202 Commerce StreetWilliston, VT 05495
The Statehouse is beginning to heat up during the second week of the legislative session and bills are being introduced at a breakneck pace. As of Friday, January 18th, there were 56 bills introduced in the House and 47 in the Senate. So far there are multiple bills about Act 46 mergers (and about the undoing of Act 46), and the first three of four proposed amendments to the Vermont constitution have been released. Proposals of amendment can be initiated every four years by the Senate.
Amending the state’s constitution is a lengthy, complicated process that is meant to withstand the vicissitudes of political fortune.
Home Builders and Remodelers Update
The OPR Registration Bill
We have been in contact with the Office of Professional Regulation and they are still working on finding a sponsor for their bill. As soon as they have done that they will share their draft. At that point we will arrange to meet with Chris Cole, Lauren Hibbert and the bill’s sponsors to ensure that they understand that this is meant to be a very limited registration requirement.
We met with people from the Governor’s Administration to review their priorities in the Act 250 report. They believe Home Builders and Remodelers will support their efforts and we’ll have more details in the following weeks.
Here is their Act 250 Handout
Act 250 Modernization
What: The Natural Resources Board along with the Agencies of Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and Natural Resources have been working with the Act 47 (“Act 250 at 50”) Commission to evaluate opportunities to improve the Act 250 process and outcomes for Vermont. We look forward to working with the legislature to ensure that over the next 50 years Act 250 supports Vermont’s economic, environmental, and land use planning goals.
Why: The following recommendations, which were provided to the Commission, are of critical importance to protect Vermont’s environment while facilitating economic activity and development in suitable locations. Overall these recommendations are intended to focus Act 250’s attention on the locations and projects where environmental protection is most important and to promote development in other areas.
How: Key policy decisions to focus on during the 2019 session:
• Encouraging development in the State’s existing designated centers through the creation of an enhanced designation process that would remove Act 250 jurisdiction within the designated center provided the municipality can demonstrate that it has adopted municipal flood hazard planning and river corridor protections for the entire municipality, design review standards (including historic preservation), wildlife habitat protections, and coordinated capital investments .
• Creating a process to subject unique natural resource areas, such as contiguous blocks of primary agricultural soils, high-value forest blocks, and high-value connectivity habitat to Act 250 jurisdiction regardless of whether a project in such area would trigger jurisdiction under existing thresholds.
• Including impacts on forest blocks and connecting habitat in the review process under Act 250 Criterion 8 to address the issue of forest fragmentation, while giving due consideration to the positive effect of enterprises that add value to forest-derived commodities.
• Updating Act 250 Criterion 1(D) (floodways protections) for consistency with the State’s Flood Hazard Area and River Corridor Protection standards, eliminating potential confusion and ensuring that Act 250’s standards align with best practices.
• Clarifying the appropriate use and reliance on other state permits as evidence that various Act 250 criteria have been satisfied, to streamline and make the process more predictable.
• Clarifying the circumstances in which an Act 250 permit application fee waiver and/or partial refund are warranted.
• Recommending changes to support rural industrial park development with a simplified master plan process for obtaining construction approval and reduced fess when some impacts have already been reviewed.
• Allowing flexibility, when appropriate, in the hours of operation of value-added forest product businesses to respond to the logistical challenges these operations face due to climate change.
• Clarifying the circumstances in which an Act 250 permit or permit amendment is needed for recreational trails to ensure Vermont’s recreation economy remains compatible with environmentally responsible development.
• Exempting federal aid transportation projects, which require significant federal review and oversight, from Act 250 review.
• Updating Act 250 to recognize that modern Vermont farms increasingly rely on on-site agritourism and direct-to-customer businesses to remain economically viable, and that these activities should not trigger Act 250 jurisdiction.
Paid Family Leave
The governor announced his plan to explore a voluntary paid family leave program that would be a joint venture with the state of New Hampshire. Legislative leadership, Senate President Pro Tem, Tim Ashe, and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson held a press conference coming out against the proposal. They plan to introduce a mandatory paid family leave bill that is funded through a payroll tax.
We met with a group of allies and heard from the Governor’s staff who answered questions about the details of the Governor’s proposal. This is in early planning stages but the highlights are as follows:
This proposal was immediately met with opposition from the Legislature and from the State Employee Association. So there will be a lot more on this issue to follow.