Senators and governor work toward compromise on contractor registry

Apartment buildings in downtown in Burlington on Friday, November 19, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

State senators are trying to figure out a way to get Gov. Phil Scott to agree to a statewide registry of home contractors, which is part of S.226, a bill to encourage the creation of more housing. 

Scott vetoed a registry in February, but has indicated that he might agree to one if contractors have to register only for contracts of more than $10,000. The current bill has a $5,000 threshold.

“Although the governor believes a new government registry is unnecessary altogether, he believes $10,000 is more reasonable, and in the spirit of compromise has said he’d accept that threshold,” Scott spokesperson Jason Maulucci told VTDigger Friday.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, told the Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Friday that he has been talking to the governor about reaching a compromise. 

“The conversation with the governor is that he’s adamant that the $10,000 is a floor,” Brock said, indicating that Scott would not sign a bill that covered contracts under that amount.

But Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, chair of the committee, said he opposes raising the threshold unless the bill includes a way — such as arbitration or another process — to protect homeowners who sign smaller contracts.

Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, agreed with Sirotkin, saying 80% of construction-related complaints with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office have been for contracts of less than $10,000, and half for contracts less than $5,000. 

“Most of these people, a lot of them, are older,” Clarkson said. “A lot of them are vulnerable.”

Brock agreed that something should be done for homeowners with contracts for less than $10,000.

“How does Mrs. Jones get her $4,000 back?” Brock asked, pointing out that, for now, the only remedy is to take a contractor to small claims court.

Brock emphasized that he opposes a contract registry, despite his willingness to negotiate with Scott to find a compromise.

“It prevents the person who’s an honest contractor who’s doing the right thing from doing the wrong thing, but they’re the people who are going to sign up,” Brock said. “The guy who’s the  fly-by-night and changes his name to a different (limited liability company) every time he screws somebody is not going to register, and the penalty is $200. When I look at the guy who does the handyman work, that guy by and large is just going to be driven out.”

Clarkson pushed back, arguing that homeowners need protection.

“These are people touching the biggest asset people have, which is our houses,” Clark said. “We’re one of eight states that doesn’t do this.”

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Filed under:

Business & Economy

Tags: Alison Clarkson, contractor registry, economic development, homeownership, housing, Michael Sirotkin, Phil Scott, Randy Brock, S.226, Vermont legislature

Fred Thys

About Fred

Fred Thys covers business and the economy for VTDigger. He is originally from Bethesda, Maryland, and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science. He is the recipient of the Radio, Television, and Digital News Association’s Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting and for Enterprise Reporting. Fred has worked at The Journal of Commerce, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, and WBUR, and has written for Le Matin, The Dallas Morning News, and The American Homefront Project.