Senate unlikely to pass permit reform bill

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(Host) It’s increasingly likely that the Legislature will not overhaul the state’s development review laws this year. Senate leaders say time is running out to consider the complex issue in this legislative session. But Governor Jim Douglas says there’s plenty of time. And he warns that the public will hold the Senate accountable if it doesn’t act this year.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Host) Governor Douglas campaigned on a promise to reform the state’s permit process and he got help from the Republican controlled House. The House last week passed a bill that consolidates permit appeals to an expanded environmental court and gives state environmental permits greater weight in Act 250 hearings.

The Senate has tackled permit reform from the other direction. It’s passed legislation that streamlines local zoning and planning procedures. But the Senate doesn’t have the statewide permit bill on the fast track. Senators say there probably isn’t enough time to pass it before the Legislature adjourns for the year. Douglas strongly disagrees.

(Douglas) “If the Legislature were adjourning this week, I might understand why permit reform might not get done. But if they’re still here weeks from today and the Senate fails to act on permit [reform], Vermonters have a right to be upset. They have a right to be unsatisfied, and they have a right to be unforgiving. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: Every day that passes that the Senate does not take up permit reform, is another day that they’re not doing their part to get Vermonters back to work. There’s still time.”

(Dillon) Douglas has made numerous speeches on the issue and has urged voters to contact senators to get them to take up the bill. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch says Douglas is playing politics with the issue.

(Welch) “In a way, I think that’s unfortunate. Because if you look at what’s been accomplished here – the bipartisan cooperation – we are sending a signal that we want to make life easier for our entrepreneurs, while we protect the environment. And as much as anything we want to send a signal that Vermont is a good place to do business. And when we’ve been successful with the jobs bill, local permitting reform, with Act 60, it puzzles why the governor would be out being negative on Vermont. I think it’s detrimental to the cause.”

(Dillon) Welch says the House committee that considered permit reform took 11 days of testimony over many weeks. He says the Senate wants to do an equally careful job with the legislation rather than rush it through.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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