Liquor Law Modernization Clears House

Liquor Law Modernization Clears House

H.730, a bill containing provisions to modernize Vermont’s liquor laws, has been passed by the House and will advance to the Senate. If enacted, both fortified wines and ready-to-drink (RTD) spirit beverages would shift from the exclusive purview of the Department of Liquor and Lottery and would be permitted to be sold in the same retail streams as malt and vinous beverages.  After review of a fiscal note, the House Committee on Ways and Means amended the bill to shift RTDs and fortified wines to the $0.55/gallon rate to align taxation with the new product definitions. These changes will provide greater access to products for both licensees and consumers.

Additional provisions of interest for license holders include the ability for third-class licensees to purchase tickets for the rare and unusual product raffle which was previously only available for consumers; and allowing the Department to stagger new and renewal dates for permits versus an annual renewal, which will likely expedite processing times and provide a better permitting process for new businesses.

Ep. 2: “State to Main” – Restaurant Recovery

Ep. 2: "State to Main" - Restaurant Recovery

“State to Main” is a policy-focused podcast series complementing the widely read weekly legislative newsletter of the same name.

The second episode of the series, “Restaurant Recovery,” features Amy Spear, VP of Tourism for the Vermont Chamber, and Chiuho Sampson, Chef/Owner of A Single Pebble, in Burlington. Spear and Sampson discuss the state of the restaurant industry, Restaurant Revitalization Fund replenishment, and the creation of the Vermont Independent Restaurants coalition.

Episodes are available to stream online via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud and on the Vermont Chamber of Commerce website.

“State to Main” is made possible by our sponsor, AT&T.

Chemical Regulation Without Insurance Puts Manufacturers at Risk

Chemical Regulation Without Insurance Puts Manufacturers at Risk

The Vermont Chamber testified in the House Judiciary Committee on S.113, a bill that proposes a cause of action for the remedy of medical monitoring for a person exposed to a proven toxic substance. The bill, as passed by the Senate, includes the Vermont Chamber’s recommendations from prior testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee and an appropriate legal test for the remedy of awarding medical monitoring. The Vermont Chamber still has concerns regarding the insurance market and encouraged the Committee to hear from the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation on whether medical monitoring insurance can be written for Vermont companies. If not, several scenarios could disrupt the insurance markets, further impact our supply chains and economy, and subject manufacturers to significant risks and costs. To learn more, please contact Chris Carrigan

Expanding Manufacturing Tax Exemption Would Modernize Tax Law

Expanding Manufacturing Tax Exemption Would Modernize Tax Law

The Vermont Chamber testified in the Senate Finance Committee on H.437, a bill that includes a proposal to expand the manufacturing tax exemption. The Vermont Chamber supports this change, as it will modernize Vermont’s tax law, enhance workforce recruitment, retention, and upskilling efforts, modernize facilities, and make Vermont competitive with the 33 other states that have similar exemptions in place. The Vermont Chamber strongly supports the expansion of the manufacturing tax exemption to help manufacturers dealing with a severe workforce labor shortage. To learn more, please contact Chris Carrigan.  

A Housing Vacancy Problem vs. A Housing Availability Crisis

A Housing Vacancy Problem vs. A Housing Availability Crisis

Vermont currently has the highest rate of vacant homes in the nation. This census data comes as we are facing a workforce housing crisis. Two important questions need to be answered this legislative session: why does Vermont have so many vacant housing units, and how do we guarantee that the millions being invested in housing by the State this year are safeguarded to ensure the funding goes towards solving the housing crisis for working Vermonters? Some of these safeguards are already in the Omnibus Housing bill’s Missing Middle Homeownership Development Program and the Vermont Rental Housing Incentive Program, an important part of the Vermont Chamber’s testimony to the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee.

The Omnibus Housing bill was voted favorably out of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Appropriations this week, after a change moved the Downtown Tax Credits into a bill where other tax credits will be under consideration. The Vermont Chamber will be advocating to keep the housing programs that focus on increasing the supply of workforce housing fully funded.

