By Guy Page
The House yesterday approved H.48, a bill giving municipalities flexibility in holding this year’s Town Meeting amid the pandemic. It also empowers the secretary of state to weigh in, for the health and safety of all concerned.
Brief descriptions of H.48 and several bills regarding the creation of energy and food instate appear below.
House passes pandemic Town Meeting bill. H.48 passed the House yesterday amid concerns about holding Town Meeting during a continuing pandemic. It gives towns significant flexibility in how they may hold Town Meeting. It also gives broad, some would say vague powers to the secretary of state. Specifically:
- Selectboards/city councils may move the date of Town Meeting to a date later in the year;
- Selectboards/city councils may require the municipal clerk to mail to all of the active registered voters in the municipality the Australian ballot to be used at the 2021 annual municipal meeting;
- the Secretary of State may order or permit appropriate elections procedures that supplement and relate to any municipal authority in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of voters, elections workers, and candidates.
H.57 would require a five-year economic plan from a centralized economic council. H.57, the Vermont Economic Solutions Act, would create a 21-member Council on the Economic Future of Vermont to make a five-year plan for Vermont to grow the majority of its food within five years. It would also plan to strengthen rural infrastructure, increase Vermont household income to the top fifth in the nation, and address and prevent adverse childhood experiences.
H.57 is sponsored by Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, vice-chair of the Government Operations Committee, and Dave Yacovone, D-Morristown, a member of House Appropriations. The bill has been sent to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
State House observers wonder if this bill is an economic planning version of the Global Warming Solutions Act, complete with an appointed council.
H.64 would continue subsidies for the Ryegate woodchip plant for another 10 years. H.66 would extend the renewable power portfolio for the 20 MW Ryegate woodchip burning power plant for 10 years. This would allow it to continue with subsidized rates.
H.66 is the House “companion” bill of S.1, introduced into the Senate recently. The Senate wanted to extend the renewable power portfolio this last year, but it didn’t go through. Now it’s being pushed in the Senate and in the House by Rep. Avram Patt of Morrisville, a former renewable hydro power developer.
The Ryegate plant generates renewable baseload power. Baseload means it makes power as needed by the power grid, not at the whims of nature like solar and wind power. That’s a valuable attribute for the operators of the power grid, whose job it is to match power generation with consumer power demand. As an instate power plant, its continued existence would be a good “fit” for lawmakers who want Vermont to become renewable energy-independent.
The plant employs 20 people and puts $7 million into the wood products industry. Its subsidies total about $5 million per year.
Tax increase unlikely due to federal spending, Scott opposition. President-Elect Joe Biden and likely new Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders both support giving federal recovery money to the states for non-Covid specific items. If Vermont receives a large chunk of this money, the feared budget gap will likely be buried under a torrent or recently-printed federal dollars. At his press conference yesterday, Gov. Scott said he continues to oppose any tax increase – “we need more taxpayers, not more taxes,” he said. Even the Vermont media is being encouraged by Rep. Peter Welch to apply for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) federal recovery funding. They weren’t eligible last time but they’re eligible under the latest recovery bill, he said at a press conference in December.
These two developments — the likely influx of federal dollars, and Gov. Scott’s reluctance to raise taxes — suggest that while our taxes won’t go up, our state spending, and reliance on Washington, will continue to grow.
Global Warming Solutions Act Climate Council under attack for conflict of interest, white supremacy. H.39, sponsored by a Democrat and co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers, “proposes to require that the members of the Vermont Climate Council do not participate in matters in which they have a conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Lead sponsor Linda Joy Sullivan, D-Dorset, says members representing utilities, businesses, and publicly-funded weatherization services all have a potential conflict of interest. Leaders of renewable power companies are among the Climate Council members. This wouldn’t be the first time conflict of interest has been raised as a problem for government-established boards promoting renewable power and comprised of renewable power business leaders. After renewable power developer and advocate David Blittersdorf received $4.3 million in funding from the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund, Gov. Peter Shumlin asked him to resign from the VCEDF board. Blittersdorf resigned but denied any conflict of interest.
48 Hour Waiting Period for gun sales introduced. Once again, Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Burlington, has introduced legislation, S.4, to require a 48-hour waiting period after the completion of the required federal firearms purchase background check. A similar bill failed in last year’s legislature. No explanation for its purpose is given, but a $500 fine for non-compliance is included.
Notifying police of “extreme risk” gun owners. S.5, introduced by Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, would “permit a health care provider to notify a law enforcement officer when the health care provider reasonably believes that a patient poses an extreme risk of causing harm to himself or herself or another person by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a dangerous weapon or by having a dangerous weapon within his or her custody or control.”
Read more of Guy Page’s reports at Vermont Daily. Vermont Daily is sponsored in part by True North Media.