Rep. Mike Yantachka
Our three branches of government, Executive, Legislative and Judicial, form an effective system of checks and balances. The executive branch administers and enforces laws passed by the legislative branch, and the judicial branch makes sure the laws and executive actions conform to the U. S. and state constitutions. The executive and legislative branches together determine policies that the Legislature writes into law. Once the policies are enacted it falls to the executive branch to interpret the application of the law. Broad policies often require rules formulated by the executive branch that address specific applications of the law. In Vermont the Legislature has the constitutional authority to review these rules before they go into effect. This is done by a special committee called the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR).
In January I was appointed by the Speaker of the House as one of four Representatives and four Senators to LCAR in addition to my duties on the House Energy and Technology Committee. This appointment has given me the opportunity to examine more closely aspects of legislation that I normally would not be familiar with. For example, LCAR recently approved emergency rules issued by the Vermont Department of Health that gives authority to prescribe and dispense buprenorphine and methadone to physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses. Emergency rules can only be issued in situations where health or safety is impacted and are effective for only 90 days. This gives an agency an opportunity to come up with permanent rules. This rule addressed an immediate need for more health practitioners to provide medically assisted treatment for addicts.
Another rule that was approved addressed the criteria for replacing culverts and bridges. This rule change will allow Vermont to receive FEMA reimbursement for replacing old, inadequate culverts and bridges with more robust structures in response to the more extreme weather events occurring as a result of climate change. When tropical storm Irene washed out so many roads and bridges, FEMA would only reimburse Vermont for the identical size structures replacing the old ones. Most of these were washed out because they were inadequate to handle the storm-induced flow. Common sense would dictate structure redesigns to handle larger flows, but there was no basis in Vermont’s standards to justify federal reimbursement. The new rules will protect Vermont and help save millions of dollars if similar damage occurs in the future.
A much more complicated rule change has been proposed by the Public Service Board regarding the net-metering program for renewable energy. The PSB was tasked to redesign the net-metering rate structure by the Legislature in 2015. Several drafts were proposed during 2015 and 2016 based on changes to renewable energy (RE) policy made by the Legislature in 2016. Hearings were held and hundreds of comments from RE developers, consumers, businesses and state agencies were submitted to the PSB. These comments resulted in further changes to the proposed rules before they were submitted for LCAR review. Over the last few weeks we have been reviewing the rules as well as the comments. It is a painstaking process, but it will ensure that when approved, they will be consistent with law and do not exceed the PSB’s authority.