Sen. Richard Sears
District: BenningtonSubscribe Contact Us
343 Matteson Rd, North Bennington, VT 05257, United States
Local Paper(s): [email protected][email protected]
343 Matteson Rd, North Bennington, VT 05257, United States
Local Paper(s): [email protected][email protected]
2023 Legislative Session
Authorize Affordable Heat Act with Study Period (S.5). Passed 18-10 on March 3, 2023.
Sears - YESAssert Government Authority to Audit State Contractors (S.9). Passed 23-6 on March 2, 2023.
Sears - YES
2022 Legislative Session
Clean Heat Carbon Tax with Check-Back (H.715). Passed 23-7 on April 28, 2022. The Senate’s H.715 allocates $1.2 million to the Vermont’s Public Utilities Commission to design the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) program and study its economic/environmental impact, before “checking back” with the Legislature for approval. If heating fuel sellers do not create enough “clean heat credits” themselves through weatherization and green appliance installations, they must purchase credits generated by others to stay in business (with the cost of those credits being passed along to consumers – a de facto carbon tax on home heating). Those voting YES believe the CHS is essential to achieve Vermont’s GWSA greenhouse gas reduction mandates. Those voting NO believe the CHS would lead to extreme hardship for the 200,000+ fossil fuel heating Vermont households and numerous small businesses supplying and relying on fossil heating fuels. The technology to replace fossil fuel heating systems is not currently scalable to satisfy the GWSA, due to labor and supply restraints.
Sears - YESOverride Gov Pension Veto (S.286). Passed 30-0 (20 needed to override) on April 1, 2022. S.286 would reduce Vermont’s $3 billion deficit in the state’s public employee and teacher retirement funds, with the stated goal of making the pensions 90% funded. Vermont would add $267 million of one-time funding to the teacher/employee pensions and healthcare benefits. Vermont also agrees to annually allocate $30 million for pensions beginning in F2024. This makes no changes to the benefits of current retirees, but does obligate current/future employees and teachers to pay a higher portion of their current income into the plan. Some voting YES believe that S.286 will significantly lessen the problem. Others voting YES wished to do more, but supported S.286 because it was better than nothing. While not one senator voted NO, the crisis remains: this plan reduces unfunded liabilities by just 10%. The governor’s forecast predicts that retirees expenses will grow 20% over the next 4 years, versus a predicted state revenue increase of 1-3%.
Sears - YESImpose Registration with Fee for Rental Housing (S.210). Passed in the State Senate on February 10, 2022 by a vote of 20-9. S.210 would create: 1) a statewide registry of rental properties 2) a program for financing rental housing and 3) a program with financial incentives for homeownership. Those voting YES believe S.210 will increase the safety, quantity and affordability of Vermont’s rental housing market. A statewide registry would allow legislators to know where rental housing is located, allowing for more efficient use of ARPA dollars. Those voting NO were against the rental registry portion of the bill. They believe increasing housing regulations will reduce Vermont’s housing supply, raise rent on properties, shrink Vermont’s tourism industry, give landlords extra paperwork, expand state bureaucracy, and intrude on privacy. This is the first step toward state control of rental property.
Sears - YESOverride Gov Veto of Gun Restrictions (S.30). Passed 21-9 (20 needed to override) on March 11, 2022. S.30 makes it a crime to intentionally carry a gun into a hospital, lengthens the “default proceed” period for firearms background checks from 3 to 30 days, and obligates healthcare providers to report patient “threats” to law enforcement. Those voting YES believe this will protect victims of domestic abuse, hospital workers and patients undergoing treatment. Those voting NO are against the limitation of firearm rights, enshrined in the US and Vermont constitutions. This bill will not deter anyone with evil intent. Banning firearms from “sensitive places” creates soft targets and would set a precedent that could be expanded to include anywhere people gather.
Sears - YESGun Restrictions with Shorter Waiting Period (S.4). Passed 23-7 on March 11, 2022. S.4 contains the same provisions as S.30, above, with a waiting period to receive firearms shortened from 30 to 7 days. A few of those voting YES had voted “no” on S.30, because they believed a 7-day waiting period was more reasonable than 30 days. Those voting NO have the same objections as to S.30 above.
Sears - YESLimit Speech by Broadening 'Threat' Definition (S.265). Passed in the State Senate on February 17, 2021, by a vote of 28-2. S.265 condones legal punishment of citizens who “threaten” public officials, relying on a broadened definition of a ‘threat.’ Those voting YES believe that the increased levels of conflict between citizens, school board members and other public officials across the country warrants increased protections for elected officials from threats of violence. Those voting NO believe S.265 infringes on the constitutional rights to free speech and to petition government for change. S.265 could potentially result in citizens being punished for political criticism (rather than clear threats) of certain groups, which is clearly protected speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Sears - YES2022 State Budget (H.740). H.740 is the ‘big budget bill,’ spending a record $8.3 billion (assisted by one-time federal ARPA dollars), a sizable portion of total funding that the Legislature passed in 2022. Some highlights: $138 million for workforce and economic development, $96 million for extending broadband internet, $50 million for housing, $35 million for Vermont’s public colleges and $7 million for childcare. Some voting YES believe H.740 will markedly improve the lives of Vermonters. Others voting YES did so reluctantly, believing that too much of the money funded ongoing programs and too little funded transformational change. Those voting NO believed that not enough structural improvements were allocated with the money. They were concerned that state tax dollars will need to replace federal ARPA dollars in coming years.
Sears - YESApprove 5% Increase in State Budget (H.679). Passed in the State Senate on February 3, 2022 by a vote of 24-6. H.679 would increase Vermont's annual general budget to $367 million, a 5% increase from 2021. Those voting YES believe that the bill will provide necessary funding for important government programs. Those voting NO may support programs such as those for housing improvement (VHIP), but worry some of the federal ARPA money would be taken away from “tangible infrastructure projects” and into government services and programs that don’t provide lasting benefits.
