Legislative Report 5/10/2017 - Laws & Sausage

By the time you read this, the Vermont legislature will be within days of adjournment. You've probably heard the saying that legislating is a lot like making sausage. This is never more true than in the last couple of weeks of Vermont's legislative session. An example of how this works can be illustrated by Senate bill S.52.

S.52 was originally crafted to make some changes to the Public Service Board process for conducting CPG (Certificate of Public Good) hearings. As you may remember from previous articles, most bills have to be passed out of the House or Senate by a certain date called “crossover”, usually a week or two after Town Meeting, to be considered by the other body. There are exceptions, but these are limited to certain types of bills like money bills and municipal charter bills. However, there are ways to get around this limitation, as S.52 demonstrates.

As it came over from the Senate, the bill gives municipal and regional planning commissions a little more control over the 45 day pre-application period when a developer notifies the local commission of its intention to site an energy generation project. It allows the commission to require the Department of Public Service to attend a local hearing and to hire an expert at the applicant's expense to evaluate the project. It also extends by a few days the time for the commission to make recommendations to the PSB regarding the project. In addition, the bill standardizes the comment periods for energy, meteorological stations, and telecommunication facilities CPG applications to 30 days from their current periods ranging from 21 to 30 days. It gives the Department of Public Service authority to investigate complaints regarding noncompliance with CPG terms and conditions and to issue administrative citations and penalties up to $5000 for violations. Finally, the bill would change the name of the Public Service Board to the Public Utility Commission, the name used by most other states. The last provision would help alleviate the public's confusion between the Department and the Board.

Here's where the art of legislative scheduling becomes creative. Since the Energy & Technology Committee passed a number of bills earlier in the session that were not yet acted upon by the Senate, we decided to add them to S.52. These bills included the telecommunication facility siting process renewal bill (H.50), the ten year telecommunication planning bill (H.347), and the appliance energy efficiency standards bill (H.411). If by the end of the session the Senate never got around to acting on them, their language would be included in S.52. Also, since we were unable to finish a bill to have the Department of Public Service study the feasibility and benefits of energy storage technology, e.g. batteries, on the electric grid, we added this language as well.

The House passed these amendments to S.52, which was then returned to the Senate. The Senate can accept the amendments, thereby enacting it and sending it to the Governor. Or, it can make further amendments and send it back to the House. Or, it can decide not to concur and ask for a Committee of Conference between the House and Senate to iron out the differences. In the meantime, if any of the bills that were added passed the Senate before S.52 was finalized, the language corresponding to the enacted bill could be removed from S.52. Thus, from a variety of ingredients, a final bill can emerge. This “sausage-making” process occurs frequently as the House and Senate work to come to a consensus on various pieces of legislation before time runs out. I hope the “sausage” will taste good, or at least be in good taste.

I encourage you to let me know your concerns and opinions. I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).