May 14, 2021
Last week the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development advanced changes to remove 2020, an anomaly year, from consideration when the Department of Labor computes unemployment insurance (UI) tax rate schedules. The Vermont Chamber supported this change. Unfortunately, facing pressure emanating from the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, this week legislators put forth additional changes that would add a $100 million tax on employers for the purpose of increasing UI benefits for claimants over the next several years. The Vermont Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes this recent change. This use of the UI trust fund is unnecessary and disregards the precarious economic situation the previous 14 months have caused for employers. In December, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development estimated the known unmet need of employers to be $500 million. The Legislature has so far indicated they are willing to provide just $30 million to address this known need. The concept of disregarding $470 million in remaining unmet need and then additionally calling for a new $100 million dollar tax on employers in the wake of an economically devastating pandemic is unconscionable. You can contact your legislator here to express opposition to this new tax. If you have questions or would like help reaching out, please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin
In partnership with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, the Vermont Department of Health will host walk-in Covid-19 vaccine clinics for restaurant, hospitality, and tourism workers over the coming weeks. Each site will offer Johnson & Johnson vaccines for tourism and hospitality workers on a walk-in basis. Clinics will be staged at restaurants, lodging properties, ski resorts, and other tourism attractions in an effort to bring the vaccine directly to the workers of this sector. These upcoming sector-specific vaccine clinics will make accessing the vaccine easier for hospitality workers and help Vermont continue on the path to fully reopen by July. To see all dates, times, and locations for these tourism and hospitality worker vaccine clinics, please visit the ACCD Recovery Resource Center. If a tourism or hospitality business would like to host a clinic for industry employees in their area, please contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear.
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy recently announced the opening of public applications for earmarks. Earmarks are congressional provisions directing federal funds to specific projects, and they present Vermonters with an opportunity to help decide what work gets funded across the state. Organizations and individuals can submit high-impact Vermont projects for funding consideration through 5 p.m. on May 21. For-profit entities are not eligible to receive earmarks. Specific organizations that are eligible to receive earmarks are listed online. Eligible organizations can submit projects for Senator Leahy's consideration through this application link. Senator Leahy's required application questions are available to view in advance. Earmarks will be an important tool as our state and businesses recover from the pandemic-caused economic downturn, and the Vermont Chamber is encouraging eligible organizations to submit projects for consideration so that we secure good work that revitalizes Vermont. Connect with Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with any questions.
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development continued its review of the Senate’s version of H.159. Key areas of agreement between the House and Senate, and longtime priorities of the Vermont Chamber, are provisions that create an International Business Attraction and Investment Program to attract Canadian companies looking to establish operations in the U.S. and additional State investments in tourism marketing. An area of concern for the Vermont Chamber within the economic package is the low amount of funds currently proposed in the bill for economic recovery grants. In December, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development reported that the business community was facing $500 million in remaining unmet need because of the pandemic-caused economic downturn. With recent federal relief programs either narrow in scope or rapidly oversubscribed, most of that need remains unaddressed. H.159 in its current form would provide only $20 million in additional state relief for struggling businesses – an amount that will almost certainly be oversubscribed. The Vermont Chamber has repeatedly called for an increase to this amount and continues to work to enable relief program funds to be replenished over the summer. 
On Thursday, the Senate passed their version of H.313, an alcohol bill. There are several provisions in the bill to modernize Vermont’s liquor laws, and if signed into law, the current pandemic-allowed alcohol to-go provisions would remain in place until July 2023 for licensees. This extension was a legislative priority identified by the Vermont Chamber and our partner organization, Vermont Independent Restaurants. In advance of the bill moving back to the House, the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs reviewed changes from the Senate and considered several issues for inclusion in the bill, including permitting licensed stores and retailers to sell spirit-based canned cocktails. Please contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear with any questions. 
The House Committee on Ways and Means voted 10-0-1 to advance S.79 with an amendment. The establishment of regulatory equity between the short-term rental (STR) and traditional lodging markets has been a longtime priority for the Vermont Chamber. As passed out of the Committee, the registry will have an annual fee of $35 per STR unit. Any STR that was active in the prior year will have the duty to register by March 1 annually. If enacted, the STR registration requirement will take effect in January of 2022. The bill will be taken up by House Appropriations next. Please contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear with questions.
The Legislative Tourism Caucus sent a letter this week to House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Janet Ancel requesting the Committee support the Senate Committee on Finance’s changes to H.436, the miscellaneous tax bill. The recent Senate changes exclude 2021 Paycheck Protection Program recipients from tax liability. The Vermont Chamber and other business organizations have pushed for this change since the Legislature moved to tax 2021 PPP loans through a provision included in a COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier in the session. If implemented, the provisions would directly contribute to economic recovery and help businesses impacted by the pandemic avoid a significant tax bill. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with questions. 
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 the latest vaccine information from the State of Vermont and information about our upcoming Virtual Manufacturing Summit. To share helpful content for next week's resource roundup, send us an email.
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