Leonine Public Affairs The Senate adjourned sine die around 3:30 on Friday, which when joined by the House, marks the end of an unprecedented legislative session in an unprecedented year. Prior to adjournment the Senate unanimously passed H.969, the FY2021 budget, and as of the publication of this newsletter, the House has yet to pass the budget (which happened late Friday), but is expected to shortly. Governor Phil Scott addressed the Senate remotely - a first - and praised them for their hard work and cooperation through the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to remote legislating.
Once the House finishes their work the legislature will adjourn nine months after starting what most people in January expected (or maybe hoped) would be a relatively quick session leading into a dynamic election year. Of course the pandemic changed everything and with the late September adjournment, the lawmakers who are running for reelection now have little more than five weeks to campaign without having the legislative session hanging over their heads.
The six members of the conference committee on the FY21 budget bill (H.969) held their meetings remotely for the first time in state history, instead of in a packed room at the statehouse. Gone was the traditional handshake when the conferees finally reached agreement on the $7.17 billion budget bill late Thursday night. The bill, which goes into effect upon passage, must be signed by the governor by September 30, 2020, when the first quarter budget bill passed in June expires.
In the final budget negotiations, the sticking point was over tax policy provisions that the Senate added to the budget that the House wanted to move separately in a miscellaneous tax bill. The deadlock ended when the Senate agreed to remove all tax provisions except one related to 529 college savings plans in exchange for increased funding for downtown tax credits. Here is a summary of the conference committee report. Here is a summary of the final $248 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) appropriations.
GLOBAL WARMING SOLUTIONS ACT
On Tuesday the Senate voted 22-8 to override Governor Scott’s veto of H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act. The bill establishes a 23-member Vermont Climate Council that would be charged with establishing a plan to meet the state’s emissions reduction targets. The bill also allows for a private right of action against the state if these targets are not met, which was the primary reason for the governor’s veto. With the House and Senate both voting to override, H.688 becomes law and is the second time this year the legislature has successfully voted to override a veto. The first was the governor’s veto of a bill to raise the minimum wage.
This week saw a considerable amount of wrangling over the miscellaneous tax bill, H.954. The bill, which mainly consists of technical “housekeeping” changes to the state’s tax code, passed the House in May and the Senate in June. However, the Senate made some changes to the bill, with the most notable one being the deletion of the House provision concerning the “safe harbor” taxpayers can rely on in calculating their use tax liability, and sent the bill back to the House.
After the Senate acted the legislature then took a six week recess and when it returned in August the bill was not on the list of bills the House had indicated they would continue to work on. However, last week the House Ways and Means Committee took the bill up and agreed with some of the Senate changes, but also re-inserted its provision on the use tax safe harbor. Additionally, the committee added a provision that applied the sales tax to software that is accessed remotely.
The “cloud tax” has been a long running discussion over a number of years and the House has generally been supportive of it while the Senate has not. When the Senate Finance Committee heard what the House Ways & Means Committee was proposing it recommended to the Senate Appropriations Committee that several time sensitive provisions in the bill be put in the budget bill, which the Senate Appropriations Committee did before the budget passed the full Senate. When the House Ways and Means Committee learned of that action it modified H.954, which had not yet been acted on by the full House, to delete the cloud tax. That modified proposal then passed the House and went back to the Senate Finance Committee. There was considerable consternation in the Senate over the fact that after having said H.954 would not be worked on any further the House moved the bill and had also taken steps to include a cloud tax (even though in the end the House did not). The matter was complicated even further as there was a sharp difference in opinion amongst the members of the Finance Committee over the use tax safe harbor provision.
All of this led to considerable sentiment in the Finance Committee that they should not take any action and thus let the bill die. There was talk about “not rewarding bad behavior.” But, in the end the Finance Committee voted 5-2 to recommend to the full Senate that it concur with the further proposal of amendment from the House. The Senate then accepted that recommendation and voted to concur.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND POLICING
The Senate and House this week signed off on a package of bills crafted to address community concerns regarding the correctional system and police brutality and violence.
S.24 directs the Commissioner of Corrections to develop a strategy and long-term plan to address systemic racism, bias and diversity and inclusion in the Department of Corrections. The plan will include an evaluation of Department hiring practices, training, supervision, professional development and competency standards to inform the basis of performance evaluation and promotion of employees.
S.119 outlines a uniform use-of-force policy for law enforcement, includes a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology by police until approved by the legislature, and - perhaps most significantly - amends the state’s “justifiable homicide” statute - which currently stipulates an individual can kill or wound a person legally under certain circumstances, including self-defense. S.119 also outlines how and when law enforcement are allowed to use deadly force, including chokeholds and other restraints.
S.124 expands the membership of the Criminal Justice Council, whose job it is to train and professionally regulate law enforcement officers, to include people representing BIPOC communities, people with lived experience with mental health and a mental health crisis worker. The Council will recommend statewide policies on officer qualification, testing and training and will be required to take input from groups representing the communities listed above. They will also propose policies on the use of body cameras, surplus military equipment and facial recognition technology.
TOP #VTPOLI TWEETS
Leonine Public AffairsPlease visit our website for our in-depth reporting on COVID-19 throughout the United States. This site is courtesy of Leonine FOCUS, our 50-state legislative regulatory, tracking and reporting service. The site is frequently updated and includes information on executive orders, legislation, regulation, tax deadlines and more from across the country.
Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Legislative Report Fall Session - Week 5- September 25, 2020. leoninepublicaffairs.com.
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