Legislative Update – February 20, 2020

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Feb 20, 2020 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State HouseAct 250:

Last week, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife (NRFW) passed out a significant bill relating to Act 250. Congratulations to Rep. Kari Dolan for her work in the NRFW committee to bring this bill out of committee. My committee will take a very narrow view of the new appeals process and its impact on the judiciary.

Act 250 Bill Overview

BACKGROUND 
As Vermont has evolved over the past 50 years, so have the challenges facing our state. The proposed changes update and modernize Act 250 to better protect the environment and improve the Act 250 permitting process:

STRENGTHENING ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS & WORKING LANDS

  • Expanding jurisdiction to better protect ecologically-sensitive high elevation areas, natural areas, and working lands;
  • Expanding jurisdiction to address development around interstate interchanges;
  • Adding criteria to protect forests and increase protections for wildlife habitat, which are already shrinking under the pressures of scattered development and climate change;
  • Add criteria to address climate change through transportation and energy criteria, and incentives to concentrate new development in our designated town centers;
  • Improving protections for river corridors by requiring ANR to create a flood plain and river corridor permitting program that will increase resiliency in the face of more frequent, more intense flooding events brought about by a change in climate; and
  • Support the forest products industry through greater flexibility in permitted hours of operation and delivery of wood heat fuels.

IMPROVE PUBLIC PARTICIPATION 

  • Build in a pre-application meeting to allow applicants and interested parties the opportunity to learn about and discuss a proposed project, identify issues, and reduce points of conflict before applications are finalized, to better enhance public participation.

CREATE AN ENHANCED, INDEPENDENT BOARD 

  • Creating an enhanced, independent five-member Natural Resources Board (NRB) that will hear major Act 250 applications. The Board will be comprised of 3 full-time members who must meet certain qualifications and cannot be removed for political reasons, along with two regional District Commissioners.
  • A strong Board would bring additional resources and professional expertise to the review process, maintain regional input, better accommodate citizen participation, and ensure a fair and impartial review and appeals process.
  • A strong Board to administer Act 250 has not existed since the Environmental Board was eliminated in 2004, meaning there has been a disconnect between the Board and District Commissions, and no single entity to clarify areas of Act 250 policy.

MAINTAIN DISTRICT COMMISSIONS FOR MOST APPLICATIONS 

  • Maintaining the current system of District Coordinators and Commissioners processing minor applications (“minors”), making jurisdictional decisions, and deciding if a project is a major application (a “major”) or a “minor.”
  • Since 85% of Act 250 applications are either “administrative” or “minors,” most Act 250 issues would still be handled solely in the districts — as they are now — even in the newly proposed system.

Economic and Workforce Development: House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development 

Health Care Worker Shortage: There is an estimated shortage of 4,000 health care professionals in Vermont – these jobs run the range from personal care assistants to primary care physicians. With an aging workforce this number is estimated to increase to 6,000. There is a shortage of Nurse Educators which limits the number of students who can be admitted into nursing programs and provide required clinical oversight. One solution is to remove the mandatory requirement that all Nurse Educators have a Masters Degree. Another solution is to have regional reciprocity in nursing licenses. Other ways under consideration are loan consolidation or forgiveness and tax credits.

Workforce Development: We continue to examine Workforce Development programs. Do we continue to fund programs that create new jobs at a time where we do not have the workers to fill the existing jobs?  Do we put our efforts to train existing employees so that they can improve their skill levels and better support the organizations for which they work? There has been an impressive increase in the number of people taking advantage of apprenticeships. Over the past year, there has been an increase in plumbing and electrical apprenticeships – we saw a significant increase in the number of new apprentices, increasing from 405 in 2018 to 821 in 2019. There is tremendous opportunity for expansion of the registered apprenticeship program into more industry sectors, with a growing range of approved occupational titles which means more opportunities for additional apprenticeships. This is a hopeful sector of our post-secondary training goals.

Please stay in touch: [email protected] and 828-2228.