2017 Session Recap

What happened during the 2017 session of the Vermont Legislature? The House and Senate members introduced a total of 690 bills of which 100 passed both bodies and were forwarded to the governor. Three of those bills were vetoed by the governor, prompting a special veto session of the Legislature on June 21st. During that session a compromise was reached on two of the bills. The third, marijuana legalization, has died (for now). 

This page provides some of the details regarding what was accomplish this session. In January of 2018, the Legislature will return for the second half of the biennium to continue work on bills already submitted. New bills will also be introduced.

There's a lot of information here, so use the following to jump to any topic which interest you. If there are other bills or topics you would like added to this list, please let me know. This page was updated 6/26/17.

Agriculture

Rural Economic Development

The Senate introduced S.34 in an effort to promote rural economic development. The General Fund Budget includes $75,000 for a Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI). Primarily REDI will assist rural communities in identifying and applying for grants that aid economic development. Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/12/17. Go to Top

Miscellaneous Ag Bill

H.495 provides assistance for the timber industry in Vermont by exempting repair parts and dyed diesel from the state sales tax when it is being used for timber harvesting purposes. There is also an emphasis in this bill on water quality by providing for assistance in the leasing and purchase of skidder bridges. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/12/17. Go to Top

Farm to School

S.33 expands the current Farm-to-School program to include registered or licensed day care providers. The position of Food System Administrator is added within the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to oversee coordination and expansion of the Farm-to-School programs
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/7/17 Go to Top

Poultry Farming

S.9 made changes to inspection and regulation of poultry farms in the state. The bill proposes to raise the inspection threshold from 1,000 to 20,000 birds. Three levels of requirements (1,000, 5,000 and 20,000 birds) enables farmers to grow their business in a more sustainable manner. There are labeling requirements for growers under the 20,000 bird limit to assure that buyers are aware of the conditions under which the animals were raised
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 5/30/17. Go to Top

The Budget

The budget began the session as H.518 itemizing nearly $5.7 billion in state spending. After the governor's veto a new version of the bill was introduced (H.542) containing compromise language. This is a very tight budget. It does not increase taxes or fees and honors commitments to pay obligations and maintain reserves. There are no one-time expenditures for re-occurring expenses. It spends less than projected revenues and grows at a rate less than the projected growth of the gross state product. Here is a two-page summary. 
Bill status: Passed by both House and Senate on June 21st and believed to be agreeable to the governor. Go to Top 

Highlights:
  • $8.3 million to mental health and developmental services
  • $2.5 million to child care services for working families
  • $3 million for the Vermont State College System
  • Expended support for:
    • Small Business Development Centers
    • Micro Business Development
    • Economic development marketing
    • Career and technical education
  • Additional small investments in
    • Working lands
    • Farm-to-School
    • Logging industry

Commerce

The Economic Development Bill (S.135). 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/8/17.  This targeted a number of important issues. They are listed below: Go to Top

Retirement

The Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan is a new voluntary Multiple Employer Plan (MEP) that will encourage Vermonters to save for retirement. The basic idea is that all employee will, by default, be enrolled in the plan that will deduct a small amount from their paycheck that is deposited in a state-run retirement fund. One can easily opt out of the plan. Because the plan will be managed by the state, it is available regardless of the employer. Details of the plan are to be worked out by the Public Retirement Plan Study Committee, which will report to the  General Assemble before January 15th of 2018. Go to Top

Economic Development

Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) received a lot of attention during the session. This legislation lifts the cap on new TIF districts to 6 statewide and added South Burlington to the list. There were other changes to address concerns about the impact of TIF districts on the Education Fund. Go to Top

Workforce Development

One roadblock to economic development is a shortage of skilled workers. There are jobs, but there is a shortage of skilled and experienced workers. S.135 addresses this problem. The first step is to acquire a full understanding of the problem. With that in mind, the Commissioner of Labor and the State Workforce Development Board will convene a working group to develop a comprehensive strategy to meet the needs of employees and employers. Go to Top 

Training and career planning received funding in the form of the Heating Fuel and Service Workforce Training Pilot Project. This is a public-private partnership. Adult Tech Ed providers will train students who will then be hired by dealers into apprenticeship programs within the industry. Go to Top

Minimum Wage and Benefits Cliff Study

S.135 addressed a growing concern regarding the impact of a possible $15.00 minimum wage on the 'benefits cliff.'  The Benefits Cliff occurs where an increase in income results in a decrease in State and/or Federal benefits such that there is a net loss of benefit. A study of this phenomena will propose legislation by January of 2018. Go to Top

