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.