Legislative Update 3/28/24

It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks since our last update. After sharing the good news of H. 140, the state grant reform bill, passing out of the Government Operations Committee, we encountered an unexpected roadblock when it reached Appropriations. Despite missing the crossover deadline, we were ultimately able to advance core pieces of this legislation thanks to our collective advocacy and the support of our legislative champions; on Tuesday, Representative McCarthy put forth a floor amendment to insert the working group language from H. 140 into H. 702, the government accountability bill. We are so excited to share that both the amendment and bill were passed by the House, so our work continues in the Senate. More details and next steps below!

As the dust settles post-crossover, we’re taking stock and planning our work ahead for the remainder of the biennium.

Read on for updates on the bills we are following that continue to advance this session:

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

Grant & Contracting Reform Legislation (formerly H. 140) Now H. 702, An act relating to legislative operations and government accountability

In our last legislative update we shared that H. 140, the state grant reform bill, had been passed out of House Government Operations with a unanimous 12-0-0 vote in its favor. But, as is so often the case, even best laid plans can be derailed…here we recap the windy road to (spoiler alert!) getting state grant and contract reform legislation passed by the House:

We had expected the bill, with just a modest appropriation for working group stipends, to be quickly okayed by the Appropriations Committee before heading to the House floor. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when the Appropriations Committee raised a slew of concerns ranging from personal ideologies about contracting out government work to perceived missteps in process – but not (notably) about the appropriation in question. The House Government Operations Committee was never notified that Appropriations had their bill on the agenda, so Appropriations never heard directly from the committee of jurisdiction about the testimony they heard, the changes they made or how it earned unanimous support. While thankfully H. 140’s sponsor, Representative Williams, was in the room and jumped in to provide critical context, the Committee was unmoved. You can watch the two Appropriation Committee meeting recordings (which while frustrating to hear, provide helpful insights into how decisions are made) below:

  • 3/15 Meeting: https://youtu.be/uRiFaK5P5dg?t=1170
  • 3/18 Meeting: https://youtu.be/o8VNjSzgezE?t=987

Despite the concerted efforts of allied legislators, our lobbyist team, and of course, nonprofit advocates to urge the Committee to vote on the bill, it did not make it out by its deadline of last Friday 3/22. While this was the end for H. 140, we were not ready to give up on advancing this important issue – it was time for plan B (or C, or D). After considering the different vehicles and approaches available, the most promising and palatable path forward was amending H. 702, the government accountability bill, on the floor which was up for a vote on Tuesday. Not only was this bill something we could support, but it also came out of House Government Operations (like H. 140). Thankfully, their committee chair, Representative McCarthy, was receptive to our proposal and, after conferring with his colleagues, agreed to put forward an amendment.

We would like to recognize Representative McCarthy’s effective and dogged advocacy for this legislation, and thank him and his committee for recognizing its import and supporting this amendment.

During the House Session on Tuesday when H. 702 was up for its third reading, McCarthy brought forward this amendment which includes the working group language and a scaled back report from the Agency of Administration: H.702: Draft 1.3, 3-26-2024, McCarthy Amendment.

The House recessed for 30 minutes for the Appropriations Committee to meet to discuss the new amendment. McCarthy made a compelling case for the need to take a closer look at grant and contracting issues that resonated with the Committee, who came around in support with an 11-1 straw vote (all but Representative Dickinson gave it a thumbs up). You can watch their discussion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ9q_B5xuKo

When the House reconvened, McCarthy’s amendment and bill H. 702, were voted on and passed!

What’s next? H. 702 will advance to the Senate where it will likely be assigned to the Senate Government Operations Committee. This is a big step forwards, but we still have work to do. We will try to strengthen the language and bring back pieces of H. 140 that didn’t make it into the amendment, but most importantly, we need to ensure the bill continues to move forward. Please stay tuned for updates and calls to action as we will need to continue our collective efforts to get this across the finish line.

H. 704, An act relating to disclosure of compensation in job advertisements

H. 704, which would require Vermont employers to disclose compensation ranges in job advertisements, was passed out of the House. It has been referred by the Senate to the Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs. It hasn’t been added to their agenda yet, but we will continue to monitor and share updates.

Please note that Common Good Vermont will soon require that all job postings to our Nonprofit Jobs Board include compensation ranges.

H. 121, An act relating to enhancing consumer privacy

The consumer privacy bill passed the House with a unanimous roll call vote. While the effective date has been pushed out to July 1, 2025 and some clarity around government data sharing has been added, the concerns we shared in this previous update remain largely unresolved. The bill has been referred to the Senate Economic Development Committee where a walkthrough is on their agenda for Friday.

While we will continue to monitor and weigh in as needed on this bill, it seems unlikely that many (if any) further exemptions or limitations of scope will be included. We recommend that nonprofits review their current data management practices in preparation for compliance.

Read more in this press release from Speaker of the House, Jill Krowinski.

S. 96, An act relating to privatization contracts

Update by Rachel Cunningham, CGVT Intern

Senate Appropriations has recently been continuing their work on S. 96, a bill having to do with changing the requirements for awarding government grants and contracts. The biggest change being proposed in the original bill was in order for the government to enter into a private contract, the savings cost would have to be 20% instead of 10%. Meaning that if the government were to enter into a new private contract, then it would have to cost less for them to hire this labor instead of paying their own government workers to it themselves. This aimed to address concerns about fair wages for the nongovernmental workers and outsourcing government work. The idea is that costs should be cut because of newer and more efficient technologies that the government may not be able to obtain yet. Cutting costs should not be because the nongovernmental workers will be paid much lower wages than governmental workers. Other points that were made include: 

  • Quality of service issue surrounding government contracted work  
  • Contracts should only be sought out if the government does not provide that specific service  
  • Wages for privatized contracts should be keeping up with the wages of government employees and will be enforced 
  • The state should be monitoring the services that they are funding  

The proposed changes could potentially limit government funding for nonprofits if they are not operating at a 20% savings rate. However, the committee opted to amend the bill by striking it together and instead proposed that the Joint Fiscal Office, the State Auditor and the Office of the Attorney General assess the fiscal and operational impact of provisions that were in the original bill and produce a written report with their findings. The bill as amended will likely be voted on tomorrow by the Senate.