2021 Legislative Session
Pass All-Mail Voting, No Safeguards (S.15). Passed 119-30 on May 11, 2021. S.15 makes permanent the Covid-19 emergency measure of mailing “live” ballots to all active voters on the statewide checklist regardless of request. Vermont would become the only state relying on all-mail voting to do so without security measures. In the event a ballot is cast fraudulently by mail and the legitimate voter shows up at the polls to vote, there is no way to remove the fraudulent vote. Those voting YES believe the convenience of an all-mail voting system is worth the potential risk of fraud, which they believe is insignificant. Those voting NO believe it is irresponsible to have a voting system in which the overwhelming number of ballots counted (76% in 2020) cannot be independently verified by election officials as valid or fraudulent. States that have moved to all-mail voting exhibit large racial voting disparities and flat or declining overall participation in the election.
Brownell - YESAccept Ballot Security Measures for All-Mail Voting (S.15). Failed 39-99 on May 12, 2021. The S.15 Strong Amendment would delay implementation of vote-by-mail elections until after the Secretary of State’s report on ballot security is complete. Town clerks and the Director of Elections testified that there is no way to police fraud and determine if an absentee ballot was filled out and returned by the appropriate voter. Those voting YES on the Strong Amendment believe it is irresponsible to execute vote-by-mail elections before options for ballot security provisions are even studied. Those voting NO on the Strong Amendment believe absentee ballot security measures are not necessary in Vermont, and the “honor system” is enough to ensure election integrity.
Brownell - NOPass $2 Million Transfer Tax, Expand Urban Tax Credit (S.101). Passed 93-56 on May 18, 2021. S.101 creates an additional 0.5% property transfer tax on all real estate transactions exceeding $1 million, resulting in a tax increase of $2 million. Expands town center manufactured homes’ tax credits from $425,000 to $675,000. Authorizes the Planning Fund to give grants to municipalities for promoting “smart growth” that emphasizes walkable, compact neighborhoods. Those voting YES believe this will help revitalize town centers and encourage “smart growth” in urban areas, while raising tax revenue. Those voting NO question increasing the property tax, which would disproportionately impact small business at a time when businesses are just recovering from the Covid shutdown a recession and dissuade new businesses from setting up shop.
Brownell - YESOverride Governor’s Vetoes of Montpelier, Winooski Noncitizen Voting (H.177, H.227). Passed 103-47 both times on June 23, 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.
Brownell - YESImpose Rental Housing Registration Requirement (S.79). Passed 93-54 on May 21, 2021. Creates a statewide registry of rental properties monitored by a 5-person, full-time task force who will collect a $35 fee per unit from owners to register with the state. Second, the inception of the “Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program,” providing grants and loans to “households identifying as Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Color.” Those voting YES believe the bill would make rental housing safer, and encourage landlords who own blighted or vacant rental properties to bring them up to code, increasing the overall amount of rental housing available in the state. Those voting NO believe this would cripple Vermont’s short-term rental industry, reduce tourism, harm homeowners who rely on income from a short-term rental to afford their properties, and cause a shortage of rentals on the market.
Brownell - NOAllow 15-17 Year-olds in Brattleboro to Vote/Hold Elective Office (H.361). Passed 102-42 on April 29, 2021 To allow children 15-17 years old to vote in local elections and on local issues, and to hold elective office. H.361 changes to the Brattleboro charter to allow 16-17 years olds (and 15 years olds who turn 16 by election day) to vote in municipal elections and serve on town boards. Those voting YES believe this will help get young people more involved in the political process and establish the habit of voting. Those voting NO believe that children who are not legal adults are not ready to make fully informed decisions relating to voting or mature enough to hold positions of authority and responsibility over critical municipal decisions.
Brownell - YESDeclare Racism a “Public Health Emergency.” (JRH.6) Passed 135-8 on May 12, 2021. Declare white-against-black (and other minorities) racism a public health emergency. Legislators dedicate themselves to the “deep work of eradicating systemic racism throughout the State, actively fighting racist practices … grounded in science and data.” They hope to achieve “more just and equitable systems” in Vermont. Many of those voting YES believe white Vermonters are guilty of intentional and unintentional racism toward minorities, resulting in “systemic” racism that severely harms the very bodies of minorities, especially blacks. Massive amounts of money (such as reparations) from Vermont taxpayers will be necessary to eradicate the effects of slavery. Those voting NO believe that prioritizing racial disparities over all other types of social disparities increases the chances that unwieldy proposals for removing racism will hurt Vermonters of all races.
