The House minority leader says he’d rather kill a renewable energy siting bill than allow changes to the legislation suggested by Peter Shumlin, the outgoing Democratic governor. On Monday, Shumlin vetoed S.230 because he objected to new sound standards for wind turbines that would place a de facto moratorium on new projects.
Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, said his caucus is prepared to override a veto, but would choke any attempt to modify the bill. He laid down the gauntlet at a press conference on Tuesday in advance of a veto session Thursday.
At the same time Turner said he and the GOP caucus would block modifications to the bill, he accused his Democratic counterpart, House Speaker Shap Smith, of deliberately preventing an override vote.
“If [Shap] doesn’t support an override, he is an obstructionist,” Turner said.
Smith said he is not obstructing the legislative process. “I’m trying to bring clarity to what happens, and [to put] some funding in place for the process that municipalities want,” he said. “I would think the Republicans would want the same thing.”
Shumlin, Smith and the author of S.230, Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, say lawmakers need to fix inadvertent mistakes in the bill that were introduced in the legislative session’s waning hours. Barring political maneuvering, the errors shouldn’t take more than a day to remedy, Bray says.
Turner says lawmakers should leave the bill as is and override the governor’s veto. An override would require a two-thirds majority vote; passage of a new bill with modifications would require a simple majority. While the original legislation passed 142-0 in the House in the waning days of the legislative session, Smith said on Monday a veto override could be a heavy lift.
The election season is in full swing and the issue has become partisan. Turner says House Republicans will not suspend the rules, and it could take five days to resolve the issue. Each day costs taxpayers between $50,000 and $60,000.
In the past veto sessions, lawmakers have adopted new bills in as little as three hours, Bray said.
“Really all this stuff depends on deciding to get work done, rather than slowing the process down,” Bray said. “From my point of view, if we were in a normal legislative day … by Friday or even the same day, if we wanted to, we’d make the fix, and nobody would debate whether to eliminate ambiguity and make it more clear.”
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell says while he wants to pass a renewable energy siting bill, he won’t let the debate go on for more than a day. Campbell anticipates that Republicans and wind opponents in the Senate will pull out every parliamentary procedure in the book.
The governor’s office has said Shumlin objected to S.230 because it requires new large-scale wind turbines to comply with the most restrictive sound standard approved by the Public Service Board. It turns out that that standard was written for a small, 150-kilowatt project in Vergennes. Renewable energy advocates say the new standard is a de facto moratorium on new large-scale wind projects.
In addition, because of a scrivener’s error, the bill lacks a provision setting aside $300,000 for training local officials to comply with the new law.
“My view is, we ought to try to get funding in place, and put language in the fix that will implement our intended results, and make sure there isn’t the possibility of litigation because of differences between the legislature’s and the administration’s interpretation of the law,” Smith said.
Turner says Shumlin didn’t have legitimate cause to reject the bill. “The governor manufactured these reasons to veto the bill,” he said.
Some lawmakers appear intent upon politicizing Thursday’s proceedings instead of focusing on their duty to get the legislation right, Bray said. “If we fail to get anything done, it’s not punishing the governor, it’s punishing Vermonters,” he said.
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