The Vermont Statehouse Insider 2024 – Week 15


Against the backdrop of strained state resources stemming from dwindling COVID-19 funds and the aftermath of last summer’s catastrophic flooding, the Senate Appropriations Committee labored throughout the day and into the evening on Friday to finalize the FY2025 Vermont state budget.

These budgetary pressures have forced many hours of intense deliberations and tough decision-making, but on Friday evening the committee reached a unanimous decision to advance the budget to the full Senate for a vote. Once it passes the Senate, the budget will head to a committee of conference between the House and Senate where they will work to reconcile their differences.

Meanwhile the House Ways and Means Committee finalized this year’s Yield Bill. Typically, this must-pass piece of legislation is prepared with little fanfare. The Yield Bill adjusts tax rates to meet educational expenses based on local school spending decisions made on Town Meeting Day. Because of the timing of Town Meeting Day, the Yield Bill is not subject to the crossover deadline.

Facing dramatic increases in property taxes and the failure of many school budgets statewide, the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education Committee have made substantial additions to this year’s Yield Bill. Unconventional provisions include the introduction of a six percent sales tax on cloud-based software and a 1.5 percent surcharge on short-term rental housing. Additionally, the bill creates a blue ribbon commission called the ‘Commission on the Future of Public Education’, which is intended to evaluate and potentially reform how public education is funded in Vermont.

The bill is expected to be taken up by the full House early next week in what is likely to be a lengthy debate. Democratic Leadership in the House has characterized the legislation as a necessary step in school funding reform, while Republicans have expressed significant concerns, arguing the bill redistributes tax burdens without achieving fiscal reform or effective spending control.

As the Senate Appropriations committee worked to pass the FY2025 budget and the House Ways and Means committee worked to bring the Yield Bill to the floor, efforts to regulate data privacy became increasingly contentious. The House Commerce Committee added a Private Right of Action (PRA) to the bill earlier this year, allowing individuals to sue companies for violations. This component has sparked concern from the local Vermont business community, because it could open the door to frivolous lawsuits, posing a considerable financial threat to businesses that might unintentionally violate complex privacy standards.

The bill is now being considered by the Senate Economic Development Committee, which has heard from numerous stakeholders in opposition to the PRA. The committee has discussed changing or removing the provision altogether, and a new draft of the bill is expected this week. At the same time, the House Commerce Committee is holding the Senate’s favored privacy bill hostage. The Senate’s bill is focused on safeguarding children’s data privacy and online experiences. The outcome of the discussions regarding these two bills is still up in the air, and it’s likely that at least one committee of conference will be formed in the coming weeks to attempt to find resolution.