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H.109

AN ACT RELATING TO REAUTHORIZATION OF THE HUMAN RESOURCES INVESTMENT COUNCIL

The Senate proposes to the House to amend the bill by striking out all after the enacting clause and inserting in lieu thereof the following:

Sec. 1.  10 V.S.A. § 541 is added to read:

§ 541.  HUMAN RESOURCES INVESTMENT COUNCIL; STATE

            WORKFORCE INVESTMENT BOARD; MEMBERS, TERMS

(a)  The human resources investment council is created as the successor to and the continuation of the governor’s human resources investment council and shall be the state workforce investment board under Public Law 105-220, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and any reauthorization of that act.  The council shall consist of members as required under the federal act, including a representative of the Abenaki Self-Help Association, and the following:  two members of the study committee on international trade and state sovereignty established by 3 V.S.A. § 23; the president of the Vermont student assistance corporation; the president of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges; the president of the University of Vermont; the chancellor of the Vermont state colleges; at least two representatives of labor appointed by the governor in addition to the two required under the federal act, at least one of whom shall be chosen from names submitted by labor organizations; one representative of the low income community appointed by the governor; two members of the senate appointed by the senate committee on committees; and two members of the house appointed by the speaker.  In addition, the governor shall appoint enough other members who are representatives of business or employers so that one-half plus one of the members of the council are representatives of business or employers.  At least one-third of those appointed by the governor as representatives of business or employers shall be chosen from a list submitted by the regional workforce investment boards.  In this section, “representative of business” means a business owner, a chief executive operating officer, or other business executive, and “employer” means an individual with policy‑making or hiring authority, including a public school superintendent or school board member and including representatives from the nonprofit, social services, and health sectors of the economy.  If there is a dispute as to who is to represent an interest as required under the federal law, the governor shall decide who shall be the member of the council.

(b)  Members representing business, employers, labor, and the low income community shall be appointed for terms of three years.  Appointed members, except legislative appointees, shall serve at the pleasure of the governor.

(c)  A vacancy shall be filled for the unexpired term in the same manner as the initial appointment.

(d)  The governor shall appoint one of the business or employer members to chair the council.

(e)  The human resources investment council shall appoint four other members who, in addition to the chair, shall be the executive committee.

(f)  Members, other than legislative members, shall be entitled to compensation and expenses as provided in 32 V.S.A. § 1010.  Legislative members shall be entitled to compensation and expenses as provided in 2 V.S.A. § 406.

(g)  The commissioner of labor shall appoint an executive director to the council, which shall be an exempt position and shall provide the council with administrative support.

(h)  The human resources investment council shall be subject to subchapters 2 and 3 of chapter 5 of Title 1, relating to public meetings and access to public records.

(i)  The human resources investment council shall:

(1)  Meet at least three times per year.  Members missing more than two consecutive meetings may be replaced.

(2)  Advise the governor on the establishment of an integrated network of workforce education and training for Vermont.

(3)  Coordinate planning and services for an integrated network of workforce education and training and oversee its implementation.

(4)  Establish and oversee workforce investment boards as provided in section 542 of this title.

(5)  Establish performance goals for regional workforce investment boards.

(6)  Establish goals for and coordinate the state’s workforce education and training policies.

(7)  Receive annual reports from the department of employment and training on the workforce education and training revenues and expenditures of agencies and institutions which are members of the council.

(8)  Annually review and comment on workforce education and training revenues and expenditures of member agencies and institutions.

(9)  Negotiate memoranda of understanding between the council and agencies and institutions involved in Vermont’s integrated network of workforce education and training in order to ensure that each is working to achieve annual objectives developed by the council.

(10)  Carry out the duties assigned to the state workforce investment board, as required for a single-service delivery state, under P.L. 105-220, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and any amendments that may be made

to it.

(11)  Collaborate with the study committee on international trade and state sovereignty with respect to the effects of international agreements on the state’s work force, and make recommendations on those matters to the governor and the general assembly to assist in determinations as to whether the state should consent to participate in various international treaties negotiated by the United States Government;

Sec. 2.  STUDY; REPORT

The human resources investment council shall study and recommend a legislative proposal to reorganize the workforce investment boards into geographic regions aligned with the flow of commerce in the state.  The council shall report its recommendation to the house committee on commerce and the senate committee on economic development and general affairs on or before January 15, 2006.

Sec. 3.  21 V.S.A. § 1306a is added to read:

§ 1306a.  LABOR MANAGEMENT ADVISORY COUNCIL; MEMBERS;

                TERMS

(a)  The commissioner shall appoint a state labor advisory council composed of eight members to include four employer representatives and four employee representatives who may fairly be regarded as representative because of their vocations, employment, and affiliations.  Appointment of the four employee representatives, at least one of whom shall have experience in workers’ compensation law, shall be made from qualified names submitted by the Vermont State Labor Council, the Vermont State Employees’ Association, and the Vermont National Education Association.  Appointment of the four employer representatives shall be made from qualified names submitted by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Associated General Contractors of Vermont, and the Vermont Business Roundtable.