Affordable and Workforce Housing

The lack of affordable housing has been identified as another roadblock to economic development. Employers can find workers, but the workers cannot afford to stay in Vermont. An estimated 5000 housing units is required to reduce this impediment to economic growth. S.135 streamlines and sets permitting priorities to encourage the development of affordable workforce housing.This will help facilitate the expenditure of the $35 million housing bond designed to provide the needed housing. Go to Top 

Small Business Development 
 Additional funds have been provided for The Micro Business Development Program. The bill also authorizes the creation of the Climate Economy Business Accelerator Program to foster climate economy startups. Go to Top  

The Consumer Protection Bill (S.136) also contained a number of important changes listed below (
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/8/17):

Home Repair

Home repair is one area where many Vermonters have suffered from unscrupulous contractors. H.136 directs the State's Office of Professional Regulation to look into whether or not contractors should be licensed. Go to Top

Escrow Accounts

Property taxes paid from escrow accounts on home mortgages have caused problems when the tax liability changes. This bill requires an annual recalculation of escrow charges. Go to Top

Fantasy Sports

Over 80,000 Vermonters have participated in Fantasy Sports.Ten states now regulate and tax these games. H.135 requires the Attorney General and the Executive Branch to propose a registration fee and tax frameworks for Fantasy Sports. Fantasy Sports operators will be required to pay a yearly $5000 registration fee. Consumer protection regulations on who can participate are also put in place. Go to Top

The Capital Bill

The Capital Bill (H.519) specifies how over $132 million raised by the sale of the state's general obligation bonds are spent during the next two fiscal years. The bill implemented the governor’s recommended increases in funds for the State’s Clean Water Initiative.  For the next two fiscal years, the bill allocates over $45 million dollars to such projects throughout the State, the bulk of which will be implemented by municipalities receiving grants from state agencies.  Go to Top

Corrections

Mental Health and Drug Abuse Programming and Treatment

S.61 is a bill that reviews and coordinates the treatment of offenders suffering from mental illness and/or addiction problems within Vermont's Corrections system. It requires the department of Mental Health and Corrections to produce a memo of understanding that specifies how offenders receive proper mental health services. There may be a need for a 4-to-6 bed Forensic Mental Health unit to provide specialized services. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/13/17.

The bill also directs the Joint Judicial Oversite Committee to study drug abuse programming within Corrections and report back to the legislature on how best to provide programming and transitional services. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/13/17. Go to Top

The Windsor Corrections Facility

The Windsor Corrections Facility (actually the "Southeast State Correctional Facility") became a bargaining chip in end-of-session negotiations.The House's position was to keep it open. The Senate wanted it closed. In the end the Senate prevailed and the facility will be closed . . . temporarily. This is spelled out in the Budget. The idea is to use $200,000 of FY17 money to re-purpose Windsor as a transitional facility. The Department of Corrections is to develop a plan and report back by November 1st of 2017. Go to Top

Education

A number of modifications were made to Act 46 to allow for alternative governing structure for merging school districts. The Legislature is continuing work to improve the quality and availability of PreK education and to contain the cost of Vermont's public education system. Go to Top

Energy And Technology

Appliance Energy Efficiency Standards

H.411 puts federal energy efficiency standards into state law as a safeguard against a removal of those standards by the federal government. However, if such federal standards for only eased, those changes will take precedent over stricter state standard. Changes were also made to how the Public Service Board handles the regulation of pre-existing net-metering systems. The effect is to grandfather those systems under the prior rule for 10 years from installation. After that, the new rules will apply. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 5/22/17.  Go to Top

Telecommunications Plan Update

H.347 requires that when the Department of Public Service updates the 10 year Telecommunications Plan for Vermont it must consider and report on how the plan effects health care, human services, public safety, and workforce development and training. The plan will be reported to the legislature in January of 2018. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 5/22/17. Go to Top

Public Service Board Proceedings

S.52 deals with what can be contentious Public Service Board (PSB) hearings where application for Certificates of Public Good (CPG) are discussed. The bill standardizes response times for CPG applications and gives planning commissions the right to request expert assistance from the Public Service Department (PSD). Complaints of CPG violations can also be investigated by the PSD. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 5/30/17. Go to Top

Public Bathrooms

H.333 requiring that public single-stall bathrooms be gender neutral generated some controversy in the House. It passed, and seems to have died in the Senate. Go to Top

Liquor And Lottery

H.238 revises and updates language in statutes dealing with alcohol. This was the result of a summer study group. This bill also dealt with the governor's proposal to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Vermont Lottery. After House-Senate conference committee negotiations a compromise was reached to create a 'task force' to propose legislation for such a merger. 
Bill status:Approved by the governor - 6/16/17. Go to Top

