Week five marked the beginning of February and the beginning of the countdown to Town Meeting Day and crossover. With the legislature convening on January 3, lawmakers have been in session for the maximum number of days possible for the month of January. In other years the legislature doesn’t convene until the second week, making the first month significantly shorter. This random fact was not lost on the statehouse regulars, and a number of people from a variety of political persuasions could be heard commenting on “how long January feels” this year.
In one of the most polarizing (and peculiar) disagreements between Governor Phil Scott and the Democratic legislature in 2024, the governor’s office released a statement suggesting that the legislature is intending to ban the sale of “Vermont Strong” license plates and Darn Tough Socks bundles, an initiative created by the administration to raise money for victims of the July 2023 floods. The Scott Administration accused Democratic lawmakers of eliminating the fundraiser in the House version of the Budget Adjustment Act (BAA), which passed the House last week.
Representative Emilie Kornheiser, a Brattleboro Democrat and Chair of the House Ways and Means committee clarified that the BAA provision would require future charitable fundraisers involving government and private sector partnerships to be subject to legislative oversight. It remains to be seen how this dispute plays out, especially in the context of the BAA which is already a point of contention between Democrats in the legislature and the Scott Administration. Governor Scott has not ruled out a veto of BAA because the House passed version increases spending by nearly $30 million over the administration’s proposal.
S.18 would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products in Vermont. The bill passed the Senate in 2023 and on Tuesday was approved by the House Human Services committee. S.18 is now being considered in the House Ways and Means committee, which is contemplating the effect of lost revenue if flavored tobacco products are banned. The committee is already facing a difficult revenue landscape with education costs expected to significantly increase this year and COVID-era federal support drying up. While further restricting tobacco products has broad support across party lines, there is concern about how to deal with the lost revenue in an increasingly tight budget year. House Ways and Means is expected to continue work on S.18 next week.
This week the House Ways and Means committee learned that the projected average property tax bill increase next year could reach 20.59 percent, an even larger number than the previously estimated 18 percent. To address this dire outlook, the committee is considering, among other ideas, new revenue sources for the Education Fund. Below is a list of non-property Education Fund revenue options.
A highly anticipated new draft of H.121 was introduced in the House Commerce and Economic Development committee on Thursday. This bill has been in the works for years, driven primarily by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. The bill aims to create protections for certain categories of data.
The committee spent time discussing the bill’s “private right of action” (PRA) trying to balance privacy concerns and protecting Vermont businesses. The inclusion of a PRA in the latest draft is widely cited as a concern for many in the business community who fear that it would lead to increased litigation and costlier insurance to defend against litigation. This concern is shared across small, medium and large businesses, but is of particular concern to smaller businesses that do not have the resources to deal with litigation. Concerns were also raised about geofencing provisions alongside discussions on data broker regulations and the collaborative roles of various departments in enforcing the act. The committee will begin taking testimony from an array of stakeholders next week.