Legislative Update 3-29-21

By Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations
All the big spending bills have passed out of the House and are now in the hands of the Senate, including $650 million in spending of the COVID relief federal funding. As of now, we have limited information about the funding, and VAHHS will be keeping an eye out for further federal guidance.
Last Week
Budget: The House passed funding for the FY22 budget in H.439, including:
  • $2.27 million in funding for nursing and primary care scholarships 
  • $20 million for Vermont State Colleges, as established in H.159, including one-year free tuition for nursing and other health care training programs
  • $5 million to Designated Agencies to expand the mental health and substance use disorder treatment workforce
  • $1.2 million in funding for mobile crisis units for FY22 and FY23
  • Funding to support the mental health warm line
Federal COVID Funding: The House also laid out its priorities for spending $650 million of the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The state will have an additional $600 million to allocate over the next few years. It should be noted that the Governor has not yet submitted a spending plan, and we are still waiting for further federal guidance. Plans include:
  • $250 million towards the health and wellbeing of families and small businesses
  • $150 million for increased broadband access
  • $100 million for the Clean Water Fund
  • $100 million for state information technology systems
  • $50 million for workforce training and development
Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact: The Senate passed S.48, a bill which allows Vermont to enter the Interstate Nurse Compact. The bill now heads to the House, where it stalled last year. VAHHS supports this bill as a crucial component of workforce development.
VITL and COVID Vaccination Information: After a last-minute amendment stripped out the authority to share immunization data between the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Information Technology Leaders, the Senate added the provision to a different must-pass bill, H.315, the state’s COVID Relief Bill. VAHHS supports this provision because it assists with the current COVID vaccination effort.
Competency to Stand Trial/Forensic System: The Senate also passed S.3, which creates a Forensic Care Working Group to do a gap analysis of the current mental health and criminal justice system and coordination of treatment for individuals incompetent to stand trial or adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity.
Secure Residential Facility: The House passed H.438, which includes funding for a 16-bed secure residential facility to replace the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence. It also requires the Department of Mental Health to do a beds needs assessment for all levels of care in the mental health system.
Hospital Financial Update: VAHHS provided the Senate Health and Welfare Committee with a financial update on the state’s hospitals. VAHHS noted the impact of COVID on the hospitals and advocated for flexibility from the Green Mountain Care Board on the hospital budget process because hospitals have about a $3.2 million operating margin on a $2.4 billion system.