The House Environment & Energy Committee heard from a few repeat presenters on Wednesday from the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Service, and Green Mountain Power. They didn't have much new to add to the conversation and one of them even said “I don’t really know what else I can offer to help you.”
Legislative Counsel then went on to walk the Committee through the S.100 sections that were not related to Act 250, beginning with Section 22. There were no changes but they highlighted that there were prohibitions that Committee should be aware of when up to line up with their discussions, for instance on parking decisions and other areas. Legislative Counsel reviewed other sections that were in place as well that should be further reviewed regarding this same line up with decisions that were being made. The Chairwoman Sheldon told legislative counsel that it wasn’t necessary to read prior findings. During the Committee discussion, one Representative suggested that legislators should "go read books" and other literature to learn about discriminatory zoning issues.
After they had finished walking through the underlying bill, Legislative Counsel reviewed an amendment that was being proposed. The Amendment would would allow municipalities to offer offer approval of bylaw changes to voters via Australian ballot. Additionally, Regional Planning Reports were discussed and would be revised, creating a "Housing Resource Navigator" program. The question of whether maintenance and absence of construction triggered Act 250 was raised. The Committee's amendment was focused, once again, on avoiding dealing with Act 250 and trying to pass a “Housing Bill.”
The House Ways & Means Committee also took up the bill on Wednesday. Chairwoman Kornheiser immediately set the foundation that S.100 was to be approached ONLY with their jurisdiction over fines and fees and not "policy changes." Legislative Counsel addressed the $116M appropriated from the General Fund. This included programs such as $2.5M for tenants and landlords, $200K for Homeshare expansion, and monies for a study on mobile homes. The bill also amends the eligibility for First Generation Home Buyer program applicants and the Missing Middle Housing Development pilot program (passed last year). The later would would now be a permanent program and no longer a pilot. Additionally, a new Rental Housing Revolving Loan Program would be created where VHFA is the lender and there is a cap on the lending capacity.
Legislative counsel also reviewed a change that had been asked for regarding a fire safety report. The intent of the report appeared to be directed at single family homes that are subject to permits when they rented out for several months as owners go away or are traveling. The permits that are required per fire safety requirements.
A member of the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) began to speak to the appropriation sections of the bill but was interrupted by a Representative who requested if he could identify the issues of disagreement between the House and Senate on Act 250. The answer was “No.” JFO proceeded on to the fiscal note based on the General and Housing Committee Committee and skipped the Act 250 sections stating that they were “still being worked on.”
The fiscal note identified the following impacts:
- Appropriations totaling $115.35M from the General Fund in FY2024 for housing development initiatives.
- Changes to the Act 250 permit process proposed in sections 16-17a would result in decreased Act 250 permit revenues in fiscal years 2024 through 2026.
- The new enhanced designation program proposed in sections 18-21 would result in one-time cost pressures for the Natural Resources Board of approximately $100K in FY2024 and up to $250K per year for necessary new staffing starting in FY024. This bill does not contain appropriations to cover these new costs or authorize new positions.
- There are additional provisions that propose reports and a study committee that are estimated to have negligible costs to the State.
The fiscal note itself contained some additional key points:
- Section 43 proposes to require the Auditor of Accounts to submit a plan for a performance audit of the residential housing development and approval process in Vermont.
- The Natural Resources Board notes that a new staff attorney and possibly a new compliance and enforcement officer would be needed to ensure compliance with the model bylaws and enhanced designation requirements, the cost of which would be $250K, which S.100 neither authorizes or appropriates for.
- Proposed changes to Act 250 would impact state revenues and result in new cost pressures to the Natural Resources Board.
On Friday, Legislative Counsel continued walking through the bill with the Environment & Energy Committee. One section of particular discussed was the Act 250 appeals section where any person aggrieved by the residential component of the bill, included affordable housing, could appeal. Legislative Counsel explained that there were other Act 250 statutes that specified the process in this area as well. There was discussion about "outside organizations" that had challenged the language in S.100 and Representative Sibilia wanted to flag this. Chairwoman Sheldon dismissed the request and didn’t want "further discussion" on it.
A debate ensued about whether or not it would be it would be "irresponsible" to move forward on Act 250 changes S.100 and whether changes should be held off on until next year beginning early in January. The Committee then continued with the walk through focusing on the "housing areas" of the bill.
There was some opposition, from both lobbyists and legislators, on the language surrounding whether municipalities can adopt more restrictive energy codes than the state ones. The concerns are that this could make some municipalities unaffordable.
The Committee is planning to reconvene on Monday to continue reviewing the bill.
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