VPIRG 2019 Legislative Preview

The 2019 Vermont legislative session kicked off today and we’re excited.

This legislature has more new lawmakers than Vermont has seen in decades and many of them were elected on bold platforms to protect our people and our environment. And it couldn’t come a moment too soon.

The challenges we face are as great as they’ve ever been: A climate crisis that demands immediate action. Ongoing attacks on our health. The explosion of big money corrupting our political system. Corporations that put their bottom-line ahead of consumers’ safety and well-being. When it comes to tackling these problems, there’s no time to waste.

Together with our 50,000 supporters statewide, we intend to make progress on a long, ambitious list of priorities this session – check out the full list below!

(Photo credit: Jim Bowen on flickr via Creative Commons)

Climate and Energy

Ban New Fossil Fuel Energy Infrastructure – In order to fight climate change and promote a vibrant clean energy economy, Vermont’s long-term plans call for a 75% reduction in climate pollution and 90% of our total energy to come from renewable sources by 2050. But we cannot reach these goals by increasing our reliance on dirty and outdated fossil fuels. Therefore, VPIRG is supporting legislation that would ban major new fossil fuel infrastructure – such as fracked gas pipelines – in Vermont.

Build on 2018 Victories for Volkswagen Settlement Dollars – Vermont is set to receive nearly $19 million as part of a settlement between the Department of Justice and Volkswagen for that company’s deceptive emissions practices. In 2018, VPIRG successfully urged the legislature to dedicate these funds for FY19 solely to electric vehicles. This session we’ll be going back to make sure all $18.7 million goes toward electrification. Vermont will also receive $3.6 million from a separate state settlement with Volkswagen – VPIRG will push for those funds to support EV incentives for Vermonters who are lower and middle-income.

Help More Vermonters Weatherize Their HomesWeatherization is an easy way to create jobs, save money, and of course make homes more comfortable and energy efficient. Our goal this session is to increase funding enough to double the total number of housing units weatherized every year. That funding will expand access to the Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program – and help Vermonters with moderate-incomes to get the help they need to weatherize their homes as well.

Defend Clean Energy Progress We Have Already Made– Over the past decade, VPIRG has helped build a strong foundation for the work we need to do to transition to a clean energy future, supporting programs such as the Standard Offer and Efficiency Vermont, and we will not accept this progress being undermined by the current administration. The Scott Administration has also indicated they may push for a tax on EV charging. We will work to ensure that any such tax is paired with lower EV charging rates – or is stopped altogether.

 

Energy Independent Vermont

Use the Decarbonization Study as a Roadmap for Bold Climate PolicyVPIRG and our partners in the Energy Independent Vermont coalition will be urging the legislature to review the findings of the nonpartisan Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office’s Decarbonization Methods Study (a cost/benefits analysis recommended by Gov. Scott’s Climate Action Commission). We’ll be pushing lawmakers to craft and support legislation that prices carbon pollution accordingly.

 

Government Reform

Ban Corporate Campaign ContributionsThe federal government has prohibited corporations from giving money to candidates for over 100 years, and 22 states have done the same. To limit the influence of special interests over our elections, it’s time for Vermont to ban corporate contributions too.

Give the State Ethics Commission Teeth Vermont’s recently created ethics commission represents a good step toward fostering openness, transparency and trustworthiness in state government. But VPIRG has consistently argued that it must be stronger. We support granting the ethics commission the authority to investigate complaints and take enforcement measures.

Invigorate and Modernize Vermont’s Public Campaign Finance System There’s a lot of ways we can address the issue of big money in politics. We should not only work to ban corporate contributions but also work for a robust, innovative public financing system. VPIRG supports doing this by incorporating democracy vouchers and other means of increasing voter engagement.

Support Ranked Choice Voting – Maine has recently demonstrated that Ranked Choice Voting not only works, but can withstand legal challenge. VPIRG has long supported Ranked Choice Voting as a means to ensuring that Vermont’s leaders are chosen by a majority of those voting.

 

Environment & Public Health

Better Protect Kids from Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products – Specifically, VPIRG will be supporting legislation that would give the health commissioner greater authority to take action against toxic products that threaten kids’ health. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Scott in 2018. The override fell 4 votes short in the House.

Provide Legal Remedies to Victims of Toxic Pollution – VPIRG will be working to pass legislation similar to a second bill vetoed by Gov. Scott in 2018. We believe that those exposed to toxic chemicals through no fault of their own should be entitled to have medical monitoring paid for by the polluter who released the toxins into the environment.

Ensure Vermonters Have Safe Drinking Water — VPIRG is supporting several proposals to better protect drinking water. Schools should test their drinking water for lead and for PFAS chemicals and remediate as necessary. Vermont should also have a statewide safe drinking water standard for PFAS chemicals.

 

Plastic Pollution

Ban the Sale of Single-Use Plastic Bags As other states and municipalities (including some here in Vermont) move to ban single-use plastic bags, Vermont should do the same. VPIRG also supports a statewide policy requiring establishments to give plastic straws out only if requested by customers.

Push for a State Food Ware Purchasing Policy – The state can use its own “power of the purse” to move toward safer, more environmentally-friendly products. VPIRG is encouraging the state of Vermont to adopt a policy prohibiting the state government from buying single-use food ware made of Styrofoam or containing PFAS toxins.

Modernize the Bottle Bill – Last year we finally ended the giveaway of millions of dollars in unclaimed deposits to the beverage industry. Now it’s time to bring the Bottle Bill into the 21st century by expanding its scope to cover more beverage containers, including water bottles and wine, and raising the deposit to 10 cents.

 

Consumer Protection

Expand Access to Affordable, High-Speed Internet – Too many Vermonters are on the wrong side of the digital divide. VPIRG will be advocating for policies to expand broadband internet access in a way that supports community-owned models that prioritize affordability, net neutrality and digital privacy. We’ll be pushing to increase funding for the state’s connectivity programs, establish a state revolving-loan fund to support community-owned fiber initiatives and reform our pole attachment rules to make it easier for local internet providers to bring service to their communities.

Improve Data Privacy and Security Protections for Vermonters – Last year, VPIRG advocated for first-in-the-nation protections to rein in the data broker industry. This year we’ll be urging the legislature to continue bolstering privacy rights for Vermonters by enacting the nation’s strongest student online privacy protections, updating Vermont’s data breach notification laws, and pushing the state to get its own house in order by creating a Chief Privacy Officer position and conducting a state privacy audit.

Support Right-to-Repair Legislation — The way the system of electronic repair for devices currently works puts consumers and repair shop owners at a severe disadvantage to the wealthy and powerful manufacturers that control the marketplace. Fair Repair is a smart, sensible solution to the dual issues of rising e-waste and costly repair monopolies. We’ll be encouraging the legislature to review the findings of the Right to Repair Task Force and support subsequent legislation aimed at passing Right to Repair in Vermont

 

Economic Justice

Establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program – VPIRG is proud to be a member of the Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance coalition. Last year, that coalition successfully advocated for the passage of a bill that would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid leave time for employees needing to care for a new child, or 6 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured loved one. Phil Scott vetoed this bill along with a slew of other public interest legislation at the end of last session. This year, VPIRG intends to join our allies to strengthen this bill and, should the governor veto it again, urge legislators to override him and enact this important program.