Marijuana makes Vermont 'first' again

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Marijuana makes Vermont 'first' again

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:24am -- tim

Leonine Public Affairs The second week of the legislative session was quiet. Aside from the Senate passing the marijuana legalization bill not much action was taken in either chamber. The legalization bill now moves to Governor Scott’s desk for his signature and he has confirmed he will sign it. When the governor signs the bill, Vermont will become the first state to legalize marijuana through legislation opposed to referendum. However, beyond marijuana legalization the committees have not yet advanced many bills to the House and Senate floors, which is typical at this early stage of the session.

Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom spent time in a few committees discussing the recently passed federal tax bill and its implications on Vermont. The tax department’s review concluded there is not going to be a significant impact on Vermont’s revenue. It is possible, depending on individual circumstances that some taxpayers could see an increase in their state tax liability, and the Scott administration is contemplating proposing changes to the state’s tax code to ameliorate any tax increases caused by the change in federal law. 

We have one more week before Governor Scott delivers his budget address, which will take place on January 23 at 2pm. Once the Governor presents his budget we expect activity in the Statehouse to pick up significantly. The crossover deadline was also set for March 2 for policy bills. Money bills have an additional week to get out of committee. 

The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee passed H.593 - an act relating to miscellaneous consumer protection provisions - this week. Section one of H.593 would prohibit consumer contracts from automatically renewing unless, in addition to accepting the contract, the consumer takes an additional affirmative action to opt into the automatic renewal provision, essentially requiring a “double opt-in”.

If H.593 as currently drafted becomes law, companies that enter into automatically renewable contracts with Vermont customers will be required to upgrade their current online processing systems to include a double opt-in. This means that once a customer clicks “agree to these terms” a second pop-up will need to occur asking the customer if they are certain that want to enter into a contract that automatically renews. The companies’ systems will also need to generate emails to their customers in advance of the auto renewal taking place.

This week the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took testimony on S.53, a bill introduced last session that proposes to create the framework for a system of universal, publicly financed primary care in Vermont. The bill directs the legislative Joint Fiscal Office to propose three tax mechanisms for financing universal primary care. The bill has 13 sponsors, including all five members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which took testimony on Friday morning. While it’s clear there is tremendous support for the concept in the Senate, many questions still remain about how far the bill will go in 2018. At the end of the 2017 legislative session, Senator Claire Ayer published a letter to advocates of universal primary care identifying barriers that will need to be overcome before Vermont implements such a system. You can read Senator Ayer’s letter here

The House Commerce Committee took extensive testimony this week from the Attorney General’s Office, privacy advocates and industry representatives concerning a draft committee bill regulating data brokers. The provisions in the draft bill were presented as “light touch” regulation that addresses some of the negative consequences of the collection and sale of data containing personal information without unduly interfering with this increasingly important sector of the economy. Testimony and discussion on this complicated issue will continue next week. The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs committee also took testimony on the issue In anticipation of ultimately receiving whatever bill the House may pass later in the session.  

This week the Vermont Legislature became the first in the nation to pass a bill, H.511, legalizing marijuana for adult use. The final action occurred in the Senate, which on a voice vote and with little discussion approved changes the bill made by the House.  The bill allows individuals 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and to grow two adult plants and four immature plants per dwelling beginning on July 1. The bill now heads to Governor Scott’s desk, he has indicated he intends to sign the law after his lawyers review it for technical errors. 

Both the House Health Care Committee and the Senate Health Care Committee took testimony on a so-called “silver solution” to a problem that will be caused in the Vermont’s health insurance marketplace by a recent decision by the Trump administration. Specifically, late this past fall the Trump administration decided to stop funding “cost sharing reductions” (CSR) payments to health insurers in 2019. Those payments are intended to defray the insurers’ cost in reducing out of pocket expenses for eligible persons. Because the insurers are still obligated to reduce eligible persons’ out of pocket expenses the loss of this federal revenue will put significant upward pressure on health insurance premiums. For persons buying individual health plans who are eligible for the separate federal premium subsidy the increase in premiums will be offset by the increase in federal premium subsidies they receive (which may cost the federal government more than what it is saving by ceasing the CSR payments), However, individuals who are not eligible for premium subsidies and small businesses would experience premium increases. The insurers and the administration are discussing changes to the law governing premium setting methodology for “silver” level health plans, and the allowance of “off exchange” sales of health plans similar to ACA compliant silver plans as a work around to the problem that will be caused by the change in federal policy.

Lawmakers, administration officials, lobbyists and many other interested stakeholders packed into the Governor’s Ceremonial Office in the State House Thursday for a press conference releasing the initial report from the Governor’s Opioid Coordination Council. Governor Scott created the Council through executive order last May. The report outlines 22 recommendations for next steps to continue Vermont’s progress in addressing the opioid crisis, including recommendations that address prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement. The full report can be found here.

Agency of Transportation (AOT) Secretary Joe Flynn and other top AOT officials presented their “2017 Performance and Highlights” to the House and Senate Transportation Committees this week. One of AOT’s strategic goals is to “ensure every Vermont household is within 30 miles or less of an electric vehicle Level 3 fast charging station and facilitate transition to electric vehicle utilization in an economically feasible and affordable way.” To achieve this result, AOT set a goal of establishing a user fee model for electric vehicles that will offset the anticipated decline in gas consumption revenue by 2020. AOT’s plan calls for this fee to be incrementally implemented with the full fee being in place when electric vehicles comprise 15 percent of all light duty vehicles registered in Vermont. AOT’s comprehensive presentation includes a briefing from Interim DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli (see pages 31-32) and can be found here.

With uncertainty at the federal level continuing into 2018, states will once again direct their focus on responding to federal challenges as they arise and continue to participate in many nationwide policy debates on issues ranging from healthcare to privacy. While Republicans hold the governor’s office in 33 states, soon to be 32 with the inauguration of New Jersey Democratic Governor-elect Phil Murphy on January 16, and control 67 legislative chambers; 2017 will be remembered for the noteworthy electoral success of Democrats at the state level, including the election of Democratic governors in New Jersey and Virginia, and the near-flipping of party control in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Click here to read the rest of the 2018 Legislative Review/Preview Report prepared by Leonine FOCUS. 


Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, 1.12.2018. Through a special arrangement with Leonine, Vermont Business Magazine republishes Leonine's weekly legislative report on