The legislature was back in session last week after taking a week off at Town Meeting. At Town Meetings throughout the Windham-2 District, I heard questions about reappraisals, S.5, 2nd Amendment protections and Carson v. Makin. More information on these items is outlined below.
I believe everyone’s power is now back on – ours came back on Saturday afternoon, having been off since Tuesday (our internet is still off). I know long outages can be hard and rural Vermonters are especially and increasingly more vulnerable.
Some may recall previous data I have shared about the increasing intensity and moisture in our storms and the resulting need we have for increasing resilience in the electric grid. Our utilities have been working for years to increase resilience of our grid.
GMP is in the process of transforming its grid. It’s moving away, she says, from large generator plants and long transmission lines, and toward a more decentralized approach premised on technologies like networks of utility-connected devices and new, cheaper battery storage, in a system meant to protect against massive power outages and hasten a transition away from fossil fuels.This Vermont Utility Is Revolutionizing Its Power Grid to Fight Climate Change. Will the Rest of the Country Follow Suit? July 2021
Some opposed to reducing fossil fuel usage have openly questioned whether Vermont has access to ENOUGH POWER (*see more on S.5 below) as we transition to less fossil fuel use for heat and transportation. The reality is that Vermont’s regulated electric utilities generally utilize renewables and long term power purchasing agreements to lock in stable pricing and adequate capacity.
While rates may be higher then we want, rates are even higher in the unregulated states not utilizing long term power purchasing agreements around us. Ratepayers in our neighboring states are more deeply affected by the unrest in Europe.
Five of the New England states have “deregulated” energy markets, meaning power generation is separate from power distribution. But in Vermont, utilities can own power plants or solar farms and sell their customers the electricity they produce.
Additionally, Vermont utilities meet the vast majority of their electricity needs through long-term contracts, like those with Hydro-Québec. These factors make comparing price changes in Vermont to the other states a bit of an apples to oranges situation.– Why electricity prices are rising unevenly across New England September 2022 By Miriam Wasser, WBUR, and Mara Hoplamazian, NHPR
So while we have enough power, and our prices are more stable then our neighbors, what is a significant concern, is resilience, and the speed with which we are able to harden our grid and move or bury our lines. As we continue to see, our grid is vulnerable to more intense storms, winds and moisture. The resilience of our grid is something I have spent a lot of time talking with our utilities across the state about. There is a federal funding that can help, but hardening of the grid is being slowed down by several factors:
- cost – costs to improve the grid are born by ratepayers. Our utilities are all different sizes and governance structures – moving lines and burying lines costs money
- some needed realignment of renewable energy incentives – merchant renewable generation (not renewable generation just for your house or your building) adds costs to rates, further suppressing funding for hardening the grid
- permitting and state policy – burying lines and moving lines out of the tree line often require permitting and in some cases the permitting can be difficult to get. For instance, I am aware that in the case of the lines that feeds Goose City and some other back roads in Newfane, Townshend and Wardsboro – there is a significant permitting delay holding up the utilities ability to move the lines and reduce outages in this area which sees frequent outages.
Our Southern Vermont utility, Green Mountain Power, is planning to meet with communities about severe weather outages, and I will help facilitate that meeting in our district. I will also be meeting with GMP in Montpelier this week to hear more about this particular storm and the extensive outages that persisted throughout Windham County despite 500 line workers being deployed. I don’t believe these outages are occurring because of a lack of effort, but because of factors like those I’ve outlined above which are slowing down the necessary acceleration of adapting our electric grid for our changing climate. These are important conversations about how rural Vermont is adapting to climate change and I hope you will participate if you are able.
From VLCT’s weekly update: “On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee took up a revised draft bill to revamp the property assessment process. The bill, H.480
- would delete the requirement for the Commissioner of the Department of Taxes to order a town to reappraise if its common level of appraisal falls below 85 percent or increases beyond 115 percent and
- would require a town to reappraise its entire grand list if the coefficient of dispersion is greater than 20.
It would also create and fund a statewide office of reappraisals at the Department of Taxes. The Commissioner would establish a schedule for town reappraisals and publish it annually. The department would contract with one or more appraisers to
- conduct statistical reappraisals of a town’s grand list two years after the full reappraisal and
- conduct full reappraisals every six years.
Towns would be paid $2 per parcel for costs related to maintenance of the grand list.
By December 15, 2023, the department would submit a progress report on the first six months of the statewide reappraisal office and defining new categories of property for homestead and non-homestead properties. By December 15, 2024, the department would submit a progress report on implementation of the statewide reappraisal system and its litigation assistance program, as well as recommended language for new categories of property. “
Reducing fossil fuels in heating
S.5 An act relating to affordably meeting the mandated greenhouse gas reductions for the thermal sector through efficiency, weatherization measures, electrification, and decarbonization has passed the House and is now in my committee. I wrote about this bill in Week 8 this year and extensively last year, including in this piece:
I will be holding an online Zoom on Saturday April 8th at 11:30 to discuss the bill and take questions.
I am aware of the notice pictured below which has been sent out by at least one local fossil fuel company in our region. There is both speculation and missing information in this political ad. Especially that:
- 70 cents is a number put forward by the governor, and it appears to rely on incomplete and flawed economic modeling. My sense is that “70-cents more per gallon” does not add up – but Vermonters can be reassured, S.5 requires us to find out costs prior to voting to enact.
- $20,000 for a new heating system presumes ripping out and replacing your existing heating system which is both impractical and not envisioned as part of the bill. I heat with wood and propane and expect to continue to do so after this ball is passed. Weatherization is one of the largest opportunities for most Vermonters to reduce fossil fuel usage.
