Legislative Update- February 13, 2023
Friday, February 10, 2023
by: Matt Musgrave

Section: Legislative Update

committee meeting
The week of February 6 was evidence that time is running tight leaving only a few working weeks prior to crossover. The House bill request deadline has passed, and anticipation is that bills will slowly be released over the next couple of weeks, but priority legislation has already been introduced in both chambers. Its been clear in hallway conversations that the House and Senate seem to agree that either childcare or paid family leave will pass this year but not both, and it doesn’t appear they agree on which one.

The childcare and pre-K program that had been introduced in the Senate has also been introduced to the House. The Senate committee on Health and Welfare has taken up the bill in a couple of sessions but the main advocates of the policy were not in the building this week. The House has not yet taken up the proposal which would expand pre-K schooling to 4-year-olds and expand on the childcare financial assistance program. There is a long way to go to satisfy the childcare advocates and although we have a bill its not clear where the funding for the bill would come from.

On the House side the General Housing committee has gone full time into the paid family and medical leave bill. Filling the week with testimony from proponents of the bill but not many in opposition. The Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Lake Champlain Chamber went in to talk about potential challenges of the bill and whether Vermonters had the taxing capacity for this and other priorities in the legislature. Matt Musgrave of AGC/VT testified Thursday afternoon pointing out some challenges that may arise for seasonal employers and questions whether someone should be getting benefits from the program if they had been scheduled for seasonal layoffs. The committee took not of Musgraves comments and are seeking clarification. AGC/VT intends to continue to advocate that this program is leave for “working” people and should not be left open to fraud by individuals or businesses seeking to game the system. By allowing people who are not working to draw on funds, the likelihood of the tax associated with the program will need to rise for the non-working beneficiaries.  

Musgrave also testified in the House Commerce committee on a bill that would expand unemployment benefits to people who self-separated from work, for non-work/employer related reasons. The reasons are significant and include relief from domestic abuse, recovery from sexual assault, serious injury and sudden loss of healthcare. The bill would allow those individuals to self-separate from work for their recovery and when ready to come back to work provide unemployment benefits so long as they comply with the work search requirement that holds them responsible for applying for 3 jobs per week and requires them to accept a position when offered that is considered suitable work. Suitable work means similar job type and pay. Musgrave testified that it does not make sense to use the unemployment program which is paid for exclusively by employers and is meant for employees who lose jobs due to employer decisions. Instead he suggested that those reasons for separation from work would work just as well with the existing family and medical leave act or soon to become law paid leave act because there is no logical reason for the employee to seek a new job. Simply put the employee can take leave, and the FMLA law requires the employer to hold the same job and pay that the individual left for 12 weeks. It seemed clear that the committee did not take the bill as a priority and the logic of the business advocates seems to have won the day but the bill will continue to be monitored.

The bill S.5 formerly known as the “clean heat standard” is sailing through the Senate Natural Resources committee and expected to be voted out within a week to the Senate floor. The bill seeks to require fossil fuel dealers to encourage their customers to transition to clean energy or pay what most call a carbon tax. Advocates around the building are seeking to clarify parts of the bill and what specific fuels are covered. AGC/VT will continue to monitor this policy.