February 19, 2021
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development approved the Scott Administration’s proposal to provide $10 million for economic recovery grants for businesses that suffered an economic loss because of the pandemic and were left out of or did not apply for earlier relief programs. The Committee modified the original proposal from the Administration, including by more explicitly defining eligibility criteria and capping the amount a business can receive at $150,000. The legislation would prioritize businesses that have not received any COVID-19 related assistance from State or federal sources, with eligibility expanding after an initial 30-day period. The legislation passed the Committee by an 11-0 vote and is expected to be included in a standalone appropriations bill that will also include additional COVID-19 related provisions. The Vermont Chamber previously testified in support of this funding and worked with impacted businesses to communicate to the Legislature why a business may have not been eligible for past relief programs.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs heard testimony from officials at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) highlighting some of the Scott Administration’s economic development budget proposals. Among issues discussed was $25 million proposed for brownfield remediation. “Brownfield” is a term that refers to properties where expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the release or threatened release of hazardous material. The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development recently advanced the brownfield proposal, with $14 million directed at DEC for assistance with environmental cleanup and related costs and $11 million directed to ACCD for additional financial supports. The measure was included in the Committee’s budget request to the House Committee on Appropriations. The Vermont Chamber fully supports the Administration’s proposal for brownfield remediation, as it would represent one of the largest investments of its kind in state history and would greatly benefit Vermont’s environment and the long-term economic health of our communities. 
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs reviewed a proposal by the Department of Labor that, if implemented, would enact a one-year freeze to both the taxable wage base and the tax rate schedule that determines employer contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (UITF). The Department’s proposal would also limit increases to the UI tax rate schedule in subsequent years to a maximum of a two-schedule jump. The Department’s proposal would provide considerable cost savings for employers in the short term, while also ensuring the UI Trust fund remains solvent in future years. The Vermont Chamber previously testified in support of limiting cost increases related to employer contributions to the UITF, and we fully support the Department’s proposal to limit costs for employers. Doing so will help businesses navigate the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. If you have questions, please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin
Heather Pelham, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM), briefed the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs on the Scott Administration’s proposal to boost tourism marketing for the state. As offered by the Administration, the proposal would provide $1 million in seed funding for a tourism and marketing fund that is tied to rooms and meals tax performance. The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development recently advanced the funds included in the proposal, without language supporting changes to future years rooms and meals tax revenue use. Sectors dependent on tourism were most impacted by the pandemic, causing rooms and meals tax receipts to drop by $48 million and overall visitor spending to decline by $700 million. In June approximately 15,000 tourism jobs, or about half of all tourism sector workers, were furloughed because of the pandemic. Despite tourism being one of Vermont’s largest economic contributors, the State’s tourism budget is the smallest in the Northeast. In addition to improving existing marketing efforts, the proposal would also contribute to economic recovery when the state begins to fully reopen. Contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear with questions.
The House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry advanced H.89. If passed, the legislation would limit liability for agritourism operators by making providers of agritourism activities immune from civil liability if a participant is injured as a result of risks inherent in the activity. The legislation would additionally help contribute to the economic diversification of Vermont farms. The Vermont Chamber fully supports this legislation because agritourism represents a significant economic opportunity for Vermont’s rural communities. For questions about the bill, please contact Amy Spear.
H.278 would allow municipalities to apply for Act 250 master plan permits for downtown development districts, village centers, and neighborhood development areas. Under the bill, eligible municipalities could apply to Act 250 District Commissions for a master plan permit for a designated area or any portion of that designated area pursuant to the rules of the Natural Resources Board. In approving a master plan permit, a District Commission would be able to set specific conditions that an applicant for an individual project permit in designated areas would be required to meet. If adopted, the legislation could set conditions in which applicants are provided with greater predictability and a degree of assurance that future development projects may be approved on a proposed development tract. This would result in greater efficiency in the environmental review process and help to avoid unnecessary and unreasonable costs for applicants. The Vermont Chamber has long advocated for greater predictability and reduced costs in the Act 250 permitting process and previously supported legislative proposals that would limit Act 250 jurisdiction in designated centers.  
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 information about a Small Business Administration webinar for veterans and the recording from this week's seminar in our Economic Conference, featuring Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, economist and President of Champlain College. To share helpful content to our resource roundup, please send it to us by email.
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In business since 1912, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is a private, not-for-profit business organization with 1,500 members employing 45,000 people and representing all sectors of the state's economy. Our mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life. Copyright ©2018 The Vermont Chamber of Commerce. All Rights Reserved.

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