PO Box 490, St. Albans Bay, VT 05481
The end is nigh. Is the end nigh? That pretty much sums up the talk around the State House’s proverbial water cooler. Token Floor sessions on Saturday advanced the calendar, and in-person working floor sessions are happening today, Monday. The work schedule has ramped up to a “get it done” pace. Will the legislature be able to complete all its business by Friday or Saturday of this week?
There are some substantive bills left to resolve before adjournment - housing, childcare and the budget, chief among them.
This morning, on a 20-10 vote, the Senate overrode the Governor's veto of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act which creates a performance standard and marketplace of credits for greenhouse reducing activities in the heating sector. The House is expected to follow suit.
RBES update- S.100, the housing bill, will hit the House floor this afternoon with a number of amendments. In particular, Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell will offer an amendment that pushes back any required adoption of updated RBES to July 1, 2025.
VBRA members have been very involved in the 2023 RBES updates, making recommendations to the advisory committee and participating in the public hearing process. Concerns have focused on the lack of inspection and enforcement of the codes, which leads to a lack of compliance by some builders. As the codes increase in complexity that gap in compliance will only increase.
Currently, the Department of Public Service has presented its final rule update recommendations to the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR). LCAR will meet on May 25th to consider the new rules. VBRA members are scheduled to testify and have been engaged in legislative outreach.
At the same time there is language in S.100 that, if passed, would create a study committee to recommend strategies for increasing compliance with RBES and Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES). VBRA has been named as a participant on that committee.
Though a longshot for success, Rep. Higley's amendment is intended to delay adoption of the new rules until the study committee delivers its report (on or before Dec 31, 2023) and the administrative and structural flaws present in the code are addressed.
Housing Bill - S.100 will be on the House floor this week. The House Committee on Environment and Energy passed out S.100 out with language that slightly raises the threshold of who may appeal a municipal permit decision. Currently, "any 10 who may be any combination of voters or real property owners within a municipality" may appeal. The bill adds, "an appeal shall not include the character of the area affected if the project has a residential component that includes affordable housing."
You can find a side-by-side comparison of the bill as it passed the Senate with the House Committee on Environment and Energy version here.
After strong advocacy from the House Rural Caucus, The Environment and Energy committee also included language that the construction of four or fewer units in an existing structure (think large old colonial being converted) located entirely within a designated center would count as one unit toward the total number of units.
Furthermore, the bill increases the Act 250 threshold to 25 units within five miles and five years in designated downtowns, neighborhood development areas, growth centers and village centers with permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws, but only until July 1, 2026. In order to secure the exemption, by June 30, 2026, a person must request and receive an Act 250 jurisdictional opinion that construction will be substantially complete by June 30, 2029. The 10/5/5 rule remains in effect outside designated areas, in other words.. the rest of the state.
One item of promise that did not move was a plan pushed by Chittenden County municipalities, spearheaded by Mayor Miro Weinberger, in which the legislature would delegate Act 250 criteria review to local governments that adopt bylaws addressing Act 250 criteria and demonstrate the capacity to administer Act 250 locally. This "municipal delegation" would eliminate duplicative and expensive permits that cost developers time and money as an alternative to the longstanding ask of removing designated areas from jurisdiction. Instead, the bill creates a report by December 31, 2023, from the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies with a proposed framework for delegating the administration of Act 250 permits to municipalities.
Other - In addition to the issues that the legislature continues to work on, the House has shelved two bills that seemingly had momentum after being passed by the Senate: S.9 – the bill permitting the Auditor’s office to examine finances of companies and organizations that do business with the state, and S.42 – the bill that would require the Vermont Pension Investment Commission to create a plan to divest Vermont’s pension plans from the fossil fuel industry by 2031.
What to expect in Week 19 – May 8–May 12, 2023
Note: Legislative Committee Agendas are updated frequently throughout each day. The latest committee schedule can be found on this link. A list of weekly hearings for all committees can be found here.
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