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Rep. Sheldon’s Legislative Review: Water quality bill will protect Vt.

As a new member of the Vermont House assigned to the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Committee, the first seven weeks of the session seemed to be entirely occupied by our work on the Water Bill — H.35. As a natural resource professional with expertise in water issues in Vermont this was a great bill for me to cut my teeth on! It is a complicated bill because it relates to issues confronting both the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Agriculture and it also includes multiple potential funding sources. By the end of last week the bill had been reviewed by the Natural Resources and Energy, Agriculture and Forest Products, Transportation and Judiciary committees and is on its way to the Ways and Means Committee this week.
The purpose of H.35 is to clean up the runoff entering all of Vermont’s surface waters by requiring land management practices that keep soil in place. The bill engages all land use sectors — including roads and highways, agricultural operations, developed land and urban areas, sewer treatment plants and forestland. The funding plan as the bill left the Fish, Wildlife and Water Committee was broad and attempted to link funding sources to the regulated land uses. For example, there are fees proposed for agriculture to help pay for increased Agency of Agriculture staffing. A two cent gas tax was proposed to create a Clean Water Fun to help towns pay for road upgrades.
What is the origin of such a complicated bill and how did we get it out of our committee in seven short weeks? In the case of H.35 it actually started last session in House Fish, Wildlife and Water as H.586. This bill passed the House but was stripped of funding and was not adopted. Fast forward a year, with the state working hard to demonstrate to the federal Environmental Protection Agency that we can implement a successful Phase 1 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Plan for Lake Champlain, the Shumlin Administration took H.586, reworked it and brought it to the chair of Fish, Wildlife and Water to seek his sponsorship of the bill.
A bill gets drafted upon request of a legislator by the Legislative Council. It is then reviewed by the sponsor and once the sponsor is happy with the draft, they may seek co-sponsors or they may choose to go it alone. The bill gets returned to Legislative Council where it is assigned a number based on when it was submitted. Once the bill has a number it will be presented to the full House for first reading on the next day the House meets. At first reading, the clerk or assistant clerk of the House reads the title of the bill and then the speaker assigns the bill to the appropriate committee. Once in committee, the bill gets tacked up on the wall, along with many other bills and is taken up at the pleasure of the chair.
In committee, legislators take testimony from many witnesses and provide ideas and intent to legislative council who then draft those ideas into the bill. In the case of H.35 we voted on the sixth draft of the bill on Feb. 20. The bill needs to be passed by the house by March 27 in order to “crossover” to the Senate and be eligible to become a law this year.
Once H.35 left our committee I found time to work on other legislative priorities — including health care and affordability. I have sponsored one bill — H.197, “An act relating to disclosure of the cost of health care services and clarity in hospital billing,” and co-sponsored others, including H.199, “An act relating to siting approvals for energy facilities,” and H.412, “An act relating to establishing a carbon pollution tax.”
The Legislature has a great new web page where you can find information on all of the bills being proposed this year and keep up to date on committee agendas. You can find it online at legislature.vermont.gov. There is so much going on in the Statehouse — if you are following a bill or feel strongly about an issue, please feel free to contact me — it helps me do a better job for you. You can e-mail me at [email protected] or leave a message with the Sergeant at Arms at 802-828-2228 or at my home number 388-9278.

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