Pregnancy Accommodations in the Workplace

H.136 requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees as long as it does not cause undue harm to the business. Basically it wants the employer and employee to come to some agreement as to what is necessary in order for the pregnant women to continue working. 
Bill status: Approved by the governor - 5/4/17. Go to Top

Government Operations

Law Enforcement Officer Certification and De-certification

The goal of H.22 is to reduce the likelihood of 'bad actors' moving from one enforcement department to another within the state. The bill clarifies standards for certification and de-certification. Information from previous employment will be made available to any agency hiring such personnel. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/5/17. Go to Top

Vital Records

H.111 cleans up language throughout the statutes regarding birth and death records. It establishes a centralized repository for such information at the Health Department. The hope is to reduce the burden on town clerks. The bill also makes Vermont no longer an 'open access' state. Vital records will not be available to anyone anywhere. This helps reduce identity theft. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 5/22/17. Go to Top

Ethics

S.8 establishes a State Ethics Commission. Legislators, statewide office holders and executive officers may not become lobbyists for one year after leaving office. Restrictions are imposed on no-bid contracting and related campaign contributions. The bill requires the creation of a state code of ethics and requires each municipality to adopt a conflict of interest policy. Bill status: 
Signed by the governor - 6/14/17. Go to Top

Notaries

H.526 is based on the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts. This brings Vermont in line with many other states. Bill status: In the Senate
. Go to Top

Health Care

Mental Health in Vermont

S.133 endeavors to correct a number of problems that have come to light within the state's mental health system. The first step is a complete analysis of the structure of mental health services. To this end the bill directs the secretary of Human Services, the Green Mountain Care Board, the Commissioner of Mental Health and others to perform such an analysis and propose an action plan by September 1st of 2017. 
Bill status: Signed by the governor - 6/15/17. Go to Top

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Workplace

H.197 as passed by the House has two basic parts. The first states that for first responders only (EMTs, Firefighters etc.) a diagnosis of PTSD will be assumed as job related and covered by Workman's Compensation, unless it is proved otherwise. The second part says that for those that are not first responders, PTSD can be work related but must be proved so. 
Bill status: Governor approved on 5/17/17. Go to Top

Access for Minors to Mental Health Services

H.230 enables minors to receive mental health services without the consent of their parents. 
Bill status: Governor approved on 5/17/17. Go to Top

Human Services

The Benefits Cliff

H.326 changes statute to 'smooth' the benefits cliff, allowing working Vermonters to raise themselves from poverty with an appropriate easing of benefits. This is accomplished by allowing funds set aside in a child's savings account, thereby enabling working parents to accept raises without losing child care, LIHEAP and other benefits. Though this bill will not have a significant impact, it is a help. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 5/10/17Go to Top

Medical Marijuana

S.16 updates and expands statutes relating to medical marijuana. Parkinson's, Crohns,and PTSD were added as medical conditions warranting medical marijuana. The number of dispensaries is increased from 4 to 5 with each allowed to have 2 outlets.The bill also allows such dispensaries to be for-profit establishments and allows the Agency of Agriculture to test marijuana samples. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 6/8/17Go to Top

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)

H.508 addresses a growing recognition that early childhood experiences have a considerable impact on the general health, safety and well-being of the state. This bill wound up in a House-Senate conference committee that compromised by requiring a working group of legislators to take a broad look at services currently provided and any gaps that may exist. The working group will report back during the next session. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 5/22/17. Go to Top

Elder Ombudsman

H.265 updates the State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program statutes so they are compliant with Federal requirements. The bill also allows citizens to file civil suits regarding financial exploitation. Penalties awarded in these suits are paid to the person filing the suit. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 5/4/17. Go to Top

Judiciary

Hate Crimes Resolution

J.R.S.18 is a resolution condemning the increase in hate crimes in the United State. Adopted by Senate and House Go to Top

Bail Reform

H.503 is part of continuing effort to better use of state Corrections resources by reducing the number of offenders unnecessarily incarcerated for lack of bail. If a person is cited into court, but not arrested, and shows up for the hearing, then requiring bail will no longer be an option. The idea is that if the crime does not warrant arrest and the risk of flight is minimal there need not be possibility of being held for lack of bail. The bill also pertains to those that are cited for probation violations. Rather than have them arrested and detained until appearing in court, they can be cited into court. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 6/6/17. Go to Top

Expungement

H.171 pertains to offenders who have completed their sentence and met other requirement including a waiting period of good behavior. Those individuals may have their crimes expunged. The decision to expunge is made by a court and must be in the interest of public safety. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 6/5/17. Go to Top

