Legislative Update; Week 2

2013 legislative Logo

Settling In


Week 2 –   January 18, 2013

With formalities of the start of the session behind the Legislature, committees settled in and spent the bulk of the week setting goals. The goals of statewide organizations and associations were also an important part of the week.  Committee Chairs spent the week educating members while businesses and associations provided backgrounds about their organizations along with their policy positions and potential initiatives that the legislature could help them with.  With another major budget deficit looming, it may be a year to focus on the economy and jobs as Governor Shumlin has made this one of his top agenda items.

Legislators filed almost 100 bills by week’s end with hundreds more either awaiting introduction or having the final details ironed out before pen goes to paper.  Of these bills, it is quite easy to see what the agendas of the session will be.  Top on the list are energy and the environment which is proposed by way of a three year wind energy moratorium and changes to land use and the permitting process.  Also, the financing of the new health care system will be a contentious topic this session.    A report to the Legislature was due by January 15th but was pushed back to parallel with the Governor’s Budget Address next week.  Many of the bills appear to be on behalf of constituent’s requests, such as gun control, recognition of the “painted turtle”, forming a “Commission on Fatherhood” and providing Local Options Taxing authority to municipalities, just to name a few that were introduced this week.

Health Care

Vermont Health CO-OP

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care, includes an important provision that facilitates the development of a nonprofit, member-owned health insurance company, called a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP), in every state. Currently, there are 24 fully-funded CO-OPs nationally. Vermont Health CO-OP is currently funded and has applied for state licensing.

Chief Executive Officer; Christine Oliver provided background to theSenate Health & Welfare Committee on the CO-OP. The Vermont Health CO-OP was organized in 2011 by Vermonters with extensive experience in health care reform, health insurance and consumer advocacy.

The CO-OP is designed to put people before profits and believes that health care is personal, that the CO-OP should be accountable to their member-owners and if licensed will have the opportunity to build a new health plan based on the principles of cooperation, progress, health improvements and innovation.

Statewide Accountable Care Organization; OneCare

Fletcher Allen in partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock and hundreds of providers across Vermont has received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to form a statewide accountable care organization (ACO) called OneCare Vermont.  The ACO will have the core responsibility for care for a significant number of Vermont’s Medicare beneficiaries.

John R. Brumsted, MD, President and CEO of Fletcher Allen and Fletcher Allen Partners, provided an overview of OneCare to the Senate Health & Welfare committee.  The OneCare ACO is a model that is designed to coordinate the care to ensure that patients, especially those with chronic conditions, get the right care, at the right time and in the right place.

OneCare Vermont is led by Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, in partnership with nearly every hospital in Vermont, along with hundreds of primary care providers, specialists, two federally qualified health centers and five rural health clinics, to create a new way of caring for Medicare beneficiaries.

Transportation & Construction

Motor Vehicles Overview in Senate Transportation

The Senate Transportation Committee invited Robert Ide; Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to provide a department overview.  Commissioner Ide noted customer satisfaction and that overall the department was stronger than just a year ago.  The Commissioner acknowledges that the DMV is seen as the face of state government which frames public perception and he has put an emphasis on educating and training their employees.

 Other areas highlighted:

  • Negotiated settlement with Hewlett Packard of $8.23 Million over the failed IT system
  • 36,000 Vermont Strong License plates sold so far with a goal of 50,000; with $650,000 going to disaster relief and $72,000 to the Food Bank
  • Truck Trailer registrations are moving to Maine when possible by companies because registration in Maine is $22 and in Vermont the average is $40
  • Update on the REAL ID compliance license, which has 39 federal benchmark requirements and when in circulation will have a gold star identifying it as a REAL ID
  • The ignition lock program will be enhanced
  • Web services expansion to include online exams and access to other programs and registrations

The Department is also working on incorporating, improving and enhancing license plate readers, e-ticketing, auto vehicle locator (officers) and facial recognition. They will focus on transitioning vehicle inspection stations to become computerized using a barcoded registration which will aid in reducing fraud.

