Leonine: Vermont minimum wage as the session takes flight

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Leonine: Vermont minimum wage as the session takes flight

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 2:08pm -- tim

Leonine Public Affairs The 2018 legislative session is now six weeks old and it feels like it's flying by. This usually means legislators have completed a third of the session. It also means we are closing in on the “crossover deadline,” which marks the date a bill must make it out of committee in order to be considered by the other legislative chamber. There are different crossover deadlines for policy bills and “money” bills--this year the deadline for policy bills is March 2 and for money bills it is March 16.  

Committee chairs are beginning to set their agendas with this in mind. Consideration and action on bills that are not high priorities will likely be delayed until after the legislature reconvenes after the Town Meeting Day break (the week of March 5). This process starts to provide clarity to journalists, lobbyists and the public about which bills will take priority for the remainder the 2018 session. 

Political strategies were also in the spotlight this week. The Senate Democrats held a caucus to discuss messaging and priorities in an attempt to counter Governor Scott’s successful messaging and accomplishments in his first 15 months in office. It is clear the Democrats are struggling to develop a narrative that is as appealing to Vermonters.

On Wednesday the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs advanced S.40, an act related to increasing the minimum wage, by a vote of 4-1. The bill proposes to raise the state’s minimum wage incrementally each year until it reaches $15 per hour on January 1, 2024. The bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee and is expected to pass the Senate. On Thursday, House Republicans held a press conference to highlight their opposition to the bill. Governor Scott has repeatedly stated his opposition to the proposal.

Joe Segale, Director of Policy, Planning and Research at the Agency of Transportation, testified before the Senate Transportation Committee regarding automated vehicles this week. Segale gave an overview of the automated vehicle report AOT issued on January 15, 2018. Segale said that automated vehicle safety standards are controlled at the federal level but that licensing, insurance and road rules are under the state’s control. The Uniform Law Commission is working on a uniform law regarding automated vehicles that states can adopt. Vermont is also working with other New England states to address border issues. AOT is working on legislation for next year, including a permitting system for testing of automated vehicles, where one of the key issues is what role municipalities have in permitting, according to Segale. Minimum liability insurance coverage may also be an issue because at least one state requires a $5 million insurance policy to test automated vehicles in that state. The committee supported AOT developing the legislation for next year because they believe these vehicles will be a reality soon.

The Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Emily Boedecker, testified before a few committees this week regarding the draft plan Vermont has developed to spend the $18.7 million the state received from the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust. The commissioner reviewed a report summarizing the public comments the agency received on the draft plan. Click here for a copy of the report.

The House Committee on Energy and Technology continued it’s conversation this week about net neutrality. The committee took testimony from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), whose legal counsel raised concerns about federal preemption and the subsequent litigation that would likely occur if the legislature decides to move forward with state-level net neutrality regulations. The Senate has already passed a bill, S.289, which would require Internet Service Providers seeking to enter into contracts with the State of Vermont first receive a certificate of net neutrality from the Secretary of Administration. The House has its own bill, H.680, which is far more expansive and would require, among other things, that any Internet Service Provider operating in the state receive a certificate of net neutrality compliance from the PUC. 

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee dedicated most of its time this week to considering a bill that would establish universal primary care in Vermont. S.53, which is co-sponsored by 13 senators (there are 30 total) would establish a publicly financed primary care system in Vermont by 2019. Much of the testimony this week focused on the importance of primary care and challenges associated with access and insurance coverage. While nobody disputes the importance of primary care, there are serious questions about how the state would pay for a universal program. A new dedicated revenue source would be necessary, which, if the bill advances will receive heavy opposition from the governor, Republican lawmakers and likely some Democrats as well. 

The House Transportation Committee started work on the 2018 transportation bill or T-bill. The perennial T-bill authorizes the state’s transportation funding program which this year is a proposed $612 million. 

The first four sections of the T-bill address speculation that the federal government will authorize a large transportation spending package or public private partnership grant program. The bill would allow the agency to spend federal funds in the event congress authorizes new federal highway trust funds or a new grant program. The bill addresses other miscellaneous transportation issues including signage relating to the Calvin Coolidge historic site and aircraft that are abandoned at regional airports (which apparently is a thing.)

The T-bill also authorizes and studies private electric vehicle charging stations. The PUC is charged with overseeing the operation of private EV stations but is prohibited from setting rates. Operators would be required to register with the PUC. The PUC is directed to investigate and issue an order on how best to regulate EV stations by the end of 2018. Among other things, the order must include recommendations on how to collect transportation revenue from private EV stations.  

On Friday morning the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs spent time discussing several bills pending before the committee. One of those bills is S.180, An act relating to the Vermont Fair Repair Act, which proposes to make information, schematics, diagnostics, and repair manuals from manufacturers of “equipment” such as appliances and cell phones more accessible to independent repair providers and owners of the “equipment”. The Committee is considering narrowing the scope of the bill to apply only to electronic devices like cell-phones but continues to take testimony on the subject. The bill exempts motor vehicles but not motorcycles, recreational vehicles or manufactured homes equipped for habitation. The committee also discussed S.269, an act relating to blockchain, cryptocurrency, and financial technology. Finally, the committee is working on S.206, an act relating to business consumer protection for point-of-sale equipment leases, which deals with the contractual arrangements between retailers and the companies that sell, lease, or rent credit card terminals. 

Our founders - Bob Sherman and Steve Kimbell - got a shout out on VPR and we wanted to share it so we are doing a little humble bragging in this week's tweets.

Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Week 5. 2.9.2018. leoninepublicaffairs.com. Through a special arrangement with Leonine, Vermont Business Magazine republishes Leonine's weekly legislative report on vermontbiz.com.  leoninepublicaffairs.com