Variety of new state laws take effect this month

The state’s attention in recent weeks was focused on the budget negotiations between Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature, which prompted a special session of the Legislature and warnings of a state government shutdown. Last week that situation ended when Scott said he’d let the Legislature’s third Budget Bill become law without his signature, which it did on July 1.
But between January and mid-May, when the Legislature wrapped up its regular session, Vermont lawmakers passed and the governor signed many bills, capped off by a flurry of bills in the final weeks of he term.
Here’s a sampling of some of the more noteworthy bills that the governor signed into law in May, many of which either took effect immediately or on this past Sunday, July 1. They cover a wide range of issues, but many can be grouped into one of a few main categories.
Elections & campaign finance
•  Bill H.828 broadens campaign finance law to require that entities who pay for political ads on social media identify themselves, and/or provide links to a webpage containing identification information. It also requires that candidates for local office who have spent or received at least $500 in campaign contributions file an additional campaign finance report four days before an election. Most of the act took effect in May, but the section pertaining to local candidates won’t take effect until December.
•  H.624 aims to protect personal information contained in Vermont’s statewide voter rolls. The act prohibits any public employee or independent contractor from providing voter information to a foreign government, or to a federal agency or commission seeking to register voters from the list, publicly disclose their information, or crosscheck their information with other databases. The act was a response to President Trump’s now-disbanded Election Integrity Commission, which sought personal voter information from numerous state governments. It took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature on May 16.
•  S.94 seeks to encourage remote workers to move to Vermont through a new program that will give individuals up to $10,000 for moving to the Green Mountain State. These grants will reimburse workers for their moving expenses, computer software and hardware, broadband access and membership in a co-working space. The law takes effect July 1, but grants will be awarded only to workers who become Vermont residents after Jan. 1, 2019.
•  S.276 funds economic development in rural areas, compelling the state’s Rural Economic Development Initiative to focus on providing grants to small towns and rural areas. It also establishes a new program that gives incentives to communities to promote outdoor recreation. It contains multiple effective dates, beginning May 30.
•  H.919 requires the state’s Workforce Development Board to ramp up its efforts in workforce education, training, recruitment and retention. It also compels the board to articulate a collective vision for workforce development before February 2020. It took effect July 1.
•  S.269 allows for new business development surrounding the blockchain — a secure form of digital information storage. The act creates studies for expanding the use of blockchain technology, and enables the creation of limited liability companies based in blockchain. It took effect July 1.
•  H.736 relates to lead poisoning prevention. Currently, poisoning prevention efforts are divided between the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but the state aims to take over all regulatory duties. This act integrates existing federal laws with existing state laws — a necessary step before the EPA approves Vermont’s proposed takeover. It will take effect whenever the EPA authorizes Vermont’s proposal.
•  H.777 expands the projects eligible for funding from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund — a financial assistance partnership with the EPA — to include natural resources projects. It also allows private borrowers to obtain low-interest loans from the fund for water quality projects. It took effect May 28.
•  H.132 guarantees immunity to private landowners who post warning signs near swimming holes on their property. Landowners had expressed fear that they could be held liable for injuries suffered on their property if their sign contained minor flaws; this law states that owners cannot be held liable based solely on the signs they post. It took effect May 21.
•  S.260 relates to federally mandated cleanup of the state’s waterways, although the final bill lacks most of the funding mechanisms included in the original House version. As it is, the act guarantees some limited funding, and provides that the state’s new Clean Water Board be responsible for coordinating water quality efforts in Vermont. The act became fully effective July 1.
Health & healthcare
•  H.696 establishes a state individual mandate, compelling Vermont residents to buy minimum essential health insurance beginning in January 2020. The act contains no enforcement mechanism, but the Legislature expressed intent to create such a mechanism — likely a financial penalty — during its 2019 legislative session. The creation of a state individual mandate is a clear response to the tax law passed by Congress last December, which repealed the nationwide individual mandate introduced by the Affordable Care Act.
•  S.166 and H.874 pertain to the intersection of the opioid crisis and criminal justice. S.166 allows inmates who enter a correctional facility while undergoing medication-assisted addiction treatment to continue that treatment while in prison. It also authorizes correctional facilities to begin medication-assisted treatment using buprenorphine for inmates who weren’t already receiving it. H.874, meanwhile, requires that inmates be screened for substance abuse disorders within 24 hours after being admitted to a correctional facility. Both acts became effective July 1.
•  S.175 seeks to establish a program to import cheaper prescription drugs into Vermont from Canada. The act directs the Agency of Human Services to design such a program, in consultation with federal officials, and submit a proposal to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2019. The Legislature would then need to pass some form of financial support for the program to be established. It took effect July 1.
•  H.897 changes the funding model for the state’s special education programs from a reimbursement-based system to census-based grants — in other words, grants based on a school’s total student enrollment. It also creates an advisory group to advise the State Board of Education in developing rules to implement those changes, informed by evidence-based educational practices. The act contains multiple effective dates, some beginning immediately and other at various dates through 2022.
•  H.603 includes several measures that respond to the threat of human trafficking. The act makes it easier to annul forced marriages, allows courts to deny contact between a parent and child when one parent has trafficked the child’s other parent, and allows courts to terminate a parental relationship if a child’s conception was the result of a sexual assault. The act took effect immediately upon Gov. Scott’s signature May 23.
•  S.173 and S.234 both relate to expunging criminal convictions. S.173 allows courts to seal criminal records within 12 months if the court can find no probable cause at the time of arraignment, or if the case is dismissed without prejudice. Courts are also directed to automatically expunge criminal history records within 45 days after a person is acquitted or after charges are dismissed. Meanwhile, S.234 automatically expunges criminal history records for people who committed certain crimes between the ages of 18 and 21. S.173 took effect July 1; S.234 began to take effect May 30, but has multiple effective dates running through 2022.
•  H.333 requires that all single-user restrooms in public facilities be designated gender-neutral. The act doesn’t apply to restrooms with multiple toilets, and took effect July 1.
•  H.707 aims to reduce workplace sexual harassment, prohibiting employment contracts that prevent employees from disclosing sexual harassment. All sexual harassment settlements must now state that they don’t prevent the employee from reporting harassment to a governmental agency, or from participating in an investigation. The act also authorizes the attorney general or Human Rights Commission to inspect workplaces to determine whether they’re complying with sexual harassment laws. The act took effect July 1.

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