2021 Vermont State Senate Bill Summaries

 

The summaries below highlight each Senate bill (and the Senate’s key amendments to one House bill) passed by the Senate before and during Crossover in the 2021 session. These bills reflect the Senate Democratic Caucus’s commitment to their priorities this session of responding to immediate Covid-19 needs, strengthening our health care system, advancing economic security and resiliency, and advancing equity and justice, as well as their values of economic security, equity, and safety and wellbeing. Please note that these summaries reflect each bill’s text at the time that it was passed out of the Senate. Changes may occur as bills progress through the legislative process. 

 

Help is Here!

 

S.9 is related to Covid-19 workers’ compensation. This act entitles Vermont workers to compensation in cases where Covid-19 causes disability or death in the period running from early in the pandemic until 30 days after the end of the Governor’s emergency declaration. This bill was passed expediently at the beginning of this session as a part of the Senate Democratic Caucus’s priority of responding to Vermont’s immediate COVID-19 needs. Passed on January 15th, it was signed into law as Act 2 by Governor Scott on February 3.

 

S.36 would authorize the continued use of Coronavirus Relief Fund monies for certain purposes including the Department of Children and Families’ funding of safe housing for families experiencing homelessness and the continued funding of the Everyone Eats program. The bill would also continue to allocate money to a Vermont State Housing Authority grant which will distribute funds to landlords whose renters are unable to pay rent because of the pandemic. Finally, this bill would ensure continued funding for any broadband projects that were begun before December 30, 2020. This bill is designed to help Vermont recover from the Covid-19 pandemic in an equitable and just way. It was passed by the Senate on January 22nd. 

 

S.110 proposes to permit individuals to continue receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits if the individual is otherwise eligible to establish a new unemployment insurance benefit year, but doing so would result in a reduction of at least $25.00 in the amount of weekly benefits the individual is eligible for. This bill promotes economic resilience for the state and individual Vermonters, in the wake of unprecedented financial hardships caused by the pandemic. It was passed by the Senate on March 10th, passed by the House on March 11th, and signed by the Governor on March 17th.  

 

S.117 extends regulatory flexibility for hospitals, long-term care facilities, health care providers, and others during and immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes adding numbers of available nurses, physicians, physician’s assistants, and other health care workers related to demands placed by the pandemic. The bill extends patient access to health care services delivered by audio-only telephone calls. Youth seeking mental health support and patients isolated at home are helped by audio only access.  Providers and insurers will work to identify requirements for continued access to this method for health care delivery going forward. Patient protection requirements such as informed consent are included in the bill. The efforts of Vermont’s providers and insurers with Telehealth continue to lead other states. This bill supports the caucus’s overall priority of strengthening our health care system. S.117 was passed on March 12th. 

 

S.10 proposes to extend certain unemployment insurance provisions related to COVID-19. This bill seeks to mitigate the effects of tax rate hikes and benefit changes on both employers and claimants, cushioning the transition into the post-pandemic economy and the end of federal benefits. Under S.10, Vermonters receiving unemployment insurance would receive an additional benefit of $50.00 per week if they have one or more dependent children. The bill also eases the burden on businesses paying into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in the short term, relaxing statutory rate increases brought on by the Fund’s expenditures during the Covid-19 pandemic and eliminating rate penalties for businesses that laid off employees if those layoffs were a result of the pandemic. Finally, S.10 proposes to create a task force to assess the future needs of the Trust Fund and consider possible adjustments to business contribution rates. This bill improves the economic security and resilience of Vermont’s Unemployment Insurance system while seeking to make the program more equitable for Vermont workers, particularly female workers, who have been disproportionately unemployed within Vermont during the pandemic. It passed the Senate on March 31st.

