Senate and House unlikely to agree on Act 250 this year

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(Host) It now appears very unlikely that the Legislature is going to pass a bill this year that makes significant reforms to Act 250. The Senate has given its approval to a bill that deals with local zoning permits while the House has passed legislation that makes key changes to the current Act 250 review process.

Governor Jim Douglas has been urging the Senate to take action on the House bill before the Legislature adjourns. But Senate leaders say they need more time to review the plan because they’re very concerned about key parts of the House legislation.

Speaking Tuesday night on VPR’s Switchboard program, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch suggested that the two chambers pass the less controversial elements of the bill this year and then deal with problem areas next year:

(Welch) “My view is that we can do what we should do. And what we can do today, we should do and postpone until tomorrow. And there are elements that are common to the House and Senate positions. The fact is we’ve worked extremely well and effectively in the Senate and in the House on local planning and zoning. We’re both working hard at other elements of this, including Act 250. But there are some aspects of that where the implications to Vermont’s environment really are important.”

(Host) But House Speaker Walter Freed said that approach could remove the urgency to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner:

(Freed) “And I think what the concerns for the House members would be that if they get into a conference committee and they don’t see enough there of the House bill dealing with Act 250, and it’s just how much of it is going to be there? If they agree to that and just say, ‘We’re going to work on the rest next year,’ the next year portion of it may never come along. Their concern is that they lose any leverage they have whatsoever to get the Senate to take up the issues that they are very much concerned about.”

(Host) The Senate Natural Resources is continuing to take testimony on this bill.

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