Legislative Updates: In Brief

Vermont State House

The end of the legislative session is always lively.  While things are changing by the minute, here’s a snapshot of where things stand with the public interest bills on the eve of the session’s close.

Health Care
H.559 – Big Health Care Bill
The Senate gave its final OK to the big health care reform bill (H.559) on Wednesday, May 2nd.  Our health care champions beat back several amendments that would have weakened Vermont’s health benefit exchange.   The bill goes back to the House for final approval on Friday.  This moves us one step closer to affordable health care for all.

S.200 – Health Care Denied Claims
We had a big win for the public interest on our insurance company disclosure bill when the conferees agreed with us Wednesday, May 2nd on what info should be disclosed, including denied claims, executive compensation, and spending on lobbying, campaigns and advertising.  Next stop is the House on Friday, and then back for final approval in the Senate on Saturday.

Clean Energy

H.468/S.214 – Big Energy Bill
After removing the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would have set real requirements for renewable energy generation, at the behest of IBM, senators passed the big energy bill on Wednesday night at 9:15. While the bill gives a big boost to small local renewable projects, it should have been much stronger in terms of moving the state closer to our established clean energy goals.  It is expected to get final approval in the House on Friday.

H. 464 – Fracking Ban
On Tuesday, May 1st, House and Senate conferees reached an agreement to BAN fracking in Vermont! This is a great step and was followed by the Senate OK’ing the ban (once again).  Now we just need the House, which has so far only voted on a moratorium, to agree.  That House vote is due to happen on Friday.  This will make Vermont the first state in the nation to ban the dirty and dangerous practice of fracking.

Clean Energy Development Fund
The Clean Energy Development Fund, which provides the incentives that make it affordable for Vermonters to go solar, is going to run out of money in a matter of months if the legislature doesn’t act now. If the Fund runs out of money it will make it harder and more expensive for Vermonters to build and install their own renewable energy.  And it will be a huge blow to a green industry that’s hitting its stride, leading to dozens or hundreds of jobs lost. VPIRG and our allies are pressing hard for adequate funding.  Right now the source of the funding remains Vermont Yankee, which makes sense as long as that plant is operating.  But this will be an ongoing battle.

Budget – Anti-wind Amendment
Last Thursday night (April 27th) the Senate shot down one of the most anti-environmental proposals of the session. It would have put a moratorium on renewable wind energy plants. In an 11-18 vote, senators rejected the proposed amendment to the state budget.

Environmental Health

H.485 – Solid Waste and Mandatory Recycling Bill – Bottle Bill Expansion Amendment
Legislation to expand Vermont’s bottle deposit law, the Bottle Bill (S.176/S.195), was introduced into the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy early in the 2012 session.  After considerable testimony, that committee ran out of time to move the initial stand alone legislation, but later amended the solid waste and mandatory recycling bill (H.485) to include key components of the expanded Bottle Bill.

On Friday, April 20th, the Senate voted 22-7 to strike the expanded Bottle Bill language from the broader solid waste bill. This was a temporary setback for recycling (and win for the beverage industry), but under the bill passed by the Senate, the Agency of Natural Resources will  study how an expanded Bottle Bill could work with mandatory recycling in the state.  Since this is exactly how the expanded Bottle Bill works in numerous other places in the U.S. and elsewhere, we’re confident that any objective analysis will recommend a Bigger Better Bottle Bill for Vermont.

Bottle Bill – Unclaimed Nickels
Each year in Vermont, the beverage industry keeps more than $2 million of unclaimed Bottle Bill deposits.  Senators Pollina and Ashe attempted to redirect that money to a new Clean Environment Jobs Fund – a provision included in the original Bottle Bill legislation (S.176/S.195) – but they were defeated by an 18-12 vote in the Senate.

Consumer Protection

H.722 – GMO Labeling Bill
After many weeks of testimony, the VT Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act (H.722) passed on a 9-1 vote by the House Agriculture Committee on April 20th.  The bill now sits in the House Judiciary Committee where it will die this session.  We are already working to build on everyone’s hard work, and plan to be back next year to fight for the public’s Right-to-Know.

Democracy

S.20 – Campaign Finance Reform
On Tuesday, May 1st the Senate buried campaign finance reform for another year.  After some debate, senators voted 19-9 to send S.20 – a bill that would have reestablished common sense limits on campaign contributions and required more disclosure from candidates (including the occupation and employer of their larger donors) – to the Judiciary Committee where it will die.

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