Sears - YESExpand De Facto Bottle Tax & Redeem Program (H.175). Passed 17-13 on May 11, 2022. H.175 would raise more revenue by expanding Vermont’s bottle redemption program to include a $0.05 deposit to purchase bottled water and sports drinks, among other non-carbonated beverages. Unclaimed bottle deposits are predicted to increase by $1.5 million, split between the Clean Water Fund and a Producer Responsibility Organization. Those voting YES argued that expanding the types of bottles for a deposit would result in more recycling, and fewer bottles along Vermont roadsides. Those voting NO argued that H.175 is a regressive tax on those who pay a higher share of their income on disposable containers. It would create an enormously complex process and do little to improve the number of bottles that are recycled, as testified by Vermont’s Waste Districts. The amount of CO2 emissions saved from expanding the bottle tax program could be exceeded by individuals driving to drop off their bottles.
Sears - NOEstablish Racial “Truth” Commission with $748,000 (H.96). Passed 22-7 on May 3, 2022. H.96 would create the Vermont Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A group of 45 bureaucrats would spend 3 years archiving systemic discrimination in Vermont and identify ways to dismantle state policies that have contributed to it. Those voting YES believe the Commission will unearth nuances about the past impact of racism, discrimination and eugenics in Vermont laws and offer ways to make them less discriminatory. Those voting NO believe the Truth Commission amounts to a bureaucratic “colossus,” of several dozen individuals unaccountable to the public. The Commission could grow from temporary status to a permanent institution. This money is better spent on the childcare crisis or schools.
Sears - YESExplore Police Misconduct (S.254). Passed 19-11 on March 24, 2022. S.254 would study removing police officers’ qualified immunity, which currently makes police personally immune from legal damages for most actions taken while on duty. It also authorizes data storage of pending allegations against police officers. Those voting YES believe Vermont police have too much legal leniency to act poorly against Vermonters. Those voting NO believe this sends the police a message that they are not trusted which, coupled with added personal financial and criminal liability, makes police recruitment and retention more difficult. They argued that providing allegations of police officers, is fundamentally at odds with ‘innocent until proven guilty.'
Sears - YESOverride Gov Veto of 15-17 Yr. Old Voting & Holding Office (H.361). Failed 15-12 (18 to override) on March 31, 2022. H.361 changes Brattleboro’s charter to allow 16-17 years olds (and 15 years olds if they will turn 16 by election day) to vote in municipal elections and serve on town boards, such as the select board. Those voting YES believe this will help get young people more involved in the political process and establish the habit of voting. Some of those voting NO believe that children are not ready to vote or mature enough to hold positions of authority and responsibility over critical municipal decisions, such as property taxes. Others voting NO may have supported Brattleboro children's right to vote, but were concerned that children would have to sign contracts to serve in government, which is illegal for those under 18 to do.
Sears - ABSENTBan Gag Clauses Against Local Pharmacies, Give UVM Drug Monopoly (H.353). Passed 24-4 on May 9, 2022. To lower drug prices and protect local pharmacies, H.353 would prohibit Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM’s) from entering contracts for must-sell drug brands with local pharmacies. Vermont’s bureaucracy would also gain access to some PBM financial information, to judge the fairness of drug prices. Concurrently, health insurers would be prohibited from choosing cheaper mail-order pharmacies to fulfill specialty high-cost drug prescriptions. Those voting YES believe giving Vermont’s government more oversight of the prescription drug market will lower consumer prices, and direct more pharmaceutical money to local pharmacies rather than PBM’s. Some voting YES believe that UVM’s mail-order pharmacy is the only one responsible enough to ship specialty drugs by mail. Those voting NO worried that forcing private insurers to purchase drugs at UVM’s Burlington pharmacy could push up drug prices for insurers, who will raise their health insurances rates, erasing any gains from the other parts of the bill.
Sears - YESStudy Overdose Prevention Sites for Opioid Users (H.728). Passed 22-7 on May 3, 2022. H.728 would study overdose prevention sites (OPS), which provide clean needles to opioid users, in order to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths. Carrying needles distributed from a “needle exchange program” would be declassified as a crime. The Legislature asks the Department of Health to draft an actionable plan for setting up more OPS across Vermont. Those voting YES expressed optimism that the study of overdose prevention sites would reveal areas of Vermont where the potential to save lives and lower overall rates of crime and drug use. Those voting NO were concerned that adoption of OPS would make the jobs of police more difficult by making OPS needles easy to mistake for illegal needles. Providing free, safe needles may make it less likely that drug users will quit.
Sears - YES
2021 Legislative Session
Override Governor’s Vetoes of Montpelier, Winooski Noncitizen Voting (H.177, H.227). Passed 20-10 both times on May 7, 2021. To override Governor Scott’s vetoes of H.177 and H.227, which amended the charters of the cities of Montpelier and Winooski to allow non-citizens who are legally in the United States and full-time residents of each city to vote in city elections. Those voting YES assert that non-citizens pay taxes, have children in the schools, and are active participants in the community, therefore they deserve the right to vote on issues that affect them. Those voting NO assert that voting is a right and responsibility tied to citizenship under the Vermont Constitution. Giving this privilege to non-citizens unfairly undermines the votes of actual citizens.
