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S.56

AN ACT RELATING TO RESTRUCTURING THE AGENCY OF NATURAL RESOURCES

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND PRINCIPLES

The general assembly finds:

(1)  The agency of natural resources affects the lives of all Vermonters in carrying out its duties to protect and responsibly manage Vermont’s precious natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations.

(2)  The following obstacles currently prevent the agency of natural resources from consistently meeting its statutory obligations:

(A)  Agency of natural resources programs in the three agency departments (the department of environmental conservation, the department of fish and wildlife, and the department of forests, parks and recreation) are not sufficiently well integrated.

(B)  A significant number of agency of natural resources staff work in regional offices throughout the state.  These staff are familiar with and focused on meeting the unique natural resources challenges of their regions.  However, there is also a need to ensure that the practices implemented in the regions are connected to basic agency-wide policies and to the agency management system.  The lack of coordination between regional and central agency staff can result in the inconsistent application of agency policies.

(C)  The following examples attest to the challenges faced by the agency of natural resources in meeting state and federal statutory mandates in a timely manner:

(i)  The agency has not completed the basin planning requirement in state and federal law.

(ii)  The agency has not completed basic, minimal groundwater mapping for aquifers serving public water systems as required by state law.

(iii)  The agency has not completed implementation of key components of the federal Clean Water Act, such as developing total maximum daily loads (TMDL) and developing an antidegradation implementation policy.

(D)  Appeals of agency decisions reveal that, on occasion, those decisions are inconsistent with state law.

(E)  The problems faced by the agency of natural resources may be the result of a lack of agency resources, an inefficient use of existing resources, inefficiencies in the agency management structure, or any combination of these and other factors.

(F)  Currently, there is not a clear and consistent connection between the agency’s own policy, planning, and implementation work and core environmental issues being addressed by other state agencies (including state long-range transportation planning, energy planning, and planning to address global climate change).

(G)  State agencies, in general, fail to comply with the “Act 200” planning requirements of 24 V.S.A. § 4302.  Therefore, it is difficult for the agency of natural resources:

(i)  to assure that it acts in a manner consistent with its own Act 200 plans;

(ii)  to coordinate its plans with the Act 200 plans of other agencies; and

(iii)  to assure that its actions are consistent with the Act 200 goals. 

(3)  Good policy and planning are vital to any large agency’s ability to efficiently carry out its responsibilities.  The agency’s planning and policy efforts must be well connected and communicated to the staff who implement these policies.  The agency’s internal policy must be coordinated with planning efforts in the individual departments.

(4)  The agency must have a clear, well articulated vision to implement the state’s environmental policy as established by law.  This will be done in a manner that connects to the work of all the departments and guides staff implementation.


Sec. 2.  TIMELINE AND PROCESS

The secretary shall engage in the following process as part of a restructuring of the agency:

(1)  In order to implement state environmental policy for the benefit of current and future generations, the secretary shall:

(A)  Collaborate with agency staff, advocacy groups, other state agencies, municipalities, and other stakeholders to receive input on organizational models and the design of the agency.  This process may include focus groups, public meetings, newsletters, surveys, and the use of a website and shall continue through December 2005.

(B)  Collaborate with agency staff, advocacy groups, other state agencies, municipalities, and other stakeholders to determine specific accountability indicators needed to measure the success and performance of agency restructuring.

(C)  Examine areas where consultation may be needed, such as information technology design, federal cost allocation, and organizational development.

(D)  Identify and implement staff development programs necessary to assist the agency staff to carry out their responsibilities in the restructured agency.

(E)  Compile all procedures and rules that govern any part of the agency and publish them on the agency website by July 1, 2006, along with a user-friendly index and table of contents.

(2)  A statewide advisory group, the Agency of Natural Resources Re-organization  Committee (ANRRC), is created to advise the secretary on the design of the restructured agency.  It shall consist of no more than 12 members, who shall be appointed by the legislative oversight committee, in consultation with the secretary of natural resources, as follows: two representing regulated business and development interests; two representing environmental organizations; one representing fish and wildlife interests; one representing the interests of forests and parks; one representing recreational interests; one representing local government; one representing regional government; one representing the Vermont State Employees Association; and two representing citizens’ groups.  Appointments shall be made no later than June 15, 2005, and shall be for terms of one year.   The secretary shall convene the first meeting of ANRRC no later than July 1, 2005, and establish regular meetings thereafter.  The ANRRC shall hold public hearings with respect to the functions of the agency, and the issues identified in this act, in each of the agency’s five administrative districts and provide public notice of each public hearing.  The secretary and the consultant, in consultation with ANRRC, shall establish a process to solicit input from agency staff.  For purposes of this act only, the provisions of the collective bargaining contract article on whistle blower, as printed in the agreements between the State of Vermont and the Vermont State Employees’ Association, are extended to all employees in the agency not covered by these agreements.  Members of the ANRRC not receiving compensation for service on the advisory group from another source are entitled to compensation under section 1010 of Title 32.

(3)  The secretary shall examine functions, such as administrative support and supervision, and space requirements necessary to establish an agency that is responsive and helpful to permit applicants, neighbors, and others interested in and affected by the permitting process.

(4)  On or before December 1, 2005, the secretary shall prepare and present a draft report to the ANRRC on natural resources restructuring for review and comment. ANRRC members shall provide comment based on review no later than December 15, 2005.

