Vermont Traditions Coalition
 

 

Representing Vermont's Original Conservationists and Environmentalists
 


VERMONT TRADITIONS COALITION

2015 LEGISLATIVE SCORE CARD

 From: Steve McLeod & Frank Stanley & Contributing VTC Delegates

127 Sports Club Drive 123, Bolton, Vt. 05477

802-434-3346/ sbmcvt@aol.com or 802-238-0364/ frankjstanley@wildblue.net

OVERVIEW: :  Vermont Traditions Coalition (VTC) and our member organizations from the sporting, snowmobile, farm, forest product, outdoor guide, and lake association sectors were mostly successful during the 2015 legislative session, our organization’s fourteenth legislative session. 

At times, the outlook was not good, but VTC’s statewide network pressed our case relentlessly, and that was a key to VTC’s overall success.  The lesson of VTC’s 14th legislative session is a lesson VTC learned back in our early years as an organization, but should never forget: refuse to give up and keep plugging away at the State House and as a statewide coalition every day.  Anything less than that and your results will come up short.  While the 2015 legislative session was very successful, many key issues will be back in 2016.  The issues summary below does not include the numerous bills that never got off the ground due, in part, to VTC collaborating with key legislators to expose the flaws in the bills.  Only a minority of bills receive serious consideration, but VTC must stay on top of all bills because nothing can be taken for granted.  Our adversaries are frequently wealthy, heavily staffed organizations that far outspend us.  However, the reasonableness of our positions, the fact we have two full-paid, year round professional staff persons, and a statewide network of dedicated volunteers has allowed us to succeed more often than not.  That being said, we must continue to grow and improve, because our opponents are not standing still!  Your donations and volunteer work are essential to VTC’s continuing success.  Here are some of the key issues that VTC addressed in the 2015 Legislature:

 GUN CONTROL:   VTC’s Firearms Policy Analyst Bill Moore authored a complete Gun Control report which was sent to the VTC Email List on June 2.  We’ll just hit the highlights here.  The 2015 gun control battle, combined with gun control battles in years previous to 2015, was the biggest sporting issue to hit the Legislature since the renowned battles over the future of former Champion Lands in 2002 and the Green Mt. National Forest federal wilderness designation a couple of years after that.  VTC’s Frank Stanley did some key work starting in 2014 in bringing together all of the major gun rights groups in Vermont to form one big coalition known as the Vermont 2A Coalition.  Too many legislators to mention and Governor Peter Shumlin also stood up to the heavily funded, well-organized gun control movement.  As the Governor said, in the end, the gun control legislation that passed “was a shadow of its former self.”  Gun control advocates managed to pass legislation to give the state concurrent authority with the federal government to enforce gun laws and legislation to allow confiscation of guns from persons determined to be mentally ill to the point they are a threat to themselves or others.  However, gun control advocates lost the big one: universal background checks that would require everyone who sells or gives a gun to a friend or acquaintance to go through a cumbersome and expensive federal background check.  Furthermore, the City of Burlington was defeated in their effort to get legislative approval for three gun control measures within city limits.  Passage of these measures would have set the dangerous precedent of enabling Vermont’s 248 communities to each pass their own gun laws.  This would have created a maze of regulation all in a state that is one of the safest states in the nation.  Our opponents came ready to fight!  The sponsors of the Vermont Senate’s gun control measure were Senator John Campbell (D-Windsor County), Senator Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden County), and Senator Clair Ayer (D-Addison County.  Lobbying organizations working with these Senators spent over $125,000 to take away your gun rights in the first half of the Legislative Session alone.  We are not facing just Vermonters!  The national Everytown for Gun Safety organization founded by former big city Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others spent more than $77,000 in Vermont in the first three months of the Legislative Session.  VTC expects them to be back stronger than ever in 2016 to do everything possible to run Vermont from the outside!   We’ll need to pack the State House and do all the other things we did this year, only bigger and better, in 2016.