Sears - YESImpose $2500 Fine for Unauthorized Construction Projects over $2500 (H.157, House amendments). Passed 21-9 on June 24, 2021. Requires anyone accepting a residential construction job exceeding $2500 to purchase $1 million in insurance and register with the state for $50 every 2 years ($200 per business). “Unauthorized practice” could mean a $2500 civil penalty. Those voting YES believe this bill will help prevent fraud and provide consumer protection when fraud occurs. Those voting NO believe the cost of this bill exceeds any potential benefit, given that there have been fewer than 100 complaints a year. Contract mandates will make construction more expensive, and will decrease the supply of contractors. Consumers already have small claims court to settle disputes regarding poor work or fraudulent actions by contractors, without expanding the state bureaucracy.
Sears - YESLevy Registration Requirement for Rental Housing (S.79). Passed 20-10 on June 24, 2021. Allocates $200,000 for a registry and inspection bureaucracy of rental properties, at a cost of $35 per unit (late penalty of $200), making the “rental inspection” duties of local house officers obsolete. S.79 creates the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program and Vermont Homeownership Revolving Loan Fund for renovating newly purchased and rental housing units. Those voting YES hope to make housing safer for guests. Those voting NO believe this will cripple Vermont’s short-term rental industry, such as Airbnb’s, while Vermont’s codes already provide adequate safety guidance. Increasing housing regulations risks reducing Vermont’s housing supply, raising rent on properties, shrinking Vermont’s economically significant tourism industry, and diminishing the rental tax base.
Sears - YESTurn Schools into Social Service Centers with 1-time Money (H.106). Passed 22-6 on May 14, 2021. Funds social service “Coordinators” to low-income school districts, who will provide services inside schools. $3.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds will be allocated for up to 10 schools until 2024. For a community school to continue to receive grants each year, they must show a dedication to “the Five Pillars of a Community School.” Those voting YES believe low-income children living in rural areas do not have adequate access to medical care, dental care, housing or nutritious food, hampering a child’s capacity to learn. They need services beyond education. Those voting NO believe using one-time federal money to create a program with no internal funding source is fiscally irresponsible. At the end of 3 years, legislators will likely choose to raising taxes to pay for the new program.
Sears - ABSENTPermanent All-Mail-Out Voting (S.15). Passed 27-3 on March 18, 2021. S.15 would make the election policies and procedures adopted during the Covid pandemic emergency permanent features of Vermont elections, most importantly the mailing of “live” absentee ballots to all voters regardless of request. The bill does not provide any meaningful security measures that would allow election officials to verify that the absentee ballots counted were actually filled out by the persons to whom the vote is being attributed. All other states allowing absentee voting use “signature matching” or some other form of ID to verify ballots and they ban “ballot harvesting.” S.15 has no such safeguards. Those voting YES believe that mailing ballots to all voters will reduce barriers to voting and increase voter participation in elections. Those voting NO believe this is an invitation for voter fraud on small or large scales that cannot be detected, traced, prosecuted, or remedied.
Sears - YESBan Guns in Hospitals (S.30). Passed 20-9 on March 18, 2021. S.30 would make it a crime to intentionally carry a gun into a hospital. Individuals who “knowingly possess a firearm” inside a hospital may be imprisoned for up to 1 year and/or fined up to $1000, in addition to the 1 year and $1000 they could face for “reckless endangerment.” Those voting YES believe carrying firearms in “sensitive places” is not a constitutional right, referencing DC vs. Heller (2008). Those voting NO believe there is no ‘just cause’ to remove constitutional gun rights, especially with no identifiable hospital gun problem. This new crime will not deter “anyone with nefarious intent.” Sensitive places banning firearms can become soft targets for violent offenders.
Sears - YESShift Union Bargaining Costs to Taxpayers (H.81). Passed 22-5 on March 26, 2021. The purpose of this bill is to create a separate bargaining process for lower income school workers. Vermont would pay bargaining representatives about $35,000 extra annually. State spending on negotiated benefits is expected to increase each year since “the smaller the premium contributions or out-of-pocket cost, the more health care people use” (JFO). Those voting YES want to give paraeducators, cafeteria workers, school custodians and other lower-paid school staff a seat at the bargaining table. Those voting NO point to “significant (negative) financial implications for Vermont taxpayers,” placing Vermont’s education fund and local funds at risk. Taxpayers will pay for longer negotiations and any increased benefits from negotiations.
Sears - YESDelay Unemployment Funds, Increase Benefits (S.10, Amended). Passed 18-12 on March 30, 2021. The amended bill calls for postponing funding the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. It also gives an extra $50 weekly unemployment benefits to parents, at a cost of $13-29 million annually. Vermont’s Unemployment Fund is 50% of what it was in 2020. Without action, Vermont businesses would pay the contribution taxes necessary to stabilize the Fund, unless federal funds come in, or the Legislature acts. This bill would delay those increased taxes until 2031, diverting $42 million in annual taxes from the Fund. Those voting YES believe parents on unemployment don’t “have time to wait on” federal money coming in and deserve more unemployment after Covid-19. Those voting NO did so because of federal dollars will soon bolster the Unemployment Fund, upholding the Legislature “fiduciary responsibility” for protecting the Fund. They fear creating an “obligation that could extend beyond the pandemic.”
Sears - NOCancel Governor’s Act 250 Reform Order (S.R.6). Passed 22-8 on February 4, 2021. This resolution rejects Governor Scott’s executive order on Act 250 reform. The order took major permit review cases from Vermont’s nine Act 250 regional commissions and gives these cases to a restructured, centralized Natural Resources Board (NRB). The regional commissions would retain their sole authority to judge smaller Act 250 projects. Those voting YES complained about of the cost of Scott’s restructuring, while opponents pointed to the need to improve the uneven and sluggish application for Act 250 building permits across different regions of Vermont. Those voting NO believe the governor’s executive order will improve the uneven and sluggish application for Act 250 building permits across different regions of Vermont.