 

The Senate made numerous amendments to H.315, a House bill related to Covid-19 relief, adding provisions to provide additional help to numerous groups of Vermonters. The Senate’s amendment would add continuing support for Efficiency Vermont to continue the work they have done throughout the pandemic to improve indoor air quality in schools. As of late February, Efficiency Vermont had done air quality work in 314 public and independent schools (representing 75% of those eligible), and the amendment’s funding will allow them to continue this critical work to ensure student safety. Another provision in the Senate’s amendment would work with nursing homes to fund the training of 40 Licensed Practical Nurses at Vermont Technical College and Castleton University, alleviating a critical need in the state’s elder care system. Other additions by the Senate include funding for mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention for low- and moderate-income households, support for gaps in the state’s agricultural system, parks and recreation funding, and continued support for the Vermont Food Bank and their diaper bank for low-income families. The funds allocated by this amendment come from numerous sources, including leftover money from last year’s Federal CARES Act and incoming money from this year’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This amended version of H.315 passed the Senate unanimously on March 24th. 

Guideposts for Investing in the Future

 

S.14, signed into law as Act 4 by the Governor on March 13th, is related to deed restrictions and housing density. It will invalidate new binding agreements that would prohibit the construction of accessory dwelling units or the development of small lots able to connect to municipal water and sewer service. This bill would promote equity by increasing available development opportunities for Vermonters.

 

S.79 seeks to improve health and safety in rental housing. This bill strengthens fire safety standards and clarifies requirements for various inspections and construction approvals. In addition, it seeks to create more affordable housing units in the state by establishing a program of grants and loans to refurbish non-code compliant or vacant units and make them available to Vermonters experiencing homelessness and other low-income Vermonters. S.79 would also create a registry of rental units in the state, creating better organization and greater accessibility for Vermonters seeking housing. This bill advances the economic security and resilience of our communities while achieving more equitable and just housing outcomes for lower-income Vermonters. It passed the Senate on March 30th.

 

S.101 seeks to promote housing choices and opportunities in smart growth areas. This bill would create incentives and provide resources to support municipalities in modernizing zoning regulations, removing some hurdles to constructing new housing with a focus on downtowns and village centers. In addition, S.101 would increase tax credits and expand tax credit eligibility to neighborhood areas to improve the quality of rental housing while appropriating funding for training and permitting assistance to ensure that these tax credits can be successfully used to create new housing. By streamlining permitting processes for the construction of new housing while respecting existing Act 250 regulations, S.101 will advance economic security and resiliency for Vermonters and their communities. It passed the Senate on March 30th.

 

S.33 would authorize the Vermont Economic Progress Council to establish a project-based tax increment financing pilot program. A municipality would be able to apply for this financing program if their project serves one or more of the active designations approved by the Vermont Downtown Development Board or is located within an industrial park. S.33 passed the Senate on March 25th. 

 

S.62 proposes the creation of a New Vermont Employee Incentive Program. This program will be designed and implemented by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and will award incentive grants to qualifying new employees. This program will provide incentives to both employees working at in-person Vermont businesses and those working for remote businesses located outside of or within the state. This program will help individuals looking to relocate to Vermont have the financial security to establish roots here. S.62 passed the Senate on March 24th and will become effective immediately upon passage.

 

S.25 proposes miscellaneous cannabis regulation procedures. First, the bill would require towns to place the issue of retail sales of cannabis on the ballot no later than March 1st, 2023. In addition, S.25 would establish a cannabis business development fund for loans, grants and technical assistance for individuals who have historically been disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of cannabis. This bill is designed to ensure that the rollout of adult use cannabis establishments is equitable. S.25 passed the Senate on March 25th. 

 

S.53 would create a sales and use tax exemption for the sale of menstrual products. This bill embodies one of the Senate Democratic Caucus’ top values, equity. By eliminating the sales tax on products primarily used by women and gender minorities, the Senate is taking a step towards achieving gender equity. It was passed unanimously by the Senate on March 9th.

 

Helping Our Children Find Solid Ground

 

S.115 proposes miscellaneous changes to Vermont’s education laws. This bill seeks to establish a working group to study the status of Vermont’s public libraries. It also enables municipalities and schools to jointly fund cultural liaisons within communities to support students and families who have limited English proficiency (LEP). Additionally, S.115 seeks to re-establish an Advisory Council on Wellness and Comprehensive Health and improve the development of school wellness policies. Finally, the bill mandates that all public and private schools provide free menstrual products to students who need them in grades 5-12. S.115 passed the Senate on March 18th. 

