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Omitted energy planning funding to be restored

MONTPELIER – Language providing funding for regional planning commissions – left out of an energy siting bill passed by lawmakers in the waning hours of the legislative session – will need to be restored when lawmakers return in January.

Both House and Senate leaders agree that the funding – about $300,000 – was intended to be part of the final version of the legislation. The money will help the planning commissions develop regional energy plans and assist municipalities with town-level energy plans.

Those plans will be necessary under the law if local communities are to receive “substantial deference” from the Public Service Board when energy products are considered.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the absence of the funding in the bill was a simple drafting error as the office of Legislative Counsel worked quickly to update the legislation ahead of adjournment. There is no objection from either the House or the Senate to the funding.

“I believe that when you have the leaders and the negotiators all agreeing that the money was actually in the bill and the drafter inadvertently left it out, then it falls in the category of drafting error or technical correction and therefore will be in the final draft,” Klein wrote in an email.

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, agreed. He wrote in an email that the funding “was inadvertently omitted (due to a drafting error) from the Committee of Conference report, but it was the intent of both sides to include the funding.”

Bray added, “Given the state’s myriad financial resources, and given the complete agreement on moving forward on the planning program that was in the bill, I am confident that this glitch will be solved and the program will proceed as originally intended.”

But because lawmakers passed the bill without the funding, it will take subsequent legislation to fix it. The issue could be, and likely will be included, in the annual mid-year budget adjustment bill that lawmakers will work on when they return in January.

Klein said he removed the provision from the bill when the Senate sent its version to the House but relented during the end-of-session negotiations and agreed to include it.

“So if anybody would want to see it stay out, I would,” he wrote. “But I also was OK with it being restored when it came back. And it was in the version the Senate first returned to the House. Mistake by the drafter, not the intention of the House and Senate. That’s what I believe.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s spokesman Scott Coriell said the mistake will not hinder the bill from becoming law.

“We’re aware and are in conversations with the Legislature,” he said. “This is not an issue that would prevent the governor from signing the bill.”