Sears - YESRestrict Poli-Campaign Contributions (S.51). Passed 22-8 on March 24, 2021. This bill overhauls Vermont’s campaign finance law. The most controversial change would require that all Political Action Committees (PAC’s) include “connected organizations,” such as a corporation, when they register with Vermont's Secretary of State. Those voting YES support the bill’s efforts to make those donations more public, while others would like to reduce corporate political contributions overall. Those voting NO see laws attempting to limit political participation by anyone in elections as inherently problematic. No problem exists regarding corporate contributions in Vermont that needs to be fixed, so there is no need to fix a system that isn’t broken.
Sears - YESConception to Birth Abortion Amendment (Prop. 5). Passed 26-4 on April 9, 2021. Proposal 5 would amend the Vermont Constitution to say that “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.” Those voting YES believe that unrestricted access to an abortion at any time during a pregnancy from conception to birth should be a constitutional right. Those voting NO believe that the rights of an unborn child deserve at least some consideration under law, and that the language of this Amendment are too vague to be reliably enforced. The amendment does not mention abortion.
Sears - YESStudy Banning Firearms in Capitol (S.30, Judiciary Committee Amendment). Passed 19-10 on March 18, 2021. The amendment to S.30 includes a study of whether or not to ban firearms from the state Capitol Complex (all buildings and grounds) by 2022. Those voting YES believe an armed threat to the Legislature is likely. They reference “multiple state capitols taken over, in effect, by groups of heavily armed men wearing tactical gear and body armor” and imply that the individuals trained at the “camp in West Pawlet” could forcibly invade the Legislature. Those voting NO believe Capitol security is already adequate, making such a law redundant, quoting witness testimony from law enforcement. The bill encroaches upon the rights of individuals who make no attempt to enter the Statehouse, since the Complex includes several private residences and hotels.
Sears - YESSoften New Restrictions on Police Use of Force (H.145). Passed 28-1 on April 23, 2021. This slightly loosens extremely strict deadly force standards for police passed last year. Potentially deadly force may now only be used to defend against an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person.” Those voting YES seek to provide a mechanism for penalizing “a select few (police officers) who have lost sight of the fact that their responsibility is to protect and serve not to dominate and dictate.” The Senator voting NO was not concerned about the content of H.145. Rather, Sen. Ingalls was bothered with “the tone” of other Senators when they spoke about law enforcement, saying “I believe they (police officers) deserve so much better from us.”
Sears - YESImpose $2500 Fine for Unauthorized Construction Projects over $2500 (H.157). Passed 20-10 on May 21, 2021. Requires anyone accepting a residential construction job exceeding $2500 to purchase $1 million in insurance and register with the state for $75 every 2 years ($250 per business). “Unauthorized practice” could mean a $2500 civil penalty. Those voting YES believe this bill will help prevent fraud and provide consumer protection when fraud occurs. Those voting NO believe the cost of this bill exceeds any potential benefit, given that there have been fewer than 100 complaints a year. Contract mandates will make construction more expensive, and will decrease the supply of contractors. Consumers already have small claims court to settle disputes regarding poor work or fraudulent actions by contractors, without expanding the state bureaucracy.
Sears - YESImpose Registration Requirement for Rental Housing (S.79). Passed 22-7 on March 26, 2021. Allocates $200,000 for a registry and inspection bureaucracy of rental properties, at a cost of $35 per unit, making the “rental inspection” duties of local house officers obsolete. S.79 creates the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program with “competitive grants and forgivable loans to private landlords for the rehabilitation and weatherization” of housing units. Those voting YES believe the bill is about encouraging landlords to make more housing safer for guests. Those voting NO believe this will cripple Vermont’s short-term rental industry, such as Airbnb’s, while Vermont’s codes already provide adequate safety guidance. Increasing housing regulations risks reducing Vermont’s housing supply, raising rent on properties, shrinking Vermont’s economically significant tourism industry, and diminishing the rental tax base.
Sears - YES
2020 Legislative Session (August - September)
Override Gov Veto of Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688). Passed 22-8 on September 22, 2020. Creates a Climate Council made up of 22 state government officials and citizen experts to adopt a “Vermont Climate Action Plan.” The GWSA guides the Agency of Natural Resources in creating new rules for achieving carbon emission targets, beginning with 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Any citizen/group can issue a warning to the state in court for not adopting rules quickly enough. They receive attorney’s fees if they win. Watch the floor debate on Youtube HERE.
Sears - YESAct 250 Forest Development Restrictions (H.926, Sections 8 thru 11). Passed 24-6 on September 16, 2020. In rural areas where animals cross from one “forest block” to another, development will be constricted. The range of Act 250 regulatory interest now extends to the potential development’s surrounding “ecosystem,” a broad term which will be defined further by Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources. An Act 250 development “permit shall be granted only if impacts to forest blocks and connecting habitat are avoided, minimized, and mitigated.” Thus, an Act 250 permit will require more lawyers to underwrite the regulatory paperwork and more time to acquire. Watch the floor debate on YouTube HERE.
Sears - YES
2020 Legislative Session (January - June)
Mandatory Paid Family Leave/Payroll Tax (H.107). Passed 20-9 on January 17, 2020. Establish a government-mandated insurance program, funded by a new employee payroll tax of 0.2% on income up to $137,000 (every $50,000 is taxed $100). While all Vermont employees would have their wages taxed, only employees who work at least 675 hours annually would be eligible to receive 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child, or 8 weeks for family care. Eligible employees can elect to pay an additional 0.38% of their wages to obtain personal medical leave of up to 6 weeks. If the volume of people claiming the benefit exceeds the revenue raised at this tax rate, the tax rate will automatically increase to meet demand.
Sears - ABSENTOverride Gov Veto of Minimum Wage Increase (S.23). Passed 24-6 on February 13, 2020. Increase the minimum wage from $10.96 currently to $11.75 in 2021 and $12.55 in 2022, a 14% total increase. $12.55 is 73% more than neighboring New Hampshire’s $7.25 minimum wage.
