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Download the pdf below to view the complete legislative wrap-up.

Introduction

The 2017 legislative session officially wound down to its messy end sometime after midnight on Thursday, May 18. In that inconclusive finish, the tempering of the entire slate of new legislative and executive leaders was on display as agreements on several key issues – the budget, taxes, school employees’ health insurance, marijuana legalization – eluded all concerned. Legislators will return to the Golden Dome on June 21 and 22 for a “veto session.” That’s because on May 24, the governor vetoed S.22, the bill that would allow adults to possess limited amounts of marijuana, although a compromise may be agreed to upon during the veto session. On June 6, he vetoed the state budget (H.518) and the education property tax yield legislation (H.509).

Nonetheless, there was much that the legislature and governor agreed on this session. Vermont started the year with a deficit, a recurring annual condition, along with a promise from the governor to not raise taxes or fees. The deficit in January, approximately $70 million (which varied throughout the session as revenue and expenditure data were updated), was addressed in a variety of ways by H.518, as well as the fee bill (H.515), the miscellaneous tax bill (H.516), and even the capital bill (H.519).

On March 28, the attorney general and members of the House and Senate all gathered enthusiastically at the State House as the governor signed S.79 (Act 5), a bill that protects Vermonters from the compulsory collection of personal information. The bipartisan legislation demonstrates Vermont unity in the face of threats from the federal government to compel state and local officials to identify immigrants who might be in the country illegally. As we detail elsewhere in this wrap-up, the bill prohibits local and state agencies or employees from knowingly disclosing personally identifying information to any federal agency or official for the purpose of registration. Incidentally, S.79 was introduced in the Senate on February 9 and passed both chambers in concurrence on March 16, a total of only 35 days, which belies the frequent assertion that significant pieces of legislation always require periods of time for deliberation.

Virtually every candidate for office in Vermont in 2016 ran on the promise to reduce property taxes. But make no mistake: decisions made this session will increase property taxes. After all, that’s what happens when the legislature fails to fully pay for obligations imposed on cities and towns and shifts responsibility for those programs to the local level. Deferring the effective date of legislation that affects city and town budgets only defers the increase in property tax related to that legislation. Several bills have that effect thanks to newly imposed mandates – yet, as is the case every year, they don’t specifically call out property taxes.

Early in the year, your Advocacy staff and legislators discussed whether there was any way to simplify passage of municipal charter changes. While that conversation was diverted over the course of the session, both the House and Senate Government Operations committees promptly addressed charter changes this session and passed them with few changes. On the other hand, the two committees frequently pulled municipalities into discussions of the ethics legislation (S.8) largely as a method to divert attention from the issue of ethics in the legislative and executive branches of state government. We’ll cover that issue (and, of course, others) in detail in the pages that follow.

Legislation that the governor signs into law or does not veto takes effect on July 1, 2017, unless the bill specifies a different date. The articles in the wrap-up indicate the effective dates of passed legislation as well as any sections of statute that are amended. Appropriation bills generally do not amend statute, but they may contain lengthy sections of session law, that is, directions to an agency to undertake studies or
Vermont League of Cities and Towns 2 2017 Legislative Wrap-up handle a section of statute in a certain manner. Session law is not included in the statutes and thus can be difficult to track down in subsequent years.

Because 2017 was the first year of a two-year biennium, these and many other discussions will continue in 2018. Remember that all bills introduced this year will – unless they were passed into law – be “alive” again next January. Please take note of the list of summer study committees at the end of this wrap-up on subjects that may significantly affect local governments and contact VLCT if you are interested in serving on one of those committees.

The five VLCT policy committees – Finance and Intergovernmental Relations, Public Safety, Quality of Life and the Environment, Transportation, and Water Quality – will soon start working on our 2018 municipal legislative platform. If you would like to learn more about the legislation that these policies will address, invite your Advocacy staff to a meeting in your town to discuss legislative issues. After all, summer is our best time to meet with you about your priorities. Alternatively, we invite you to send us your suggestions for changes to our municipal policy or proposals for VLCT action next year. And if you have any questions about legislation, please contact Gwynn Zakov (gzakov@vlct.org) or Karen Horn (khorn@vlct.org).

Download the pdf below to view the complete legislative wrap-up.

 

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