Governor Phil Scott today announced organizational changes to modernize the State’s public safety and select permitting and regulatory functions to better serve Vermonters, increase efficiency and improve these systems.
Through Executive Order 01-21 Governor Scott has created the Agency of Public Safety, though the Order is structured as a framework for the Agency with a gradual implementation. This approach allows for discussion and input from the Vermont Legislature, which has contemplated this move in previous years, as this important reorganization progresses.
“By bringing together our public safety and enforcement functions under one agency, we will see better coordinated operations, including training and accountability, as well as a consistent culture of fair and impartial policing so this is the right time to begin this process,” said Governor Scott. “There has been a lot of agreement between the executive and legislative branches on the benefit of unifying these functions under one agency, and we look forward to working closely with lawmakers to take this step forward.”
The Agency would initially be comprised of a Department of Fire Safety & Emergency Management, and a Department of Law Enforcement, which would bring the Vermont State Police and Motor Vehicle Enforcement under one roof. It also calls for a study on if and how the Fish & Wildlife Warden’s Service, the Department of Liquor & Lottery Enforcement and other state sworn law enforcement and regulatory operations could eventually be brought under this structure.
Finally, the new agency would include a Division of Support Services, bringing several communications and administrative resources and functions together to serve state and local law enforcement as well as the health, safety and welfare needs of the public. This step will include the E911 Board, as well as the Fire Service Training Council and Criminal Justice Council, all of which would retain the full scope of jurisdiction and responsibility of their current boards.
“This executive order is part of a larger plan to modernize public safety delivery and allows us to organize the State’s public safety assets to achieve operational efficiency and provide better and more uniform service to Vermonters,” said Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling. “This move is also important to our ongoing fair and impartial policing work and adopting a mindful, equitable and fair system of criminal justice.”
Governor Scott also signed Executive Order 02-21, to professionalize and modernize the Natural Resources Board and its district commissions. The existing iteration of the Board was developed under Act 250, which has operated under similar administrative structures for over 50 years. This move is the culmination of numerous studies, reports, and bills that have all recommended similar action dating back as far as 1974.
“Act 250 has served our state well by protecting the natural resources that Vermonters value, providing a voice for citizens, and ensuring adequate planning within Vermont’s regions,” said Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore. “However, the Act’s basic administrative structure and governance has not been updated in a half century and has not kept pace as the complexity of environmental, planning and regulatory issues has increased substantially.”
This concept was introduced during the 2020 legislative session, and while robust discussions were initiated in the House, it was put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor’s Executive Order unifies policy authority across the nine Environmental Commission Districts, and will maximize natural resource protections, enable well-planned growth, increase predictability and uniformity, and reduce redundancy and inconsistency with other state regulatory programs.
Effective July 1, 2021, the Order will reconstitute the current 5-member Board with a chair and two full time professional members. Two district commissioners will join the Board to review the major project applications from the region where the application originated. This structure will provide increased expertise and consistency, while still ensuring a local voice in the process. That means the Board will handle all major projects, a system which both ensures a consistent and predictable permit review process and remains responsive to community concerns. Regional commissions will continue to review minor project applications when a public hearing is not requested, with enhanced policy guidance from the professional board. Legislation will also be introduced that complements this restructuring and furthers the work needed to modernize Act 250.
“There is broad agreement on the need to modernize Act 250 to better manage environmental and economic issues, including climate change, forest fragmentation, Vermont’s demographic challenges and growing economic inequity from region to region,” said Governor Scott. “We can and must protect our environment and support regional economic development reliant on vibrant downtowns and village centers. That’s our focus in this work, because we cannot achieve these goals with the outdated and cumbersome administrative structure we have today.”
These realignments were launched through executive orders, under a provision that allows a governor to make changes in the organization of the Executive Branch. Both orders take effect April 15, 2021 unless both houses of the General Assembly act to disapprove.
“While we’re moving these important reorganizations forward via an executive order, we are committed to working closely with the Legislature through this process to meet our shared goals of better, more efficient and effective service to Vermonters,” added Governor Scott.