Sears - YESRevised Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688). Passed 23-5 on June 26, 2020. Creates a Climate Council made up of 22 state government officials and citizen experts to adopt a “Vermont Climate Action Plan.” The GWSA guides the Agency of Natural Resources in creating new rules for achieving carbon emission targets, beginning with 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Any citizen/group can issue a warning to the state in court for not adopting rules quickly enough. They receive attorney’s fees if they win. The Senate removes the House’s $900,000 appropriation to the Climate Council.
Sears - YESRemove Governor from “All-Mail Election” Decision (S.348). Passed 21-7 on June 2, 2020. S.348 would remove the Governor’s right to approve emergency elections changes in consultation with the Secretary of State for the 2020 election made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal in question would involve mailing as many as 500,000 “live” absentee ballots to every registered, currently uncontested voter in the state of Vermont regardless of the voter requesting a ballot.
Sears - ABSENTProhibit “Ballot Harvesting” (S.348, Benning Amendment). Failed 5-24 on June 3, 2020. S.348 would remove the Governor’s right to approve emergency elections changes in consultation with the Secretary of State for the 2020 election made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal in question would involve mailing as many as 500,000 “live” absentee ballots to every registered, currently uncontested voter in the state of Vermont regardless of the voter requesting a ballot.
Sears - NOExpand Scope of Energy Tax and Subsidize Program (S.337). Passed 28-2 on May 19, 2020. The bill would give electric utilities like Efficiency Vermont the option to spend up to $2 million of their ratepayer-generated funds on transportation (electric cars) and heating efficiency projects, in addition to their electricity efficiency projects. This program would be allowed for limited time frame of 3 years.
Sears - YESAdvise Funding Afterschool with Marijuana Revenue (S.335, White Amendment). Passed 16-13 on February 14, 2020. The underlying bill would create a 15-member task force for studying universal afterschool program feasibility, which would report back to the Legislature in December 2020. The amendment asks the afterschool task force to consider funding the afterschool program with revenue from a (potential) marijuana market.
Sears - YES
2019 Legislative Session
Mandatory Paid Family Leave/Payroll Tax (H.107). Passed 19-10 on May 15, 2019. This would put in place a government-mandated Paid Family Leave program paid for with a new payroll tax on income up to $132,900. The program would allow an employee to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child, or 6 weeks for family care. Qualified employees would receive 90% of their first $7.29/hour and 55% of their wages between $7.30-$24.10/hour. Wages above $24.10/hour ($73,580/year) would not be covered. A maximum cap on the benefit would be set at $964 per week. The payroll tax would be initially set at 0.20% (employees and employers each paying half), and the estimated total cost would be $30 million annually.
Sears - NOImpose a Mandatory $15 Minimum Wage (S.23). Passed 19-8 on February 22, 2019. This would increase the state minimum wage to $13.10 in 2022, $14.05 in 2023, and to $15 in 2024 — nearly a 40% total increase, and more than double neighboring New Hampshire’s $7.25 minimum wage.
Sears - YESExpand the “Pay to Move” Program (S.162). Passed 27-2 on April 12, 2019. This would expand a current worker relocation program which reimburses the moving expenses ($10,000 total maximum) for out-of-state workers who move to Vermont and telecommute to jobs out-of-state. It would now include workers who take a full-time job with a Vermont based employer. The maximum reimbursement to this new category of beneficiary would be $7500.
Sears - YESBan Plastic Bags, Styrofoam Food Containers, Straws, Etc. (S.113). Passed 30-0 on April 3, 2019. This would prohibit stores and restaurants from providing single-use plastic bags to customers. It would require that retailers charge at least 10¢ for single-use paper bags. “Polystyrene foam” coffee cups, plastic straws (unless requested), and food containers would be forbidden. Finally, it would create a “Single-Use Products Working Group” to study the effectiveness of these policies and make recommendations for future regulation.
Sears - YESRequire Registration/Certification for Housing Contractors (S.163). Passed 19-11 on April 3, 2019. It would require residential contractors to register with the state and purchase insurance, while encouraging contractors to become state-certified, on a voluntary basis. It would also further regulate maintenance standards for rental housing.
Sears - NOBlock Insurance Innovation Economic Development Program (S.131, Baruth Amendment). Failed 7-22 on April 3, 2019. In order to spur economic growth and innovation in the insurance market, Section 1 of S.131 would create an “insurance sandbox” through which Vermont insurance providers (not including health insurance) can petition the commissioner for the freedom to sell a new insurance product to up to 10,000 consumers, exempt from some regulations, for a maximum of two years. The Baruth Amendment sought to remove that section of the bill, thus eliminating the innovation incentive.
Sears - NOImpose 24 Hour Waiting Period for Handgun Purchase (S.169). Passed 20-10 on March 21, 2019. Gun purchasers passing a background check would need to wait 24 hours before taking possession of their gun.
Sears - YESElevate the murder a firefighter or emergency medical provider to “aggravated murder” (H.321). Passed 20-8 on April 18, 2019. In current law, the killing of a correctional officer or law enforcement officer while the victim was performing his or her official duties is classified as “aggravated murder” (first or second degree murder). This bill would elevate the murder of firefighters and emergency medical providers that level as well.