(b)  The council shall advise the commissioner in formulating policies by discussing problems relating to the administration of duties and functions assigned to the department in order to bring impartiality and freedom from political influences to the solution of these issues.

(c)  The commissioner may establish subcommittees composed solely of labor or management representatives and use a portion of the council’s meeting time to meet with these subcommittees.

(d)  The council shall meet at least six times per year.

(e)  Each member of the council who is not a salaried official or state employee or is not otherwise compensated through employment while attending council meetings is entitled to per diem compensation and reimbursement for expenses as provided in 32 V.S.A. § 1010.

(f)  The members of the council shall be appointed by the commissioner for staggered terms of four years.  Of the first members appointments, one employer and one employee representative shall be for a one-year term, one employer and one employee representative for a two-year term, one employer and employee representative for a three-year term, and one employer and one employee representative for a four-year term.  Any appointment to a vacancy shall be for the unexpired term.

* * * Vocational Rehabilitation Rule * * *

Sec. 4.  21 V.S.A. § 641(a) is amended to read:

(a)  When as a result of an injury covered by this chapter, an employee is unable to perform work for which the employee has previous training or experience, the employee shall be entitled to vocational rehabilitation services, including retraining and job placement, as may be reasonably necessary to restore the employee to suitable employment.  Vocational rehabilitation services shall be provided as follows:

* * *

(3)  The commissioner shall adopt rules to assure that a worker who requests services or who has received more than 90 days of continuous temporary total disability benefits is timely and cost-effectively screened for benefits under this section.  The rules shall:

(A)  Provide that all vocational rehabilitation work, except for initial screenings, be performed by a Vermont-certified vocational rehabilitation counselor including counselors currently certified pursuant to the rules of the department.  Initial screenings shall be performed by an individual with sufficient knowledge or experience to perform adequately the vocational rehabilitation screening functions. 

(B)  Provide for an initial screening to determine whether a full assessment is appropriate.  An injured worker who is determined to be eligible for benefits shall have an appropriate initial vocational a full assessment shall be timely assessed and be offered appropriate vocational rehabilitation services. 

(C)  The commissioner shall adopt rules to provide Provide a mechanism for a periodic review and timely screening of injured workers who are initially found not to be ready or eligible for vocational rehabilitation services a full assessment to determine whether a full assessment has become appropriate. 

(D)  Protect against potential conflicts of interest in the assignment and performance of initial screenings.

(E)  Assure the injured worker has a choice of a vocational rehabilitation counselor. 

* * *

(5)  The commissioner may set by rule reasonable reimbursement rates for vocational rehabilitation benefits and services, provided access to vocational rehabilitation services is not diminished, and reasonable choices and access to benefits and services are maintained.  The reimbursement shall reflect the current market hourly rate of vocational rehabilitation services as determined by a survey of vocational rehabilitation providers, including solo practitioners, small firms, and large firms.  The fee schedule shall require the individual vocational rehabilitation counselor who provides services to review, initial, and certify the accuracy of the billing.

(6)  The commissioner shall make annual reports to the general assembly on the success and status of the workers’ compensation vocational rehabilitation program.

* * * Discontinuance of Benefits * * *

Sec. 5.  21 V.S.A. § 643a is amended to read:

§ 643a.  DISCONTINUANCE OF BENEFITS

Unless an injured worker has successfully returned to work, an employer shall notify both the commissioner and the employee prior to terminating benefits under either section 642 or section 646 of this title.  The notice of intention to discontinue payments shall be filed on forms prescribed by the commissioner and shall include the date of the proposed discontinuance and the reasons for it.  The liability for the payments shall continue for 7 seven days after the notice is received by the commissioner and the employee.  Those payments shall be made without prejudice to the employer and may be deducted from any amounts due pursuant to section 648 of this title if the commissioner determines that the discontinuance is warranted or if otherwise ordered by the commissioner.  Every notice shall be reviewed by the commissioner to determine the sufficiency of the basis for the proposed discontinuance.  If, upon review, the commissioner finds that the evidence does not reasonably support the proposed discontinuance, the commissioner may shall order that payments continue until a hearing is held and a decision is rendered.  If the commissioner’s decision, after a hearing, is that the employee was not entitled to any or all benefits paid between the discontinuance and the final decision, upon request of the employer, the commissioner may order that the employee repay all benefits to which the employee was not entitled.  The employer may enforce such a repayment order in any court of law having jurisdiction of the amount involved.