Brownell - YESAllocate $80 million in Covid Funding for Bevy of Programs (H.315). Passed 141-5 on April 6, 2021. The bill allocates federal $80 million (as of yet, not received) in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to areas somewhat related to Covid’s impact on Vermont. Many of those voting YES believe this is a bill is essential for helping Vermonters during a difficult time, at any financial cost. Others reluctantly voted YES reluctantly and did not want to make their constituents wait to receive essential funding. Some of those voting NO are wary of “premature” allocation of ARPA funding that Vermont has not received yet. They view much of the funding in the bill as hastily allocated and excessive. Beginning in tax year 2021, Vermont would tax, as income, PPP loans that Vermont businesses received from the federal government (which are not taxed as income by the federal government).
Brownell - YES$14 Million Tax on “Cloud-based” Software (S.53, Sections 9-12). Passed 96-44 on April 15, 2021. This would apply the state sales tax (6%) to cloud-based software services, costing Vermonters at least $11 million a year. Those voting YES wanted to raise tax revenue by including cloud services. Those voting NO wanted to remove the cloud tax. This tax would strike Vermont businesses relying on the cloud, while telling prospective Vermont businesses to stay away. A tax increase is not needed, given our $300 million revenue surplus.
Brownell - YESSeize Firearms After Alleged Domestic Abuse (H.133). Passed 102-44 on March 12, 2021. Seeks to offer alleged victim of abuse greater protection, “upon a finding that there is an immediate danger of further abuse.” Section E would require the accused “to immediately relinquish, until the expiration of the order, all firearms that are in the defendant’s possession, ownership, or control, and to refrain from acquiring or possessing any firearms while the order is in effect.” Those voting YES believe this is a reasonable protection for victims of domestic abuse. Those voting NO believe this is a due process violation of the Second Amendment and Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution. The defendant has no opportunity to offer evidence disproving abuse.
Brownell - NOMandatory Registration for Construction Contractors (H.157). Passed 97-52 on April 6, 2021. Contractors with residential construction jobs exceeding $3500 in labor and materials must pay $75-$250 annually to register with Vermont. A written contract and liability insurance are also required. An “unauthorized practice” penalty could result in a $5,000 fine and/or 1-year imprisonment. Those voting YES believe this bill will prevent fraud and provide consumer protection when fraud occurs. It also creates a mechanism to enforce future environmental building regulations. Those voting NO note that small claims court already exists for addressing fraud. This is a $620,000 a year problem, with a $740,000 estimated cost in annual registration fees, before contract drafting costs.
Brownell - YESAllow Montpelier’s Noncitizens to Vote (H.177). Passed 103-39 on March 10, 2021. Allows non-citizens who are legally in the US and full-time residents of Montpelier to vote in Montpelier elections, amending Montpelier’s charter. 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.
Brownell - YESShift Union Bargaining Costs to Taxpayers (H.81). Passed 102-46 on February 16, 2021. The purpose of this bill is to create a separate bargaining process for lower income school workers. Those voting YES want to give paraeducators, cafeteria workers, school custodians and other lower-paid school staff a bigger seat at the bargaining table. Those voting NO believe H.81 will have “significant (negative) financial implications for Vermont taxpayers.” Bargaining will take more time, and thus more money for publicly financed negotiations. If lower income employees pay just 1% less on their premiums after negotiations, taxpayers would have to pay another $1.43 million. Taxpayers in some school districts may pay more than others, worsening “inequity issues for our students and our taxpayers.”
Brownell - YESExpand 5¢ Deposit Fee to Most Containers (H.175). Passed 99-46 on April 15, 2021. To raise revenue by expanding the 5¢ beverage container deposit/redemption requirement to water bottles, wine bottles and other containers, with new labeling requirements, except for milk. Vermont is projected to get $1 million more annually from unredeemed deposits. The expansion requires an IT upgrade and hiring a bureaucrat paid $125,000 annually. Those voting YES believe the bottle bill has a successful environmental track record and deserves to be expanded. Those voting NO believe that “single stream” recycling programs are more environmentally effective than separate systems. H.175 places financial and storage burdens (for returned containers) on small businesses. Out-of-state beverage distributors may stop selling in Vermont to avoid the re-labeling requirement.
Brownell - YESRemove Property Transfer 0.5% Tax (H.437, Scheuermann Amendment). Failed 53-94 on March 25, 2021. This would remove an additional 0.5% property transfer tax on real estate transactions of $1 million or more. Those voting YES wanted to remove the tax increase from the bill. The majority of real estate transactions over $1 million are farms, retail, restaurants, and manufacturing businesses. Not private mansions. This tax would be another disincentive for businesses to come to Vermont. Those voting NO favored keeping the increased tax in the bill. They believe spending new tax revenue to increase the supply and quality of low-income housing is worth any negative economic impact.