Sears - ABSENT
2018 Legislative Session
$33.4 Million Property Tax Increase (H.911). Passed 26-3 on May 4, 2018. The bill increases property taxes 5% for residential homes and 7% for non-residential property. On the other hand, it lowers income rates (lower-income tax brackets by 0.2% and the higher income-tax brackets by 0.1%) to compensate for an unintended $30 million increase resulting from changes in federal tax law. The bill also ends the tax on social security for Vermonters with incomes less than $55,000, allows for a 5 percent tax credit for charitable donations and removes a $10,000 cap on deductions for charitable donations. Those voting YES support this tax package. Those voting NO do not support this tax package. Corrected 11/2/18: The original post indicated that the property tax increases for residential and non-residential properties were 5% and 7% respectively. This should have read 5¢ (3.2%) and 7¢ (4.4%). Apologies for any confusion.
Sears - YES$15 Minimum Wage (S.40). Passed 20-10 on February 15, 2018. S.40 would increase Vermont’s minimum wage at least $0.60 every January 1st, reaching $15 an hour by 2024. Those voting YES believe this will benefit low income workers and help to close the “income inequality” gap. Those voting NO believe that such a large and rapid increase in the cost of labor will harm Vermont businesses, the overall economy, as well as the workers the bill was meant to help due to cutbacks in hours, lost benefits, and/or lost jobs as employers struggle to maintain budgets. Additionally, a majority of Vermonters living in low income households, especially poor senior citizens, do not report wage income. While their incomes would be unaffected by the minimum wage increase, their cost of living would rise due to higher prices for goods and services due to the artificial wage increase being passed along to consumers.
Sears - YESGun Control Measures (S.55). Passed 17-13 on March 30, 2018. S.55 raises the age for long gun purchases to 21, mandates background checks for nearly all private firearm sales, bans magazines holding more than fifteen rounds, and bans bump stocks. Those voting YES believe these measures will result in safer communities by reducing gun violence. Those voting NO believe that these measures will have no measurable impact on safety or violence, create undo burdens on law abiding gun owners, are largely unenforceable, and pose constitutional issues at both the state and federal levels.
Sears - NORaise Age to Purchase All Firearms to 21 (S.55, Ashe Amendment). Passed 21-9 on March 2, 2018. This S.55 Amendment makes it a crime to selling firearms to Vermonters under 21. Those voting YES are in favor of raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21. Those voting NO sought to keep the age requirement at 18, which is the age one can use a gun in the military.
Sears - YESIncreasing Chemical Regulations (S.103). Passed 22-8 on April 19, 2018. S.103 would grant the commissioner of health more authority to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products. Those voting YES believe S.103 would help Vermont children avoid exposure to toxic chemicals in children’s products, thus improving children’s health outcomes. Those voting NO believe we should wait and see how our newly phased-in regulations will work, before burdening our bureaucracy and businesses with more invasive regulations.
Sears - YESNet Neutrality for Vermont (S.289). Passed 23-5 on February 2, 2018. S.289 attempts to maintain at the state level the federal “net neutrality” regulations for Internet Service Providers passed by the FCC in 2015 and repealed in 2018. Those voting YES are in favor of a larger role for government in regulating the internet. Those voting NO were concerned about costly lawsuits to the state and lost internet coverage.
Sears - YES
2017 Legislative Session
$5.83 Billion FY18 Budget/$8 Million Property Tax Increase (H.518). Passed 30-0 on April 26, 2017. The “Big Bill” sets the total state budget, including federally funded projects, at $5.83, which represents a spending increase of 1.3 percent over the current year. The state funded portion of total spending is set at $2.48 billion, an increase of 0.7 percent. This Senate version of the budget transferred an $8 million obligation to teacher retirement into the state Education Fund, which would require a 0.8 cent increase in the non-residential property tax rate.
Sears - YESCreate Statewide Teachers’ Healthcare Contract/$26 Million in Property Tax Savings (H.518). Passed 22-6 on May 3, 2017. This is a tricky roll call to analyze. At face value, the bill sets state budget for FY18. However, the vote became a symbolic referendum on Governor Phil Scott’s proposal to save a potential $26 million in property taxes by restructuring how teachers negotiate and receive health insurance benefits. Those voting YES supported the budget, which was met with no new taxes or fees, opposed the Governors proposal property tax savings, or both. Those voting NO supported the Governor’s proposal and thought it should have been adopted as part of the overall budgeting process.
Sears - YESLegalize Growing/Possessing Marijuana, Sets Stage for Retail Sales/Taxation (S.22). Passed 22-9 on May 5, 2017. S.22 was originally a fentanyl regulation bill repurposed to be a vehicle for passage of marijuana legalization. It would remove all criminal penalties for adults 21 or older who possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and allow growing up to two mature and two immature marijuana plants per household, and would go into effect in 2018. The bill also sets up a commission that will create a framework for taxing and regulating retail sales of marijuana. Those voting YES support legalization of marijuana; those voting NO oppose it.
Sears - YESRaise Legal Smoking Age to 21 (S.88) Failed 13-16 on April 25, 2017. Those voting YES were in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21, those voting NO opposed the measure.
Sears - NO
2016 Legislative Session
$5.8 Billion FY17 Budget (H.875). Passed 23-5 on March 24, 2016. Those voting YES on this bill approved a total $5.76 billion state budget for FY17, including $47.1 million in new spending. This represents a total increase of 2.7 percent over FY16 (not accounting for adjustments that will occur in the next legislative session.) The $1.47 billion general fund portion of the budget, however, increases by 4.8 percent, while revenue is projected to grow at just 2.2%. This budget also leaves an estimated $30 million hole for the FY18 budget. Those voting NO argued that continuing the trend of spending taxpayer dollars faster than revenue comes into the treasury is unsustainable and irresponsible.
Sears - YESAdjust FY16 Budget Upward by $91.8 Million (H.611). Passed 25-4 on February 10, 2016. Those voting YES voted in favor of increasing spending for FY16 by a total of $91.8 million (raising the previously accepted state budget to $5.6 billion, a 2.5% increase over FY15), $12.3 million of which is represents increases in General Fund spending (raising total General Fund Spending to $1.48 billion, a 5% increase over FY15). Those voting NO opposed these spending increases on the grounds that the state cannot continue to spend money faster than revenue is coming in, and that continuing to do so is causing a structural deficit.