* * * Failure to Pay Benefits * * *

Sec. 6.  21 V.S.A. § 650(e) is amended to read:

(e)  If weekly compensation benefits or weekly accrued benefits are not paid within 21 days after becoming due and payable pursuant to an order of the commissioner, or in cases in which the overdue benefit is not in dispute, ten percent of the overdue amount shall be added and paid to the employee, in addition to interest and any other penalties.  In the case of an initial claim, benefits are due and payable upon entering into an agreement pursuant to subsection 662(a) of this title, upon issuance of an order of the commissioner pursuant to subsection 662(b) of this title, or if the employer has not denied the claim within 21 days after the claim is filed.  Benefits are in dispute if the claimant has been provided actual written notice of the dispute within 21 days of the benefit being due and payable and the evidence reasonably supports the denial.  Interest shall accrue and be paid on benefits that are found to be compensable during the period of nonpayment.  The commissioner shall promptly review requests for payment under this section and, consistent with the criteria in department rule 10.13, shall allow for the recovery of reasonable attorney fees associated with an employee’s successful request for payment under this subsection.

* * * Interim Orders * * *

Sec. 7.  21 V.S.A § 662(b) is amended to read:

(b)  In the absence of an agreement pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, the employer or insurance carrier shall notify the commissioner and the employee in writing that the claim is denied and the reasons therefor.  Upon the employee’s application for a hearing under section 663 of this title, within 60 days, the commissioner may shall review the evidence upon which denial is based and if the evidence does not reasonably support the denial, the commissioner may shall order that payments be made until a hearing is held and a decision is rendered.  Payments pursuant to this subsection shall not be deemed an admission of liability by the employer nor shall such payments preclude subsequent agreement under subsection (a) of this section or prejudice the rights of either party to hearing or appeal under this chapter.  If the commissioner’s decision, after a hearing, is that the employee was not entitled to any or all benefits paid between the initial denial and the final decision, upon request of the employer, the commissioner may order that the employee repay all benefits to which the employee was not entitled.  The employer may enforce such a repayment order in any court of law having jurisdiction of the amount involved.  Nothing in this section shall require the commissioner to order payments pending a hearing if the commissioner concludes that the benefit at issue is not compensable regardless of the lack of evidence supporting the denial.  For the purposes of this section, any written communication by an unrepresented claimant that questions the denial of any benefit shall be deemed to be an application for hearing under section 663 of this title.  

* * * Lump Sum Payment * * *

Sec. 8.  21 V.S.A. § 652(c) is added to read:

(c)  Unless otherwise requested by the claimant, an order for a lump sum payment of permanent partial or permanent total disability benefits or a lump sum settlement of a disputed claim shall include a provision accounting for excludable expenses and prorating the remainder of the lump sum payment in the manner set forth by the Social Security Administration in order to protect the claimant’s entitlement to Social Security benefits.

Sec. 9.  REPEAL

(a)  10 V.S.A. § 542 (workforce investment boards) shall be repealed on July 1, 2008.

(b)  21 V.S.A. § 1306 (advisory council for the department of employment and training) is repealed as of the effective date of this act.

Sec. 9a.  21 V.S.A. § 384(a), as amended by Sec. 1 of S. 80 of the 2005 session, is further amended to read:

(a)  An employer shall not employ an employee at a rate less than $7.00 an hour and, beginning January 1, 2006, at a rate less than $7.25, and, beginning January 1, 2007, and on each subsequent January 1, the minimum wage rate shall be increased by the lesser of five percent or the average of:  the Consumer Price Index, CPI-U, U.S. city average, not seasonally adjusted, or successor index, as calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor or successor agency for the 12 months preceding the previous September 1, whichever is smaller.  The minimum wage shall be rounded off to the nearest $0.01.  An employer in the hotel, motel, tourist place, and restaurant industry shall not employ a service or tipped employee at a basic wage rate less than $3.65 an hour and beginning January 1, 2006, and every January 1 thereafter that rate shall be increased by the same percentage as the minimum wage under this section.  For the purposes of this subsection, “a service or tipped employee” means an employee of a hotel, motel, tourist place, or restaurant who customarily and regularly receives more than $30.00 per month in tips for direct and personal customer service.  If the minimum wage rate established by the United States government is greater than the rate established for Vermont for any year, the minimum wage rate for that year shall be the rate established by the United States government.

Sec. 10.  3 V.S.A. §§ 23 is added to read:

§ 23.  STATE ENTRY INTO OBLIGATIONS UNDER TREATY OR

          TRADE AGREEMENT; STUDY COMMITTEE ON

          INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND STATE SOVEREIGNTY

(a)  Definitions.  For the purposes of this section:

(1)  “International Trade Agreement” means a trade agreement between the federal government and a foreign country to which the state, at the request of the federal government, is or may be a party.