Brownell - NOCreate Pension Task Force (H.449). Passed 125-22 on April 22, 2021. The Pension Benefits, Design, and Funding Task Force will analyze the state employees, teachers, and municipal employees pension funds while reviewing the retirement benefit plans for current and retired teachers and employees. Second, the Treasurer’s oversight of the Vermont Pension Investment Commission will end, giving the Commission more investment independence. Those voting YES believe creating the Task Force is critical to fixing the unfunded liability crisis. Most of those voting NO opposed the makeup of the body for not having enough representation by labor interests. Others voting NO believe more decisive action is needed now. Vermont’s three state funded pension systems have a combined unfunded liability of $5.8 billion and rising. Recognizing the problem is a small step in the right direction but is well short of decisive action.
Brownell - YESAllow Income Tax Exemption for $30,000 in Military Pensions (S.53, Sibilia Amendment). Failed 55-79 on April 15, 2021. The Sibilia Amendment attempts to increase the military pension exemption amount from $10,000 (tax benefit ~$100) to $30,000 (tax benefit ~$400). Only 3 states currently tax fully military pensions, and Vermont is one of them. Those voting YES supported the higher exemption for military pensions to show respect for those who have served, while bringing Vermont tax policy more in line with other states. Those voting NO wanted to maintain a revenue source and opposed the higher exemption.
Brownell - NOResolve Against Police Restructuring (H.R.7). Passed 108-40 on February 5, 2021. To reject Governor Scott’s executive order to restructure Vermont’s police and emergency forces. This order would bring Vermont’s law enforcement, fire division, and emergency management government branches closer together. It would create an Agency of Public Safety, composed of the Department of Fire Safety & Emergency Management and the Department of Law Enforcement. Those voting YES voted to reject the order, mentioning the Governor’s lack of ‘due process.’ They were open to the governor’s proposals, but believed legislative deliberation is needed. Those voting NO were decidedly neutral toward the governor’s order but expressed alarm about the House’s general lack of transparency in getting the resolution to the floor.
Brownell - YESAdd Income Tax Surcharge on "The Rich" (H.436, Cina Amendment). Failed 21-125 on March 26, 2021. To add a marginal tax increase of 3% to income over $500,000, giving Vermont the second highest marginal income tax rate in the nation at 11.75%, behind only California. The revenue from which would be used to repair Vermont’s neglected state pension obligations. Those voting YES believe that “the rich” need to be “asked” to pay “their fair share” regardless of any other economic implications. Some voting NO believe saddling Vermont with the second-highest marginal income tax rate in the country is bad economic policy. Others voting NO sounded open to taxing the rich but didn’t want to use the tax increase to fund the pension obligations.
Brownell - NO
2020 Legislative Session (August - September)
Allocate $586,000 for GWSA (H.969). Passed 100-42 on September 11, 2020. After passing the GWSA, the House voted to fund the 22-person Climate Council and 3 support staff with $586,000 for 1 year. The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) mandates that Vermont meet strict carbon emission reduction targets, beginning with 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. The Climate Council is composed of 22 state government officials and citizen experts who will adopt a “Vermont Climate Action Plan.” This plan would offer guidance to the Agency of Natural Resources, which would be empowered to create and implement new rules for achieving the emission targets. If any citizen (or special interest group) believes the Agency is not adopting rules quickly enough to meet the mandates, they may take the state to court, with the taxpayers potentially responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. No cost analysis was made of what the impact of meeting these new mandates might be, nor any disclosure of what rules might be in the “action plan.” Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Brownell - YESOverride Gov Veto of GWSA (H.688). Passed 103-47 on September 17, 2020. Rather than spending $586,000 for funding 1 year, this bill allocates $900,000 for maintaining the Climate Council and supplying 3 support staff for 2 fiscal years. Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Brownell - YESNew Deadly Force Standards for Police (S.119). Passed 106-37 on September 22, 2020. Narrows the current justifiable homicide statute so that an officer would only be “guiltless” for homicide if they are “promot(ing) and protect(ing) the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Officers must consider language barriers, medical conditions and other factors before deciding to use force. For officers not under an “imminent threat,” choke holds would no longer be permissible for subduing a suspect. The overall criteria for force will be based on “a reasonable officer in the same situation.” Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Brownell - ABSENT
2020 Legislative Session (January - June)
Pay Increase for Legislators (H.961, Donahue Division of Hooper Amendment). Passed 82-61 on June 25, 2020. Those voting YES supported tying legislators’ future cost of living increases to the rate of increase allocated to constitutional officers beginning in July 2021. The net result of this would be a modest, annual, automatic pay increase for legislators. Those voting NO argued that it was inappropriate for legislators to support a pay increase for themselves when a public health and economic crisis has left many of their constituents with lost income, and state revenue downgrades will likely require future cuts in government services. Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Brownell - YES
Prohibit “Ballot Harvesting” in the 2020 Election (S.348, Myers Amendment). Failed 50-95 on June 10, 2020. Ballot harvesting” is a controversial practice in which campaign operatives and/or activists collect ballots from voters that has resulted in improper influence over voters, fraudulent filling out of ballots, and destruction of ballots. The key language in the Myers amendment to prohibit ballot harvesting reads, “An early voter absentee ballot may be returned only by the voter; the justices of the peace who delivered the ballot, if applicable; or an authorized family member or caregiver acting in the voter’s behalf,” as well as defining criminal penalties if violated and mandates a civil investigation if there is reason to suspect this kind of fraud is occurring.” Watch the floor debate on YouTube.