(5)  On or before January 15, 2006, the secretary shall prepare and present to the legislative oversight committee on natural resources restructuring established in Sec. 2 of this act:

(A)  a report containing initial recommendations for restructuring the agency, including:

(i)  a plan for making the agency’s permit process, enforcement actions, and other functions more accessible in order to increase efficiency, transparency, and accountability.  This shall include a detailed articulation of the resources and time frame needed for implementation of the plan;

(ii)  agency action to meet statutory obligations under 10 V.S.A. § 1253(d) regarding basin planning including plan updates every five years;

(iii)  standardization and integration of the agency’s permit programs to make them more user‑friendly to applicants and to others concerned with natural resource management and the environment, while at the same time protecting the state’s natural resources to the full extent of the law;

(iv)  accountability mechanisms to ensure that alleged permit violations are forwarded to the agency’s enforcement division and that there is a sufficient enforcement presence to give the resources the protection anticipated by the pertinent underlying legislation and to assure that those who do not comply with the law are not given an unfair advantage over those who do;

(v)  documentation procedures to ensure that agency decisions are made in compliance with applicable law and that they adhere to sound, generally accepted scientific principles and methods; and

(vi)  provision of policy guidance from the agency’s planning efforts to coordinate between the agency’s many departments and divisions in a manner that protects the state’s resources while responding to legitimate interests of applicants and others involved in the permitting process;

(B)  draft legislation necessary to eliminate contradictions in existing statutes and to authorize the reorganization proposed by the agency;

(C)  a report on the budgetary impacts and transitional costs of restructuring; and

(D)  recommendations for improving coordination of functions that are shared with, or that overlap with, those of other state agencies and units of local government.

Sec. 3.  THE LEGISLATIVE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE ON NATURAL

             RESOURCES RESTRUCTURING

(a)  There is created the legislative oversight committee on natural resources restructuring to oversee the restructuring of the agency of natural resources.  The committee shall be composed of four members from the house of representatives to be appointed by the speaker of the house, not all from the same party, and four members from the senate to be appointed by the committee on committees, not all from the same party.  Initial appointments shall be made by no later than June 1, 2005, regardless of whether the legislature has adjourned.

(b)  The committee shall review whether agency restructuring achieves the goals of this act effectively and efficiently.  Specifically, the committee shall:

(1)  solicit input from the ANRRC and from individuals served by the agency, whether as permit applicants, neighbors, or persons who use and enjoy the state’s natural resources;

(2)  monitor the restructuring process and timeline; and

(3)  measure the efforts of the agency against the goals and principles described in this act.

(c)  The committee may meet up to six times per year while the general assembly is not in session to perform its functions under this section.

(d)  The secretary of the agency of natural resources shall report to the committee as required by the committee.

(e)  Members of the committee shall be entitled to compensation and reimbursement for expenses under section 406 of Title 2.

(f)  The committee may prepare and propose draft legislation which amends the Vermont Statutes Annotated to conform to the restructuring of the agency.

Sec. 4.  RESTRUCTURING; AUTHORIZATION

After filing the report required in subdivision (5) of Sec. 2 of this act, the secretary of natural resources shall have the authority to restructure the agency of natural resources, including the authority to make organizational changes according to the goals, principles, and processes set forth in this act.  For the purposes of this act:

(1)  The secretary may transfer appropriations within the agency in order to carry out the purposes of this act, provided that the total amount appropriated to the agency shall remain the same.  The secretary shall not transfer an appropriation without the approval of the joint fiscal committee.  Prior to transferring an appropriation, the secretary shall submit a written proposal for the transfer to the legislative oversight committee on natural resources restructuring and to the joint fiscal committee.  The legislative oversight committee shall have up to 45 days to review the proposal and provide its recommendation on the proposal to the joint fiscal committee.  The joint fiscal committee shall meet within 30 days of the date of its receipt of the recommendations from the legislative oversight committee to review and act upon the proposal.  However, the joint fiscal committee shall not act upon the proposal until it receives a recommendation from the legislative oversight committee or after the passage of 45 days from the date of its receipt of the proposal.  The transfer shall be deemed approved by the joint fiscal committee and the secretary may implement the transfer if:

(A)  the joint fiscal committee fails to act within its 30-day period for review, in case a timely recommendation is received from the legislative oversight committee; or

(B)  if the joint fiscal committee fails to act within 75 days of receipt of the proposal, in the absence of a timely recommendation from the legislative oversight committee.

(2)  The secretary may transfer or reallocate personnel, functions, and programs consistent with this act, subject to personnel laws, rules and contracts.  The secretary shall identify personnel laws and rules, and contracted services which affect the agency’s ability to meet the goals and principles set forth in this act.

(3)  The secretary may use pilot programs or action research initiatives to facilitate the development of agency protocols.

Sec. 5.  STRATEGIC PLAN

On or before May 1, 2006, the secretary shall prepare a strategic plan to implement state environmental policy, which shall be updated biennially and presented to the general assembly and to members of the house and senate committees on natural resources and energy.  The strategic plan shall set and clarify goals; describe the process for engagement of agency staff, permit applicants, advocacy groups, advisory groups, and other affected agencies; provide an ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of the plan in implementing state environmental policy; and establish and describe milestones for development of the plan.

Sec. 6.  APPLICATION

Nothing in this act, nor any action taken pursuant to this act, shall affect the validity of agency of natural resources rules in effect, assets owned, or contracts or other agreements entered into by the agency.  Rules in effect on the effective date of this act shall remain in effect until amended or repealed by the secretary.

Sec. 7.  SUNSET

Sec. 2, subdivision (2) (ANRRC), Sec. 3 (legislative oversight committee on natural resources restructuring), and Sec. 4 (restructuring authorization) of this act are repealed on July 1, 2008.

Sec. 8.  APPROPRIATION

The sum of $50,000.00 is appropriated from the general fund to the agency of natural resources in fiscal year 2006 for the purpose of hiring a consultant‑facilitator to assist in implementation of this act.

Sec. 9.  EFFECTIVE DATE

This act shall take effect upon passage.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us