Public Defenders

H.55 expands the use of public defenders to include providing services for any individual 25 years of age or younger regardless of the crime. Current law stipulated that the public defender is provided only if the law is serious. 
Bill status: Passed the House, now in the Senate. Go to Top

Racial Justice Reform

H.308 establishes a 13-member Racial Justice Panel to look into Vermont's Judicial system. The bill also strengthens Vermont's Fair and Impartial Policing model policy. All together this is a broad look at racial justice in Vermont. 
Bill status: Approved by governor on 5/31/17. Go to Top

Sexual Assault Laws

H.74 is an effort to strengthen Vermont's sexual assault laws. Sexual assault victims are guaranteed the right to a medical examination without cost and tightens deadlines for sending exam kits to labs and distributing the results. The bill eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual assault related crimes and establishes a new misdemeanor crime of lewd conduct. 
Bill status: Approved by the governor on 5/23/17. Go to Top

Free Speech

S.96 safeguards journalists by protecting their confidential sources. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 5/17/17. Go to Top

Firearm Removal and Domestic Disputes

H.422 allowed law enforcement personnel, under certain circumstances, to remove firearms from the scene of a domestic dispute. If the firearm is not evidence it must be returned within 5 days. This bill passed the House but has not yet been taken up by the Senate. 
Bill status: Passed the House, now in the Senate.  Go to Top

Marijuana

H.170 and S.22 pertain to legalizing recreational marijuana in Vermont. H.170 was essentially replced by S.22 was passed by both bodies, but vetoed by the governor. The legislation vetoed by the governor legalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana and set up a commission to investigate and perhaps develop legislation to tax and regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana in Vermont. Legalization would take effect in July of 2018. The veto was sustained during the June 21st veto session. During the veto session the Senate attempted to bring the issue up as a revision to an existing House bill, but that failed. Marijuana legalization will have to wait. Go to Top

Protecting Immigrants

S.79 ensures that state and local officials will not contribute to the creation of a national registry based on personal data. There are a number of safeguards to prevent this bill from interfering with efforts to deal with those that pose a potential threat to society. Information can be exchanged between local, state and federal agencies as long as it is not being used to create a registry. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 3/28/17. Go to Top

Natural Resources

Toxic Chemicals

S.103 establishes a Committee on Chemical Management to track chemical inventories in the State. The bill also requires that new wells be tested and tightens regulations regarding children's products that contain certain chemicals. Differences between the House version and the Senate version are being negotiated. Go to Top

Aquatic Nuisance Species

S.75 adds to statutes requiring the inspection and washing of boats. The bill also has language dealing with the transportation of nuisance species between states and the use of bottom barriers by lake associations. 
Bill status: Signed by governor on 6/8/17. Go to Top

Forest Fragmentation

H.233 adds the protection of forest integrity to current Act 250 requirements for large development projects. 
Bill status: Passed the House, now in the Senate.  

H.424 creates a commission to review all of Act 250 to assure that it supports all Vermont's economic, environmental and land use planning goals. Bill status: Approved by governor on 5/23/17. Go to Top

Transportation

Miscellaneous DMV

Several issues relating to transportation and the DMV were addressed during this session. The penalty for falsely displaying a handicapped plate was increased and a study was initiated to look into the cost savings of new registration plates. Points will also be assessed for using handheld electronics while driving and penalties were created for people under the influence while riding with new drivers with learner's permits. Landowners are are required to properly mark chains, wires and cables that are strung across paths. (Some of these provisions passed, some are in the Senate. I need to research these more) Go to Top

Taxes, Fees and Finance

Taxes

The Legislature did not produce the usual kind of tax bill. This year's bill contains no new revenues. It contains important tax provisions but does not raise new revenue. In fact it provides a property tax cut. Go to Top

Family Leave Insurance

H.196 endeavors to attract young working people to the state by providing family leave insurance for working Vermonters. The proposal allows for six weeks of paid family leave at 80% of an employee's salary. This is paid for by a .141% of income contribution by all employees to a state run fund. 
Bill status: Passed the House. Now in the Senate. Go to Top

Affordable Housing

The governor proposed a $35 million bond to support affordable housing in Vermont. This became part of the proposed budget. The problem then was to come up with the $2.5 million needed to pay the annual debt service for the bond. The House Appropriations committee managed to come up with $1.5 million in existing sources. The other $1 million is to come from an extension of the Property Transfer Tax surcharge originally setup for the Clean Water Initiative. Go to Top