• Jim Masland

The Fee Bill – Often overlooked but very important

Many Vermonters have never heard of the Fee Bill, yet it's a must pass piece of legislation every year. So what is a fee bill, and what's a fee anyway? A fee is a charge that is intended to cover the cost developing or delivering a specific item or service. Examples are drivers licenses, teachers licenses, funeral directors licenses as well as a host of environmental quality permits and Act 250 fees. They include permits for storm water runoff, sewage disposal, river alteration, cell phone tower construction and on and on. Environmental permits and license fees invariably relate to public health, safety and maintaining professional standards.

A number of years back, the administration imposed fees as they saw fit without consulting the legislature. Since then, House and Senate have reestablished the authority to set fees and tackle 1/3 of the huge list of fees annually. This schedule means we revisit all fees every three years. Most of the time, fees go up with the cost of inflation or to cover the costs of administering the programs at hand. Fortunately, fees sometimes decrease.

For the past several weeks, House Ways and Means has been working intently on the 2015 Fee Bill. The bill passed out of committee on Friday, February 6th. Up for review this year are educator licenses, 10 different types of fees for restaurant fees (depending on size and type of food served), 4 types of lodging fees, 5 for food preparation, licenses for anesthetists, physicians' assistants, radiologists, Act 250 applications, air quality and water discharge fees, fees for potable water systems, hazardous air containment, waste haulers and waste management, fishing, trapping and hunting licenses, and finally setting the workers compensation insurance rate for the coming year. This last one will remain unchanged.

As you can imagine, work on the Fee Bill is very tedious and time consuming. The committee takes testimony from administration officials who defend the fees and seek to justify money to be spent, developers who would prefer a less regulatory burden, individuals who have personal perspectives and the public. While most people are not immediately touched by fees, we all benefit from public water systems that work, sewage systems that keep our rivers clean, and teachers and hospital workers that are well trained to carry out their professional responsibilities.

As always, your comments and questions to one or both of us are always welcome. You will find contact information on our home page.

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