2016 Legislative Preview

The 2016 Vermont legislative session is here! VPIRG is excited to build on the nearly 45 years of success that we have achieved together and continue working in the State House to protect our environment, watch out for consumers and put Vermont on a path to a sustainable future.

Click on a program name below to jump to that section and check out our priorities for the coming months:

 

Clean Energy & Climate | Consumer Protection | Government Reform | Environment | Health Care

Clean Energy & Climate

Putting a Price on Pollution:
With storms like Irene in 2011 and the warmest December on record in 2015, Mother Nature is giving us a taste of what global warming will look like in the future. It’s time for Vermont to make fossil fuel companies pay for the carbon pollution they’ve been dumping for free. So VPIRG is working with the Energy Independent Vermont coalition to push for a price on carbon pollution, with the revenues directed to tax cuts and investments that will help Vermonters reduce their energy bills and fossil fuel use. It’s a simple, fair and effective solution to reduce pollution and grow the Vermont economy. As President Obama said at the global climate talks in Paris, “the most elegant way to drive innovation and cut carbon emissions is to put a price on it.”

Renewable Energy:
The overwhelming majority of Vermonters support solar and wind energy, and with good reason. Not only is renewable energy essential to cutting Vermont’s carbon pollution and transitioning us towards energy independence, but it’s also one of the fastest growing industries in the state. Nearly five percent of Vermont workers are now employed in clean energy or efficiency, with nearly 2,000 in solar alone. But none of that is stopping opponents from trying to slow or even stop clean energy development. In fact, this year an outright ban on new wind projects has been introduced.

VPIRG will be working to ensure new barriers to clean energy aren’t being put up. We’ll also be working with the legislature to identify reasonable opportunities to improve the energy siting process. In particular, we’re working to make it easier to develop solar on the built environment (rooftops and parking lots) and degraded sites (landfills, brownfields and gravel pits), even as we defend the progress we’ve made with renewable energy of all sizes and kinds.

Net Metering:
The program that allows Vermonters to go renewable and get credit on their electric bill for the power they produce is also getting a long-planned update right now. That’s happening at the Public Service Board, not in the legislature, and we’ll be working to ensure that program’s continued success.

Efficiency:
Vermont’s Low Income Weatherization program provides low-income Vermonters the opportunity to get their home buttoned up at no cost, saving them 25% or more on their heating bills and making their homes healthier and more comfortable. The funding source for this essential program is up for renewal this year, and VPIRG will be supporting the work of the Weatherization Assistance Programs to make sure that happens. We’ll also support their work to look for opportunities to expand that funding so they can serve even more Vermonters.

Consumer Protection

Labels on GMO Foods:
Our top consumer protection priority of 2016 will be to make sure that Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law goes in to effect this summer as planned. Right now the US Congress is the biggest threat to making this vision a reality. We will continue to work with our senators and representative in Washington to do everything in their power to make sure that consumers can see labels on genetically engineered foods.

Government Reform

Let the People Choose Vermont’s Governor
VPIRG believes Vermont voters – not legislators – should have the final say in who is elected to our top state offices. As it stands now, in close elections where no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote, Vermont’s Constitution gives legislators the power to choose the winner in races for Governor, Lt. Governor, or Treasurer. In 2015, we even had 69 state legislators (out of a total of 180) vote by secret ballot for a gubernatorial candidate who came in second on Election Day, two months earlier.

VPIRG supports a simple amendment to Vermont’s Constitution that takes the Legislature out of the process of electing our top leaders and gives the power to the people. Citizen voters currently choose the winner of every other political race in the state; they should have the power to choose our top elected leaders as well.

Ban ‘Pay to Play’:
Imagine: a business or law firm makes a generous campaign contribution to a statewide candidate who, after taking office or winning reelection, rewards the donor with a state contract. One way of thinking about this is, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s also known as “pay to play” and it’s a form of political corruption. It’s bad for taxpayers and it’s bad for democracy. VPIRG supports a change to Vermont law that would prohibit state contracts from being awarded to any person or corporation that has made a political contribution to a candidate seeking the office which oversees the contract.

Universal Voter Registration:
VPIRG believes that our democracy is strengthened when we remove unnecessary barriers to voting and bring more citizens into the process of electing our leaders. One way to do that is by creating a system of universal voter registration in Vermont. Under this system, when a citizen of voting age has contact with a government branch like the Department of Motor Vehicles, that citizen would automatically be registered to vote unless he or she opts out of the program. Universal registration is already being used in Oregon. It’s a modern, convenient, and cost-effective way to update to our voter registration system that would empower more Vermonters to participate in the democratic process.

Environmental Protection

Taking Back Our Nickels:
Right now, unclaimed deposits from Vermont’s Bottle Bill are returned to the beverage industry – meaning when people don’t redeem containers with a nickel deposit, that money – totaling nearly $2 million a year statewide – goes to the beverage industry. But in 7 of the 10 other states in the nation with a Bottle Bill, all or the vast majority of that money goes to the state. These funds often are used to offset the cost of recycling programs to citizens. We will be advocating that we use these nickels to support recycling programs in Vermont as well as ensuring Vermont’s Bottle Bill remains strong.

Universal Recycling and Act 148 Implementation:
Vermont is implementing act 148, a first-in-the-nation universal recycling bill that calls for mandatory curbside pickup of recycling and composting by 2020. The state is faced with finding a means to fund the infrastructure updates necessary to carry out this important overhaul. Revenue that can be gained by claiming unclaimed nickels for the state could be used to pay for Act 148, and VPIRG will be advocating for legislation that would do just that. We will also be looking to other funding solutions such as a tax on non-reusable bags.

Banning Microbeads in Vermont:
Microbeads are microscopic bits of plastic used as exfoliates in home hygiene and beauty products.. Because of their size, microbeads wash down the drain, cannot be filtered out in waste water treatment facilities, head into our waterways and act as docking stations for a host of toxic chemicals. Once introduced to marine environments, these non-biodegrable microbeads are impossible to remove.

Recently Federal legislation passed banning microbeads in a wide range of products, and we will be working to improve on this legislation to keep more microbeads out of Vermont’s waterways.

Health Care

Expanding Access to Dental Care:
This year we will be working to make it easier for Vermonters to get dental care by expanding Vermont’s dental work force to allow dental therapists. This is a proven solution that would help more Vermonters get the dental care that they need. Similar models are already in place around the world and in Alaska and Minnesota. Last year the Senate passed S.20, and this year we will be working to pass the bill through the House.

Watchdogging Health Care Reform:
The state of Vermont is proposing innovative reforms to control health care costs and improve access to care. We will be watchdogging the reform process and advocating for policies that make it easier for all Vermonters to get high quality affordable health care.

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