Report from Montpelier: May 8, 2014

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

By Rep. Joan Lenes

I expect this will be the last week of this legislative session. Tuesday, May 13 will be the final Tuesday morning at Bruegger’s Bagels for this year. Please join us at 7:30am. I am always available either in or out of session at jlenes@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at 999-9363.

As a State Legislator, my role is to balance the needs of local communities with the needs of the State. Even though Vermont is small in population and size, the needs can vary considerably. This is true with cell towers and telecommunications connectivity. In a recent article, I wrote about the role of municipalities and the Public Service Board in the telecommunications facility permitting process. Although Chittenden County may have access, it is not true of other regions. It was not realistic to think the provision of 248a, (within S.220) that allows the Public Service Board’s authority to review applications for certificates of public good for telecommunications facilities, was going to be allowed to sunset. Neither the House nor the Senate were interested in having that take place.

Knowing that, I worked to bring all parties together and have the municipalities participate and be heard by the PSB in a more substantial way. The Vermont Planners Association wrote in their April 21 legislative update, “In a pleasant surprise, S.220, as voted out of House Commerce last week (11-0), extends the sunset provision for the PSB review of telecom facilities to 2017 (as supported by VPA) and includes a version of Rep. Lenes’ language (supported by VLCT) to strengthen municipal participation in the Section 248a process.” I know this is not good news for those in Shelburne who would like the law to have telecommunications projects revert back to review under Act 250 and municipal zoning bylaws. Last week the Senate pushed to weaken the language I was able to get into S.220. At this point, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee has held firm. One change made was to have the sunset provision occur in 2016.

Knowing that the sunset provision was not getting repealed, I believe the new language offers municipalities a stronger voice in these situations.

I am hopeful we will pass legislation that will prohibit handheld devices. The language in H.62 (which has passed the House but not the Senate) prohibits the handheld use of portable electronic devices on Vermont highways while a vehicle is in motion. The Portable electronic devices include cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, GPSs, and other mobile electronics. The bill allows the use of these devices in hands-free mode. It also allows drivers to activate or deactivate a device if it is mounted in a cradle or otherwise fixed to the vehicle. The House has passed this several times only to be stopped by the Senate. The approach taken last week was to insert this language into the miscellaneous Department of Motor Vehicles bill. Stay tuned.

Rep. Kate Webb and I will write a thorough end of session report that we will distribute around town as well as running in the Shelburne News. We will talk about bills that passed, what they mean and their impact, as well as how and why we voted the way we did.

Hope you can stop by Bruegger’s Bagels for our last Tuesday morning coffee on May 13 at 7:30am.