Transportation Revenue Report

In a joint meeting of the House & Senate Transportation Committees, the Agency of Transportation (AOT) provided an update on revenue, projects and overall operations.  Below are key points that were provided to the legislators by Brian Searles, Secretary of AOT:

  • $240 Million shortfall projected for the next 5 years
  • The good news is progress is being made by reducing gasoline usage (driving less, carpooling, buying more economical cars).  The bad news is there will be less resources for revenue funds
  • Budget requests from towns are typically double the available funding
  • MAP-21, signed into law by President Obama in July 2012, may get us through the next 2 years but not beyond
  • Long term solution may be a Vehicle Miles Travelled fee (VMT) but not a viable solution in the short term. Analysis done by VTrans shows drivers would pay 1.51 cents a mile. This would equate to approximately $180 additional tax per year for someone driving 12,000 miles
  • Potential revenue options for the near term are increases to Vehicle inspections, rental tax, gas tax, diesel tax, TIB gas fee, TIB Diesel fee, DMV registration fee, purchase & use tax. Other options are: Tire fee, Vehicle lease tax, vehicle rental tax, reduction in P&U tax to education fund, Ad Valorem Vehicle tax, VMT, heavy vehicle registrations and inflation-indexed fuel taxes.

Taxes & Fees

The annual fee bill will consider increased fees within the Agency of Agriculture, Department(s) of Liquor Control, Financial Regulation, Public Service & Public Safety as well as the office of the Secretary of State.  The proposed fees for all areas would raise just over $2 million.

A sampling of fees reviewed this week:

  • Manufacturer or Rectifiers License from $250 to $285
  • Bottlers License from $1500 to $1705
  • Wholesale Dealer from $1,000 to 1,140
  • 1st Class (on-premise) from $200 to $230
  • 2nd Class (off-premise, retail) from $100 to $130
  • 3rd Class (restaurant, hotels, clubs) from $880 to $1,000
  • Retail tobacco (new) license $130, required 2nd class license and previously included in 2nd class fee.  This means retailers selling beer, wine & tobacco would see their license fees increase from $100 to $260 annually per store.
  • Instate/Outstate Consumer Shipping  from $300 to $400, would now be highest in the Country
  • Retail Shipping from $200 to $230
  • Caterer’s from $200 to $230

The Annual Fee bill will not be assigned a bill number until it is voted out of House Ways & Means.  Link to fees under consideration: https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=890B595AC4C2030D!124&app=Excel

 Energy & Environment

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee received testimony from utilities and industry stakeholders to update the committee on the current positioning of the electrical consumption, renewable energy and needs going forward.

  • Washington Electric Cooperative passed a resolution opposing the proposed wind moratorium legislation
  • Vermont Electric opposes the moratorium unless all mandates are given the same consideration
  • Burlington Electric testified that starting in 2017 they will have a need for 7% more wind energy and will ramp up to 25% by 2022.  If projects are not built in Vermont they will need to purchase the power outside of Vermont.

Meeting, Public Hearing & Press Conferences 

  • Gas Pricing Legislative Hearing scheduled with House Transportation, Judiciary and Commerce Committees. The purpose is to hear testimony on gas pricing throughout the state. 

Tuesday, January 22nd

  • 2:30-4:30 p.m. Vermont Statehouse, 150 State Street, Montpelier, VT- Room 11
  • 7:00-9:00 p.m. Colchester High School, 131 Laker Lane, Colchester, VT

*Contact:  Francette Cerulli 802-828-2262, fcerulli@leg.state.vt.us

  • Budget Address;  Governor Shumlin will give his 2014 Budget Address on Thursday, January 24th at 2:00pm in the House of Representatives Chamber.
  • Pro-Soft Drink, Soda Tax Advocates will hold a press conference on Wednesday, January 23rd.  (time & place TBA)
  • Climate Change Legislative Hearing scheduled for Wednesday, January 30th.  (time & place TBA)

Gov. Shumlin names Eldred French to replace Senator Bill Carris

Eldred French will replace outgoing Senator, William Carris, who is resigning his Rutland County seat for health reasons. French is an arborist who has run the Acorn Tree Service for nearly 40 years.

French served two terms in the Vermont House, but lost his re-election bid last November. During his legislative tenure, he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee.