Welcome to the 2020 Legislative Update. I will be providing a weekly update of the issues, bills, committee meetings and hearings of the Vermont Legislature. The 2020 legislature session began on January 7th, there have been numerous new bills introduced and several bills that did not pass last year, are being revisited. If at any time during the session you have questions or concerns, please contact me. Also, if you would like to visit the statehouse or chat with your Senator or Representative or testify on an issue please reach out and I will try to arrange that for you. INCLUDED IN THIS UPDATE
- Act 250
- Milk Bonding
- Eco System Services
- Clean Water Report
- Paid Family Leave
The House Natural Resources Committee wasted no time taking up Act 250. The committee heard from the Administration and VNRC, who had worked together over the summer, to find common ground with the Act 250 legislation presented last session. The outcome was a new proposal. The House Natural Resources Committee will now review the proposal and take testimony. Language in the new proposal exempts permit requirements for forestry and agriculture in ridgeline development and new road or driveway development.
The committee will be taking testimony this week on the new language for permit conditions and permit process as well as the new language for the Enhanced Natural Resources Board. There is a push to get this bill out of the committee and on to the Senate by the end of January.
Last session a Legislative Study committee was created to “update and clarify the requirements for regulation of wetlands under state statute.” The committee met several times and heard from several stakeholders. In the end the committee decided to send a letter to the Senate Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House “recommending that no legislation action be taken at this time.” The Study Committee will continue to monitor the wetlands issue. If clarity, predictability and cooperation between the agencies does not improve the General Assembly can pursue legislation.
S-209 An act relating to the bonding requirements for milk handlers This bill proposes to require the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets to report to the General Assembly regarding the sufficiency of the bonding requirements for milk handlers purchasing milk in the State. The Senate Agriculture committee will hear from Michael O’Grady, Office of Legislative Council and Cary Giguere, Agency of Agriculture on Tuesday morning regarding this issue.
ECO SYSTEM SERVICES
Soil Conservation Practice and Payment for Ecosystem Services Working Group
Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)
On Friday, the Senate Agriculture committee heard from Ryan Patch, Agency of Agriculture and Nancy Everhart, from Vermont Housing and Conservation Board members of the working group. They gave an update of the working group for Ecosystem Services. There is a great amount of work that will be needed to move this project forward.
The following is the collective view of the future from the working group: The Working Group envisions a system in which farmers are hired to use their ingenuity and know-how in caring for the land to rebuild Vermont’s natural capital.
The group has put together 8 recommendations for the legislature to consider. They include:
- #1: Charge and resource this Working Group over the next two years to explore and advance transformative investment in agriculture’s role to rebuild the natural capital of Vermont.
- #2: Advance our understanding of soil health and the services it provides.
- #3: Review, evaluate, and integrate existing tools for PES monitoring and modeling and also identify new tools and their potential for use in Vermont.
- #4: Support the tailoring or advancement of new emerging tools or programs.
- #5: Advance the design and development of PES approach(es) that regrow or sustain our natural capital so that it provides at least three ecosystem services: water quality, flood resilience, and climate stability.
- #6: Refine and evolve the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) to allow continued joint learning and engagement with farmers around PES.
- #7: Maximize access and use of existing programs to ensure farmers have capital to continue to implement practices or actions that lead to increased ecosystem services.
- #8: Seek additional grant opportunities, where feasible, to advance the vision of the Working Group during its chartered lifetime.
The Legislature, by creating the Working Group in 2019, has meaningfully brought together diverse conversations, stakeholders, and expertise, to scope and frame the work ahead. But the work is in its early stages. The work of creating a viable, powerful, extensive payment for ecosystem services approach for Vermont is just beginning. Thus, the Working Group asks for the Legislature’s sanction and support to continue to hone and bring to fruition the work we have started.
CLEAN WATER REPORT
The Vermont Clean Water Initiative 2019 Performance Report was submitted by the Agency of Administration and report by Emily Bird from ANR last week in House Agriculture. The yearly report gives an overview of the State’s clean water efforts and the effectiveness of the investments. The Agricultural sector has consistently, over the last four years, increased the number of acres utilizing conservation practices and significantly increased the total phosphorus load reduction. In 2019 the phosphorus reduction in kilograms was 2,698 compared to 713 in 2016.
FROM THE RETAIL AND GROCERS ASSOCIATION
Paid Leave Passes Senate
H.107 the Paid Family Leave Committee of Conference report passed the Senate early Friday afternoon on a vote of 20-9. The House will review the proposal next week. We anticipate that it will be sent to the Governor immediately after for his review.
The proposal would:
- impose a .2% payroll tax on all employees. Employers are not required to pay but can elect to pay employees’ contribution. Employees that make more that $7,400 per year will be eligible to take leave.
- allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid maternity/paternity/bonding leave for a newborn child. A couple can split up to 24 weeks. (Senate version wanted to allow for couples to split 16 weeks)
- provide wage replacement in a tiered format: low-income earners would earn up to 90% wage replacement, while higher income earners will see a lower percentage wage replacement.
The Governor, who recently negotiated an agreement with the Vermont State Employees Union which would also provide the eventual opt-in option for businesses and individuals, has vowed to veto any paid leave bill that imposes a tax on Vermonters. Progressive members of the House have expressed discontent for the final proposal which may make it difficult for a potential veto override.
BILLS OF INTEREST
- H-557 An act relating to municipal regulation of livestock running at large
- H-562 An act relating to the definition of agricultural land for the purposes of use value appraisals
- H-575 An act relating to bears doing damage to agricultural crops
- H-581 An act relating to the funding of the Department of Fish and Wildlife
- H-584 An act relating to disclosure of cyanobacteria outbreak prior to conveyance of real property
- H-616 An act relating to the professional regulation of land surveyors
- H-628 An act relating to Cross Vermont Trail directional signs
- H-633 An act relating to development and subdivisions above 1,500 feet
- H-673 An act relating to tree wardens
- H-674 An act relating to clarifying the definition of development used for use value appraisals
- H-688 An act relating to addressing climate change
- H-759 An act relating to the use of neonicotinoid-treated article seed H-766 An act relating to the regulation of cannabis
- H-794 An act relating to limiting liability for agritourism
- H-798 An act relating to the use of biochar
- H-828 An act relating to Vermont standards for issuing a Clean Water Act section 401 certification
- H-829 An act relating to the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos
- S-200 An act relating to the definition of housesite for use value appraisals
- S-280 An act relating to forest carbon sequestration programs
- S-310 An act relating to use value appraisals
- S-315 An act relating to administration and enforcement of agricultural water quality violations
To learn more about any of the bills listed above, visit the Vermont Legislative website at https://legislature.vermont.gov/ and use the very convenient search tool available. If you wish us to keep a keen eye on any of the above bills, please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org