Because the teachers retirement health care fund has never actually received funding, we are currently using a pay-as-you-go model where the state is paying retiree health care costs out of operating cash flow. This is something the state wants to get ahead on but we have never been able to find the money to pre-fund this benefit. There is a sliding scale based on years of service and seniority, but retirees may have up to 80% of their medical insurance costs covered.
The Committee also briefly touched on an issue that the Agency of Education is digging into around funding disruption to technical education centers because of Covid-19. The Legislature is planning to let the administration take the lead on finding a solution to this issue.
The sparing over pensions continued into conference committees this week the details of the pension task force and its scope of work were ironed out. The 20 year term limit for the VPIC chair was restored (we had argued for 12 years and the Senate had agreed). The task force may meet up to 21 times with compensation (they may meet more without compensation).
The task force members will include:
- Three members from the House
- Two members from the Senate
- Three appointees from the NEA
- Two appointees from the VSEA
- One appointee from the VTA
- One non-voting appointee from the Treasurer
- The Commissioner of Financial Regulation
Something we haven't talked much about this year is the budget. This is largely because it has been such a moving target. However, the all-inclusive $7B budget has landed. This is actually slightly lower than the current year because federal funds available for the next fiscal year are dwindling.
The House and Senate both passed final versions of H.135, funding the Ethics Commission for another year and authorizing the creating of a new full-time position to assist the Executive Director with administrative tasks and the processing of ethics inquiries.
For those interested, Campaign for Vermont will be following many of the summer Study Committees and Task Force meetings. Of particular interest to many will be the pension task force and the student weighting committee meetings.