The Word in the House 4/23/2012 - The End Game

As the session heads into the last week, it really requires a scorecard to figure out what is happening to some legislation.  Bills passed by the House and sent to the Senate have seen changes to essential elements.  The same has happened to some bills sent to the House by the Senate.  Bills that were passed with different provisions by each body are now in conference committees consisting of three House members and three Senate members to see if the differences can be ironed out to the satisfaction of both.  As we begin the last weeks of the session, some bills may even die for lack of action.  Here are some of the bills that have passed both the House and Senate in recent weeks. 

Conserved land is an important asset for Vermont.  The Conservation Easement bill, S.179, strengthens the ability to protect conserved land from being developed.  When a property owner conveys a perpetual easement for conservation purposes to a town, a conservation group or another entity, that easement persists even if the property changes ownership.  If the terms of the easement are violated, S.179 allows the holder of the easement to take the violator to court with or without the participation of the owner.  Another provision of the bill creates a working group to study the issues around amending a perpetual conservation easement when situations or conditions affecting the easement change over time.  S.179 was passed by the House with amendments and has been sent back to the Senate for its agreement.

Another Senate bill, S.106, increases civil penalties that towns can charge for violations of municipal ordinances and by-laws.  It also repeals an 1876 law making towns responsible for damage done by dogs to livestock.  The House amended the bill by adding a section on embezzlement which asks the State Auditor to design a checklist that will act as a tool to help establish the internal controls for counties, municipalities, and supervisory unions.  This provision also requires Town Treasurers to file quarterly financial reports with their selectboard or city council.  The State Auditor will be required to post on the official website a summary of all financial fraud against any agency of the state.  If the Senate does not approve these amendments, the bill will go to a conference committee. 

A bill that saw some floor debate last week was S.237 relating to the establishment of a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).  This is an interesting proposal that has the potential to give policy makers additional information beyond the Gross State Product, which is a measure of goods and services produced statewide.  The GPI adjusts the Gross State Product by quantifying the positive and negative economic, environmental, and social impact of economic activity on the well-being and long-term prosperity of our state's citizens.  S.237 gives approval for the state’s Joint Fiscal Office to cooperate with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at UVM to establish and test a GPI measurement system.  All work will be done by the Gund Institute which will report back to the legislature with its results.  No state monies are involved.

There are several key bills that still need to be finalized by the House and Senate before we can adjourn.  These include the Transportation bill, the Capital Adjustment bill (regarding buildings and services), and the Budget.  We hope to adjourn sometime during the first week of May.