 

S.16 proposes to create a School Disciplinary Advisory Council to collect and analyze discipline in Vermont’s public and independent schools in order to guide statewide and local decision making and measure the effectiveness of current policies. The School Disciplinary Advisory Council will be composed of 15 members and will collect important data such as what policies are used across the state and the number of suspensions and expulsions in each school district. The bill cites that across the country, BIPOC and disabled students are disciplined at higher rates and that students disciplined are at an increased risk of academic failure, entering the juvenile justice system, and dropping out of school. This information is imperative in making sure that the state’s educational policies are implemented in just and equitable ways, in alignment with the Senate Democratic Caucus’s values and priorities. It was passed by the Senate on March 18th. 

 

S.13 would require the Agency of Education to develop a plan to implement the equalized pupil weighting changes outlined in the Pupil Weighting Factors Report dated December 24, 2019, produced by a University of Vermont-led team of researchers. These researchers found that the state’s current pupil weighting system does not reflect today’s educational costs. The bill proposes a phased approach to pupil weighting changes, with the changes occurring over three years. This bill is designed to promote educational equity throughout the state. It passed the Senate on March 25th. 

 

S.114 proposes the continuation of the state’s ongoing work to improve literacy for all students, prekindergarten through grade 12. This bill outlines the literacy education requirements for public schools. The bill requires that all public schools that teach students from prekindergarten to third grade provide evidence-based literacy instruction to all students and provide supplemental literacy instruction to all students in higher grades whose literacy proficiency creates a barrier to their success in school. The bill also outlines the Advisory Council on Literacy, which is designed to advise the state on how to improve literacy proficiency outcomes. If passed by the House, the Advisory Council on Literacy will take effect on August 1st, 2021. Studies show that literacy proficiency failure has lifelong personal and economic costs for students, this bill seeks to set all Vermont students up for long-term success. S.114 passed the Senate on March 23rd. 

 

Protecting Vermonters’ Health and Safety

 

S.42 is an act relating to establishing the Emergency Service Provider Wellness Commission. This bill would create a commission to provide mental health and related support to current and former firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police officers, corrections officers, and emergency communications dispatchers in Vermont. It would promote equity by assessing diversity within these professions and would promote safety and wellbeing for emergency service providers by considering a broad range of support services for volunteers and workers committed to helping others within high-stress environments. S.42 passed the Senate on February 16th. 

 

S.48 proposes that the State adopt and enter into the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact. By joining 34 other states in this compact, Vermont would make it easier for nurses to have multi-state licenses and increase the state’s capacity to attract and employ nurses from out of state, addressing a critical need. S.48 accomplishes one of the Senate’s priorities by strengthening our state’s health care system. It passed the Senate on Friday, March 26th.

 

S.22 regulates health care practitioners administering stem cell products not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Currently, certain providers use non-FDA-authorized stem cell treatments and claim they will be effective for patients suffering from various chronic illnesses, like multiple sclerosis or arthritis. This bill institutes requirements for transparency and disclosure by providers offering these unapproved treatments, including patient consent forms and notices on advertisements. This bill strengthens Vermont’s health care system. The provisions of the bill are critical to protecting the safety and wellbeing of chronically ill Vermonters who might seek unproven “miracle cures”. This bill was passed in the Senate on March 11th. 

 

S.20 would impose restrictions on the manufacture, sale, use, and distribution of products containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), including firefighting foam, food packaging, rugs, ski wax, and other products. These substances have been linked to negative health consequences, particularly in children. This bill aligns with one of the Caucus’s top values of this session: protecting the safety and wellbeing of Vermonters. S.20 was passed unanimously on March 19th.

 

S.30 would prohibit the possession of firearms in hospitals and create a study looking into possession of firearms in the Capitol complex. This bill balances the state’s long history of responsible gun ownership with the safety and wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable populations, like people in hospitals. This bill was passed on March 19th. 

 

Affirming Democracy

 

S.87 would establish statutory provisions that may be used for the operation of the government in cases of emergency. These statutory provisions include prohibiting operators of public water systems from turning off anyone’s water during a declared state of emergency under almost all conditions, allowing most licensed medical professionals who practice in other states to provide care for Vermonters using telehealth for the duration of the state of emergency, and allowing all licenses or permits issued by municipalities which have expired during the state of emergency to remain valid for 30 days after the end of the state of emergency. This bill is directly related to the caucus’s legislative priority of responding to Vermonters’ immediate Covid-19 needs. It was passed by the Senate on February 24th. 

