2020 Mid-Session Legislative Update

We’re nearly halfway through the 2020 legislative session, and thanks to strong support from our members and allies across the state, we’ve made important progress on a number of pieces of essential legislation.   

We’re heartened by our accomplishments thus far, but we know we aren’t the only ones taking notice — industry lobbyists are, too. And if history is any indicator, they’ll be fighting tooth and nail to sideline the crucial environmental and consumer protection legislation that Vermonters are demanding. 

And all too often, when important legislation is being considered at the State House, VPIRG’s advocates are among the few voices in the room standing up for the public interest. We’re committed to keeping up the fight to ensure our priority legislation makes it across the finish line.   

Next Friday is the all-important legislative crossover deadline, when bills must be passed out of their necessary committees in order to have a chance of being enacted this year. Stay tuned for more updates on how you can take action to support key legislation. And if you’re active on social media, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for real-time updates and opportunities to act. 

Check out the full run-down below of where VPIRG’s priority legislation stands at the midpoint of the 2020 legislative session… 

Climate and Energy 

The Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) recently passed out of the House with a whopping 105 votes, gaining support from members of every political party including four Independents, three Republicans, 91 Democrats, and seven Progressives. This came after over a month of daily testimony in the House Energy and Technology committee, chaired by the two lead sponsors of the bill, Tim Briglin (D-Thetford) and Laura Sibilia (I-Dover). The Solutions Act will be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks, and we’re hoping to see it pass as is and with equally strong support. 

Right now, members of the Senate Finance committee are taking testimony on 100% by 2030 (S.267), which has become the standout climate bill of the Senate, aiming to require Vermont utilities to source the entirety of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2030. If passed, this bill would make our Renewable Energy Standard the strongest in the country. Right now, S.267 (the 100% renewable electricity bill) has a requirement that by 2032, 20% of all the electricity sold by Vermont utilities would have to be from small and medium-size renewables built right here in Vermont (twice the current requirement). That’s critical for this bill to create jobs, keep money in our economy, and make our communities more resilient. However, this crucial aspect of the bill is under threat from utilities, who argue it could potentially raise rates while ignoring the potential for dollar savings and job creation. The bill will likely be voted on next week. 

The Energy Efficiency Modernization Act (S.337) was passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee and has moved on for further consideration by Senate Finance. This bill would create a three year pilot program allowing energy efficiency entities (namely, Efficiency Vermont) to use a portion of their budget on programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the thermal and transportation sectors. Right now, our focus is on ensuring that the ‘credit’ for these programs (or, the equivalent GHG reductions associated with any given project) isn’t given to utilities, which would thereby reduce the amount of efficiency projects they have to fund out of their own pocket, but rather to the efficiency entities themselves. 

In recent months, through public opinion polls, at public meetings and most recently through public comments, Vermonters have been urging Gov. Phil Scott to join the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) – a bipartisan, regional effort to modernize transportation systems and reduce pollution. Why? Because if Vermont does not join TCI, we’ll likely pay the compliance costs without reaping any of the revenues. If we do join, we’ll earn back more than we spend. You are invited to submit your TCI comments here.

Environmental Health 

The Senate Health and Welfare committee is currently taking testimony on an act to restrict PFAS and other chemicals of concern in consumer products (S. 295). This bill would ban PFAS from many of the products through which we are commonly exposed, including food packagingfirefighting foam, and residential carpets and rugsAdditionally, it would address PFAS as a class under Act 188 by adding the authority to regulate classes of chemicals under the Act and adding PFAS to the list of chemicals of high concern to children. We are optimistic that this bill will be voted out of committee before the crossover deadline. 

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is currently hearing testimony on an act relating to the provision of personal care products by lodging establishments (S. 227). This bill prohibits lodging establishments, such as hotels and bed & breakfasts, from providing personal care products in small plastic bottles. The Committee may use this bill as a vehicle for a “solid waste omnibus bill,” and has been taking testimony on policies including Extended Produce Responsibility (EPR) and organics management. VPIRG is pressing for the addition of other measures as well, including setting a goal to cut packaging waste by 75% by 2030, modernizing Vermont’s Bottle Bill, and requiring beverage manufacturers to use increasing quantities of recycled material in their single-use packaging in order to reduce the use of virgin material. We are optimistic that some form of this bill will pass out of committee by the crossover deadline.

Consumer Protection 

 A Data Privacy and Consumer Protection Act (S. 110) is on the governor’s desk! This VPIRG-supported bill contains a number of key provisions aimed at better protecting Vermonters’ personal information, informing them when their data has been compromised and keeping them out of unwanted ‘zombie contacts.’ 

 S.110 was introduced at the beginning of the 2019 legislative session – and VPIRG members and advocates supported the bill during long and somewhat complicated journey to the governor’s desk. Ultimately the version of the bill that passed both chambers of the legislature on voice votes, contains several important consumer protections. Specifically, if enacted, S.110 would: Institute data protections for Vermont students, bring transparency to the state of Vermont’s data practices, modernize Vermont’s data breach notification law, improve on Vermont’s nation-best automatic contract renewal law. 

A Fair and Transparent Auto Financing Act (S.135) has passed the Senate and is currently awaiting action in the House. If enacted, S.135 would help end the practice of auto dealers falsifying or doctoring financial information on loan applications thereby saddling consumers with loans they can’t afford. S.135 would make the falsifying of such documents illegal and provide greater transparency by requiring auto dealers to provide consumers with copies of their application at the time of submission. 

Elections and Government Reform

After passing the Senate in March of 2019, a Corporate Campaign Contributions Ban (S. 47) is finally gaining traction in the House Committee on Government Operations, which we anticipate will vote it out of committee next week. VPIRG’s been working for many years to reduce the influence of corporations and the super-wealthy in our elections. We are also supporting legislation to Improve Vermont’s Public Financing System (S.32), which has similarly passed the Senate and is now awaiting action in the House.