The 2022 legislative session has begun, and our staff at VPIRG are back to doing what they do best: fighting for the public interest. 2021 marked a year of many victories including universal vote-by-mail, major investments in climate solutions and broadband, the nation’s strongest ban on PFAS chemicals in consumer products and so much more. We will only build on that momentum going forward – armed with facts, research, a talented team of advocates, and the grassroots support of thousands of Vermonters, VPIRG is heading into 2022 stronger than ever.
CLIMATE & CLEAN ENERGY
Transportation creates more climate pollution than any other part of Vermont’s economy — and the high cost of fossil fuels for our cars and trucks creates an enormous burden on Vermont families. In 2022, the legislature must pass historic funding to help Vermonters transition to electric vehicles, invest in public transit, and support more biking, walking and other clean transportation options. That funding must be at the levels necessary to put Vermont on track to equitably hit its climate commitments under the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Clean Heat Standard
Buildings are Vermont’s second-biggest source of climate pollution, and we simply have to shift to cleaner heating sources such as efficient, cold-climate electric heat pumps to cut Vermont’s climate pollution. The legislature should push to finally require the fossil fuel giants selling oil, propane, and gas into Vermont to help Vermonters cut their carbon pollution, just like Vermont’s electric utilities are already obligated to.
Weatherization at Scale
While the legislature pursues a Clean Heat Standard, we also have to make big investments in the near-term—building on those made last legislative session—to help dramatically more Vermonters weatherize their homes and install efficient, electric heating options. Doing so at the scale the Solutions Act’s requirements demand will provide the simultaneous benefits of making Vermonters’ homes healthier and more comfortable and cutting our climate pollution.
New, Local Renewables, Workforce Development, Municipal Efficiency & Electrification
There’s so much we need to do in the area of climate action and energy equity. That’s why Vermont cannot stop at two or three bills, no matter how significant. We will be pressing for climate action throughout the State House. Other key areas of focus include: significantly ramping up the building of new and in-state renewables, legislation that expands Vermont’s efficiency and clean energy workforce, and a significant investment in municipalities’ ability to pursue efficiency, clean energy, and electrification.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH & ZERO WASTE
Modernize the Bottle Bill
After 50 years, Vermont’s popular Bottle Bill deserves an update. The VT House overwhelmingly passed an expansion of the program (H.175) in 2021 to include beverages like water, wine, and sports drinks. A recent statewide survey shows more than 4 out of 5 Vermonters support this kind of modernization. It’s now up to the VT Senate to pass H.175, and strengthen it by including amendments to increase the redemption rate and make the system more convenient for consumers.
Protect Vermonters from Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics
VPIRG supports a ban on the sale of cosmetic products containing PFAS and other harmful chemicals, building on the work of the European Union and laws passed by California and Maryland. Further, reporting requirements should be strengthened for manufacturers to disclose ingredients in cosmetics.
Eliminate Sales of Mercury Fluorescent Lighting
Mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs and lamps are costly, inefficient and pose a threat to public health and our environment. Safer and cost-effective mercury-free LED alternatives are now widely available. It’s time to prohibit the sale of mercury lighting in Vermont.
Vermont is one of the few states without an environmental justice policy. VPIRG supports S.148, which would establish a strong environmental justice policy, building on the State’s work to alleviate environmental burdens and deliver environmental benefits for overburdened and underserved communities across the state. Police Reform
We believe it’s time to end qualified immunity for police. Qualified immunity creates an incredibly high bar for civil suits against law enforcement officers, in most cases making it functionally impossible to hold officers accountable through the courts when they violate a person’s rights. Vermont can address this problem by putting a much more reasonable standard in place. VPIRG will support leaders on this issue, including the ACLU of Vermont, in working to pass legislation to do just that in 2022.
DEMOCRACY & GOVERNMENT REFORM
Ranked Choice Voting
As other states move to disenfranchise voters and threaten democracy itself, Vermont has become a leader in democratic reform. The next step is to give voters a stronger voice and better choices by introducing ranked choice voting (RCV) for the presidential primary and federal races beginning in 2024. RCV gives more power to voters – and ensures we elect candidates who are supported by a majority of voters.
Campaign Finance Reform
The federal government has banned corporations from contributing to candidates for over 100 years, and 22 states have done the same. It’s time for Vermont to curb the influence of corporations by banning corporate contributions to candidates and requiring more transparency from corporate political action committees (PACs). Rather than depend on large donors and corporate cash, Vermont can instead find ways to fund campaigns by encouraging more small dollar donations. The Senate has already passed legislation that would do this (S.51). It’s now time for the House to act.
Since 1970 Vermont has had a redistricting process in which the Legislative Apportionment Board spends a year crafting proposed political boundaries in response to the latest Census. In that time, none of those maps have been adopted as proposed. Members of the General Assembly have always elected to draw their own maps. This has created the perception that politicians are choosing their voters rather than the other way around. To correct this, during this session, VPIRG is supporting efforts to update and depoliticize Vermont’s redistricting process.
Right to Repair
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. In 2022, we’ll be encouraging the legislature to enact right-to-repair legislation for personal electronic devices – ensuring the Vermonters and independent repair shops have access to the parts, tools, and information they need to repair their own devices.
This Fall, VPIRG participated in a series of stakeholder meetings, convened by the Attorney General’s office, designed to produce recommendations for new policies to strengthen the privacy protections of Vermont consumers. We plan to advocate for legislation informed by those recommendations, which we expect to include a strong data minimization standard (requiring companies to limit the data they collect on an individual to only that which is necessary to deliver services to the consumer), biometric data privacy protections modeled on Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, and improvements to Vermont’s first-in-the-nation Data Broker Law.
We support legislation that enables the State to more comprehensively deal with the rapid development and deployment of artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies and use cases, particularly to prevent discrimination and unfair practices produced by the use of such technologies. Two bills introduced in 2021 would create a permanent Artificial Intelligence Commission and technology director position (H.410) as well as inventory State uses of A.I. and adopt standards for its use (H.263). VPIRG supports these provisions and will push for widening the scope of the A.I. Commission’s work to encompass and address discriminatory impacts more fully.
Affordable, High-Speed Internet for All
VPIRG will look to build on the work we’ve done in this area in recent years, by pushing for policies that support Vermont’s community-owned fiber networks, accelerate the deployment of broadband infrastructure, and make internet access affordable for Vermonters. The latter area of focus, affordability, is one we hope to bring particular attention to in 2022, as we encourage the legislature to start the process of identifying a sustainable, long-term solution to ensure that Vermonters with low incomes can afford reliable, high-speed internet service.