Workforce Development Bill Draws Out Crossover

Workforce Development Bill Draws Out Crossover

The House workforce development bill made the rounds through the House this week, with committees weighing in by offering amendments to tweak the bill before it goes to the Senate. The Joint Fiscal Office released its fiscal summary of the bill, totaling $105.7 million without an expected impact on State revenues. This includes $44.5 million from the General Fund, $44.8 million in Global Commitment Fund, $15 million from the Education Fund, and $1.3 million of ARPA funding. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the bill soon, potentially making significant cuts. The Vermont Chamber will continue advocating for the programs that will grow the workforce.

Meanwhile, at the federal level the Vermont Chamber is continuing to advocate for solutions to the workforce shortage. Congressman Welch has been a great partner in this effort, signing on to a congressional letter to the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor, requesting the total number of allowable H-2B visas be released in order to alleviate the labor shortage. In addition, the Vermont Chamber is continuing to advocate for RRF replenishment in future COVID-19 relief bills or a small business relief package, and Congressman Welch signed on to a letter to House leadership in support of additional federal relief funding for small businesses.

Business Grants Get Thrown a Curveball with New Bill

business concept illustration, suited man riding on a rising paper plane
Business Grants Get Thrown a Curveball with New Bill

The Vermont Chamber worked closely with the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee, ACCD, and VEDA, to come up with a workable solution to the problems in the economic recovery grant program. However, the most recent iteration of language in H.159 is extremely concerning. The program’s original intent was to help small businesses recover from losses they experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The language now seems to change the intent to “support Vermont businesses experiencing continued working capital shortfalls.” With this additional layer of scrutiny, it seems businesses may be required to demonstrate not only past losses, but continued impact, effectively excluding seasonal businesses heading into their busiest time of year. The maximum loan amount has also been lowered to only $150,000, raising concerns of small business closures if operators cannot make up enough of their shortfall to stay in business. The Vermont Chamber worked to have the program criteria be based on operating costs rather than fixed costs and will be bringing these issues before the Committee as they continue to take testimony on this bill next week. To share how this program would impact your business, please contact Amelia Seman.

New Economic Development Bill Introduces a Host of New Problems

New Economic Development Bill Introduces a Host of New Problems

The Senate economic development bill missed the crossover deadline for bills to move from one chamber to the other. Many of the bill’s proposals have been combined into H.159, which previously passed the House and is now in Senate. While the new language retains several key Vermont Chamber priorities, such as the new relocating employee incentives, the regional recruitment and relocation network, and project-based TIF, it made significant changes to the COVID-19-related paid leave grant program, as well as the VEDA forgivable loans. The COVID-19 paid leave grant program is intended to provide grants to reimburse employers who paid employees for COVID-19 related sick time taken beyond the employee’s accrued sick time. The legislation instructs the Secretary of Administration to adopt procedures and processes to allow employers to certify the amount of paid leave provided for COVID-19 related reasons, and a process to allow employers to report on their use of the grant funds awarded.

The Vermont Chamber has raised concerns about what this certification will entail and how onerous it will be to provide documentation on employee paid time off taken months ago. Certification and documentation have received heavy scrutiny in previous business grant programs and outlining those expectations in statute will be important to ensure business owners are able to easily and appropriately access funds without reprisal in the future.

Liquor Law Modernization Advances

Liquor Law Modernization Advances

The House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs passed a bill out of committee containing a number of provisions aimed at modernizing Vermont’s liquor laws. Of note, both fortified wines and low alcohol spirit-based beverages (also known as ready-to-drink cocktails) would be permitted to be sold via retail outlets and beverage wholesalers. This shift will provide greater access to products for both licensees and consumers, and first-class license holders would now be permitted to sell fortified wines and ready-to-drink spirit beverages. This omnibus bill also includes several technical corrections put forth by the Administration such as the allowing third-class licensees to purchase raffle tickets to rare spirits raffles which were previously only open to the general public. Deliberations will continue in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Omnibus Appropriations Package Leaves Out RRF Replenishment

Omnibus Appropriations Package Leaves Out RRF Replenishment

Over the past several weeks, members of the Vermont Chamber and Vermont Independent Restaurants (VTIR) met with the offices of Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders and have been in communication with Congressman Welch’s office, advocating for replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as part of the omnibus appropriations bill. Unfortunately, funding for RRF replenishment was not included in the bill, which is expected to be signed by President Biden on Friday. Advocacy efforts will shift toward getting replenishment included in later COVID relief or a small business package originating in the House.