Legislative Update – April 19, 2018

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Apr 19, 2018 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Public Safety Update

Last week, the Governor signed S.55, S.221, and H.422, three gun safety bills, into law. I am especially thrilled about H.422, the removal of firearms at the scene of an arrest or citation for domestic assault. I introduced this bill over a year ago. It will go a long way to give law enforcement the needed tool to prevent domestic violence related homicides. These bills strike an important balance between constitutionally protected individual liberties and the laws to create a safe and just society. 

One of the new laws, S.221 Extreme Protection Orders has already been put to use. Rutland County State’s Attorney obtained an order against Jack Sawyer prohibiting him from possessing or buying any weapons after his anticipated release given the Vermont Supreme Court’s April 11th decision. The Court stated: “The Legislature can, if it chooses, deviate from this long-established standard by passing a law revising the definition of attempt.” The Governor stated on April 13th; “I’m calling on the Legislature to act quickly to close existing loopholes relating to the law of attempt.” As chair of the committee of jurisdiction, I will be working on our attempt law this week.

General Housing and Military Affairs

Both of these bills impact our district:

204, Registering Short Term Rentals: This Senate bill proposes to regulate Vermonters who rent their homes, or rooms in their homes, on any number of internet platforms, such as AirBNB and Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO). The bill as passed by the Senate would require owners of properties that qualify as short-term rentals (must be rented more than 14 days a year, and no individual rental can last longer than 30 days) pay a $65 fee and self-certify on a registration form that their property meets basic public safety needs.

The committee is contemplating whether this would increase tax compliance, personal safety on the premises, and whether it levels the regulatory playing field between these kinds of rentals and existing licensed lodging. 

S.40, Minimum Wage: S.40 proposes to raise the minimum wage from $10.50 to $15 per hour over the course of six years, topping out at $15 in 2024. It also addresses the issue of tipped wages in response to the change in federal regulation, which now allows employers to determine how pooled tips are distributed, and it proposes a study to be done in the last year of the rise to determine what the best way forward will be in keeping the minimum wage relevant and fair. The committee is also looking at clarifying the definition of the student wage and have discussed the tipped minimum wage.

At the core of this discussion is whether it is better to continue Vermont’s access to many different state benefits, or increase income through a minimum wage, thereby decreasing reliance on state benefits. 

House Judiciary/My Committee

This week, the Judiciary Committee took extensive testimony on S.197. When a company releases toxic substances into the environment, and those substances cause harm to others, it can often be difficult to hold the company accountable. The intent of S.197 is to make it easier to place the cost of harm from toxic substances on the party that caused the harm, instead of on the party that innocently suffered the harm. In addition, S.197 would create a cause of action to allow a party to collect medical monitoring damages – those medical costs incurred due to exposure to a toxic substance. The bill is very broad as passed the Senate. I am working to narrow its scope and application.

S.105: Prohibition of Unconscionable Terms in Standard-Form Contracts. This bill looks at the many contracts we sign when we rent cars, buy a cell phone plan or rent skis. Some of these contracts have terms that are unconscionable where the person who did not draft the contract waives his or her rights to assert claims or seek relief provided by law, or has to resolve any legal claim in an inconvenient place, like a state that the person doesn’t live in. Often folks don’t know they are signing away their rights or don’t have a choice but to sign the contract given they need a car or skis on their vacation. For example, a ski area has a contract that requires even if it has been negligent in equipment safety, someone who is harmed by that lack of due care, waives his or her rights to any remedy when signing the rental agreement. These clauses are called exculpatory clauses as they totally exonerate a party from its future negligent conduct. These clauses essentially relieve one party from future negligence. Generally, exculpatory clauses in contracts are disfavored as against the public interest. Some states have statutory restrictions which preclude their use by saying that statutory liability for negligence cannot be contracted away. S.105 goes to this concern, while allowing the legal parts of the contract to stand. The effective date is currently October 1, 2018 to allow businesses to review and revise their contracts.


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