The special session continued this week with a focus on priority bills and the budget. The budget has now worked its way out of committees and has been voted off the House floor and headed towards the Senate for vetting. While there were no big surprises there was additional funds added to the transportation budget for paving and maintenance. As previously stated by leadership once the budget is complete they will go home. It should take approximately a week for the Senate to do their work, which they have already begun. If they agree with no change, its possible that they will be complete next week. Adjourning next week could stall several proposals that are in the works which would require they reintroduce the bills in January.
H.688 known as the Global Warming Solutions Act has now passed both the House and Senate. While this is a sweeping change to how Vermont will tackle emissions that lead to climate change it has zero policy that would address the challenger. Instead the bill seeks to create a Climate Commission which would be comprised of legislators, environmental advocates, public members and a few representatives from business. The commission would be in charge of creating policy ideas that the administration would enact through the Agency of Natural Resources. The commission would be charged with creating policy to curb emissions with the goal to meet standards set fourth in the Paris Climate Treaty. The first milestone occurs in 2025 which would have us reduce our emissions by 25% from the 1990s. This simply will not happen. When we fail to meet the emission reductions the bill also allows for citizens to sue the state in environmental court to force the administration to take action. Although the bill says “citizens” it would most likely be a lawsuit from an organization like the Conservation Law Foundation who has a history of these types of lawsuits. There is some suspicion the Governor will veto this bill but it passed out of the Senate with more than enough votes to override a veto, and the House will likely be able to override as 6 representatives would have to change their votes in order to sustain the veto.
AGC/VT was invited to testify during a conversation about the unemployment insurance model. Under the current model we have spent down much of our $500 million UI trust fund due to COVID-19 which could trigger a statutory increase in the rate which would be approximately 3 times todays. One member company I spoke to said it would increase their UI costs by $400,000/year. In testimony AGC/VT urged caution on increasing costs, suggested a more gradual replenishment of the fund and that care should be taken to identify the “right” level of funding as some advocates believe the fund is too large at $500 million. It is not likely that anything will happen until the first of 2021.
The rewrite of Act 250 passed out of the House with sweeping changes prior to the pandemic. Since moving over the the Senate the bill has been significantly reduced and really only addresses river corridors and forest blocks. The bill which has to be voted out of the Senate Finance committee will have to go back through the House once passed on the Senate floor. As passage of the state budget approaches many doubt the ability to get this policy completed. Both environmenalists and developers would be happy if it did not pass at this point.
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