- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont lawmakers Tuesday celebrated the passage of a bill that limits corporations and employers from forcing arbitration agreements on consumers and workers.

The bill that received final approval Tuesday targets contract terms that lawmaker say place an unfair burden on those seeking legal remedies, but opponents say the bill could place an undue burden on certain businesses.

Backers of the bill held a news conference shortly after the final approval of the bill.

“The five common terms that we’ve defined as unconscionable in this bill are already largely considered unenforceable by courts, yet they continue to appear in contracts,” said Rep. Selene Colburn, a Progressive from Burlington. Colburn added that these terms often have the effect of silencing consumers and workers.

Ski resorts and other recreation groups expressed concern with the language of the bill, saying that if guests could not sign an enforceable release the resorts would be exposed to additional financial risk.



“Cost of doing business would increase, which will drive recreational businesses and events out of Vermont or out of business entirely,” wrote Vermont Ski Association President Molly Mahar in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee last month.

Democratic Sen. Jeanette White pointed to arbitration agreements in one employment clause that required any sexual harassment to be reported within six hours of the incident.

The objectionable terms the bill targets includes requiring that disputes be adjudicated out of state, limiting the statute of limitations; prohibiting an individual’s right to seek remedies or punitive damages provided by the court; and requiring an individual to pay fees to file a claim.

The lawmakers highlighted Vermont’s rural population while explaining the bill, saying that many consumers do not have multiple options when signing up for cell phone or internet service.

The bill included a reference to an existing Vermont statute that says participants assume the risk of a physical activity. The sponsors said this move carved out an exemption for recreation groups.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott has not indicated whether he will sign the bill.

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