 

S.15 would require ballots be sent out to all registered voters prior to November general elections. As we saw in the 2020 general election, universal vote by mail increases voter turnout. In Vermont, 73% of eligible voters voted, breaking the state’s turnout record. The bill also provides rules as to how absentee voters can correct defective ballots. Accessibility is an equity issue. By making elections more accessible for all, Vermont is working toward a more equitable democracy. S.15 stands in stark contrast to the voter suppression laws being considered in over forty states right now. The bill passed by a vote of 27-3 on March 18th, with all the Democratic senators voting in favor. 

 

S.51 amends campaign finance law to ban corporate contributions so that only individuals, political committees, and political parties may make contributions to candidates or political parties. The bill also requires political committees, also known as PACs, to report the names of any organizations they are related to. Election finance laws, like this one, are essential in keeping elections free and fair. S.51 passed the Senate on March 24th. 

 

Ensuring Justice for All

 

S.45 would make changes to Vermont’s probation system, instituting a presumptive discharge from probation at the midpoint review for probationers meeting certain criteria. Completing programming and paying institutional charges necessary to get off probation is financially prohibitive for many probationers, meaning that many who are ready for discharge are currently unable to receive it. This bill saves money and promotes equity and justice by taking a common-sense approach to criminal justice for probationers who are unlikely to reoffend. This bill was passed by the Senate on February 25th. 

 

S.7 proposes to expand eligibility for expungement or sealing of a criminal history record to most criminal offenses and several civil offenses. This bill seeks to advance the caucus’s priority of achieving greater justice and equity by instituting automatic expungements of motor vehicle licensing and registration violations two years after the date of charging and allowing some non-violent offenders who meet certain criteria to petition for expungement. Research has found that there is a substantial increase in earnings for persons who have had their records expunged, and this bill seeks to offer this second chance to Vermonters with past offenses. S.7 passed the Senate by a unanimous roll call vote on March 16th. 

 

S.107 seeks to protect juveniles who are arrested and/or charged with crimes by making any identifying information in their records confidential. It also makes the Family Division or Criminal Division of the Superior Court the sole records custodian for purposes of responding to a request for law enforcement and court records relating to a person under the jurisdiction of either court. With exemptions for certain cases, such as motor vehicle violations or situations in which the health or safety of another person is in danger, this bill would institute this confidentiality for all offenders under the age of 20. This promotes the caucus’s priority of achieving greater justice and equity in Vermont protecting the privacy of these young offenders. S.107 passed the Senate on March 17th.

 

S.3 would enact several measures related to the insanity defense and a defendant's competency to stand trial. The bill would require the court to appoint counsel from Vermont Legal Aid to all defendants who have been found either insane or incompetent for trial, who do not have private attorneys. It also establishes a procedure for alerting victims when the defendant is discharged from the Department of Mental Health custody or from another mental health treatment facility. The bill would also establish the Forensic Care Working Group to identify gaps in the state’s mental health and criminal justice systems and suggest ways for the state to provide better treatment to defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity. This bill highlights the Senate’s commitment to justice. S.3 was passed by the Senate on March 24th.

 

Moving Towards a Sustainable Future

 

S.102 would amend the definition of “farming” under Act 250 and the Required Agricultural Practices to include compost foraging and proposes to require the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to regulate compost foraging as farming. This bill would open opportunities to farms to establish small to mid-scale composting operations, increasing Vermont’s capacity for processing food waste in-state. This would make it easier for Vermonters to comply with rules around diverting food scraps from landfills and offers farmers another option to diversify their operations and build healthier soils. This bill would advance the economic security and resiliency of Vermont’s rural economies by expanding opportunities for farms and will support carbon sequestration and run-off reduction. S.102 passed the Senate on March 25th.

