Legislative Update 2/15/24

Now in the second month of the legislative session, lawmakers are honing in on and deliberating over the bills they want to move forward. Crossover dates have been announced, meaning the day by which a bill must be voted out of its committee of origin to be considered this session. For most bills, they will have until 3/15 to make it out of committee. Money bills have an extra week – until 3/22. While there are of course workarounds (strike all amendments, omnibus bills, etc.), if a bill doesn’t make it out by crossover, it will likely have to start from scratch and be reintroduced next year for the 2025-26 biennium. With Town Meeting Day break just around the corner, just a few weeks remain for committees to make critical decisions about what to prioritize.

Need to catch up on what’s happened so far?

Read on for nonprofit bill updates and news:

H. 121, An act relating to enhancing consumer privacy

The House Commerce Committee spent much of the past couple weeks taking testimony on their revised version (draft 6.1) of H. 121, a data privacy bill. This bill, as currently drafted:

  • Gives consumers certain rights regarding data privacy, including:
    • The right to know what data is being tracked,
    • The right to correct inaccuracies in the data
    • The right to delete the data being collected
    • The right to obtain a copy of the data collected by a business
    • The right to opt out of data tracking, targeted advertising, and sale of data.
  • Would require nonprofits to disclose what data they are collecting in a privacy notice, and only use the data as they disclose.
  • Require nonprofits to take steps to protect consumer data, with even higher standards for “sensitive data” which includes: data that reveals a consumer’s racial or ethnic background, national origin, religious beliefs, mental or physical condition or diagnosis, sexual orientation, status as transgender or nonbinary, status as a victim of crime, or citizenship or immigration status, as well as consumer health data, genetic or biometric data that is processed for the purpose of uniquely identifying an individual, a child’s personal data; and precise geolocation data.
  • Exempts certain types of data already covered by other Acts (HIPPA, CLBA, FERPA) and certain noncommercial activities. It does not include a sector wide exemption for nonprofits.

While this bill seeks, admirably, to protect consumer privacy, it also holds nonprofits, who largely use data for the public good, to the same standards as large corporations who use data to increase their profits. Most impacted nonprofits would have to make significant updates to their existing data policies, data management practices, and technology, work which often comes with added consultant fees.

Emma Paradis testified on behalf of Common Good Vermont in House Commerce last week on 2/8. We expressed our support for the committee’s work on this issue, but also shared concerns about the bill’s impact on our sector that is already facing economic and capacity constraints. We also sought clarity around definitions and how the legislation would work in practice. While the committee has made it clear that they are not considering sector-wide exemptions, Common Good Vermont recommended a few key changes that would lessen the burden, particularly for small to mid-sized nonprofits. In addition to our oral and written testimony, we followed up with these specific recommendations to be considered for the next draft of the bill:

  1. Applicability Threshold: We would recommend either applying a monetary threshold of no less than $600K in revenue (though $1M would be our preference) or increasing the consumer threshold to no less than $50K. 
  2. Effective Date: We would recommend a general effective date no earlier than July 1, 2025 and our preference would be for an additional year for nonprofits.
  3. Stakeholder Engagement: We recommend stakeholder participation/consultation (including Common Good VT/representative from the NP sector) in rulemaking and/or on any oversight committee. 
  4. Third-party Registry: To support nonprofits and others in choosing third party services that are compliant and demonstrate strong data protection practices, it would be helpful to have a verified list/registry of vetted companies. Those who register would be rewarded for taking the extra step by gaining additional business.
  5. Clarification of Government/Contractor roles and exemptions: If data collected and controlled by a contractor is shared with the government, there needs to be clarity around how that data is shared / managed by each party. There also may need to be carveouts for when opting out is not possible. This is one area where an oversight committee could support decision making, especially when it comes to disaster response.

The Committee is currently working on a new draft of the bill that they plan to start walking through on Friday. Please let us know if you have any questions or feedback about this bill.

H. 140, An act relating to requirements for State-funded grants

The House Government Operations Committee continued to take testimony on H. 140 this week, including from Belan Antensaye from the Vermont Health Equity Initiative and Weiwei Wang from Vermont Professionals of Color Network. They plan to continue to advance the bill, possibly with further amendments. Read the current draft here, which includes the Prompt Payment of Grant Funds and Working Group on State Grant Processes amendments advocated for by CGVT and nonprofits.

Thank you to our intern, Rachel Cunningham, for this summary of the meeting:

On Tuesday, February 13th the House Committee on Government Operations and Military Affairs convened to take further testimony on H.140, which concerns requirements for state funded grants. The testimony provided by Windham County Sheriff’s Department, Vermont Professionals of Color Network, and The Vermont Health Equity Initiative on Tuesday helped the committee to understand more about the timeline of grants and the different processes that state-funded entities must go through to receive payment from the State. Although these organizations worked with the State on very different and important projects, they all expressed their frustrations with the lack of a standardized system when it comes to applying for, managing and finally receiving government grants.  

A theme that came up in everyone’s testimony was a concern about late payments and the time it took to process paperwork. When nonprofits or other state funded operations take on a project that is contracted by the government, they are often running this project for months before they see any of the money from the state. In some cases, the state has even decided that certain things are not eligible for reimbursement. This puts a huge burden on non-profits who are already operating on small budgets and often outsourcing labor for these projects. We heard multiple times that state payments were up to three months late. This means these organizations must scramble to come up with the money to cover the labor or materials that were promised to be covered and reimbursed in a timely manner.  

This testimony caught the attention of many representatives. They shared concern for these nonprofits and will hopefully act on this information. Chair McCarthy noted that they have been in communication with the administration and plan to continue to move the bill forward, possibly with further amendments.   

CGVT Testimony – Budget Public Hearing

On Tuesday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees held the first of two public hearings on the FY25 Budget. Many organizations, including Common Good Vermont, made their case for a slice of the pie in a 2 minute pitch to the joint committee.

Common Good Vermont’s Director, Martin Hahn, requested $200K in base funding support to continue to build our capacity to invest in Vermont’s nonprofit sector. Common Good Vermont does not currently receive any public funding, despite providing similar services to nonprofits as the SBA does for small businesses.

In the News

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