PROPOSED BANS ON LEAD AMMUNITION & IVORY:   As if the gun control fight wasn’t enough, outside forces also teamed up with sympathetic Vermont legislators to propose a ban on lead ammunition in Vermont.  The national anti-hunting, anti-animal agriculture, anti-pet owner wealthy conglomerate known as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and their hired regional staff person plus their hired prominent Montpelier lobbying firm played a big role in the ban proposal.  Rep. William Jewett (D-Ripton) sponsored the lead ban bill in the House of Representatives.  The mostly home grown Vermont 2A Coalition and coalition members such as VTC presented dueling testimony with lead ban proponents for a couple of days in the House Fish & Wildlife Committee before the committee voted informally to reject the ban.   VTC received strong Legislative cooperation in deleting a lead ammunition ban from a larger lead ban bill in 2007.  This goes to show how many issues are never dead for good, but have a way of resurrecting themselves eventually. The HSUS machine also promoted a ban on ivory sales due to elephant slaughters in Africa caused, in part, by the high value of their ivory tusks.  However, this bill also got out of hand and would have banned sale of collector guns with ivory components and other such items such as pianos.  VTC worked along with others to point out the overkill of the bill, and it was tabled on a 4-4 vote in the House Fish & Wildlife Committee.  Like we see so often, these issues have a way of popping up again in subsequent years.  A strong presence must be permanent, not just a sometime thing.

AND LEGISLATORS TOOK AIM AT SHOOTING RANGES: Rep. Allison Clarkson (Windsor-5) and Rep. David Deen (Windham-4) introduced a bill to repeal the protections provided to Vermont’s shooting ranges through the Range Protection Act of 2006. The Bill was supported by the VT league of Cities and Towns. The bill would have repealed the limitation that only an owner of property abutting a sport shooting range may bring a nuisance claim against the range.  Also, the bill established authorized hours of operation for sport shooting ranges and repealed the prohibition on municipal regulation of firearms discharge at an existing sport shooting range. There are many ranges under attack across the state. People move in the area and purchase a home near a range, and then are surprised they can hear gun shots throughout the day. Whether you utilize these ranges or not, all of us should be working to protect ranges from regulation. If one range closes, the others feel more pressure, and back yard shooting will increase, which will cause more complaints.  Over time, towns will likely respond by imposing local shooting ordinances. This proposed legislation heard testimony in the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee in April, where it will remain until the 2016 legislative session and possibly see further action. On a positive note, H.210 introduced by Republican Rep. Patrick Brennan of Colchester was attached to H.5 in the final days of the legislature and was enacted into law June 17th. H.5, now known as Act 61 authorizes the manufacture and import of gun suppressors by licensed manufacturers and importers, and authorizes the use of gun suppressors by a person lawfully using a Vermont sport shooting range. Over time, the increased use of suppressors will help with reducing noise levels at sport shooting ranges. Please check with an authorized dealer about the process for legally purchasing a suppressor.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: DOG HOUSE REGULATIONS & OTHER PET MATTERS:   If the long arm of government regulation appears to be reaching nearly everywhere, it’s not your imagination: it is.  Still another HSUS priority--regulating dog houses and dog care--actually made it all the way to the Senate Floor as part of a Miscellaneous Agriculture Bill before Senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia County) offered a successful amendment to defeat this proposal.  The Legislature replaced the shelter proposal with establishment of an Animal Shelter Working Group to examine the issue in the Legislative off season.  Among other things, the doggie regulation bill contained requirements that dog houses be insulated to an R 0.9 or greater factor, minimum size requirements of dog houses for different sizes of dogs, dog chain requirements, and dog house door size.   VTC and our member organization, the Vermont Federation of Dog Clubs, played a very active role in deliberations of this bill.  A Federation of Dog Clubs representative will serve on the Animal Shelter Working Group.  The Federation aims to make sure any new shelter requirements are reasonable.   VTC and the Vermont Federation of Dog Clubs, whose legislative effort is headed by organization President Deb Brown and Pam Parshall, were also involved in deliberations regarding a bill designed to improve the response of authorities to suspected animal cruelty cases.  VTC and the Federation’s effort on this bill is centered around making sure that the sweep of any animal cruelty legislation does not impede accepted practices involving hunting dogs, dog trainers, tail docking, farm animals, slaughter houses, mushers, electronic collar users, working dogs, etc.  The Legislature determined that the animal cruelty proposal (House Bill 102) needed more work and appointed a 14 member Animal Cruelty Task Force to examine the issue over the Legislative off-season.  The Federation of Dog Clubs will have a representative on this Task Force also.

WATER QUALITY LEGISLATION:   The 2015 Legislature and Governor made an unprecedented effort that resulted in passage of a 140 page clean water bill known as House Bill 35.  Over ten committees were involved in this bill at one time or another, and, for most of the Legislative Session, multiple committees were looking at this bill at the same time, making it very difficult to follow.  Everyone supports clean water in Vermont’s lakes and streams.  VTC’s concern is that the legislation will wind up being so extreme that it would place undue burdens on forestry, agriculture, maple, and trails, and wind up hurting important causes such as the land conservation provided by the working landscape and the recreational benefits of trails.  In addition, there are some requirements placed on town road maintenance which, depending on how they are implemented, may cause closure of some seasonal roads.  Whether the legislation strikes the proper balance will not be known until the law’s intricate requirements are implemented on the ground.  There are multiple requirements for agriculture.  The legislation also calls for new Accepted Management Practices for forestry, and calls for a study as to whether these AMPs should become mandatory rather than a collaborative between the state and the timber harvester.  The collaborative approach has worked for three decades, and is particularly suited to forestry because each timber harvest is sight specific.  In addition, there were some technical language problems in the bill that seriously threatened forestry.  These problems were not fixed until the waning days of the session.  Thanks for the fix, in large part, go to Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Chris Bray (D-Addison County), Senator John Rodgers (D-Essex/ Orleans Counties) and the two most recent foresters to serve as Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation Commissioners, Michael Snyder and Jonathan Wood.  VTC and Vermont Forest Products Association worked collaboratively with these key individuals to address the technical issues. Also, there is a study as to whether the trigger point to require stormwater permitting should be reduced from an acre to a half-acre.  This could  increase the potential impact on trails.  And then there’s the new taxes required to fund over twenty new state employees to implement, enforce, and collaborate with the regulated community on all of the new regulations and laws.  See, next section for tax specifics.

TAXES, TAXES & MORE TAXES:   The Legislature raised over $30 million worth of new taxes during the 2015 Legislative Session, but taxes amounting to three times that much were proposed and then rejected after prolonged debate.  The Chamber of Commerce estimated that 25 new taxes were proposed leaving multiple interests to square off against each other over which interest would have to endure the most tax damage.  For traditional rural land uses, the poision pill was a proposed per acre tax to fund water quality.  One version of the per acre tax could have cost Plum Creek Timber Company $42,500 more per year for 85,000 acres of timber lands that can never be developed as a result of a no-development covenant.  Vermonters treasure their rural landscape, largely made possible by a working landscape, yet here was a tax proposal that sours the climate for buying or keeping rural working lands.  Working landscape businesses are not known for their high profit margins.  Not only were those that work the land negatively impacted by this tax, but also, rural recreationists faced the loss of their favored recreational grounds.  As an alternative means of funding water quality, Vermont Traditions Coalition, the Vermont Forest Products Association, and the Vermont Farm Bureau proposed using existing funds from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board’s conservation funding.  If the Democratic majority insisted on new taxes instead (and they did insist upon this), these organizations suggested a per residence and per business tax on everyone so that the working landscape is not singled out to carry a disproportionate share of the load.  Ultimately, the Legislature decided on an increase in the Property Transfer Tax on real estate sales rather than a per parcel tax.  However, the Legislature also decided to direct the State Treasurer to conduct a study of how a per property parcel tax might work.  The results of the study are due on January 15, 2017.  So, this one might not be over yet!

CURRENT USE TAX PROGRAM:   For the seventh consecutive year, there was heavy pressure to increase taxes for working landscape owners enrolled in this program to tax farm, forest, and maple land on how it is used rather than on the higher theoretical sales value if the land were sold and developed.  Vermont Traditions Coalition again teamed with the Vermont Forest Products Association and Vermont Farm Bureau to oppose any changes in the program this year, because the program, as is, is the cornerstone of Vermont’s land conservation effort.  In the end, tax increase advocates finally broke through and got a 300-500% increase in the land use change tax for properties sold by open landowners.  This tax neglects to recognize that these land sales are often part of improving rather than liquidating the working landscape operation. The new tax makes it difficult for landowners who are trying to make their land more economically productive.  While this tax passed, a half dozen other tax increase proposals for the Current Use Tax Program were defeated.

PROPOSED BAN ON FISHING & NON-MOTORIZED BOATING ON WATER BODIES USED AS PUBLIC WATER SUPPLIES:   The  City of Montpelier and Montpelier Democratic Representative Warren Kitzmiller brought their fight to ban fishing and non-motorized boating on Berlin Pond to the Legislature by broadening their proposed ban to include other bodies of water used as public water supplies.  The House Fish & Wildlife Committee took many days of testimony on the issue and finally voted down the ban.  Nate Smead and Mike Covey of the Friends of Berlin Pond, a VTC member organization, and the founding father of this fight, Rick Sanborn of Barre, all testified against the ban.  It’s dead for now, but ban supporters are now campaigning for it to come up still again. 

WALLEYE RESTORATION SCORES AGAIN:   Ever since 2003, VTC has partnered with our member organization, the Lake Champlain Walleye Association, to seek legislative funding of approximately $25,000 per year toward the expensive infrastructure LCWA has constructed and built to raise walleye fingerlings and restore once abundant walleye populations to Lake Champlain.  Walleye fish are sizable fighters that make excellent table fare and are the number one trophy fish in many Mid Western waters.  This year, the Senate Institutions Committee consisting of Chairwoman Peg Flory (R-Rutland County) and Senators Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden County), John Rodgers (D-Orleans/ Essex Counties), Norm McAllister (R-Franklin County), and Rebecca Balint (D-Windham County), once again took  the legislative lead on passing the appropriation.  As a result, LCWA will receive $25,000 for walleye infrastructure in each of the next two years.  Last year, LCWA raised over 80,000 walleye fingerlings for stocking in Lake Champlain.  LCWA operates the program in partnership the Department of Fish & Wildlife which also stocks Chittenden Reservoir and Island Pond.

MORE CHALLENGES TO FORESTRY & AGRICULTURE:   Besides the challenges presented by the clean water bill, Governor Shumlin’s Fish & Wildlife Department proposed a wide ranging bill removing the current exemption for agriculture, maple, and forestry for killing endangered species in the routine course of business.  For example, if a log truck ran over an endangered salamander on a logging road or a farmer ran over the salamander while haying, the exemption would kick in.  The department proposed removing the exemption and replacing it with an endangered species taking permit system.  Like all permit systems, this permit system runs the risk of introducing delay and inefficiency into working landscape industries that need to be efficient in order to be profitable.  The department attempted to get this bill quickly passed, but VTC and our member organizations, the Vermont Farm Bureau and the Vermont Forest Products Association (VFPA), were able to convince Senator Bray and others that the bill needed more thorough consideration before coming to a vote.  This further consideration will happen before and during the 2016 Legislature.  VFPA and VTC also put up a spirited fight in the House of Representatives in an effort to defeat a forester licensing bill which we viewed as unnecessary and costly to forestry services consumers (landowners).  This bill ultimately passed the House of Representatives with support from the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation.  VTC and VFPA will continue to work on the bill, and discuss the forester licensing ramifications with the department.  The 2015 Legislature passed a renewable energy bill that included a provision for biomass heating plants that produce both electricity and thermal energy from wood.  The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation was directed to develop standards for allowable biomass energy production.  In 2014, VTC and VFPA, together with the Farm Bureau, Vermont Woodlands Association and a half dozen Senators led by Senators Rodgers and Bobby Starr (D-Essex/ Orleans Counties), collaborated to defeat an over-the-top forest fragmentation bill that would have brought some forestry, farming, and maple operations under Act 250 as well as some trails and deer camps.  It was replaced by a study by the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation.  Commissioner Snyder of the department  released the study in mid-April with a menu of possible approaches to the forest fragmantation issue, and a recommendation for a group of interested parties to take a look at what measures might be used to reduce the fragmentation of our forests by real estate development away from existing development.  The 2015 Legislature passed a provision after release of the study directing the department to create the committee of interested parties which are directed to report back to the 2016 Legislature by January 15, 2016.  Between the clean water bill and all of the above described issues, Vermont’s working landscape faces many challenges as we head toward the 2016 Legislature.  VTC and our working landscape member organizations are extremely concerned about the cumulative impact of these various issues on the profitability of working landscape businesses.  Profitable working landscape businesses are essential to avoiding the very fragmentation of the working landscape that the Legislature is seeking to prevent.  Hopefully, our coalition and tuned in legislators can successfully make this case as we face these challenges going forward.  The Legislature did continue the funding of the past few years for the Working Lands Enterprise Board at about half the previous year’s funding.  The working lands funds are designated for grants to working lands businesses to help the businesses reach a successful level and address gaps in overall working lands infrastructure.  There seems to be somewhat of a Legislative disconnect between showing support for these grants, yet passing measures that increase taxes and regulations for working lands.

