Everyone seemed to be reading from the same page this past week as legislation on a few different fronts sailed through the House with little debate and disagreement. Here are a few highlights:
Capital Bill û This year’s Capital Bill won final approval in the House on a voice vote on Friday (4/1). This legislation, largely funded by general obligation bonds issued through the Treasurer’s Office, is the vehicle the State typically uses to address its long-term building and infrastructure needs. To take advantage of near record low interest rates, and to front load funding for some important projects, this year’s capital bill is comprised of a two-year spending plan, instead of the normal one year authorization. In all, the bill calls for an expenditure of $154 million; $90 million in FY 12 and $64 million in FY 13. The biggest outlay included in the spending blueprint is for a $29 million health lab proposed for a UVM-owned parcel in Colchester. Other spending authorizations of note, entail $10 million for the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to extend broadband and cell phone service and $4 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. This bill, like the other two outlined below, will now go to the Senate for review and consideration.
Transportation Bill û One old hand on the Transportation Committee told me that this was the first time during his tenure that the House’s version of the “T-billö differed only a smidgen from the Governor’s recommendation. In fact, the only difference was a $200,000 item the House Transportation Committee proposed for sidewalk improvements. This is a mere peppercorn when one considers that the total spending authorization on transportation is slated for $554 million in the next fiscal year (FY 12). With the expiration of Federal ARRA money, this year’s proposal is down about $41 million from FY 11. Most of the budgeted funding will be used for paving, road construction, bridges and local highway aid. However the plan also appropriates roughly $165 million for public transit, rail, aviation and a number of other non-highway items. The Transportation Bill was approved by the House on a voice vote this past Friday (4/1).
Consumer Protection û A bill updating Vermont’s consumer protection laws gained final approval in the House on Thursday (3/31) by a vote of 134-0 (Wilson voting yes). The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development spent a good deal of its time over the past few weeks educating itself about the new unscrupulous business practices that are now being employed by some outfits that haven’t made the Better Business list, and how best to protect Vermonters against them. Provisions in the bill bolster consumer protection against “crammingö (unauthorized charges on one’s phone bill), misleading discount memberships resulting in perpetual credit card charges and the misrepresentation of a geographic location by web-retailers. In addition, the bill requires that companies inform the Attorney General’s office of any security breech within fourteen days of the breech being uncovered.
That’s it for this week. I hear the session may wrap-up the first week of May. We’ll see. Enjoy those April showers.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative
4/4/2011 6:30 NULL 2011-Legislative-Update-Week-12-329–41 vermont Default TRUE 0 221 TRUE TRUE
525 77E681C2-1E4F-DC67-C3B6DDD7794C0EF9 CALAIS SAYS FAREWELL TO 48-YEAR ‘TOWN MOTHER’ Eva Morse, 72, has been Calais Town Clerk for almost 48 years, says the Burlington Free Press. She has been dog registrar, justice of the peace, historian and town meeting organizer, and is the only full-time employee of the town – with the exception of the road crew. She’s known as Calais’ “town mother.” Taking notes at this year’s Town Meeting was her last official duty. “Everything that gets done or doesn’t get done, it’s my fault or my credit, whichever,” Eva said. She ran things out of an office in her house surrounded by boxes of files, 14 cats, and a collection of orchids, until 2004 when the town built an office. Her dedication page which someone unknown slipped into the town’s annual report read in part: “For 48 years, Eva has watched over us. …She recorded our births; as justice of the peace, she married us; and she shed a tear for us as she recorded our passing. Most of all, she knew all about us and our neighbors.” Now it’s time for Eva to relax a bit. 4/4/2011 7:00 NULL CALAIS-SAYS-GOODBYE-TO-48YEAR-TOWN-CLERK craigaltschul Default TRUE 0 191 TRUE TRUE
526 44C50010-1E4F-DC67-C3E8ED1D62F5EC22 2011 Legislative Update: Week 13 (4/5 û 4/8)
With the must-do legislation (Budget, Capital Bill, Transportation Bill) approved by the House and now in the Senate for consideration, the House has turned its attention to more discretionary types of could-do, should-do pieces of legislation. Here’s a taste of lucky Week 13:
Energy Bill: Normally, things are fairly well choreographed between the Senate, House and Administration, and it’s also typical that respectful communication takes place between the Republican, Democratic and Progressive leadership about process, priorities and procedure. This effort at communication reflects a common courtesy that helps the system work more efficiently and seeks to avoid surprises (surprises are frowned upon in Montpelier). However, there are times that things do go astray in this regard. This past week, the so-called “energy billö served as a prime example of how the train can derail before reaching the station. The bill had two primary components: to renew and expand net metering provisions, and to effect a short-term (1 year) financing bridge to fund the State’s Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF). The net metering portion of the bill expands the possible range of benefits for those who install small renewable energy systems to get credit from their utility for the power they produce. No problem here, it was the CEDF funding provision that ran into trouble. With Vermont Yankee’s license expiring in 2012, the State has to come up with a new revenue source for CEDF in order to continue to subsidize alternative energy projects throughout Vermont. The plan, as set forth in H. 56, called for a one year 55 cent monthly surcharge on a consumer’s electric bill. This fee would raise $2.3 million. Even though this charge is pretty small potatoes any way you slice it or dice it, there was a contingent of naysayers who rolled out some rhetoric about it being unfair and regressive. Supporters held their ground and the House gave preliminary approval to the bill by a 99 to 39 vote (Wilson voting yes) on Tuesday (4/5). However, right after the House vote, the Governor let slip to the press that he had a better idea for funding CEDF. Surprise! So, the next day, sort of left in a lurch, the House pulled the CEDF funding section for the bill, and passed it with the CEDF question unresolved. I guess we now wait to see what the Governor’s better idea is. Hopefully it will be coming down the pike pretty soon, because time (and patience) is running short.
The Doyle Poll û Sen. Bill Doyle (Washington County û R) recently released his 42nd annual Town Meeting poll. Although an unscientific sampling of Vermont views on a dozen contemporary issues, it’s always good fun to peruse the results. This year, Sen. Doyle received completed survey information from 150 towns, 15,341 Vermonters (32 from Manchester). His #1 question for the 2011 survey asked about the relicensing of Vermont Yankee. Statewide a plurality of Vermonters said “yesö û 45% to 41% (although this question was asked prior to Japan’s earthquake). In Manchester only 34.4% answered in the affirmative, while 50.0% said “noö. Other items of interest included the support for a ban on cell phone use while driving (75% VT, 91% Manchester), the willingness to pay more for locally grown food (63% VT, 72% Manchester) and support for an expanded bottle bill (79% VT, 75% Manchester). On the question of physician assisted suicide/death with dignity û this was supported 50% to 36% statewide and 53% to 31% in Manchester.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative