Legislative Update Week Ending April 2, 2021
Senate Finance Reviews
S.128 An act relating to the taxation of grid-connected renewable energy plants, energy storage facilities, and energy transformation projects
The Senate Finance Committee discussed a bill aiming to treat energy storage facilities and small scale solar projects (under 50kw) the same as power generators like solar fields. Therefore, it exempts the land from the traditional property tax and imposes an annual uniform capacity tax at a set rate. There are some questions the Tax Department needs to look into, such as how it would interface with land enrolled in current use. Discussion will continue but there may be the need to run this through the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Senate Natural Resources Looks at
S.119 An act relating to establishing a community energy program
Committee members took testimony. This bill is developing into a conversation about Tier II renewable goals (distributed, in-state generation). It is similar to S.267 from last year, which aimed to cap Hydro Quebec and to prioritize renewables at any cost. This is the last year of the Standard Offer Program for renewable energy. Developers have struggled to overcome some cost or permitting issues, leaving many projects unrealized. Advocates for this bill said this Standard Offer Program was “a good starting point” but there needs to be more action from the Legislature to promote the use of solar. This bill would address the shortfalls in existing programs and expand the potential for net-metering.
- Vermont is not appropriately accounting for carbon in its electricity sector due to the sale of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and the use of largescale hydro
- The on-site solar cap needs to be eliminated
- Full net-metering, the goal of S.119, needs to be reinstated
- Advancement of long-term energy storage is needed
- Current programs need to be more accessible to the BIPOC and low-income communities.
More discussion on this bill will occur in the coming week.
S.100 An act relating to universal school breakfast and lunch for all public school students and to creating incentives for schools to purchase locally produced foods
Senator Starr, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, requested passing over S.100 on the floor of the Senate until sometime next week. Due to push-back from numerous school districts on the lack of reimbursement to their hot-lunch programs, this language did not pass as easily as originally thought it would. The Senate Education Committee does not fully support the program requirement of a $6-8 million investment from the Education Fund annually. Upon completion of an amendment by the Legislative Counsel for an undefined amount of money from Appropriations, it was discovered language allowing independent (private) schools to opt into the program was missing. Discussion will continue on Friday as the Committee works to find solutions necessary to bring this bill to the floor.
Composting and Soil Amendments in House Ag –
S.102 An act relating to the regulation of agricultural inputs for farming
Though this bill was passed by the Senate last week (with the amendment as noted in last week’s Under the Golden Dome) it has not yet found its way into the House Agriculture Committee. Members heard from advocates from the biotechnology, agribusiness, and feed industries on their concerns with the language. The Committee found it difficult to follow along with their suggestions as no testimony had posted on the website. An update will be provided once the issues are posted.
Testimony was heard from a neighbor to the Vermont Compost Company in East Montpelier. Enough questions were raised to result in a discussion of composting issues with Cathy Jamieson, DEC Solid Waste Manager; Cary Giguere, VAAFM; Karl Hammer and Kent Ericson from VT Compost Company; Tom Gilbert, Black Dirt Farm, and others.
The Committee will continue to review the bill in its entirety next week. If you want to testify, email Jackie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Housekeeping Bill for Agency of Natural Resources #21-0956
The Committee on Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife walked through the revisions to the Draft 21-0956 and did not attach any of the bills we highlighted last week (bears, waste, trapping, etc.). They did eliminate the section giving authority to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to bill back any Act 250 applicant requiring Department assistance with their application. Members decided they would revisit this when they start processing their Act 250 language next week and add billback authority in that bill. They also removed Sections 23 and 24 which would have made changes to the Natural Resources Board for the same reason. The increase to the bottle redemption fee was also removed, as that language is in a separate bill. Legislative Counsel will return on Friday with a fresh draft for a vote.
Improvement of Rental Housing Health and Safety –
S.79 An act relating to improving rental housing health and safety
This bill passed the Senate and moved to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs this week. Although it does not contain the same requirements as H.200 as far as landowner residency requirements, Section 2 would create a State Rental Housing Registry and set up data collection program on Housing. There are two specific definitions of dwelling unit (as defined in 9 V.S.A. Section 4451) and short term rental as defined in 18 V.S.A. Section 4301 which will fall into this registry. There is also a $35.00 fee per rental unit annually although there are two pages of exemptions. Anyone who is renting portions of their homes (Airbnb) or have cabins for agritourism should look at this language and let us know if you have specific questions or would like to testify.
Expanded Unemployment Benefits –
S.10 An act relating to extending certain unemployment insurance provisions related to COVID-19
After multiple delays, this bill passed in the Senate by a roll call vote of 18-12, indicating the divided support of the language. Several Democrats voted against it. The additional weekly payment of $50 per dependent was included and will not begin until this fall when the Federal subsidy for Unemployment ends. There is a one-year freeze on Unemployment Insurance rates to the employer at Level 1. Unless something is changed the rate will jump to Level 5 at the end of that one year. The bill has been received by the House and the Speaker sent it to the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. Pressure from the business community will continue as this language is taken up.
Many of the money bills (Transportation, Education, Capital Funds and General Fund) are still in committees and have not made their way to the floors of either the Senate or the House. The Senate COVID relief spending bill has been on the Notice Calendar in the House but has been passed over several times as the House Appropriations Committee determines whether to agree with changes. There have not been many bills making it out of the House or Senate Agriculture Committees, leaving those members with a lot of time in the coming weeks to talk about bills still on the wall. Some advocates have heard that Senate morning committees will stop meeting within the next three weeks, indicating a push (at least from the Senate) to adjourn in early May. In the meantime, the Pension Fund challenges continue, and the Speaker is under increasing pressure to find a solution that does not include raising the teacher retirement age or the amount teachers donate to their pension.
The Vermont Climate Council and their subcommittees continue to meet. A report by next year appears unlikely. Though Governor Scott has created a Council on the Future of Agriculture in Vermont, appointees have not yet been decided.
Enjoy the beautiful spring weather.
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