SNOWMOBILE AND ATV SUCCESSES:   Trail organizations face the above-documented challenges regarding potential stormwater permit and fee issues pertaining to trail building and maintenance created by the water quality bill.  However, beyond that, several issues that caused concern by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) and the numerous local and county snowmobile clubs that are members of VTC went nowhere.  In addition, once again this year, the Legislature appropriated $35,000 for general snowmobile enforcement and another $35,000 for enforcement by the Southern Vermont Wilderness Search & Rescue Team enforcement efforts.  The Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association won passage of four initiatives to improve ATV management in Vermont.  Other than the concern over water quality bill permitting and fees, it was a largely successful legislative session for motorized trail organizations.

NON LEGISLATIVE ISSUES:   Legislative lobbying, while an important part of VTC’s mission, is not all we do.  Many equally important issues play out in the bureaucracy and on Legislative Summer Study Committees.  The Long Range Management Plan for the federal portion of the former Champion Lands in Essex County, known as Conte Refuge, is due out this summer.  This Twenty-Year Plan has potential impacts for all of VTC’s member organizations.  VTC expects to play a lead role in the extensive public input process that the Plan involves.  Stay tuned for further VTC updates.  Since late 2014, VTC, VAST and Essex County Snowmobilers have been negotiating a Corridor Management Agreement for the 28 mile snowmobile trail system in the 34 square mile state portion of the former Champion Lands known as West Mt. Wildlife Management Area.  An April 9 Public Hearing in Island Pond is part of this process.  VTCers and VAST members packed this hearing and emphasized to the Fish & Wildlife Department the importance of retaining all existing West Mt. WMA trails in their existing locations.  It was extremely important for a strong turnout at this hearing, and the VTC and VAST network members came through.  A big way to go to all of you who turned out!  Negotiations have continued both before and after the Public Hearing, and seem to be going acceptably.  VTCer Rick Jean continues to serve on the Colchester Firearms Committee, and has played a key role in keeping hunting lands in Colchester open.  His work is just one of example of the work numerous VTCers do to contribute to the overall cause.  This is a brief sample of the numerous issues that VTC deals with on an ongoing bais year round every year. 

CONCLUSION:   With many, many issues, VTC and our member organizations serve as the lead lobbying organization.  It often becomes apparent that, if VTC didn’t exist, no other organization could bring the coordinated effort to the issues that VTC brings.  On other issues, VTC plays a key role in bringing like minded organizations and legislators together to work in a more effective manner than individually.  For example, VTC and our member organizations collaborated with the Vermont Natural Resources Council to help defeat the per acre tax even though we sometimes find ourselves at odds with VNRC on other issues.  VTC’s two full-time paid professional staffers play an important role in this leadership effort, but without VTC’s statewide volunteer network, our staffers would not be anywhere near as effective.  Of course, a year round professional effort takes funding.  VTC is entirely privately funded, and without the donations of organizations, individuals, and businesses, VTC would not exist.  Everything you saw in the above report and each of the 13 VTC Legislative Scorecards dating back to 2002 is made possible by this collective effort.  Vermont would be a less desirable place to live, work, and recreate without this effort.


 


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A full-time, professional, paid presence in the halls of government protecting Vermont's sporting, snowmobile, farming, and forest harvesting traditions today, tomorrow, and forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vermont Traditions Coalition, Steve McLeod, Executive Director, 127 Sports Club Dr. #123, Bolton, VT 05477

Phone: 802-434-3346