Legislative Update - Town Meeting Day 2024

The Vermont Legislature is on Town Meeting Break. On everyone’s minds this week is affordability, housing, and public safety.  I have heard from constituents throughout my District and beyond with serious concerns about the shortage of law enforcement officers and first responders contributing to life-threatening situations, unaffordable housing costs, increased taxes, and escalating budgets. While these very concerning issues are brewing, the Legislature is addressing very few bills that get to the heart of these matters. Most of my committee time has been spent listening to hours of testimony amending cannabis statutes, standing up ethics policies for both state and municipal officials, and amending alcohol permits. Given the crisis that our state is in, every committee should be collaborating to solve the triple whammy of unaffordability, non-existent housing, and rising crime.  The majority party leadership is the driver of what gets taken up by committees, whether the House or the Senate will “take the lead” on developing bills, who is invited to testify, and how new drafts of legislation are presented. Regardless of who submits a bill for introduction or which committee does the hard work on the bill, who you know in this session is the determinant of a bill’s fate. I’ll point to housing as an example that everyone is familiar with: A tri-partisan housing bill H.719 was introduced into the House on January 10; it remains on the wall in House Environment & Energy.  A companion committee bill, S.311(BE HOME), was voted out favorably on February 20 after several weeks of hard work by that committee, only to remain on the wall in Senate Natural Resources, the sister committee to House E&E. During the summer, three separate study committees came together to produce three reports on ACT 250 reform that are interdependent (Natural Resources Board necessary updates to ACT 250, State Designation Programs, and Regional Planning Commissions). Those recommendations were published with the expectation that committees with ACT 250 jurisdiction would take them up concurrently, knowing that the reports represent a collaborative compromise. But House E&E has worked almost exclusively on H.687, an act relating to community resilience and biodiversity protection through land use, since January 9, without regard for the work of those three reports to advance housing goals, and despite requests from the Rural Caucus to do so. We now know that leadership is using the expected passage of this bill, which is centered on land conservation, as the vehicle for any and all housing legislation being taken up this session. In other words, whether or not housing advocates agree with the sweeping land conservation efforts being proposed in H.687, the only chance we have to enact legislation making significant investments in housing, something that hasn’t been done in over 40 years, is to agree with H.687 – that’s the train the housing caboose is being hitched to.  This Legislature needs to take a hard look at what the priorities are for Vermonters and how to achieve them in the most efficient, affordable way we can without creating overreaching and onerous regulations that drive away the people we most need to stay in our beautiful state.

Although I am not in person at meetings this week, I am always available at [email protected] and will respond within 48 hours.

Stay well,

Rep Lisa Hango, Berkshire


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