Updates
February 22, 2019

Vermont Legislative Update 02-22-2019

An analysis from DRM's Government & Public Affairs Team

Vermont Legislative Update Quick Links

Individual mandate discussion continues

Senate advances bill regulating PFAS chemicals

Brattleboro Retreat presents update on bed expansion

Non-compete legislation stalls in committee

Panel continues discussions on integrated services

Committee approves increase in age limit for tobacco purchases

Vermont Business Roundtable presents overview of talent pipeline program

Individual mandate discussion continues

The House Health Care Committee continued deliberations this week on the implementation of Vermont’s individual health insurance mandate. After reviewing data on uninsured Vermonters, the committee concluded they should not focus legislative efforts on the small number of uninsured people in Vermont. Instead, they discussed how to craft a mandate that ensures people won’t leave the exchange while not imposing a burdensome penalty on those who can’t afford it.

The committee took testimony from Princeton University expert Jason Levitis on what other states are doing in the absence of a federal individual mandate. Levitis reported that there are three other states with individual mandates, and several other considering implementing mandates. No state has implemented a mandate without a penalty. He recommended that Vermont base a mandate on the federal model rather than creating an entirely new model. When questioned by committee members about establishing an appropriate affordability exemption, Levitis said it may not be worth implementing a mandate if the exemption is too broad.

Mike Fisher, Office of the Health Care Advocate, also presented a draft mandate proposal at the request of Chair Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg.

Lippert said the committee will continue working on the issue after it has completed its budget memo, which is due to the House Appropriations Committee by Feb. 27.

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Senate advances bill regulating PFAS chemicals

The Senate Natural Resources Committee this week moved closer to a vote on S.49, a bill regulating PFAS chemicals. The committee continues to express a strong interest in setting drinking and surface water standards for the thousands of chemicals that make up the PFAS class, but accepted testimony from the Agency of Natural Resources that existing science does not allow for jurisdiction beyond the five specific PFAS compounds currently regulated by the state of Vermont. The bill would direct ANR to adopt water quality standards for the handful of PFAS substances for which the state has sufficient data, and to develop a plan for regulating the rest.

The committee was not sympathetic to ANR testimony that the bill’s original 2024 deadline for rulemaking was already aggressive. It elected to move that goal up to 2022 as requested by the Conservation Law Foundation, even though ANR has testified it cannot meet that deadline. The bill is expected to be voted out of committee early next week. 

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Brattleboro Retreat presents update on bed expansion

Brattleboro Retreat President Dr. Louis Josephson appeared before several committees on Friday to provide an update on the Retreat’s work to create 12 additional inpatient hospital beds as part of the state’s effort to ease pressure on hospital emergency rooms and provide mental health patients with inpatient beds. Josephson provided data and statistics on the Retreat’s programs and the people they serve, as well as data on patient census and average length of patient stays, in order to help lawmakers understand the extent of his organization’s impact.

Josephson noted the Retreat’s challenges, including administrative bottle-necks that prevent timely discharge from inpatient beds and patients who arrive with increasingly complex medical needs. To meet those needs, the Retreat must recruit and maintain staff from Vermont’s tight workforce, while navigating increasingly constrained budgets and juggling complex changes in federal law.

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Non-compete legislation stalls in committee

Following strong testimony from Vermont business organizations and insurers on Tuesday, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee has shelved a proposal that would have outlawed most non-compete agreements. Committee Chair Mike Marcotte, R-Coventry, asked business lobbyists, including DRM’s John Hollar, to work with committee members Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, and Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, to develop a proposal that would be acceptable to the business community.

Business lobbyists roundly criticized the draft bill that had been pending before the committee, arguing that it would impose restrictions that few agreements could satisfy, would ban many noncontroversial deferred compensation agreements, and would create significant legal pitfalls that most small business owners would be hard pressed to avoid.

No discussions have yet been held on a revised bill, and it is possible that the committee will not take up the issue again this year. 

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Panel continues discussions on integrated services

Dr. Breena Holmes, Director of Maternal and Child Health for the Vermont Department of Health, appeared before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday to offer praise for S.7, a bill that requires the Green Mountain Care Board to recommend which social services should be integrated into Vermont’s accountable care organization. The ACO is a group of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, who have joined together voluntarily to give coordinated high-quality care to their patients, including services across the healthcare spectrum.

Holmes presented a public health approach to working with pregnant women, children and families to optimize child development and prevent adverse childhood experiences. Holmes described her program, the Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone, or DULCE, as an effective intervention that provides integrated services for families.

Holmes was joined by Lamoille County resident Scott Johnson, who told the committee that the DULCE project screens families’ social determinants of health in order to make recommendations for the healthy development of infants and support for their parents. A key feature of the DULCE intervention is the role of family specialists who connect families to resources based on parents’ needs and priorities. Johnson said after three years program results are very positive and show that families are benefitting from the service. Johnson’s presentation can be found here.

Johnson also praised OneCare Vermont for its support to expand DULCE with Parent Child Centers at three new pediatric sites in Chittenden, Franklin, and Windsor.

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Committee approves increase in age limit for tobacco purchases

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave unanimous approval on Friday to a bill, S.86, that increases the minimum age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of tobacco and related products.

A similar bill was barely defeated in the Senate two years ago after a bitter and highly contentious internal debate among Democrats.

This year, the outcome is likely to be different, as at least two senators have changed their positions. The growing epidemic of vaping in schools has led to greater attention to the problem of tobacco products use by young people. 

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Vermont Business Roundtable presents overview of talent pipeline program

The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee heard testimony this week from Lisa Ventriss, President of the Vermont Business Roundtable, and Mary Anne Sheahan, Executive Director of the Vermont Talent Pipeline Management Program, on a program that matches Vermont’s employer needs with potential workers.

VTPM helps educators create programs that assist Vermont workers to develop the skills and credentials needed to find skilled jobs in the fields of manufacturing, health care and construction. Sheahan provided the committee with this presentation.

The Commerce Committee is seeking to streamline the myriad of Vermont workforce programs. The committee will be discussing this draft bill beginning next week.

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