January 21, 2022
Governor Scott echoed many of the Vermont Chamber’s priorities in addressing the workforce shortage while presenting his FY23 budget proposal to the Legislature. His approach to increase affordability, attract diverse workers, and address the housing and childcare crises aligns with the Vermont Chamber’s advocacy work. Growing the workforce will require strategic investments in housing, as well as investments in childcare for working parents. His budget funds and expands existing worker relocation programs to include more in-demand occupations and includes the exemption of military pensions from income tax. The budget proposal also included a $50 million tax cut to improve affordability.
With broad recognition that no legislative solution can fix the current workforce crisis, the House Commerce Committee reviewed the efficacy of existing government training programs. The Vermont Chamber voiced support for continued funding for the relocation and new worker grants, efforts like the Vermont Training Program and support for second-chance hiring programs. The testimony cautioned the Committee that the real problem is the lack of people to fill education and training slots, proposing that Vermont needs a robust and sustained marketing effort to recruit more workers. Creating a message that promotes Vermont as a welcoming place can be demonstrated by the adoption of the Declaration of Inclusion, the continued support for refugee resettlement initiatives and the passage of removing the tax on military retirement pay.
The Senate Finance Committee reviewed the Governor’s tax proposals, including three significant efforts to support working families with child care costs, and child care centers with staffing retention. The House discussed a proposal for a Child Tax Credit, similar to the credit that expired from the Federal government in 2021. Data from the US Census Bureau shows that 1 in 4 families nationally with young children used the advanced child Tax Credit to cover child care costs. On the State level, with the price tag of $50 million per year, questions remain about a long-term funding source for this program which would be in addition to significant investments promised last year.
The Governor’s FY23 Budget includes a $3.1 million expenditure to remove the tax on military pensions for retirees and survivor benefits for military families, an effort the Vermont Chamber has supported. Removing that tax on military pensions could be another tool used to recruit and retain a diverse workforce population to address the severe worker shortages for all industries.
The Priority Housing Project was established to fast-track approved projects and exempt them from Act 250 permitting regulations. Multiple bills were discussed this week to build on the success of that program and expand how it can be used. With the time crunch to get ARPA dollars out the door, there were questions about if these changes will be enough to get projects moved through the pipeline in time. The Senate Finance committee will be bundling ideas from many of the housing bills being proposed this session into one large omnibus housing bill. The Vermont Chamber supports efforts to address the “missing middle” in housing reforms and will advocate that new and existing programs address the housing crisis for middle income workers.
The Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Committee voted favorably on S.210, which creates a rental registry but exempts properties rented for fewer than 90-days each year. While a majority of the Committee acknowledges the critical importance of the registry for all short term rentals (STRs), they are crafting a bill that will be more likely to gain the Governor’s approval according to the path set forth in his veto message. With this exemption, Vermont will not collect important information to fully understand the impact STRs have on the tourism market and on housing scarcity. S.210 will likely pass the Senate and then move to the House for their consideration where robust conversations are anticipated. The Vermont Chamber will continue to advocate for equity within Vermont’s lodging industry.
The House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee continued work on two bills regarding discrimination in housing, education, public accommodation, and employment. H.320 would prohibit discrimination settlement agreements between employer and employee from including prohibitions on future employment. Some employment attorneys have raised concerns that this could take away what little leverage employees have in settlement negotiations. H.329 would amend the prohibitions against discrimination by removing the “severe and pervasive” standard for harassment based on any protected class, establish a uniform 6-year statute of limitations, allow an employee to file a claim without having previously pursued an internal grievance process, and remove the requirement that an employee demonstrate that a comparable employee was treated differently to prove that discrimination occurred. The Committee will review these proposals and decide if additional laws are needed to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace while considering the concerns of employers.
The House Commerce Committee heard testimony on H.29, which would require small nonprofit employers with fewer than four employees that do not participate in the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system to notify prospective employees that they will be ineligible for UI benefits. This bill attempts to correct a problem some employees faced during the pandemic when they filed for UI benefits, not realizing that their employer’s small size made them ineligible for benefits. An amendment to the bill would also require employers that elect to reimburse the UI Trust Fund rather than make regular payments to provide the Vermont Department of Labor with a security deposit.
The Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed S.113, which proposes to establish a cause of action of the remedy of medical monitoring for a person who is exposed to a proven toxic substance. This legislation stems from a bill vetoed by Governor Scott in 2019. This new iteration has greatly improved on the last version by incorporating the suggestions that the Vermont Chamber made during prior testimony, making the bill substantially more reasonable for businesses. The Vermont Chamber has some remaining concerns regarding the criteria for the legal test, the insurance markets, and whether medical monitoring insurance can be written for Vermont companies and will work to highlight and address these concerns for the insurance markets and manufacturers.
Join the Vermont Chamber on January 25 and 26 to explore national and state economic trends facing Vermont businesses in the coming year. Hear how Vermont can become an economic leader by welcoming all, supporting and growing our diverse communities, and leaning into our state's strengths. Learn about our speakers and view the full agenda. Register for this two-day virtual conference.
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