MONTPELIER — An amendment to a charter change request to regulate energy efficiency in the Capital City’s commercial and residential buildings passed the House on Tuesday – but its future is less certain in the Senate.
The House passed the amendment to H.547, allowing the city to “Enact ordinances enforcing minimum energy efficiency standards and disclosure requirements, for existing and new commercial and residential properties, that are generally consistent with State, federal, and other energy efficiency standards and reporting systems.”
It followed two days of testimony in the House Government Operations Committee last week when members changed some of the language in the bill to reduce the power of the city to force energy efficiency standards on property owners. Instead, the revised language proposed allowing the city to enact an ordinance that would require property owners to disclose the energy efficiency of existing and new commercial and residential buildings when selling or renting property.
Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson, who testified before the Government Operations Committee about the energy efficiency bill, remained optimistic about its passage through the Legislature and said the city would start the process of a community dialog on the proposal to regulate energy efficiency in city buildings.
“I’m hopeful that in its current form, it will be relatively non-controversial, and so I think it may still have a chance of passing this year,” Watson said. “Regardless of whether or not it passes, the city plans on holding public forums to discuss possible ordinance language and incentives related to energy disclosure and efficiency in buildings. Climate change isn’t waiting for us to figure this out, so we need to keep our conversations moving forward.”
Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, the lead sponsor of the energy efficiency bill, said it passed out of committee on a 10-0 vote with one abstention before going to the House for approval on Tuesday – but said it was he thought it was unlikely to get through the Senate this session.
“It passed very easily – it passed what’s called third reading,” Kitzmiller said. “So that means that charter change bill, as amended, has passed the House. Now it goes over the Senate and I’m absolutely sure that it will not have time to deal with it this session.”
Kitzmiller said the bill’s passage was uncertain after the stalling of another charter change request by Montpelier – House bill H.207, allowing non-citizen voting, with legal residents who were not citizens, being allowed to vote in municipal elections. Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said Monday that the Senate Rules Committee decided to hold the non-citizen voting bill until next session because there was not enough time to consider it on the Senate side this year.
It has raised concerns that none of Montpelier’s three charter change requests would make it through the Legislature this year (the third charter change request concerned H.206, enacting a city ordinance banning the use of single-use plastic shopping bags, drinking straws and takeout food containers that was stalled while the Legislature considers a similar statewide ban proposal, H.55).
Kitzmiller said that in the past, charter change requests routinely came through the House Government Operations Committee, and once approved by the House, normally sailed through its counterpart Senate Government Operations Committee and the Senate.
“They have to make a quick pass by (the Senate Rules Committee) but that’s generally a pro-forma thing,” Kitzmiller said.
However, the chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee said she thought the energy-efficiency charter change request would make passage through her committee and review by the Senate.
“We’ll start taking testimony tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham. “I have no reason to think that it won’t (pass). The (Senate) Rules Committee, generally, automatically releases charter changes. The only reason they didn’t take testimony on the more controversial one (non-citizen voting) is that we’ve been taking a lot of testimony in our committee, but the entire Senate hasn’t, and this is an issue that’s very new – it isn’t like a usual charter change.”
Kitzmiller said he was disappointed about the non-citizen voting bill being held up on the Senate side.
“I didn’t realize that it was being held up,” Kitzmiller said. “That really bothered me, and it bothered (Sen.) Anthony Pollina. I have no idea what people don’t like about the non-voting citizen voting thing. Somebody’s got a burr under their saddle about it. It’s turned into something of a disappointment session for Montpelier charter change bills.”