MONTPELIER, VT – Legislative conferees reached agreement on the Working Lands Enterprise Investment Bill (H.496) in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday. All six conference committee members approved the compromise version of the bill, which will create the Working Lands Enterprise Fund and the Working Lands Enterprise Board, which will oversee the Fund. The intent is to stimulate a concerted economic development effort on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest products sectors by systematically advancing entrepreneurism, business development, and job creation.
The conference committee report was approved by the full Senate on Thursday morning with a unanimous voice vote, and will now move to the House for final approval before being sent to the Governor’s desk. The conference committee report was given by Senator Vince Illuzzi (R/D – Essex/Orleans), who chaired the committee. He explained that the board structure was the key change made in the final version. The conference committee recommended a 14-member board, with 3 of those members being ex-officio, non-voting members. The House had recommended 19, while the Senate had asked for a 24-member board. The committee also agreed to eliminate three other boards that are no longer needed, upon the recommendation of Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate in support of the bill, Senator Sara Kittell (D-Franklin), who chairs the Agriculture committee and who was the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, explained that this bill will foster an “agricultural renaissance” in Vermont, and that it recognizes that working lands enterprises are part of the “economic business of the state.”
Senator Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden), chair of the Natural Resources and Energy committee and member of the conference committee noted that the bill brings the “forest products sector into a new era” and said that the committees had worked closely together to ensure that agriculture and forest products were both represented in the bill.
Senate President Pro-Tem and bill cosponsor John Campbell (D-Windsor) urged support of the measure, saying, “This is one of the most important economic development bills of this session.”
Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, celebrated the conference committee agreement by saying, “This bill raises a flag in Vermont for our natural resource economy and lets the nation know that agricultural and forest products entrepreneurs are welcome here. Vermont will be known as the ‘value-added’ state. This initiative is an economic development strategy that supports rural prosperity.”
Members of the conference committee were:
-Senator Vince Illuzzi (R/D – Essex/Orleans)
-Senator Ginny Lyons (D – Chittenden)
-Senator Harold Giard (D – Addison)
-Representative Carolyn Partridge (D – Windham)
-Representative Will Stevens (I – Shoreham)
-Representative Dick Lawrence (R – Lyndonville)
A detailed summary and the final version of the bill is available here: /programs/working-lands/bill
The Vermont Working Landscape Partnership (VWLP) is a non‐partisan and broad‐based effort to support local agriculture and forestry, grow and attract farm and forest entrepreneurs, and conserve Vermont’s Working Landscape far into the future. The Partnership’s members believe that all Vermonters benefit from the state’s working landscape and everyone should contribute to ensure its future.