Advocacy in State & Federal Government

View the mid-year VT Legislative Update  written by Downs Rachlin Martin.

VT State Legislation and where it stands as of adjournment of the General Assembly 6/26/20:

Coronavirus Relief Fund Legislation:

  • Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided Vermont with $1.25 Billion and aside from a few guidelines, gave the state legislature autonomy to decide how to spend it.
  • VAB reached out to every relevant committee to share the unique situation broadcasters are in and to ask for a $5 million stand-alone fund for Vermont Media, but was turned down every time.
  • S.350, the Senate’s bill, provided $70 million in grants to businesses that suffered 75% or more loss of revenue due to COVID-19.
  • H.966, the Houses’s bill, provided another $82 million in grants to businesses that suffered a 50% or more loss in revenue in a month or quarter from March 1-August 30 as compared to that same month or quarter in 2019.
  • Applications for these economic recovery grants opened up through Agency of Commerce & Community Development (ACCD) and Dept. of Taxes on July 6th.
  • Of the Federal CARES Act $1.25 billion, $140 million remains to be allocated.
  • VAB will continue to advocate for additional funding for businesses to aid in their recovery.

Prohibiting non-compete agreements:

  • H.1, introduced by Rep. Martin Lalonde on 1/10/19, would prohibit the use of agreements not to compete.
  • VAB testified that non-compete agreements are necessary for our industry and lobbied to have the threshold lowered to $51,000, the average VT salary.
  • We were successful in getting the “Garden Leave” clause removed, but it was voted out of committee with the following statues and passed by the House on 2/14/20:
    • You can only make an employee sign one if they are/will be making $75,000+.
    • Employee has right to have contract reviewed by an attorney, for which employer is obligated to pay up to 2 hours of legal fees.
  • It is now in Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs, but was not taken up due to COVID-19 creating other priorities.
  • It is expected to be taken up again in January 2021 by committee members: Michael Sirotkin (Chittenden), Alison Clarkson (Windsor), Becca Balint (Windham), Randy Brock (Franklin), Cheryl Hooker (Rutland)

Establishing Year-round Daylight Savings Time:

Sales Tax Collection:

  • H.117 introduced by Rep. Harrison on 1/30/19 would require entities that host third-party sales to collect/remit sales tax and online travel companies to collect/remit rooms tax. 
  • VAB monitored in case advertising tax came up, but the bill was never discussed and is sitting on the wall in House Ways & Means.

Telecommunications:

  • H. 145 introduced by Rep. Sibilia on 2/8/19 would require retail sellers of prepaid wireless communications service to collect universal service charge at point of sale.
  • VAB monitored to make sure no unrelated language that would effect broadcasters got added, but it was not discussed again after AT&T, Verizon & T-Mobile testified.

Act 250 jurisdiction over development above 2,500’:

  • H.926 created by House Natural Resources Committee, originally proposed to change the height threshold that make projects subject to Act 250 review from 2,500’ to 2,000 feet. But that threshold later went back up to 2,500′.
  • VAB will continue to monitor to make sure it stays that way.
  • H.213, H.399, H.487, H.633 & S.104 are also Act 250 bills, but were not taken up.

Victim’s Compensation Board Exemption from Open Meeting Law:

  • H.558 introduced by Rep. Grad on 1/16/20 would exempt Victim’s Compensation Board meetings from open meeting law.
  • VAB and VT Press Association testified multiple times opposing the bill and encouraging more transparency and less exemptions.
  • Because it was a matter of protecting the anonymity of the employees who get threatened by criminals they are trying to collect restitution from, both House and Senate Government Relations Committees passed the bill and so did the General Assembly. Governor Scott signed it into law on 7/6/20.

