by Rep. Ashley Bartley
The number one concern for Vermonters today is housing: both finding affordable housing and also the ability to purchase.
In 2022, Republicans and Democrats alike ran on combating the housing crisis facing our State. A crisis, I will add, that is decades in the making. That is why the Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs committee spent the first half of the session on producing S.100, the Senate’s omnibus housing bill that included funding to assist those experiencing homelessness and other important housing-related programs and organizations. The bill also contained strong and much needed Act 250 revisions.
When S.100 was voted out of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs, the bill had bi-partisan support and was also supported by the Governor.
However, by the time the bill left the Senate Natural Resource and Energy Committee, which does not have a single Republican on it, the bill looked drastically different. Concern began to grow that meaningful Act 250 reform was not strong enough to remedy our housing crisis. The bill passed out of the Senate 27-2 and my committee, the House Committee on General and Housing, looked forward to receiving and working on the legislation.
S.100 is made up of 50% land use permitting, zoning and Act 250 reform and the other 50% focused on housing programs. It was assumed that, like every other bill that has been referred to our committee, we would have full jurisdiction of the bill. Unfortunately and to the dismay of a majority of our committee we were told by the House Majority Leadership that our committee was not only unable to discuss, but not allowed to discuss the Act 250 provisions of the bill.
After the traditional walkthrough of S.100 with Legislative Counsel, our committee was given less than 2 days to vote it out of our committee. This meant that the members were forced to vote on S.100 in its entirety while not having discussed over 50% of the bill’s provisions.
What has been made abundantly clear to us is that there is a real threat that the House Energy and Environment Committee will strip S.100 of all Act 250 Reform — which negates the good work on the other 50% of the bill we were able to look at and discuss.
To protect those provisions Rep. Caleb Elder, also a member of the General and Housing Committee, introduced an amendment to S.100 in our committee which specifically targeted zoning issues within the bill. Rep. Elder’s amendment had support from a majority of members on the committee. It also had the support of the Rural Caucus, which has tri-partisanship membership.
After an extensive discussion and walkthrough of the amendment, I called for a vote on the amendment which was then seconded by another member. Suddenly, a brief recess was taken and a meeting behind closed doors was held among the Committee Chair and the Majority’s leadership team. Upon return, we were told no vote would occur and the meeting was hastily adjourned shortly thereafter.
This act calls into question whether our Committee is following or, perhaps, ignoring the Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, the rules that govern the Vermont House of Representatives.
I was not elected to rubberstamp the viewpoints or political postures of the Majority Party. I have heard from dozens of constituents and developers who have stated they want to build affordable housing but can’t due to Act 250 restrictions. What portions of the S.100 General and Housing Committee did take up, I am extremely proud of the work we did. Had the request to divide the bill been accepted, I would have voted yes on our portion.
Ultimately, S.100 passed out of our committee 8-4 after a few passionate speeches by those on the committee unhappy with the process.
It’s clear the process is broken. Status quo can no longer be an excuse. All of us in Montpelier worked hard to campaign for a seat at the table. We have rules that clearly outline the process. But despite this, the process was changed at the eleventh hour and meaningful progress on the housing crisis took a major step backwards.
Ashley Bartley was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 2022 and serves the communities of Fairfax and Georgia. She is an elected Trustee and the Treasurer of the Fairfax Community Library and a board member of the Franklin County Home Health Agency.