LEGISLATIVE WRAP UP October 7, 2020
The end of the 2019-2020 legislative session came at the fall of the gavel at 6:31 pm on Friday September 25. To say that the session was challenging is an understatement. COVID-19 created an unprecedented session; however, in the end, the Legislature, the Administration, and the Public managed to navigate.
BILLS THAT PASSED THIS SESSION
Here is a brief review of bills pertaining to agriculture, forestry, financing, and employment that were passed this session. If you are interested in a bill that is not listed, you can visit the legislative website to see the status of any bill. This is the end of the second year of the biennium, so if a bill did not pass this session, it will need to be reintroduced in the next legislative session.
S-351/ Act 138 An act relating to providing financial relief assistance to the agricultural community due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Legislature extended the due date for the dairy program application until November 15, 2020. If you have not applied for this financial support, you still have time to do so.
This bill appropriates $25,000,000 of Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRFs) to the Dairy Farmer Assistance Program with $21,200,000 available for grants to milk producers and $3,800,000 available for grants to dairy processors. The maximum amount of a grant award is based on the size of a milk producer’s farm or the amount of milk processed per day by a dairy processor.
The bill also establishes a Non-dairy Agricultural Producer and Processor Assistance Program at AAFM to provide grants to non-dairy agricultural producers, commercial meat processors, commercial slaughterhouses, and farmers’ markets that suffered economic harm due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The act appropriates $5,000,000 of CRFs.
The bill establishes a Forest Economy Stabilization Grant Program at the Agency of Natural Resources to provide grant payments to forest product businesses that suffered economic harm from COVID-19. The act appropriates $5,000,000 of CRFs. The amount of grants shall be based on a business’s demonstrated economic harm, provided that the maximum amount of a grant shall be $100,000.
The bill also appropriates $192,000 from the CRF to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to provide business, financial, and mental health assistance to farm and food businesses that suffered economic harm due to COVID-19.
Finally, the bill also appropriates $500,000 of CRFs to AAFM for grants to agricultural fairs in the State that have suffered verifiable lost revenues or expenses caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
H-656/ Act-129 An act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects
- The act prohibits the distribution of commercial feed labeled as bait for deer. *It amends recordkeeping and animal identification requirements for transport of livestock by livestock dealers, transporters, or packers.
- It also requires a person operating a captive deer facility to pay the costs of chronic wasting disease testing.
- The act also removes rabbits from the definition of livestock subject to mandatory slaughter inspection.
- The act recodifies the existing Seeding and Filter Strip Program and the Farm Agronomic Practices Program under the statutory subchapter for agricultural water quality financing.
- The act exempts from custom applicator certification a farmer applying manure or agricultural waste to fields of another farmer, provided that total annual volume applied is less than 50 percent of the annual manure or agricultural waste generated on the farm where the manure is spread.
- AAFM is authorized to require persons transporting non-sewage waste to a farm for deposit into a manure pit or methane digester to report on the composition and volume of material transported.
- The act amends the definition of local food under the consumer protection act to clarify when a food product may be labeled or advertised as “local” or any similar term.
- The act amends the definition of “farm operations” eligible for participation in the Vermont Agricultural Credit Program to include agritourism. *The act extends for 1 year the duration of the Ecosystems Working Group and renames it as the Payment for Ecosystem Services and Soil Health Working Group.
- The act provides that AAFM will regulate cultivation of hemp during the 2020 growing season under the federal law authoring state pilot programs and not under a U.S. Department of Agriculture interim rule for the cultivation of hemp.
- In addition, the act establishes standards for the labeling and sale of hemp seed in the State.
- The Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) is required to submit to the General Assembly an assessment of the long-term sustainability of Vermont dairy farming under the federal milk market order pricing system. This report is due on or before January 15, 2021.
- After receipt of the DFR assessment, the Committee on Committees and the Speaker of the House shall appoint a task force to implement DFR’s recommendations.
- The act also requires the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation to testify to the General Assembly regarding the status of forest carbon sequestration programs and projects in the State.
H-254/Act 116 An act relating to adequate shelter for livestock
“Adequate constructed shelter” means a well-drained and structurally sound building with a waterproof roof that is of sufficient size to provide a windbreak and protection from exposure to prevailing winds, rain, hail, sleet, snow, and sun and that provides enough space to accommodate at one time all livestock and animals comfortably. The building opening size and height shall, at a minimum, allow six inches of clearance above the largest animal’s ears when the animal is standing in a normal position and the clearance shall be maintained at that level even with manure and litter buildup. (23) “Adequate natural shelter” means a natural structure or formation, which may include a stand of trees.