- Missing from this alarming note is the actual (not exaggerated) $2.00 a gallon increase increase fossil fuel dealers passed along – without notice or fanfare – over the past two years,
- the increasing vulnerability our smallest fossil fuel dealers face as Vermonters who have the means to transition away from fossil fuels are increasingly doing,
- and that grants and consumer incentives specifically targeted to low and moderate income Vermonters are envisioned to be an outcome of the law.
Of note, the Vermont Public Utility Commission will conduct analysis and develop this fossil fuel transition mechanism – and then come back to the legislature for a vote before enacting it.
Senator Anne Watson How the Affordable Heat Act Works
H.230: An act relating to implementing mechanisms to reduce suicide
This bill came out of House Judiciary with a 7-4-0 vote and will be taken up by the entire House this week. The bill requires storage in places where children are expected to be, allows family and household members to file for Extreme Risk Protection Orders and institutes a 72 hour waiting time for firearm transfers. I wrote more about this bill last month.
Carson v. Makin and private schools
I have previously explained that Vermont’s school choice laws are now in conflict with Vermont’s constitution.
On Friday the House Education Committee passed out a bill, H.483 by a vote of 7-4-1 which proposes to place new antidiscrimination requirements on private schools seeking publicly funded students, restricts choice out of state to 25 miles and puts in place a moratorium on approving new private schools until additional action by the General Assembly. These are significant actions and independent schools opposed many of the proposals in committee.
While these proposals attempt to address some of the potential consequences the Carson v. Makin decision could result in, these proposals do not actually address the conflict with Vermont’s constitution, and that Vermonters are now being compelled to pay for religious worship through their taxes. This means the larger issue remains unresolved and will likely result in court decisions for resolution.
Here is a summary of what the House will vote on this week:
The bill require that any approved independent school that intends to accept public tuition must be located in Vermont or within 25 miles of the Vermont border and :
- Must enroll any student who requires special education services;
- Must provide each sending LEA with regular attendance reports for students attending the school on public tuition; regular reports of the academic progress of students attending the school on public tuition; regular reports of any enrollment change for students attending the school on public tuition, including withdrawals, suspensions, or expulsions, including notify the sending LEA the same school day if the school is considering expelling a publicly tuitioned student;
- Must have adopted and implemented policies and procedures to comply with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act, and the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act;
- May not use an admissions process for publicly tuitioned students that includes interviews, entrance exams, academic history, required campus visits, or consideration of ability to pay for any costs or fees;
- the school may set a capacity limit on the number of publicly tuitioned students the school will accept; and
- the school must establish a nondiscriminatory selection process, such as a lottery, when the number of publicly tuitioned student applicants exceeds any capacity limits;
- Must provide the results of all State-mandated assessments of students on public tuition to the Agency of Education, which shall publish the results on its website in a manner consistent with the publication of the same results for public school students;
- The school’s tuition rate for publicly tuitioned students shall be the same as or lower than the tuition rate for private payer students and both tuition rates shall be published on the school’s website;
- Must not charge publicly tuitioned students an application fee, an academic fee, or any other fees for academic materials.
To ensure that these requirements are met, the bill requires that annually, on or before August 1, schools must attest to compliance with these and all other statutory requirements for approved independent schools, and the Board’s rules for approved independent schools including documentation of the following:
- a statement of nondiscrimination, posted on the school’s website and included in the school’s application materials, that is consistent with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act, and the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act;
- an assurance, signed by the head of school, that the school complies with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act in all aspects of the school’s admissions and operations; and
- an assurance, signed by the head of school, that no public funds were used to subsidize the tuition of private payer students.
The bill empowers the State Board to investigate and resolve allegations of noncompliance and establishes a moratorium on the approval of any new initial applications of an independent school by the State Board until further direction by the General Assembly.
Ranked Choice Voting
An important tool for improving voter choice, decreasing partisanship and increasing the incentives for issues based campaigning has passed out of the Senate government Operations Committee – and I am thrilled! This is a proposal for which I have sponsored a similar bill in the House, and I have worked with legislators during my time in elected office to move this reform forward.
From VLCT’s weekly newsletter: “…the Senate Government Operations Committee unanimously voted out S.32, a bill that empowers towns, cities, and villages to implement ranked-choice voting in local elections and sets up a framework for moving the state towards statewide ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. The bill would authorize either the voters of a town, city, or village, or the legislative body, to vote to adopt a ranked-choice system of voting if they use Australian ballot voting for local elections. A town, city, or village may begin using ranked-choice voting at the 2024 annual meeting and then thereafter. If a town, city, or village votes to adopt a ranked-choice voting system but chooses to discontinue use of the system, only the voters are authorized to vote to discontinue ranked-choice voting, regardless of whether the initial authorization was approved by the voters at large or by the local legislative body.
The bill further specifies the information that must be included on ballots, how tabulation of votes must be administered, and how voting results must be reported. It includes an appropriation to the Secretary of State’s Office to help communities that vote to implement a ranked-choice voting system to educate and assist the municipality with implementation.
S.32 also sets up a framework for moving the state towards statewide implementation of a ranked-choice voting system for statewide elections. A Ranked-Choice Voting Study Committee is proposed to study and make recommendations on how Vermont can implement such a voting system by 2026. A report from the committee would be due January 15, 2024, to instruct further action by the legislature.”
That’s it for now! But check out this article from VTDigger on all of the bills which made the cut for further debate this year – crossover:
Final Reading: Many bills made it across the crossover threshold. Some did not.
If you have questions or concerns about any of these bills, reach out so we can discuss.
Monitor the bills I am sponsoring and recorded roll call votes.
As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia – Dover, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton, Wardsboro