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The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife spent the week focused on land use planning, hearing testimony from state agencies, environmental advocacy organizations and working lands groups.
Kate McCarthy of the Vermont Natural Resources Council spoke to the committee at length on the importance of planning at the local and regional levels. Currently, there are not sufficient resources for planning on a state level but identifying critical resource areas ahead of Act 250 permit applications procedure would greatly streamline the process on local and regional scale.
Ed Stanak gave a review of the Act 250 process from his perspective as a past District Coordinator. He strongly defended the process and outcomes over the years, citing statistics that 95% of applications are approved and only 25% are ‘major’ applications that require hearings. He warned of the trend toward more administrative amendments and approvals, where no hearings take place. Stanak suggestion that in 21st century, instead of the original criteria of ‘10 acre towns and 1 acre towns,’ Act 250 should be triggered by ‘compelling state interests’ - protecting the state's most critical finite natural resources.
Rep. Charlie Kimbell, (D)-Woodstock, addressed the committee to explain why he introduced H.197 (known as the Administration bill). Kimball said he believes the changes to Act 250 in the bill strike the right balance in encouraging development while protecting Vermont’s critical environmental resources. He pointed out the key parts of H.197 that would accomplish modernization of Act 250;
· Removing jurisdiction in enhanced designation areas.
· Identify, through planning, unique value resource areas.
· Updating criteria so they are consistent with agency programs and rules.
· Flexibility in forest industry hours of operation.
· Exempting recreation trails from jurisdiction.
Rep. Kimball reminded the committee of the trusted experts who work in the Agencies of Natural Resources and Commerce and Community Development, saying they are diligently working within this framework of balance.
Ed Larson from the VT Forest Products Association gave a presentation that strongly defended the importance of the industry in Vermont, and warned of potential dangers to industry if the exemption for farming, logging, and forestry below 2,500 feet is repealed. Larson encouraged the committee to ask themselves - “what problem are we trying to solve?”
Mark-up of the Act 250 Committee Bill continued Friday afternoon. The committee completed a first read through of habitat and forest block definitions, though several members were clear that they would like to return to review the definitions in the near future. The committee will begin testimony on climate change next week.
Other documents of interest-
Summary Comparison of Act 47 Commission Draft (Committee Bill) Legislation and Executive Branch Draft Legislation H.197
Paid Family Leave
House Ways and Means will be taking testimony from Home Builders on the Paid Family Leave Bill, H.107, on Wednesday, February 27th. Six of the eleven members of this committee have co-sponsored this bill but we hope to raise issues of concern that are compelling to the group as a whole.
A helpful PowerPoint prepared by the Joint Fiscal Office on the tax treatment of paid family leave benefits can be found here.
A state by state comparison of paid family leave benefits was also reviewed in Ways and Means.
Further testimony revealed that the payroll tax will have to be collected for two years before any benefits can begin to be paid out since the state will need to build up a reserve fund. Also, by year five the fund faces a projected shortfall so the payroll tax will have to be increased.
New Bill Up for Consideration
H.351 proposes to clarify the purposes for which the Workers’ Compensation Administration Fund may be used, to repeal the Short-Time Compensation Program, and to permit the Passenger Tramway Board to expend funds for ski lift mechanic training, education, and apprenticeships.
House Commerce and Economic Development is asking Home Builders to testify on this bill on Friday, March 1st at 10:00 am.
And in other news: