MONTPELIER — The House of Representatives has agreed to changes in the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel as part of a miscellaneous energy bill approved on a second reading vote Friday.
The bill, H. 431, provides the advisory panel — established for community oversight of the former Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon — up to $35,000 annually, paid by the plant’s owners, for the panel’s operating expenses.
That amount would allow for the panel to hire consultants if needed, explained Rep. Katherine Sims, D-Orleans-Caledonia, who presented the bill to members. It passed on a voice vote.
The proposal also removes membership on the panel from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), as there are no longer workers represented by that union employed on the site. It adds a seat for the town of Vernon, where the former plant is located. And it renders seats for representatives from New Hampshire and Massachusetts optional, as those states have not appointed members in some time.
The bill also clarifies the role of the Department of Public Service in investigating accidents occurring on utility infrastructure, sets policy governing energy storage facilities, and exempts the details of utility cybersecurity programs from the state’s public records law.
Education bills pass
The House also gave final approval to three education bills: A community schools pilot program allotting federal funds for the hiring of coordinators in 10 districts; a federal grant-funded literacy program focused on literacy instruction in early elementary grades; and a re-establishment of the state’s school building assistance program which has been dormant since 2007.
Rep. Linda Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, said she wanted to support the bill. But she said she would not out of concerns that costs expected to be paid by districts, including the development of a facilities plan and the designation of a facilities manager, could push poor and rural districts into the excess spending penalty.
“I hope to get to a yes,” Sibilia said.
The community schools bill appeared to hit a bump in the road when Rep. Lucy Rogers, D-Lamoille 3, inquired about proposing an amendment just as Speaker Jill Krowinski was about to call the third reading voice vote.
After a brief recess, Rogers explained she considered proposing an addition to the grant requirements assuring preference for districts with the greatest social and economic needs. But Rogers said she was satisfied, following a discussion with the Education Committee, that the existing bill would address her concerns.
“I’m comfortable moving forward,” she said. “I’m supporting the bill in front of us because I think it’s an important bill.”
The House also approved a third reading of H. 218, a bill allowing raw milk to be sold at farm stands and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs within 30 miles of where the milk was produced.
That approval came after an amendment by Rep. Carl Rosenquist, R-Franklin 1, which would require testing for human pathogens including E.coli, salmonella, Llisteria and campylobacter was voted down.
Rosenquist said not testing for those bacteria is a disaster waiting to happen. “It’s hard to understand why the cost of testing or protection is not worthy of being considered,” he said.
But bill sponsor Rep. Heather Surprenant, D/P Windsor 4-1, and House Agriculture Committee Chairperson Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham 3, were among members saying the testing and protections already in the raw milk sales program have proven effective. Partridge said that Rosenquist’s proposal was “not reasonable not feasible time-wise or cost-wise, and ... not realistic.”
Also passing on third reading on Friday was H. 313, a bill making miscellaneous changes to the state’s alcoholic beverage laws. It authorizes the Board of Liquor and Lottery and local commissioners to allow certain licensees to sell beer, wine and spirits for off-premises consumption, as long as they are accompanied by a food order. It further allows curbside pickup of unopened containers of alcoholic beverages permitted for sale under license.