Sears - YES$38 Million in New Miscellaneous Taxes (H.873) Passed 22-6 on April 26, 2016. Those voting YES approved $38 million worth of new taxes. These include stringent enforcement of the 9% rooms and meals tax on private, short term rentals such as those contracted through AirBnB, And increases the fuel gross receipts on heating oil, propane, kerosene, dyed diesel, and coal to 0.75%. Those voting NO opposed these tax increases.
Sears - YESMandate Paid Sick Leave (H.187), Passed 21-8, February 3, 2016. Those voting YES supported a de facto tax on mostly small/micro businesses. According to the Joint Fiscal Office, “the total cost to employers of extending sick leave coverage to Vermont workers to be approximately $3.6 to $8.2 million dollars from the effective date until December 31, 2017 and between $6.2 and $14.3 million dollars annually thereafter.” Those voting NO opposed placing another costly mandate on Vermont businesses.
Sears - YESRepeal Act 46 Spending Caps (S.233), passed 28-1, January 20, 2016. Those voting YES supported removing entirely the allowable growth thresholds (spending caps) from Act 46 (the Education Consolidation law passed in 2015), either because they believed the spending restrictions were too harsh, or because errors that ocuured in implementing the law made it unfair to apply the caps. Those voting NO believed the spending caps were the only cost control measures in Act 46, and should be left in place to put downward pressure on property taxes.
Sears - YESGive Towns Some Say Over Renewable Energy Siting, But State Maintains Ultimate Control (S.230), Passed 22-3, March 31, 2016. Those voting YES on this bill agreed to give towns “substantial deference” when it comes to siting renewable energy projects, provided the towns sign onto the state’s vision for renewable energy development and jump through several hoops to qualify for the deference. Those voting NO on the believed it did not go far enough in giving local communities a true veto over the siting of these projects.
Sears - ABSENTLegalize Marijuana (S.241), Passed 16-13, February 24, 2016. Those voting YES on this this bill supported legalizing marijuana in the state of Vermont for citizens over 21, taxing sales of marijuana at 25%, prohibiting “home grown” marijuana as well as edible forms of the product. The law would establish a small number of licenses to grow and distribute marijuana (30 retail outfits), which would cost in total $20 million in fees to obtain. Under this bill, Vermonters would be allowed to buy half an ounce of the product, and out of state residents would be allowed a quarter of an ounce. The law would take effect in January 2018.Those voting NO did so on the grounds that this sends the wrong message to Vermont youth while we are in the midst of a greater drug addiction crisis in the state, and the fact that several law enforcement issues have not been solved, such as how do we detect and prosecute driving under the influence and implications for job related drug testing.
Sears - YES
2015 Legislative Session
$36 Million Tax Increase (H.489). Passed 22-7, April 30, 2015. This bill is the principal revenue-raising vehicle to fund the FY2016 budget. Those voting YES approved $36 million in new and increased taxes on Vermonters by limiting Vermonters’ home mortgage deductions to 12%, disallowing charitable deductions to out of state organizations or those that do not serve Vermonters, levying a 2.5% tax increase on satellite TV and expanding Vermont’s 6% sales tax to sweetened beverages.
Sears - YES$14 Million Property Tax Increase (H.361). Passed 27-3, May 7, 2015. Those voting YES on this bill approved an estimated $14 million increase in school property taxes, setting the statewide homestead property tax rate at $1.59 per $100.00 for nonresidential property $1.00 multiplied by the district education property tax spending adjustment for the municipality for homestead property. The bill also creates a formula for financial incentives for districts to consolidate into Pre-K- 12 districts of no fewer than 900 students. It is highly debatable as to whether or not such consolidation will save money for taxpayers, and those voting NO see this legislation as a threat to small schools and local control.
Sears - NOMandates 75% of Electric Sales Be From “Renewables” by 2032. (H.40). Passed 22-6, May 15, 2015. H.40 had many facets to it. It repealed the SPEED program and replaced it with a new RESET program, enabling Vermont utilities’ to continue to sell some Renewable Energy Credits. It also mandated that utilities have 75% of their electricity portfolio come from renewable sources by 2032. This, of course, is a mandate on customers to buy the more expensive renewables, and a requirement that more renewable electricity projects be built (25 megawatts per year). This many wind towers and solar facilities will have a negative impact on Vermont’s scenic landscape.
Sears - YESAllow Towns “Substantial Deference” When Siting Renewable Power Facilities (H.40, KITCHELL ET AL AMENDMENT). Failed 10-19, May 15, 2015. The Kitchell Amendment would have given “substantial deference” to local municipal conservation planning when considering the siting of a renewable energy generating facility. Those voting YES gave deference to local community planning in regard to siting renewable energy facilities. Those voting NO supported allowing minimal influence by towns when determining siting decisions and to prioritize renewable energy development over conservation.
Sears - NORestrict Firearms Ownership for Some Felons/Mentally Ill Citizens (S.141). Passed 20-8, March 25, 2015. Those voting YES on the bill believe this measure will work to keep guns out of the hands of violent felons, thereby reducing violent crime. Those voting NO believe the measures will not reduce crime or improve gun safety, citing the fact that the legislation is redundant (federal legislation is already in place to police these situations), and unnecessary — a “solution in search of a problem” – as Vermont’s existing gun laws have earned Vermont the lowest violent crime rate per capita in the nation, according to the FBI.