This subdivision shall not apply to any accepted housing or grazing practices for any livestock industry.
H-674 An act relating to the definition of housesite for use value appraisals
This bill proposes to clarify that the exclusion from development for farm buildings includes buildings associated with a “farm accessory business” as defined in law. “Housesite” means the two acres of land surrounding. More than one dwelling may share the same housesite, provided the dwellings are contained within a two-acre area. This bill has been sent to the Governor, but he has not signed it yet.
H-673 An act relating to tree wardens
This bill proposes to grant local tree wardens the authority to manage all public trees within a public place or public way and establish notice and hearing procedures related to the cutting of public trees by a tree warden. The tree warden shall control all shade trees within the municipality. The tree warden and the legislative body of the municipality may adopt a shade tree preservation plan. This bill has not been signed by the Governor yet.
S-337 An act relating to energy efficiency entities and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the thermal energy and transportation sectors
This bill creates a 3-year pilot program that allows Efficiency Vermont to repurpose existing revenue surplus to develop new and expanded programs in the transportation and thermal sectors. This is a major shift as the energy efficiency utility’s charge when it was founded 20 years ago was solely electrical efficiency. The change is aimed at reflecting current needs since thermal and transportation present most of the state’s emissions and the higher marginal emission impact each dollar can have there.
H-688 An act relating to addressing climate change/Global Warming Solutions Act
This bill proposes to create a legally enforceable system by which Vermont will reduce its statewide greenhouse gas emissions and establish strategies to mitigate climate risks and build resiliency to climate change. The bill was vetoed by the Governor but then overridden by both the House and Senate. The bill allows for a citizen’s right of action if the state does not reduce greenhouse gas pollution to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, to 40% below the 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The bill creates a 23-member council. ANR is also charged with developing a plan to meet the requirements outlined in the bill. The cost of this represents $538,000 in base funding moving forward.
S-54 An act relating to the regulation of cannabis
This bill proposes to establish a comprehensive regulatory system for the production and sale of cannabis and cannabis products in Vermont.
- The bill creates the Cannabis Control Board as the independent regulatory authority for a commercial cannabis market.
- The Board is responsible for adopting regulations and administering a licensing program, including compliance and enforcement, for cannabis establishments.
- Five types of licenses are available: cultivator, product manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer, and testing laboratory.
- Applicants are limited to obtaining a maximum of one type of each license.
- Applicants are not required to be Vermont residents, but residency will be considered in prioritizing issuance of licenses.
- Application and license fees fund the Board in performance of its duties.
- Cannabis is taxed at ten percent with a potential one percent local option tax for municipalities that choose to host a cannabis retailer.
- Municipalities have authority to require municipal permits for a cannabis establishment and may prohibit the operation of a cannabis establishment or a specific type of cannabis establishment within the municipality by majority vote of those present and voting at an annual or special meeting warned for the purpose.
- On January 1, 2021, new statutes, as well as rules adopted by the Board, governing the Medical Cannabis Registry and Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, take effect, and those programs transfer from the Department of Public Safety to the Board.
- The bill also directs the Office of Legislative Council to change “marijuana” to “cannabis” throughout the statutes as needed for consistency with the act.
S-23/ Act-86 An act relating to increasing minimum wage
This bill increases the minimum wage to $11.75 on January 1, 2021, to $12.55 on January 1, 2022, and by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index on each subsequent January 1. This act also requires the Office of Legislative Council to prepare and submit to the General Assembly a report regarding the tipped minimum wage and the subminimum wage for secondary-school students and a report regarding the State and federal wage and hour laws that apply to Vermont’s agricultural workers. Effective Date: July 1, 2020. The Governor had vetoed the minimum bill, but it was overridden by the House.
BILLS VETOED BY THE GOVERNOR
H-926 An act relating to changes to Act 250
After 2 years of significant time and energy, the changes to Act 250 were underwhelming. The hopes of less duplicity, timely decisions, and modernization of downtown developments came up noticeably short. What did end up in the final bill was language around forest fragmentation and recreation trails. The governor indicated his frustrations with the bill and wrote a letter to both the House and the Senate asking that they wait until next year and start over. That letter was disregarded.
BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS THIS SESSION
S-37 An act relating to medical monitoring
H-107 An act relating to paid family and medical leave