Legislative Update 2012
In contrast to the histrionics in Washington, the State House is abuzz with work not politics. OK, maybe 90% hard work, 10% politics. I took some time on Friday to visit the 14 House committees to give you a picture of activity there. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list; rather a few highlights out of the 600 or so bills that have been introduced during the 2011-12 sessions. Space precludes presenting all 14 committees. I have focused here on legislation growing out of the spring and summer flooding emergencies along with a few non-flood issues that are likely of interest.
GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS: The bulk of committee time will be devoted to reapportionment, aligning the 150 House and 30 Senate seats with changes in population identified in the 2010 census. October through December, the committee held community meetings around the state to hear response and recommendations to the August Legislative Apportionment Board report (chaired by Shelburne’s Tom Little). I still find it somewhat odd that we do apportionment in this way. Shelburne’s House seats will likely remain the same.
FISH, WILDLIFE AND WATER RESOURCES: We are developing two major bills, one related to river corridor management; the other, which I will be spearheading along with Representative Bob Krebs, will address Lake Champlain. These bills will capitalize on the large amount of learning gleaned from the 2011 spring flooding and Tropical Storm Irene.
NATURAL RESOURCES and ENERGY: The committee has begun a wide-ranging discussion on how to achieve more aggressive, renewable energy goals that reduce carbon emissions while growing a robust, green economy. Waste management is also on the docket as we are running out landfill space. The committee has started work on solid waste management that promotes reduction of waste disposal; encourages the use of sustainable materials; limits adverse environmental impact including greenhouse gasses and expands recycling of materials not currently being recycled.
JUDICIARY: The fall-out from Irene also brought forth a variety of property related legal questions. What happens to taxes and mortgages on property no longer there? What happens to property lines when river boundaries are substantially moved? Who is responsible for clean up of unclaimed debris on private property? The committee will be listening to recommendations of the Post-Irene Property Law Task Force to determine how to handle flood-related foreclosure, liability and real property issues. The report can be found at https://www.vtbar.org?New?Details.aspx?NewsId=79
WAYS AND MEANS: Last year, the Vermont Tax Department was tasked with a feasibility study to see whether the education tax should be collected through the current system of municipal billing or switched to a state billing system. Among the positives, this system would grant taxpayers greater privacy, simplify cash flow for the tax, and reduce confusion with municipal taxes and rate calculations brought on by the Common Level of Appraisal or CLA. Yet to be resolved are concerns regarding one bill with two payments, delinquent tax collection, abatement processes in emergencies, locally voted exemptions among others.
COMMERCE AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY: The committee is reviewing progress on last year’s Jobs Bill and the build-out of broadband and cell phone coverage prescribed in the Telecom Bill. They are also looking at how public and private insurance and philanthropy performed during the two flooding. Expect also to hear more about the Green Mountain Power and CVPS merger, particularly in relation to ownership and control over VELCO, the state’s electric transmission company. The committee has heard from the Public Service Board on its plans for a “full and fair” assessment of the merger and impact on consumers
In December, I was elected to the position of Deputy Assistant Majority Leader. As a result, I will be spending extra time in Montpelier making it a challenge for me to attend every Tuesday morning coffee at Bruegger’s. Instead, I will be available to meet most Monday mornings from 7:30-8:30 at Village Wine and Coffee but not February 14th or March 19th. I am always available via email at KLWEBB22@MAC.COM or by phone: 233-7798.