Brownell - NO
Legalize a Taxed and Regulated Marijuana Marketplace (S.54). Passed 90-54 on February 26, 2020. S.54 would create a regulatory framework for the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana, implement a 20% tax on sale of marijuana (a 14% excise tax plus the existing 6% sales tax), and establish a Cannabis Control Board responsible for regulation and licensing and establishes a license for current medical dispensaries to start selling marijuana in 2022. The bill directs the board to prioritize Vermont businesses owned by women and minorities as it considers license applications.
Brownell - YES
Allow Time for Public Input on Act 250 Reform (H.926, Bock Motion). Failed 45-96 on February 28, 2020. Reforming Vermont’s 50 year old comprehensive land use law is immensely complicated and impacts many facets of business, recreational, and daily life. The Bock Motion came in response to an flurry of constituent questions and comments, and called for a one-business-day delay on the vote so that legislators have an opportunity to speak with and hear from constituents regarding proposed changes over the Town Meeting Day break.
Brownell - NO
Override Veto of Minimum Wage Increase (S.23, Veto Override). Passed 100-49 (2/3 required to override) on February 25, 2020. S.23 would raise the state minimum hourly wage from the current mark $10.96 to $12.55 by 2022, with increases tied to inflation afterward. The Governor vetoed this bill because, “Fiscal analysis projects job losses, decreases to employee hours, and increased costs of goods and services, which will offset the intended positive benefits for workers; These harmful impacts will be felt more significantly in rural parts of the state, worsening economic inequity between counties; and there will be an overall negative impact on economic growth.”
Brownell - YES
Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688). Passed 105-37 on February 26, 2020. The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) mandates that Vermont meet strict carbon emission reduction targets, beginning with 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. The bill would create a Climate Council, for paying $900,000 to 22 state government officials and citizen experts who will adopt a “Vermont Climate Action Plan.” This plan would offer guidance to the Agency of Natural Resources, which would be empowered to create and implement new rules for achieving the emission targets. If any citizen (or special interest group) believes the Agency is not adopting rules quickly enough to meet the mandates, they may take the state to court, with the taxpayers potentially responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. No cost analysis was made of what the impact of meeting these new mandates might be, nor any disclosure of what rules might be in the “action plan.” The legislature is not required to vote on the plan or the rules before they are put into effect.
Brownell - YES
Require Legislative Approval of GWSA Plans/Rules (H.688, Donahue Amendment). Failed 44-99 on February 20, 2020. The Donahue Amendment to the Global Warming Solutions Act would ensure legislative review and approval of any plans/rules proposed by the newly formed Climate Council and the Agency of Natural Resources before such plans/rules could be put into effect because it is the Legislature’s responsibility to serve as the final judge for any plan that will so materially affect the people of Vermont.
Brownell - NO
Override Gubernatorial Veto of Paid Family Leave (H.107). Failed 99-51 (2/3 required to override) on February 5, 2020. The Paid Family Leave Bill would establish a new payroll tax on employees of 0.2% on income up to $137,000 (total $30 million annually) in order to fund a government-mandated insurance program allowing employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child, or 8 weeks for family care. 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. Employees can elect to pay an additional 0.38% of their wages to obtain medical leave of 6 weeks maximum. While all Vermont employees would have their wages taxed, only employees who work at least 675 hours annually (13 hours a week) for a single employer would be eligible to receive the paid leave or to opt-in to the medical leave. The Governor vetoed H.107 stating, “My administration’s approach is voluntary for employers and employees. It can be accomplished more efficiently, affordably and quickly, without a $29 million payroll tax that Vermont workers simply should not be burdened with, and without putting the risk of underfunding on taxpayers.”