Sears - YESAllow Same Day Voter Registration (S.29) Passed 20-7, March 26, 2015. Those voting YES on S.29 would allow an individual to both register to vote and to vote on the same day (election day). Those voting NO believe this to be an invitation to voter fraud as there is not adequate opportunity for either the Town Clerk or other election monitors to verify that the persons registering to vote on election day are who they say they are, or are legal residents of where they claim to live.
Sears - YESRequire Photo ID for Election Day Voter Registration (S.29, DEGREE AMENDMENT). Failed 7-21, April 1, 2015. The underlying bill, S.29, establishes “election day registration” to vote. (Ie, you can walk in off the streets on the first Tuesday of November, register to vote, vote, and leave). The Degree Amendment would have required those doing so to present a valid photo ID to prove they are who they say they are, and proof of residence such as an electric bill, pay stub, etc, to prove that they live where they say they live. Those voting YES on the Degree Amendment believe that requiring voters to prove who they are and that they live where they live will help prevent voter fraud, which is critical in a state like Vermont where elections are often determined by a handful of votes. Allowing election day registration without requiring mechanisms to verify who new registrants are or where they live is an invitation to voter fraud. Those voting NO cited that the prospect of voter fraud was not a compelling enough reason to pass the amendment.
Sears - NO
2014 Legislative Session
5.5% ($88 MILLION) INCREASE TO 2015 BUDGET (H. 885) Passed 24-3, April 28, 2014. Those voting YES on H.885 supported general fund spending for FY2015 of $1.438 billion. This represents a 5.5% increase ($88 million) over the original FY2014 budget of $1.362 billion as passed in 2013, and a 3.8% increase over the FY2014 budget as adjusted (upward) in 2014.The 5.5% spending increase is five times the current rate of inflation (1.1%), and nearly double Vermonters’ average rate of personal income growth (2.88% for 2013).
Sears - YES$7.39 MILLION MISCELLANEOUS TAX INCREASE (H. 884). Passed 25-4, May 10, 2014. The Miscellaneous Tax bill is an annual adjustment of tax provisions needed to match revenues with spending. Those voting YES on H.884 voted in favor of expanding the Employer Assessment to those companies who offer insurance, but whose employees apply for Medicare, which is projected to raise $2.8 million. The bill also increased the tax on tobacco snuff from $2.24 to $2.62, which is projected to raise $700,000, and to implement a 92% wholesale tax on electronic cigarettes, which was projected to raise $500,000. It also proposes to publish the top 100 tax delinquents on a state website.
Sears - YESOVER $800,000 INCREASE IN MISCELLANEOUS FEES (H. 735) Passed 21-6, May 2, 2014. This bill sets the fees for professional licensing and state services. This year’s bill was made controversial by a provision requiring storage of firearms (and $200 fee for said storage) confiscated by law enforcement following domestic disturbances. The total increase in fees Vermonters will end up paying as a result of H.735 is estimated to be between $800,000 and $900,000.
Sears - YESSTATE MANDATE THAT SCHOOL DISTRICTS PAY FOR PRE-K (H. 270). Passed 19-9, May 2, 2014. This bill overrides local control and mandates that school districts pay for publicly funded prekindergarten for 10 hours per week/35 weeks annually. When the legislature established publicly funded pre-k in 2007, it did so with the assurance to communities that funding pre-k would remain voluntary. This violates an agreement. Those voting YES on H.270 voted for an estimated $10 million increase in education costs over the next five years.
Sears - NOALLOW CHILDCARE BUSINESSES TO UNIONIZE/COLLECTIVLEY BARGAIN FOR SUBSIDIES (S. 316) Passed 22-8, February 27, 2014. This bill would allow early childcare businesses to form a union to collectively bargain with the state for taxpayer-funded subsidies. The legislature is essentially giving a union taxpayer money to lobby the legislature about something for which the legislature is already aware it is responsible, and forces hundreds of small business people in Vermont to pay “agency fees” (85% of union dues) to a union that they do not want to join..
Sears - YESDO NOT IMPOSE A STATE MANDATED TWO-YEAR MORATORIUM ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS “GOING INDEPENDENT” (Sears, Benning, and Nitka Amendment to S. 91) Failed 10-18, March 13, 2014. This amendment proposed a “strike all” to S.91 (a bill which created a two year moratorium on the practice of towns voting to close a local public school and allowing an independent school to open its place) and replace it with language calling for a study of the constitutionality/legality of the state’s authority to impose such a restriction on a town as well as the town’s right to do so. Those voting YES on this amendment opposed the moratorium. Those voting NO were in favor or placing a two-year. This is an issue of the legislature seizing control away from local communities.
Sears - YESALLOW LOCAL CONTROL OVER SITING OF SOLAR PLANTS (S. 191). Failed 8-21, March 19, 2014. This bill would have required that ground mounted solar generation plants “comply with setback and screening requirements adopted by the municipality” in which the project would be built, and would have required the Public Service Board to respect local zoning and screening bylaws when siting solar projects. Those voting NO denied local communities communities more input into how and where solar plants are located.
Sears - NOREGULATE WATERFRONT PROPERTY RIGHTS (H. 526) Passed 22-6, February 7, 2014. This bill essentially allows the state to seize substantial control of (nominally) private property in a “protected shoreland area” defined as “all land located within 250 feet of the mean water level of a lake that is greater than 10 acres in surface area.”)
Sears - YES
2013 Legislative Session
$21.8 MILLION GAS TAX INCREASE (H.510). Passed 23-5, April 19, 2013. Those voting YES agreed to increase the gas tax by roughly 6.5 cents per gallon via a 4% sales tax on the price of gasoline. They also voted to raise the tax on diesel fuel by 2.7 cents per gallon, and to 2.9 cents per gallon after the first year. It’s worth noting they voted to implement this tax in May of 2013 rather than use the usual July “effective” date in order to extract extra $1.6 million from taxpayers.