April 9, 2021
The Scott Administration’s $1 billion proposal for Vermont’s use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds includes a broad spending plan to make investments in economic development and address some of the state’s most pressing infrastructure challenges. Included in the economic development pool is a proposal for $50 million in economic recovery grants for businesses impacted by the pandemic-caused economic downturn. This proposed grant funding would satisfy only 10 percent of the $500 million in known unmet need calculated at the end of 2020. Businesses severely impacted by COVID-19 have largely anticipated an additional grant relief program comparable to the $330 million package advanced in 2020. The Vermont Chamber and others in the business community have met with legislative leaders to request a substantial increase to the Administration’s grant proposal. We will continue to advocate for grant funding that adequately addresses the ongoing financial hardship facing businesses around the state. If you have question or concerns, please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin.
What began as another annual push by the House Committee on Ways and Means to remove a tax exemption on software as a service has ballooned into a proposal to additionally tax platform and infrastructure as a service. If advanced, consumers and nearly all of Vermont’s businesses that use cloud-based services would see considerable cost increases. The proposed taxes would cost Vermont’s technology industry at least $14 million annually by Fiscal Year 2025 and damage the state’s current tech-friendly reputation, while also disincentivizing the recruitment of remote workers. By adding a new financial burden for those who may have otherwise capitalized on connectivity opportunities to access or provide cloud-based services, this tax proposal has the potential to negate much of the economic benefit that would otherwise be achieved through future state investments in broadband infrastructure. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin if you have questions or would like help providing your input to the Legislature. 
The Vermont Chamber testified in front of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs to support a formal extension of the current pandemic-allowed alcoholic beverages to-go provisions. Having a better understanding of the path that is ahead, continuing the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption will be a helpful tool for economic recovery. While not a cure-all, the off-premises provision as outlined in H.313 will help the industry recoup some lost revenue. The Vermont Chamber and Vermont Independent Restaurants advocated throughout the session that a formal extension would allow for a wind-down period of this service that licensees have provided, and customers have come to expect. 
The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife reviewed the Scott Administration’s Act 250 legislation introduced in identical forms in the House and Senate. Among other changes, the legislation would reform the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and provide certain municipal areas an exemption from Act 250 jurisdiction. If implemented, these changes would help facilitate responsible development in municipal areas, which would contribute to the creation of additional affordable housing in Vermont. While a priority of both the Scott Administration and the Legislature, Act 250 reform efforts failed last session and have made little progress in 2021. The Vermont Chamber continues to support the modernization of Act 250 to facilitate a more predictable and less costly permit process, while also ensuring Vermont’s natural resources are protected. While varying in scope, these latest legislative proposals would help to achieve that goal. If you have questions or would like help contacting legislators to offer support for the proposal, please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin.  
The House Committee on Agriculture continued review of a Senate-passed bill to regulate pet supplements and add a fee for the Agency of Agriculture to enforce this new program. The underlying bill focused on composting regulations on farms, but along the way 30 pages of new language were added to create a program that regulates pet supplements to ensure that food and substances ingested by dogs, cats, and horses are known by the state and that associated health claims can be verified. At the national level, the FDA regulates much of this sector with a special focus on livestock, because livestock are consumed by people. However, with dogs, cats, and horses, which are categorized as pets, there is less need for oversight. As the Committee considered the issue, it became clear that little consideration was given to the impact it would have on companies, specifically Vermont-based manufacturers that produce pet supplements. Vermont Chamber member FoodScience of Williston testified about the costly impact this would have on their business and the additional capacity needed to comply with these new regulations. 
As part of the economic relief bill H.159, the House passed several provisions to support BIPOC-owned businesses. Since there is currently no reliable resource for identifying and reaching BIPOC-owned businesses, the Vermont Chamber suggested that data on race, ethnicity, and gender be collected by the Secretary of State. This recommendation was adopted in H.159 and, if passed, would likely launch in 2022 as part of the new business portal. Another proposal appropriates $100,000 to convene BIPOC-owned businesses, organizations, and community leaders with the Agency of Commerce to create a set of recommendations to support BIPOC business development which may include a BIPOC business leader network, the creation of a minority business development center, or other similar organization. The Vermont Chamber supports this initiative as we continue to work on opportunities to help strengthen BIPOC-owned businesses. As a business organization, we focus on developing trusted networks, promoting Vermont businesses, and providing issue expertise. We also recognize the need for intentional outreach to BIPOC-owned businesses. Vermont Chamber leaders are exploring opportunities to partner with the State and organizations across Vermont to implement efforts that strengthen BIPOC-owned businesses. This is important work, and there is much to do.
The House Committee on Human Services reviewed Senate-passed S.20, a bill that seeks to further restrict the use, manufacture, sale, and distribution of PFAS chemical compounds and expand the list of prohibited chemicals. While there is a federal exemption for the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS chemicals for aircraft rescue, S.20 proposes a ban on a wide array of products, food packaging, agents, and equipment. The legislation would expose Vermont manufacturers to additional regulatory and financial burdens, supply chain disruption, uncertainty, and risks during a pandemic. Chemicals approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in food packaging, for example, are included in the proposed State ban on an entire class of chemicals. The Vermont Chamber believes chemical risks can vary and related regulations should be developed based on credible, scientific evidence, and the quantifiable health risks chemicals may pose. The Vermont Chamber’s testimony supports a scientific approach and a federal solution that harmonizes regulatory standards. To learn more or share concerns, contact Vice President of Business Development Chris Carrigan.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture reviewed S.67, a bill that requires original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of electronics-enabled equipment, such as tractors, trailers, and combines, that sell a good with an express warranty, to provide authorized and independent repair providers with documentation, parts, and tools used to diagnose, maintain, and repair the equipment. Such repairs vary, can sometimes be very difficult and dangerous, and should be done by the OEM to ensure repairs are done properly, meet EPA compliance for safety emissions, ensure individual and public safety, protect intellectual property, and limit any liability related to improper modification, recalibration, or reprogramming of the software code or program. To share your concerns, please contact Chris Carrigan.    
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs began deliberations this week on S.79. As passed out of the Senate, the bill contains provisions that would establish a statewide short-term rental (STR) registry. On an annual basis, each unit would pay a $35 fee and provide unit location and contact information as deemed appropriate by the Department of Housing and Community Development. Municipalities, districts, or other local government entities that operate a rental housing and safety program that requires registration of a rental housing unit and a fee for inclusion on the registry would be required to provide the Department of Housing and Community Development registration information on at least an annual basis.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is collecting resources for employers and businesses throughout Vermont, produced by the Chamber and externally. View this week's roundup for details on the Vermont Forward Plan for reopening the state, supplier registration for our Annual Manufacturing Summit, and more. To share helpful content for next week's resource roundup, send us an email.
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