(2)  “International Trade Agreement” does not include a trade agreement between the state and a foreign country to which the federal government is not a party.

(b)  Limitations.  Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, no state official, including the governor, may:

(1)  Bind the state to an international trade agreement; or

(2)  Give consent to the federal government to bind the state to an international trade agreement.

(c)  State policy in general. It is the policy of the State of Vermont to decline to participate in an international trade agreement until the overall effects of that participation are fully and adequately considered, and are determined to be beneficial to the state.  The governor may bind the state or give consent to the federal government to bind the state to an international trade agreement only after receiving the formal recommendations of the study committee on international trade and state sovereignty with respect to that specific agreement, and only in situations in which the general assembly, after receiving those recommendations gives its assent by joint resolution or act of legislation or fails to enact an act or joint resolution to prohibit the governor from making that specific commitment.

(d)  State policy on specific trade agreements.

(1)  The State of Vermont declines to participate in the CAFTA agreement, and formally withdraws the Governor’s consent, as expressed in a letter dated October 30, 2003 to Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, to the state’s participation in trade agreements with Morocco, Australia, the countries of the Central American Common Market and the South African Customs Union..

§ 24.                                                  

(e)  There is created a study committee on international trade and state sovereignty, to consist of the following:  two members of the Senate, appointed by the Committee on Committees; two members of the House, appointed by the Speaker; the designated state point of contact; the attorney general or a designee; one representative of the state’s municipalities, appointed by the governor; four members of the public appointed by the governor as follows: a small business person, a small farmer, a representative of a nonprofit organization that promotes fair trade policies, and a representative of a Vermont based corporation that is active in international trade; three members of the public appointed by the Speaker of the House as follows: a health care professional, a person active in the organized labor community, and a member of a non-profit environmental organization; three members of the public appointed by the President Pro Tem of the Senate: one member of a nonprofit human rights organization, one representative of a Vermont based manufacturing business with 25 or more employees, and a representative of an economic development organization.

(f)  The committee shall assess and monitor the legal and economic impacts of trade agreements on state and local laws, state sovereignty, working conditions and the business environment.  It shall provide a mechanism for citizens and legislators to voice their concerns and recommendations and make policy recommendations to the general assembly and to the trade representatives of the United States government, which shall be designed to protect Vermont’s job, business environment and state sovereignty from any negative impact of trade agreements.  It may recommend legislation or preferred practices and shall work with interested groups in other states to develop means to resolve the conflicting goals and tension inherent in the relationship between international trade and state sovereignty.

(g)  In response to a request from the governor or the general assembly, or on its own initiative the committee shall consider and develop formal recommendations with respect to how the state should best respond to challenges and opportunities posed by a particular international agreement.  Formal recommendations on a specific international agreement shall be submitted to the governor and to the house and senate committees on judiciary, on government operations, and on natural resources and energy, and to the house committee on commerce and the senate committees on finance and on economic development, housing and general affairs.

(h)  The committee shall be entitled to staff services of the agency of commerce, the attorney general, the legislative council, the joint fiscal committee.

* * * Wood Products Manufacturing * * *

Sec. 11.  WOOD PRODUCTS MANUFACTURING TAX CREDITS;

               FINDINGS

The general assembly finds that the economic vitality within certain adjacent counties in the state with the highest unemployment rates is dependent on a limited number of employers that manufacture finished wood products.  In order to support the sustainability and vitality of the finished wood products industry, the general assembly further finds that income tax credits will provide financial assistance needed to maintain the economic well‑being of the communities that rely so heavily on this industry for the health of their economies.

Sec. 12.  32 V.S.A. § 5930y is added to read:

§ 5930y.  Wood Products Manufacturer Credit

(a)  Annually on or before February 1, the secretary of commerce and community development shall designate any two adjacent counties having at least five percent of their jobs provided by employers that manufacture finished wood products and having the highest unemployment rate in the state for at least one month in the previous calendar year.  Upon making a designation, the secretary shall send a written notice to the commissioner of taxes identifying the designated counties.

(b)  A credit against the income tax liability is available as follows:

(1)  There shall be a credit of two percent of the wages paid in the taxable year by an employer for services performed in a designated county or an adjacent county associated with the manufacture of finished wood products.  The credit shall be available to the employer in any year the county qualifies and for one year after a qualification ends.

(2)  The credit, either alone or in combination with any other credit allowed by this chapter, shall not reduce the income tax liability of the employer by more than 80 percent.

(3)  The recapture of development incentives established in subchapter 6 of chapter 47 of Title 3 shall apply to the tax credits in this section, except that the provisions of subsection 2512(c) of that title shall not apply to business relocation outside the designated counties.

 



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us