Legislative Update – May 1, 2018

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May 1, 2018 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State House in SpringMilitary Affairs

I will be speaking at the public bill signing for H.906, An act relating to professional licensing for service members and veterans on Wednesday, May 2nd at 1:00pm at Camp Johnson. I was the lead sponsor of the underlying bill. This is a very important economic and workforce development issue for our state.

Public Safety

As Chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, I continue to work on issues of community safety during the aftermath of Parkland and Jack Sawyer’s release. The Senate passed H.25 that creates a new domestic terrorism offense. The new crime would apply if someone engaged in or took a substantial step to commit a violation of Vermont criminal laws with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury to multiple persons and to place any civilian population in reasonable apprehension of mass destruction, mass killings, or kidnapping. 

Home Sharing

I have heard from many of you regarding concerns about home sharing and the impact of S.204, Registering Short Term Rentals/Home Sharing. 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). General, Housing and Military Affairs passed S.204 earlier this week, having made substantial changes to the Senate’s work, while adhering to the bill’s original intent. There are no fees or taxes in the bill in its current form.

The Senate’s bill focused on building a registry of short-term rentals based on a fee-based self-certification of safety criteria. Given the lack of appetite for any fee-based legislation, GHMA considered a proposal from the Tax Department. This proposal allows the Department to use publicly available information from an owner of a short-term rental (their tax account number) to build a registry that can be shared with the Department of Health, the Department of Public Safety and any other agency or board that is allowed in statute to see the information, upon request.

This is a fee-free proposal. Owners of short-term rentals will still be required to acquire a tax account number, even those who rent solely through Airbnb. Airbnb has a voluntary tax collection agreement with Vermont, which allows Airbnb to collect and submit the taxes for their hosts. Short-term renters who use other platforms must still collect and submit their rooms and meals taxes on their own, as they do now.

The Tax Department will take identifying information from the tax accounts created, such as name of owner, address, etc. and compile it into a database that will allow us to know better who are letting out their rooms and houses for commercial reasons. From a safety perspective, this is important, as it will create standards that will make hosts responsible for their choices.

Mental Health and Prescription Drug Pricing

S.203, An act relating to systemic improvements of the mental health system.

This bill continues to address mental health parity. And, it addresses the crisis in the lack of mental health beds that are needed to ease the crunch in hospital emergency rooms.

University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) Network has come forth with a plan, still being fleshed out, to add secure residential beds for mental illness at the Central Vermont Hospital, which is part of UVMMC Network. The proposal would allow additional inpatient beds, number to be determined, that would help address the problem with patients being held for long periods in hospital emergency departments around the state. This proposal would also free the beds at the VT Psychiatric Hospital that would be used in the future as a secure residential facility, thereby eliminating the problem of relocating or adding beds in Middlesex.

This proposal will fill the need 3-4 years down the road, and in the meantime, The Brattleboro Retreat has offered a temporary solution for 12 beds that could be in place by September 2019. This proposal would involve renovations to its existing buildings and S.203 would allow it to waive the certificate of need requirement for a secure residential facility. The Retreat also wants the state to develop advanced rates to support staff recruitment and retention.

S.203 also recognizes that community-based services provided by Designated Agencies and Special Service Agencies are a critical component of Vermont’s health care system, and essential for preventing unnecessary hospitalization and emergency department use.

S.175, An act relating to the wholesale importation of prescription drugs into Vermont. 

The bill will have the Agency of Human Services, in consultation with interested stakeholders and appropriate federal officials, design a wholesale prescription drug importation program, including requirements of safety and cost. The program would designate a state agency to become or contract with a licensed drug wholesaler to import prescription drugs at a significant cost savings to Vermonters. AHS shall submit the proposed design for the program by Jan. 1, 2019.  

 

Please stay in touch: mgrad@leg.state.vt.us or 828-2228.