Brownell - YES
2019 Legislative Session
Mandatory Paid Family Leave/Payroll Tax (H.107). Passed 92-52 on April 5, 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 8 weeks for family or personal medical care. Employees would receive 90% of their weekly wages up to the “liveable wage” (currently calculated at $13.34/hr). Wages above that level would covered at 50% of the weekly wage. Wages above $132,900 would not be covered. A maximum cap on the benefit would be set at $1,334 per week. The payroll tax would be initially set at 0.55%, and the estimated total cost would $76 million annually to start.
Brownell - YES
Double the Tax on Home Heating Fuels (H.439, Ways & Means Committee Amendment). Passed 81-60 on March 26, 2019. This would double the tax on the retail sale of heating oil, propane, kerosene, and other dyed diesel fuel delivered to a residence or business from $0.02 to $0.04 per gallon, and to impose a gross receipts tax of 1% on the retail sale of natural gas and 1.5% on the retail sale of coal. The estimated $4.6 million tax will be used to increase funding for the state’s low-income weatherization program.
Brownell - NO
Increase State Minimum Wage Annually by 2.25x Inflation (S.23). Passed 90-53 on May 15, 2019. This would increase the state mandated minimum wage each year by 2.25x the rate of inflation. If inflation remains steady at 2%, the next hike would raise the minimum wage from $10.78 to $11.26 in 2020. Again, assuming steady inflation, the state minimum wage would reach $15/hour in 2027.
Brownell - YES
Increase Capital Gains Tax/Reduces Estate Tax (H.541). In order to address the issue of wealthy taxpayers fleeing Vermont, this bill would increase the estate tax exclusion (raising the point where the tax kicks in) from $2.75 million to $4.25 million in January 2020, and to $5 million in January 2021, resulting in a substantial estate tax cut. However, in order to backfill the lost revenue anticipated from the estate tax cut, the bill would also decrease the exemption for capital gains from 40% to 30% and cap the exemption at $450,000. The former change positively impacts mostly wealthy citizens passing on assets to younger generations, the latter change negatively impacts mostly middle/working Vermonters who rely on a one-time, large dollar sale of a home or business to fund their retirement.
Brownell - YES
Allow All School Districts to Delay Forced Mergers by One Year (H.39, Scheuermann Amendment). Failed 69-74 on February 6, 2019. February 6, 2019. This would provide all school districts facing forced mergers ordered by the State Board of Education the opportunity to extend the July 1, 2019 merger deadline currently in law to July 1, 2020.
Brownell - YES
Mandate that Vermonters Purchase Health Insurance (H.524). Passed 92-44 on March 29, 2019. This would mandate that all Vermonters purchase health insurance, restoring at a state level the Obamacare federal mandate repealed by the Trump Administration. However, this state “mandate” comes with no penalty. Instead, the bill would create a database of state income tax filers who do not have health insurance, and commission bureaucrats to encourage these Vermonters to purchase insurance.
Brownell - YES
Ban Plastic Bags, Styrofoam Food Containers, Straws, Etc. (S.113). Passed 120-24 on May 9, 2019. This would make it illegal for businesses to provide “single use” plastic bags to customers at the point of sale, or to provide polystyrene food or beverage containers, or to provide plastic straws except upon request, and to require businesses to charge at least 10¢ per paper bag (if not given away for free). It would create a “Single-Use Products Working Group” to study the effectiveness of these policies and make recommendations for future regulation.
Brownell - YES
Raise Tobacco Use/Purchase Age from 18 to 21 (S.86). Passed 124-14 on April 23, 2019. This would raise the legal age to purchase and use tobacco and tobacco related products from 18 to 21 years of age.
Brownell - YES
Allow Non-Citizen Voting in Montpelier (H.207). Passed 95-46 on April 18, 2019. This would change the charter of the City of Montpelier to allow non-citizens who are legally in the United States and full time residents of the city to vote in city elections, setting a precedent for other towns/cities around the state.
Brownell - YES
Abolish Columbus Day/Create Indigenous Peoples’ Day (S.68). Passed 113-24 on April 16, 2019. This would abolish Columbus Day as a state holiday and replace it with “Indigenous People’s Day.”
Brownell - YES
Propose Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Abortion from Conception to Birth (Proposition 5). Passed 106-38 on May 7, 2019. This 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.” It would bar any legal restrictions on abortion from conception to the moment of birth.