On January 18, 2023

New session, new bills

By Rep. Jim Harrison

With the start of the new legislative biennium, all legislative proposals must start fresh. Bills that were proposed on the past, but not enacted, can be re-introduced again, as well as brand new initiatives. In a typical year there may be 600-700 new bills with about 10-15% of them getting enacted into law.

Each new bill is referred to a committee for consideration. It is that committee that screens the proposals it receives and decides which ones it believes should be taken up given its priorities and time constraints.

During the first two weeks, 68 House and Senate bills have been introduced. Over the next several weeks, hundreds more will surface as lawmakers finalize their ideas for new legislation.

Meanwhile, some highlights:

Democratic legislators are planning to unveil a bill soon to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to all Vermont employees. Qualifying for leave would include the birth or adoption of a child, personal medical issues, victims of domestic violence and more. Each employee would pay a modest payroll tax on their wages, while the employer would be assessed a similar charge on all of their employees. The governor has proposed a voluntary program that employers could opt-in. He vetoed a similar initiative in 2019 because of the necessary tax increase needed for a mandatory plan.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a package of firearm restrictions in a new bill, S.4. The measure includes prohibiting possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number, purchasing of firearms for others not allowed to purchase on their own, possession of firearms by fugitives from justice, possession of semiautomatic assault weapons by persons under 21 years of age, and makes juvenile case records available for background checks conducted prior to new gun purchases for a person under 21.

A new version of last session’s Clean Heat Standard, now called the Affordable Heat Act, has been introduced in the Senate (S.5) by the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Chris Bray along with 12 other Democratic senators. The measure, which was vetoed by Scott last session, would set up a regulated system for the heating fuels industry with tradable credits for reduction measures. The administration has indicated their concern for increased heating costs to consumers and delegating the design of the program to an unelected commission.

Last Friday, Rep. Dan Noyes (D-Wolcott) and I shared a summary of our legislation, H.32, to the House Ways and Means Committee, that would increase the income threshold before social security benefits are taxed. Under current law, there is no Vermont tax on social security benefits for single filers with less than $50k adjusted gross income and less than $65k for joint filers. The bill would increase those numbers to $57.5k and $72.5k respectively, along with a phase-out and add a CPI adjuster in future years.

The House Appropriations Committee continues its work on the mid-year budget adjustment proposal from the Scott administration. The $283 million plan includes transferring of funds between agencies based on six months of actual expenses in the current fiscal year as well as some one-time funding initiatives. The additional spending is largely from federal funds, such as Medicaid. 

According to a recent poll from Morning Consult, Phil Scott is currently rated as the most popular governor in the U.S. with an 81% approval by Vermonters. 

Several important events will take place this week that could shape much of what the rest of the session will look like. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the state economists presented an update of their revenue forecast, which could significantly influence the shape of next year’s budget and any proposals with an appropriation attached.

Also on Tuesday, will be the release of a report commissioned by the Legislature, with the estimated cost of subsidizing the cost of childcare in Vermont so that no family pays more than 10% of its income.  It is expected to call for new taxes to support that benefit level.

And to close out the week, Governor Scott is scheduled to present his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 on Friday afternoon before a joint assembly of the legislature.

Jim Harrison is a state house representative for Chittenden, Killington, Mendon and Pittsfield. He can be reached at:
JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.

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