Congressman Peter Welch was our special guest at last weeks Mid Week Meet on Wednesday. There were over 20 contractors on the GoToMeeting stream and a great conversation was had with the Congressman.
As I am writing this update I am listening to the last day of the 2021 legislative session. Hampered by COVID-19 restrictions causing us to have to meet with state leaders and other advocates remotely we are seeing the fruits of our labor cross the finish line.
Unemployment insurance and the bill S.10 remained front of mind this week as we look forward to a hopeful May 22 adjournment. The House committees on Commerce and Government Operations held a public comment period regarding unemployment Tuesday, May 11.
Its clear adjournment is not far away and everyones happy about that. Legislators, advocates and the public have been more active in the past 16 months than usual.
Before we get to politics: during Tuesdays address by Governor Phil Scott he announced the reinstatement of the work search requirement for all employees except those sick with COVID or dependent issues. This came as a great surprise to the AGC/VT lobbying team who has been working diligently to get this reinstated.
"Since I've been with this organization I find it remarkable how much employers care about their people and I find it extremely hard to sit here and listen to someone saying otherwise publicly", Matt said with great pride in the Association.
As of Friday businesses, lobbyists and politicians alike are wondering the fate of bill H.315 which is intended to distribute COVID-19 financial relief to many sectors. The bill which includes $60 million of appropriations which Vermont has yet to receive from the Federal government includes an important provision linking up the 2020 tax year which includes not taxing companies who's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiven loans but omits 2021.
The legislative week was dominated by discussions surround the $1+ billion Vermont will received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). H.315 an act related to COVID-19 relief which appropriates money in the form of grants, loans or financing to multiple areas of the state. Part of the bill includes what is known as "link up" language which tied Vermonts taxation to Federal taxation of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) grants for the year of 2020.
After the first thunderstorm of the season which did include a category EF 1 tornado touching down in Middlebury caused the Vermont Senate to adjourn prior to passing S.10 they returned on Tuesday and passed out the bill. The bill passed out with no real fix to the "2020 problem" which will increase unemployment insurance premiums and added another benefit for parents of $50/week.
Front and center this week was the discussions surrounding bill S.10 which was originally introduced to extend certain unemployment provisions due to COVID. As reported in previous weeks the bill expanded and two additional benefits were added with no real relief to employers who were facing a 60-300% rise in their unemployment insurance premiums. Despite massive efforts by over 20 business organizations the committee doubled down on one of the benefits which would add a $50/week child benefit but did not address key concerns of the business community.
The week of 3/15 was crossover week for money bills and one bill was the main focus of the business community: S.10. As we all were aware the massive layoffs due to COVID-19 have eaten up almost $300 million out of the unemployment trust fund. This has triggered an automatic rate changed schedule to take place in the beginning of FY2022. Employers with the lowest experience rating will see their rates triple and those with the highest experience ratings like seasonal businesses including construction will see a 60% increase if nothing is done.
The first week of crossover went amazing fast and legislators were working hard to try to understand complex bills and craft policy. There was little time available for testimony and legislators found themselves working long frustrating hours without the ability to interact in person which makes these weeks easier. Speculation has begun amongst
Legislators did not meet this week as it was town meeting week. Instead Vermonters convened in person and some voted by mail for town budgets, leaders and other municipal policy. Burlington reelected Democrat Mayor Miro Wienberger by a slim margin and a vote to reinstate "ranked choice" voting means next election there is much at stake for the small city as it significantly favors third parties and in Burlingtons case that means Progressives.
The week of February 22nd was the last full week of committee work before the policy crossover deadline which is the deadline to pass bills from one chamber to the other with time to finish before adjournment. It was a busy week with each committee trying to put the finishing touches on multiple policies including a COVID relief bill, must pass budgets, COVID UI/Workers Comp provisions and miscellaneous other policies.
While there still has not been a "business as usual", which is probably good during the remote Zoom call, policy proposals beyond "must pass" bills are taking shape. There have been an average of 12 bills introduced on the floor each day. Many are rewrites of old favorites championed by long time legislators. Those old favorites will likely hang on the wall for at least another year because with only a few week left
Another week has drawn to a close at the Vermont legislature inching closer and closer to "crossover". Crossover is a time scheduled with the Vermont legislature that bills should be voted out of either the Senate or House chamber allowing the other side time to complete their work vetting proposals and voting before the close of the session.
The first week of February carried with it the distraction of two controversial situations. First was a data breach by the Vermont Department of Labor. A major error occurred in the distribution of 1099s for people in the unemployment insurance programs. The error involved mixing data in printing. Addresses, social security numbers and personally identifiable information
We have now finished the first month of the new session and there are policy proposals, a new executive order regarding Act 250 and the Governors budget address to report. The committees seem to have settled in and are new members are becoming acclimated with their surroundings. During the ramp up to engaging committee work business groups have continued to message legislative and statewide leaders
The third week of the 2021 legislative session has come to an end. The majority of the past two weeks included training of new legislators, multiple training sessions for the whole assembly and this week state agencies gave their reports on activities from the past year. The main character of the discussion is the COVID-19 pandemic challenges.
On Jan. 5, lawmakers began their work like many Vermonters: remotely. Moving to a virtual legislative session that relies on Zoom to host meetings and hearings and YouTube to broadcast them, was the best decision that legislative leaders could make to protect the health and safety of Vermonters.
The 2021-2020 legislative bienium kicked off last week for what will be another unprecendented session overshadowed by the ongoing challengens due to COVID-19. The House and Senate met over Zoom meetings with one exception of one in person Senate session.