Public Records:

  • H.564 introduced by Rep. Lalonde on 1/7/20 would require records related to a court inquest proceeding be made public after a charging decision is made. No discussion happened and the bill stayed on the wall in House Judiciary Committee.
  • H.591 introduced by Rep. Burditt and Rep. Rachelson on 1/7/20 would further restrict the release of personal information by state agencies, departments & municipalities, including the DMV. No discussion happened and the bill stayed on the wall in House Judiciary Committee.
  • S.305 introduced by Sen. Randy Brock on 1/16/20 would include non-profit corporations that perform certain governmental functions in the Public Records Act. The Senate Government Operations Committee used that bill as a gateway to discuss whether or not language needed to change to clarify the term “inspection” and/or whether or not state agencies/municipalities could charge for the time it takes to prepare public records for inspection. VAB, VT Press Association and VT Journalism Alliance testified many times opposing any/all fees for time and/or supplies as an attack on transparency. 
  • In the end, Senators in Government Operations Committee could not come to an agreement they all felt good about, so the bill stayed up on the wall.

Cable Programming Packages:

  • H. 806 introduced by Rep. Nicoll 1/21/20 would require a cable TV company to allow a subscriber to switch to a less expensive programming package. Bill was never discussed and is sitting on the wall in House Energy & Technology Committee.

Electric Cost Increase:

  • Diguised as a Renewable Energy bill, S.267 introduced by Sen. Pierson and Sen. Perchlik 1/28/20 would force electric companies to provide all their power through renewable sources by 2030.
  • Electric utilities testified they could do it, but it would mean an increase of at least 5% to the cost of electricity across the board for all Vermonters. VAB is in favor of VT Agency of Public Service’s counter-proposal which calls for a study first.
  • Bill got marked up and changed a lot in Finance and is now back in Senate Natural Resources, which discussion stopped on 3/11 due to COVID-19.
  • VAB joined a coalition of like-minded business associations called VCEP who are all lobbying to keep the price of electricity from going up.

National Issues VAB Advocated For/Against with Members of Congress: 

Advertising:

  • Driven by the NAB, multiple letters have gone to the Trump Administration, House and Senate Leadership and the Federal Office of Marketing & Budget asking for Federal Advertising Dollars to be funneled directly to local media.
  • All these letters were signed by Vermont’s members of congress at the VAB’s request.

Performance Tax/Royalty:

  • Broadcasters support the Local Radio Freedom Act (LRFA), a resolution of Congress opposing any new performance royalty, fee, or tax on free, over-the-air radio such as that proposed by the recently introduced AM-FM Act. 225 bipartisan Reps & House and Senate have cosponsored the LRFA, but not any are from VT.

ASCAP/BMI Consent Decrees:

  • The ASCAP and BMI consent decrees ensure fair, transparent and efficient licensing that benefits all stakeholders in the music ecosystem. Broadcasters and a broad coalition of digital streaming services, bars, restaurants, hotels and other venues, oppose potential modification, sunset or termination of these important antitrust decrees by the Department of Justice. Broadcasters also thank Congress for its continued oversight of this issue, a special framework for which was included in the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act.

Spectrum: C-band and 6 GHz:

  • Broadcasters and our audiences rely on continued and uninterrupted use of certain spectrum bands – in addition to our primary frequency assignments for our over-the-air broadcasts – under consideration for potential new 5G and unlicensed use. Congress and the FCC should ensure that in whatever changes are made to the C-band and 6 GHz bands of spectrum, broadcasters are not subject to interference with their critical, nationwide content delivery network and ability to cover live events and emergencies.

 Retransmission Consent:

  • Retransmission consent, along with advertising, form the two major revenue pillars for local television stations to invest in local news, weather, and emergency information as well as the most-watched entertainment programming. Retransmission consent simply allows a local broadcast station to be compensated in exchange for a cable or satellite system to re-sell its content to subscribers for a profit. Congress recognized and reaffirmed this unique and enduring value in recently passed satellite TV legislation.

 Tax Certificate Program:

  • Broadcasters are committed to improving diversity in the industry and creating new opportunities for women, people of color and other underrepresented communities. Broadcasters support the Expanding Broadcast Ownership Opportunities Act of 2019 (H.R. 3957 & S. 2433) to encourage broadcast station ownership for women and people of color and to ensure station owners are as diverse as the communities they serve.