VPIRG was able to pass substantial legislation in the first half of the 2015-2016 legislative biennium and lay the groundwork for even more gains next year. We cracked through on long overdue reforms to our electoral system – including a vigorous new lobbyist disclosure law and the institution of Election Day voter registration. We ushered a bill that will continue Vermont down a path toward a renewable energy future and save Vermonters millions of dollars. We made improvements in health care reform, tightened rent-to-own practices and successfully encouraged the Vermont Senate to recognize and commit to addressing man-made climate change. Learn more about these legislative accomplishments and others below:
S.29 – Expanding Voting Rights: For more than a decade, VPIRG has fought for a new law to make it easier for Vermonters to participate in elections by allowing voters to register on Election Day. In 2015, our work paid off. By removing this barrier to exercising our right to vote, Vermont is primed to see increasing voter participation—in fact, in the dozen other states that have allowed voters to register on Election Day, voter turnout is a whopping 10% higher on average.
S.93 – Reining in Lobbyists: VPIRG believes the public has a right to know who’s footing the bill for advertising campaigns spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence debates in the State House. That’s why we fought hard to pass S.93, a bill to require more disclosure from lobbyists operating in Montpelier. If sunshine is the best disinfectant, then this legislation will soon be helping clean things up in the State House.
ENERGY AND CLIMATE
H.40 – Renewable Energy Standard: One of the last pieces of legislation to pass this year was a critical renewable energy bill. The Renewable Energy Standard (RES) will require Vermont utilities to provide their customers with renewable electricity, and will ensure at least 400 MW of new renewables will be built in Vermont over the next 15 years. The RES will also require electric utilities to help Vermonters cut their fossil fuel use in the heating and transportation sectors, saving Vermonters an estimated $390 million.
Anti-Renewable Amendments: When opponents of renewable energy sought to add 11th hour amendments to the Renewable Energy Standard that would make building solar and wind significantly more difficult, we mobilized our members to call in to the State House, and the amendments were defeated.
S.R. 7 Formally Recognizing Climate Change: Parting with the elected leaders in Washington, D.C. and other states who deny global warming, the Vermont Senate joined the most qualified scientific, military and economic minds alive today by approving a resolution to formally recognize the threat of global warming. By a 22-7 vote, the Senate approved this VPIRG-backed resolution.
S.139 Health Care Reforms: One of the very last bills to be passed by the Vermont legislature included a number of important VPIRG backed reforms to improve our health care system. The legislation requires insurers to give Vermonters the information they need to be able to shop for the best prices on health care services. Further, it will fund efforts to move our system to one that pays for the value of the care we get, not the volume, as well as essential services that make coverage on Vermont Health Connect more affordable and accessible. Finally, VPIRG-backed legislation (S.20) to increase access to dental care cleared a major hurdle by passing the Senate and will be taken up by the House in 2016.
S.73 Rent-to-Own Protections: This year VPIRG helped pass consumer protection legislation that reined in the rent-to-own industry. This legislation put caps on how much rent-to-own merchants can mark up their products and guaranteed that customers will not pay full price for used items. The legislation also ensures consumers don’t lose what they have invested in an item just because they miss a payment.
H.4 Banning Microbeads in Vermont: One of the first bills of substance to be voted on this session, H.4 passed the House of Representatives 140-0 as legislators gave a resounding thumbs down to plastic microbeads in personal care products. Microbeads are microscopic plastic orbs used as exfoliates in home hygiene and beauty products like body scrubs, face wash, and toothpaste. These tiny particles, barely visible to the naked eye, cannot be filtered out in waste water treatment facilities and end up at the bottom of our lakes, rivers, streams, and local waterways. This VPIRG-backed legislation will be one of the first bills the Senate considers next year, and will look to ban microbeads from personal care products in Vermont starting in 2017.
Laying the Groundwork for Next Session: With a multitude of big “must pass” bills this session (education, water quality, budget, etc.), the VPIRG environmental health team spent our time laying the groundwork for victories on key issues next year. Among these issues is the idea that the state of Vermont, not the beverage industry, should keep the unclaimed nickels from the bottle bill. In a last-minute amendment to the budget, this idea was voted down in the Senate 19-10, but with more time next year, the issue looks poised to pass. Another issue that we made progress on was a 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags at the checkout counter. The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee formed a sub-committee to look at this issue, and there is good momentum moving into next year.