5.4.2018 – Spring Finally Arrives, Green Up Day, and Citizen’s Right of Action

In Montpelier, we are finally seeing the signs of spring. The tulips on the east side of the State House are poking their leaves out of the earth and, seemingly overnight, the lawn has greened up.

It is admittedly odd not to see the statue of Agriculture, also known as Ceres on top of the golden dome. After 80 years atop the State House, she was taken down for inspection and found to be somewhat wet and not a good candidate to go back up there again. Not bad though for a statue made of Ponderosa pine hand-carved by the, then, Sergeant at Arms and the State House custodial staff. In coming months, a new statue will be carved and placed on top of the refurbished dome.

In Windham the signs of spring are also evident as my husband, Alan, works on cleaning the barn and neighbors come with tractors, buckets, etc., for manure. The daffodils are finally showing themselves, the peepers are singing, and the good news for us is that our honeybees survived the harsh, mercurial, and protracted winter.

Green Up Day will occur next weekend, a day when Vermonters join together to clean up our beautiful landscape and enjoy some community comradery. According to the website “It is the largest statewide volunteer event in Vermont with over 22,000 taking part, and the only statewide Green Up Day in the United States.” An impressive 239 communities take part in cleaning up 13,000 miles of road. It’s hard to believe but the first statewide Green Up Day was on April 18, 1970. That day the interstate highways closed for three hours in the morning to allow volunteers to pick up litter. For more information about Green Up Day go to https://greenupvermont.org/.

There is a recycled art show taking place on the second floor of the Burlington International Airport, which was created by students from eight Vermont schools. Their masterpieces were made from litter the students collected. The timing for this show is a great reminder of the importance of Green Up Day. It is free and open to the public in a pre-security area and will be on display until June 1.

At the State House, things are moving fast. The goal is to be done by Saturday, May 12, but it will mean that a great number of things have to be wrapped up quickly

One of our bills, S.101, the Right to Practice Forestry, has made it through the legislature and is on its way to the governor’s desk. Because it was requested by the Commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, Michael Snyder, we anticipate that the governor will sign it. We are pleased because logging is very important to the economy of the state and to landowners with land enrolled in the Current Use Program.

We are still waiting for the Senate to return our Agricultural Development bill, H.663. It will allow for a baseline across the state for farmers who want to start accessory businesses on their farms using products produced on the farm. It will also allow for educational, recreational, and social events to occur. In no way does it limit a municipality’s ability to require a site plan review if it is deemed necessary. We understand that the Senate has added language to the bill that we will consider once the bill makes it back to the House.

One of the great frustrations at this time of year is that things can get added to bills in too great a hurry. Legislation that has been well-thought out, researched, and considered can have things added, sometimes seemingly on a whim, that do not receive proper testimony and consideration. I have heard this referred to by State House regulars as the “silly season” but it is serious because this kind of action can lead to unintended consequences with poor results. It is also a time in the legislative session when emotions can run high, things move fast, and it can be overwhelming for some people.

A large group of farmers visited the State House this week to lobby against legislation known as “citizen’s right of action.” This proposal is very concerning because farmers are already struggling with low milk prices, while trying to employ practices that will clean up the waters of the state. This would add another threat and potential cost to their situation if a deep-pocketed “person” (meaning group or individual) decided to bring an action against them. The opinion of the lawyer on my committee is that the farmer would immediately have to hire an attorney to defend themselves.

The notion that allowing this ability to sue would somehow improve the water quality situation in Vermont is baffling. People already have the right to bring a violation to the attention of the Agencies of Natural Resources and/or Agriculture, Food, and Markets. The Required Agricultural Practices have been in place for approximately fifteen months and both agencies have been able to hire more staff in order to do the work that needs to be done.
The parties involved should be allowed to do their work and if there is a problem down the road that is not being addressed, then something like this might be a good idea. At this time, it would be a distraction and would, in fact, detract from achieving the ultimate goal we all seek, which is to clean up the waters of the state as quickly as possible.

Money being spent on lawyers and law suits would be better spent on practices that will have an actual positive effect on water quality. Both the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets have testified in opposition to this proposal, which was included in the Senate-passed version of S.260. What is doubly concerning is that the Agencies or farmer might have to pay “costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees and fees for expert witnesses, to a person bringing an action.” This is not a productive way to spend state money or the money of people doing the hard work to help clean up the waters of the state and bring food to our tables.