 

S.66 proposes to define and regulate three classes of electric bicycles. This bill uses objective assessments of power and speed capability to create a clear distinction between electric bicycles and motorcycles. Among electric bicycles, this bill would create three classifications based on speed and power and would mandate clear labeling of classification number, top assisted speed, and wattage, on each bike sold in Vermont. S.66 further clarifies that electric bicycles are expected to follow the same traffic laws and enjoy the same exemption from registration requirements as traditional bicycles. It passed the Senate on Wednesday, March 24th.

 

S.1 proposes to extend the baseload renewable power portfolio requirement until 2032. This bill provides for the continued function of biomass power plants in Vermont while ensuring continued Commission oversight. It passed the Senate on March 18th. 

 

Miscellaneous

 

S.11 aims to prohibit robocalls by penalizing people who make robocalls that violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to Vermont residents. Under this law, a person who receives a call in violation of this act can bring an action in Superior Court for damages. This law is designed to protect Vermonters from predatory and scam phone calls. The Senate passed this bill unanimously on February 26th. 

 

S.18 would limit the availability of earned good time sentence reductions to offenders convicted of certain crimes. It would also require the prosecutor’s office to explain to the victim that the Commissioner of Corrections can impact the amount of time the offender serves through earned good time, work release, and other measures, as well as informing the victim of the maximum amount of earned good time the offender will be able to earn. This law seeks to balance justice with the safety and wellbeing of Vermonters, especially the victims of heinous crimes. S.18 was passed on February 18th. 

 

S.39 proposes to require the Judiciary to include any fees associated with electronic filing and any proposals related to fees associated with electronic filing in its consolidated Judicial Branch fee report which is reported to the House Committee on Ways and Means, the Senate Committee on Finance, and the House and Senate Committees on Government Operations. S.39 was passed on March 11th by the Senate.

 

S.78 would have any bargaining impasse between the Vermont Judiciary and a representative of a collective bargaining unit resolved through binding arbitration if either party rejects it going through the Vermont Labor Relations Board. The arbitrator would be selected by either a mutual agreement by both parties or by the American Arbitration Association. The arbitrator’s decision in these cases will be final and binding for all parties. This bill will help facilitate equitable solutions to labor disputes within the Vermont Judiciary. S.78 was passed by the Senate on March 16th. 

 

S.97 proposes a number of miscellaneous amendments regarding civil and criminal statutes. These amendments include updates to the legal procedures for wrongful death cases and changes to the laws about breathalyzer, saliva, and blood tests. S.97 passed on March 24th.

 

S.88 amends several laws pertaining to banking, finance, and securities. One of the bill’s principal aims is to ban all unlicensed people from using the titles of “debt adjuster” or “budget planner” in any form of budget advertisement. These changes are all underscored by the caucus’ value of economic security. The Senate passed S.88 on March 23rd. 

 

S.86 proposes to make miscellaneous changes to laws related to vehicles and vessels. It includes regulations for temporary license plates and motor vehicle registrations, investigations of DUIs and other motor vehicle crashes, exhaust and noise requirements for snowmobiles, and motorboat registrations and safety measures. It passed the Senate on February 24th.

 

S.47 proposes to allow certain motor vehicle manufacturers to own, operate, or control a motor vehicle warranty or service facility located in the State. This bill would allow electric vehicle manufacturers that sell directly to consumers to open vehicle service centers in Vermont. It also addresses concerns raised by existing franchise auto dealers to ensure any new dealerships opened in Vermont must follow the same laws as the existing dealers. This bill promotes the caucus’s priority of economic security by meeting the needs of existing dealers in Vermont while making it easier for Vermonters to buy electric vehicles in-state. S.47 passed the Senate on March 19th. 

 

S.60 would allow municipal and cooperative utilities to offer innovative rates and services to their customers. This authorization is contingent upon the new rate being applied equally to all customers and limits changes to no more than two percent in any twelve-month period, and no more than ten percent from the rate last approved by the Commission. This bill was passed on March 24th.

 

S.124 would make a variety of changes related to subjects within the Public Utility Commission’s jurisdiction. These amendments include allowing former members of the Commission to sit in on cases when a current member is unable to, clarifying laws related to non-federal dams, and changing the civil penalties for certain violations. This bill was passed on March 25th.