PAIN & GAIN
Leonine Public Affairs Legislative priorities for 2024 are beginning to take shape as policy committees have moved beyond the introduction and review phase that generally marks the first few weeks of the session. The Joint Rules committee set March 15 and March 22 as crossover deadlines for policy and money bills respectively, solidifying the time frame for committees to finish work on their priority bills. The crossover deadline is the date by which a bill needs to pass out of the last committee of reference in time to be taken up by the opposing chamber in the same session. Crossover during the second year of a biennium is particularly important, as bills will not carry over into the next legislative session.
As committees in both chambers worked on an array of policy bills, the Senate engaged in an unusually contentious floor debate over a provision in the FY2024 budget adjustment act (BAA). At the heart of the hours-long debate was an amendment concerning the distribution of $3.5 million in cannabis excise funds to afterschool program providers, including public, nonprofit and private entities.
Senator Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), chair of the Senate Appropriations committee explained on the floor that the amendment was a technical change to the special fund created in 2023 to distribute afterschool funding. The special fund was intended to make funds available to both public and independent afterschool programs. Senators who opposed the amendment argued the special fund should be controlled by the public programs.
Senator Brian Campion (D-Bennington), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, supported the amendment and highlighted the goal of enhancing afterschool programs for children in Vermont. Opposing Senators argued that the amendment was a significant policy shift that could benefit independent schools.
The amendment prevailed in an 18-10 vote and the Senate approved the FY2024 BAA. The bill will likely end up in a committee of conference, where appointees from the House and Senate will hash out the differences between their two proposals.
The Senate's proposal for flood recovery funding in the BAA did not align with the expectations of communities heavily impacted by recent catastrophic flooding. The Senate Appropriations committee adjusted the House proposal, which allocated $10 million for flexible municipal recovery funding, by reducing it to $6.25 million and allocating an additional $6.25 million to assist with municipal FEMA matches. Some of the communities most affected by the floods, such as Barre City and Montpelier, expressed concerns over the adequacy of the funds and the distribution formula used in the Senate proposal. During the final reading on the senate floor, Senator Andrew Perchlik (D/P-Washington) who serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations committee and represents many towns that were impacted by the flood, conveyed the Senate's full commitment to improve the funding formula during the committee of conference process.
Lawmakers are attempting to fix a significant issue with the school funding mechanism that will likely lead to sky-rocketing property tax rates across the state. The problem is the unintended consequence of a five percent cap on property tax rate increases that was passed as part of Act 127 in 2022. Act 127 increased funding to historically underfunded districts. This cap was meant to provide a gentler transition for more affluent districts under the more equitable system.
However, the cap is now expected to spur spending increases across the state. To solve this issue, the legislature has proposed removing the cap and introducing targeted tax discounts. The proposal passed out of the House Ways and Means committee on Friday and now moves to the House Appropriations committee for further consideration.
The House Commerce and Economic Development committee spent most of their time this week on the latest draft of H.121, an omnibus data privacy bill. The draft largely follows a law already adopted in Connecticut, with some differences. Significantly, it includes a private right of action (PRA), which stakeholders have highlighted as an area of concern because of the risk of frivolous lawsuits. Frivolous lawsuits have been a problem in other states that have approved a PRA. Additionally, H.121 includes changes to Vermont’s data broker statute, an area that the committee acknowledged may not be ready for prime time. The committee heard from an array of interests that expressed varying degrees of support and concern with the bill.
Week 6 - February 9, 2024. leoninepublicaffairs.com. Leonine Public Affairs, 1 Blanchard Court, Montpelier, VT 05602
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