The sponsor of legislation that would allow state agencies to charge the public for commenting on environmental documents significantly amended the bill Tuesday to remove the controversial proposal.
Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, acknowledged the contentiousness of House Bill 695, saying it was “a little controversial the way it started,” before proposing his amendment. The amendment, which passed on a vote of 78-22, removes virtually all of the bill’s language except a section that would allow for arbitration in disputes over public water supplies.
Last week HB 695 narrowly passed the House Natural Resources Committee on a vote of 8-7. The bill in its original form would allow state agencies to charge public commenters a fee while drafting environmental impact statements. Loge said the bill was to ensure commenters had a stake in brining comments and to discourage form letters submitted in mass.
Democrats expressed dismay at the bill, saying it violated the fundamental right to participate in government and sought to chill free speech. Opponents, which included some committee Republicans, also expressed concern about the vagueness of the bill in dictating what an appropriate fee would be.