The second half of the 2011-2012 legislative biennium marked another busy and successful trial for public interest campaigns. We came into the session with ambitious plans – from banning fracking to requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled to promoting clean energy to advancing the state toward our goal of high quality, affordable health care for all. We take our role as “Vermont’s Voice” in the State House seriously – bringing research and policy analysis, strong partnerships and principled organizing and advocacy to the fore.
Along the way, and with the tremendous support and activism of VPIRG members behind us, we are proud to share these 2012 accomplishments.
H.559 – Big Health Care Bill
The passage of House bill 559 marked Vermont’s next step forward on the path to high-quality, affordable health care for all. Cassandra Gekas, VPIRG’s health care advocate, worked closely with legislative and community leaders to shepherd the strongest bill possible to the Governor’s desk. The new law lays the foundation for Vermont’s health benefit exchange, which will help make purchasing coverage easier and more affordable for thousands of individuals and small businesses in 2014. With the help of VPIRG members, we were able to beat back several hostile amendments and ensure that the new law will strengthen the foundation for Green Mountain Care, which will cover every Vermonter beginning in 2017.
S.200 – Health Care Denied Claims
In a big win for the public interest, VPIRG led the charge in fighting for more transparency and disclosure from health insurance companies operating in Vermont. The bill requires the insurance companies to pull the curtain back on the claims they deny and the influence they wield. Beginning in July, data on the number and type of claims insurers deny, as well as their spending on non-health care items like lobbyists and marketing will be available online for all Vermonters to access. This information will be especially helpful once Vermont’s health benefit exchange is up and running in 2014. Thousands of individuals and small businesses will have access to affordable coverage and more choice when it comes to their insurance company. Information is power and this legislation is key to ensuring that Vermonters are being treated fairly and that our premium dollars are being spent on care, not to pad the bottom line of the health insurance industry.
H.468/S.214 – Big Energy Bill
In a time when Vermonters are clear in their desire for more clean energy, the legislature ended with a mixed record on realizing that goal. Leading up to and during the session, VPIRG pushed for a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which would have set real requirements for renewable energy generation. In addition to the statewide requirement, we also mobilized grassroots support for expanding Vermont’s precedent-setting“Standard Offer” program that guarantees small, local clean energy projects will be built by setting predictable, stable prices that ensure renewable developers can get their projects financed. In a late-session move, at the behest of IBM and other corporate interests, senators removed the RPS from the big energy bill. While the new law will advance more small local renewable projects, it should have been much stronger in terms of moving the state closer to our established clean energy goals.
Budget – Anti-wind Amendment
The Senate shot down one of the most anti-environmental proposals of the session, which would have put a moratorium on renewable wind energy plants. In an 11-18 vote, senators rejected the proposed amendment to the state budget.
Other renewable energy initiatives
This legislative session also saw two other important renewable energy bills pass – H.475, The Net Metering Bill, and H.679, The Solar Tax Bill. H.475 builds on the VPIRG-backed Solar Bill that was passed in 2011 and makes some small but important changes that will make it even easier and more affordable for Vermonters to build home and business-sized renewable projects. H.679 sets a stable, predictable, low tax rate for all solar energy projects in Vermont, which will make it easier for developers to get solar projects built, and exempts home-sized solar systems (10 kw in capacity or smaller) from taxation.
H. 464 – Fracking Ban
The Vermont legislature made history when both chambers agreed to pass a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) for natural gas in Vermont. This will make Vermont the first state in the nation to ban the dirty and dangerous practice of fracking. The Vermont Legislature deserves tremendous praise for having the courage to stand up to all of the lobbying, the full page ads and the legal threats of the oil and gas industry in passing this bill.
S.92 – Green Cleaning
Conventional cleaning products used in schools can contain a wide variety of harmful chemicals that may have negative health effects. In order to protect our children and the environment, VPIRG pressed for S.92, a bill that will ensure the use of safer cleaning products in schools across the state. The bill passed the Senate and House last year, but didn’t quite make it across the finish line in 2011. VPIRG succeeded in making S.92 one of the first bills to pass in the 2012 legislative session.
JRS.11 – Citizens’ United Resolution
The Vermont legislature passed a joint resolution (JRS 11) urging the US Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution to make clear that corporations are not people and money is not speech. VPIRG applauds the grassroots activists who laid the foundation for this movement by getting over 60 Vermont municipalities to pass similar Town Meeting Day resolutions. We also thank our state leaders for sending a clear message that corporations are not people and money isn’t speech.