I have spent much of my time over the past twelve years advocating for greater attention to, and investment in, our state’s economic growth.

And, while I'm proud of my achievements over that time, I have found that far too often, the health of our state's economy is on the back burner when it comes to legislative priorities.  This has begun to change with the leadership of Governor Phil Scott, but there is still a great deal to do.  We must make economic growth a legislative priority each and every legislative session.

A Few of My Successes in the 2017-2018 Biennium

Much-Needed, Overdue Changes to our Beer Franchise Laws

I happily led this effort to modify our beer franchise laws in order to provide to our small, craft breweries relief from some of the burdens of Vermont's franchise laws.  After all, craft brewing is a thriving sector of the Vermont economy, and a significant source of jobs.  This bill will allow those craft brewers greater opportunity to get their product to market. 

Free Tuition Program for Members of the Vermont National Guard 

After three years of effort, the committee on which I serve in the House was successful in moving forward a program to provide higher education tuition benefits to the Vermont National Guard.  This tuition benefit - which will kick in after any GI Bill benefits have already been exhausted - is not only an important economic investment to support our National Guard members and their families, but it is absolutely critical to ensure our recruiting needs are met.  As the only state in the area without these kinds of benefits, we have been at a significant disadvantage with regard to recruitment.  Simply put, our recruiting is not keeping up with the needs of the Guard.  In fact, from what I understand, the goal is to recruit 300 non-prior service recruits per year.  Yet in 2013, that number of 248; in 2014 it was 219; in 2015 it was 190; and in 2016 it was 173.  This tuition benefit will, undoubtedly, turn this trend around.

Successfully Fought a Bill That Would Have Had a Dramatic Impact on our Incredibly Important, Statewide Outdoor Recreation Industry

The legislation (S. 105) would have mandated a "rebuttable presumption" of anti-consumer intent in all instances in which there is any limitation of a claim in a contract; essentially, that the 5 items listed in the bill would be considered "substantively unconscionable" when included in a contract.

What this change does, in a nutshell, is open up the door to a much wider array of legal claims - specifically very costly lawsuits, consumer fraud claims, and fine, in addition to the potential of costly increases in a business' liability insurance.  In the cases of the many recreational activities offered in this state by the thousands of non-profit and for-profit . provided - biking, skiing, horseback riding, fishing, boating, golf, etc. - this means that those who offer those activities may not be able to include in their contract some of the important waiver conditions that have historically been in their contracts.

The importance of these kinds of waivers in the outdoor recreation industry cannot be overstates, and the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative outlined well this importance in testimony presented to the committee of jurisdiction:

"Waivers are an integral aspect of Vermont's recreational landscape.  Ski resorts, guide services, trail-based organizations, recreation event providers, environmental and educational programs, college outing groups, land owners, and summer camps all use waivers for protection under the law when a participant in an activity has agreed to assume the associated risks.  These entities depend on strong legislation to help them enforce waivers."

"States like New York, Connecticut and Illinois, have proposed model consumer bills similar to S. 105, which have not passed.  New Hampshire and Colorado, states like Vermont that are highly dependent on recreation, have passed language to enforce waiver forms and strengthen inherent risk laws."

"Meanwhile, Vermont has failed to provide legislative protections for recreation providers.  Further, this bill makes it easier for participants to sue and harder to recreation providers to secure liability insurance."

 

Additional Successes In Recent Years

2015 Economic Development Bill

Led by me in the Commerce and Economic Development Committee, this law included the following:

  • Necessary changes to the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive to ensure more Vermont companies are able to take advantage of this program that has more than proved its worth in helping to create jobs;
  • The elimination of the sales tax on prewritten software accessed remotely (cloud tax);
  • A first time home-buyer downpayment assistance program to help young professional around the state into home ownership through the creation of a revolving loan fund
  • An economic development branding and marketing initiative to complement and supplement our tourism marketing efforts - including a $200,000 appropriation to create and implement it;
  • A Vermont-Quebec Initiative to recruit and expand into Vermont, Canadian businesses interested in a US location - including $100,000 appropriation to fund the program; and
  • An increase in our Licensed Lender limits from $75,000 to $250,000

2014 Comprehensive Economic Development Bill

Led by former Representative Paul Ralston (D-Middlebury) and me, this law included the following:

  • The creation of an Entreprenuerial Lending Program that will allow for greater access to capital for start-up and growth-stage businesses;
  • The creation of a Domestic Export Program that will provide technical assistance to our state's producers and help them connect to brokers, buyers, and distributors in other state and US regional markets;
  • The creation of a One-Stop Shop for businesses;
  • the creation of a de minimus exemption from Vermont's licensed lender laws for a person who makes three or fewer loans in and three year period; and
  • A Public Service Department examination of our state's electricity rate structure and design, and a requirement that the Department bring to the legislature proposals that would ensure greater business competitiveness for our state's manufacturers.