MONTPELIER – The Vermont Senate on Wednesday approved another version of a bill that would give towns more say in renewable energy siting, but the measure may have hit a roadblock in the House.
The Senate’s voice vote was cheered by activists who have dogged lawmakers as they considered the bill this year.
“We’re definitely in the ninth inning. The House is back up to bat. The Senate has just hit a home run,” said Sally Collopy of Vermonters for a Clean Government. The group has been critical of the way renewable energy projects are being developed in the state.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier and chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said later that he wanted the Attorney General’s Office to weigh in before agreeing with Senate language on regulating sound from wind towers.
Noise from the turbines has been a key issue for renewable energy critics, who say the noise causes health problems for people living near wind towers.
The Senate version of the bill calls for the state Public Service Board to issue new rules on noise levels by July 1, 2017. And it put developers on notice that if they got their projects permitted after April 15 of this year, they may have to live by rules likely not approved for another 15 months.
Klein questioned whether rules applied retroactively would pass constitutional muster, and said that was the question he hoped the attorney general could answer.
Meanwhile, conference committees were meeting in a bid to wrap up tax measures and spending bills in time for lawmakers to adjourn for the year by this weekend. Among the items still being debated: supplemental funding for the Vermont State Colleges, with the House conferees pushing for $800,000 and the Senate looking to hold the line at $600,000.
The House completed action on a bill calling for both Medicaid and private insurers to cover birth control and sterilizations, including vasectomies, by approving minor changes passed by the Senate. It was on its way to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who supports it.
The House concurred with minor Senate changes on to a bill the House passed earlier. The bill bars those plans from charging copays and deductibles.
Concurrence with the Senate came on a voice vote without the debate that occurred when the measure first passed the House two months ago.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in March about whether religiously affiliated organizations should be exempt from the requirement that they include contraceptives coverage in their employee health insurance plans.
The next day, on March 24, the Vermont House defeated a narrower exemption. It would have applied just to houses of worship, and not to religiously affiliated schools and hospitals.
The bill has no religious exemption.
A push to ban or restrict the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn in Vermont, a measure being pushed in multiple states as a way to slow the slaughter of the animals in Africa, appeared to be falling by the wayside. House and Senate conferees said they could not agree on language governing people who have legally obtained ivory in old pianos, gun handles and other antiques.
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