Vermont Legislative Update 05-10-2019
Analysis from DRM's Government & Public Affairs Team
Vermont Legislative Update Quick Links
Senate passes budget
On a vote of 25-5, the Senate passed a $6.1 billion budget this week. The bill, H.542, provides for a 3.1 percent growth in spending over FY2019, taking into account federal, transportation and education funds.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, told her colleagues that the bill prioritizes spending on social services programs. The bill also addresses climate change, workforce and economic development, and maintains basic government functions. A summary of bill can be found here.
Highlights of the bill include:
- Funding for critical provider systems, including home and community-based services, the designated mental health systems, emergency medical services providers, and security in emergency departments at critical access hospitals.
- Expansion of dental coverage for low-income Vermonters, increased spending to address caseload increases from opioid addiction, and money for the placement of complex mental health patients in appropriate community placements.
- Promotion of workforce and economic development through investments in childcare, broadband deployment and small grants to regional economic development organizations.
- A focus on climate change through support for the weatherization program and investments in electric vehicle infrastructure.
- Maintenance of basic government functions, including funding for statewide information technology network upgrades and transition of the use of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center to a detention facility only.
A committee of conference has been appointed and began working out the differences between the two bodies on Friday.
House committee approves medical monitoring bill
By a surprising, unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee gave its approval this afternoon to S.37, a Senate-originated bill that creates a new cause of action against businesses for medical monitoring damages. The bill was approved 10-0-1.
Medical monitoring claims would be allowed where a person can demonstrate exposure to a toxic substance as a result of negligence by a manufacturer, if the exposure increases the person’s risk of contracting a latent disease. The need for diagnostic testing must be different from what would normally be prescribed in the absence of the exposure.
At the last minute, the committee also approved new language from the Scott administration expanding enforcement authority for the Agency of Natural Resources. The new provision authorizes the state to bring a claim against a chemical manufacturer to remediate harm caused by the release of a hazardous material, if that manufacturer knew or should have known the chemical presented a threat of harm to human health or the natural environment, unless the manufacturer provided adequate warning of the potential harm.
There has been some discussion that the bill will be referred to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. If that happens, it would likely be dead for the year since the legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 18, and the committee would not have enough time to move a bill that would beat adjournment. Given the unanimous committee vote today, however, it seems unlikely that the referral will happen.
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a similar bill last year, but the administration has indicated a greater willingness to support the legislation this year. The unanimous committee vote suggests that the governor’s office may have dropped its opposition.
Human services committee passes substance misuse prevention bill
The House Human Services Committee passed S.146 this week, a bill that consolidates and coordinates substance misuse prevention efforts across state government. The bill creates the position of Chief Prevention Officer within the Office of the Secretary in the Agency of Administration to direct prevention efforts and establishes a Substance Misuse Prevention Council to replace the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council. The bill also eliminates the Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board and renames the Controlled Substances and Pain Management Advisory Council as the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System Advisory Council.
The Substance Misuse Prevention Council is directed to take a consolidated and holistic approach to substance misuse prevention that addresses all categories of substances and make recommendations on prevention policy to the governor and the legislature. Members of the council are intended to represent a wide range of experiences related to substance abuse and substance abuse prevention.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee has indicated its support for the House version of the bill, but plans to further discuss the House’s placement of the Chief Prevention officer within the Agency of Administration rather than the Agency of Human Services. Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, told her committee that AHS would be a more appropriate placement for the “boots on the ground work” that the position is intended to perform.
Paid family leave advances despite concerns
The Senate Finance Committee voted 6-1 on Friday afternoon to approve a paid family leave bill, H. 107, after a long debate. The bill still has to be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee before going to the Senate floor.
A vote was expected on Thursday afternoon but was postponed at the request of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Burlington. On Friday morning, an impatient Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, pushed the committee to vote the bill out despite concerns that they hadn’t finished debate. Several committee members expressed concerns about the bill, but agreed to move it anyway.
The legislation provides a right to twelve weeks of family leave and six weeks of family medical leave. Personal medical leave has been removed from the bill, which has significantly reduced the cost of the bill. The program would be paid for by a 0.2 percent payroll tax, split evenly between employers and employees.
Medication assisted treatment bill passes House and Senate
Both bodies have now approved S.43, a bill that limits prior authorization requirements for medication-assisted treatment. The bill requires insurers to remove prior authorizations and cost-sharing for medication-assisted treatment for patients as long as the treatment is consistent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s dosing recommendations. It also ensures that at least one MAT medication from each drug class is available on the lowest cost-sharing tier. The health care committee amended the bill to remove prior authorizations for all counseling services associated with MAT.
The bill does not apply to Vermont Medicaid. As of October, 2018, the Department of Vermont Health Access does not require prior authorization for MAT sublingual film for Medicaid beneficiaries. The bill does require DVHA to report to the legislature on the use of prior authorization for all MAT services in Vermont’s Medicaid program.
DRM’s Government and Public Affairs professionals help the state's critical industries to achieve key objectives involving government, the press and the public. For more information about the content of this Legislative Update, please contact any team member: