Legislative Update – 3/25/16


Nation Celebrates Vermont’s GMO Leadership  (click on the video below to watch!)


Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D – Chittenden County): 


“Fifteen years ago, when I introduced the first GMO bills in Montpelier, the political pundits thought labeling would never happen. In 2014, when we passed the first-in-the-nation GMO Labeling Law, we were warned we would lose a lawsuit or companies would not sell in VT. So far we have won the lawsuit and it is clear that companies will label and sell their products here. The food industry knows that consumers want to know what’s in their food, and Vermont has led the way in the nation. 


Last week, with national grassroots action, the “DARK Act” (legislation what would deny consumers the right to know what’s in their food) was defeated in Washington D.C.  Since then, Campbell’s, General Mills, and Mars have all decided to label their products nationwide! Read how our state has again led the nation in good policy for every day people!


I am so proud of our state and of the numerous citizen activists who stayed strong in their convictions. Vermont’s bill has led to 300 million people being able to make informed decisions when they purchase their food.” 



Pollina Plans to Introduce Legislation to Block Outsourcing of State Jobs


Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D – Washington County): 


Government officials are weighing whether to contract with private companies to oversee state workers’ compensation and liability claims. This move would outsource 12 jobs from the state’s Risk Management Division, and is being considered in order to save money. The companies currently vying for these jobs are based in Arizona, Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.


Sen. Pollina plans to introduce legislation to block these jobs from being shipped out of state until, at least, there is first a study conducted to look at the effect upon the state’s budget and economy, not just short-term savings.


Sen. Pollina wrote in a letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin: “Remember, we are not eliminating the work. It needs to be done. But, the Administration is planning to hire people in another state to do it. No matter who is chosen, our tax dollars will go out of state.”


Sen. Pollina told the Times Argues last week: “It is just bad economic development policy. We create jobs somewhere else and end up with higher unemployment, less tax revenue and a weaker economy here at home.”



Misclassification Bill a Major Concern for Workers, Unions


Rep. Diana Gonzalez (P/D-Winooski): 

“H.867 is a bill relating to misclassification of workers. A hundred years ago, a thing called the “ABC” test was created to determine if someone was, or was not, an employee. In that test, a person is considered an independent contractor if: A) the worker has control over her/his work, schedule, and tools needed to perform the work; B) the worker is performing a job not like the normal work of the business or its other employees; C) the worker has an established business. 


Determining who is an employee and who is an independent contractor is vital for workers compensation and unemployment insurance. H.867 greatly expands the definition of who can be an independent contractor. As it is currently written, this bill allows for multiple independent contractors to be hired at the same time for the same work, and those contractors can work on one contract at a time (instead of needing to have multiple clients to demonstrate an independent, established business). Some of the people advocating for this bill are concerned about current laws as they apply to independent contractors stifling the information tech and creative industries from growing in Vermont. But many workers’ rights advocates and unions are very concerned that this bill, as written, opens workers up to abuse and exploitation from employers who will misclassified them in order to skirt labor laws.”



Compassionate Release Bill Passes the House


Rep. Mollie Burke (P/D-Brattleboro):


“H.623, An act relating to compassionate release and parole eligibility, passed thee House last week and now goes to the Senate. This bill allows for inmates between 55 and 65 years of age, who have served at least ten years but not their minimum sentence to be eligible for parole consideration. The same would be true for inmates over 65 years of age who have served at least five years, but not their minimum sentence. Also an inmate with a terminal or serious medical condition may be released on medical parole to a hospital or suitable housing accommodation. This bill not only reduces our prison population (a goal of the State), but also allows the State to exercise compassion towards those who pose no danger to society, and for whom continued incarceration serves no purpose. We are hopeful that the Senate will look favorably on this bill. I am thankful for the Institutions and Corrections Committee, and particularly Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, for helping to move this bill forward.”



Not the Austerity Budget We’ve Come to Expect


Rep. Chris Pearson (P/D-Burlington):


“Every year I’ve served in Montpelier we’ve seen program cuts that overwhelmingly hurt low-income families. It’s been a depressing situation as revenues fail to keep pace and the prevailing mindset is that Vermont’s tax capacity is maxed out. As someone who frequently offers amendments to increase taxes on the wealthiest Vermonters, I’ve never accepted that version of reality.


The budget that Shumlin proposed this year had all sorts of holes in it. He seems comfortable dumping the problems onto the House’s lap. Remember when he proposed saving $4 million by cutting poor, pregnant women off Medicaid? A day later he rescinded that recommendation because he was universally slammed in the press. But that only left a new hole of $4 million (on top of several others). 


As House Appropriations and Ways and Means set about their work, something interesting happened. A year ago, Progressives and the Working Vermonter’s caucus, lead by Rep. Susan Davis (P-Washington) and Rep. Joey Donovan (D-Burlington), ended up just 3 votes shy of bringing the whole process to its knees. Apparently, we gave them a scare. This year, they answered our concerns up front. The tax committee (Ways and Means) raised a total of about $48 million– one of the bigger tax increases in memory. They did it by increasing fees for mutual fund companies, big banks, and big businesses who don’t offer health care coverage. The budget committee (Appropriations) took care to patch holes and make small investments in important priorities for Progressives and others.


For example, the budget funded: retirement obligations, gave 2% increase for designated agencies (they are on teh cusp of crisis), increased money to state colleges (not UVM), gave $1 million increase for child care, $1 million increase to the Veteran’s Home, increased money for DCF (who are overloaded with foster kids), paid for the Medicaid deficit, bumped up working lands projects (rural jobs), maintained the work camp in St Johnsbury that Shumlin wanted to close, and increased spending for low-income weatherization. They also nixed Shumlin’s “Enterprise” fund, which was his million slush fund for corporate give-aways.


Many of these are priorities we fought for this year and in years past. Maybe I’m overstating it, but last year we made a big public stink about another austerity budget and just narrowly lost. This year, Democratic leaders must have determined they didn’t want that fight on their hands. They preferred to bring Progressives and progressive Democrats into the fold rather than depend on Republicans to pass their tax and budget bills. For the first time, I can remember all six House Progressives voted to send the budget over to the Senate. Let’s hope they keep the trend going. 


Highlights of the budget can be found here.”



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