The legislative session is over, and the results are in. Here at VPIRG, we’re celebrating the victories that our members helped to bring about. Thank you!
Of course, we didn’t win every fight. The Legislature failed to commit the necessary resources to weatherize our homes and businesses, for example. But we’re taking the time to celebrate the wins, reflect on the losses, and get to work building the grassroots support to carry us forward again, next year!
To skip to specific recaps, click here:
H. 112—Protecting your Right to Know GMOs
In a historic vote, the Vermont House passed legislation to protect your right to know whether the food you’re considering purchasing contains genetically engineered ingredients (a.k.a. genetically modified organisms or GMOs). No other state’s GMO-labeling bill has gotten this far – Vermont’s bill to require labels on GMO food sold here is on track to become the nation’s first such law. VPIRG and our partners will now focus on the Senate so that the bill can become law next year. Then Vermonters will then have the same ability to make informed food purchasing choices as citizens who live in any of the more than 60 countries around the world with GMO-labeling laws have today.
S.81 – Banning Toxic Flame Retardants
Upon learning that a cancer-causing chemical banned from children’s pajamas in the 1970s (chlorinated Tris) had found its way into numerous other children’s products and home furniture, VPIRG and our fire fighter allies successfully pushed for a ban on Tris in these products. The legislature unanimously supported this bill, which puts in place the nation’s strongest ban on these ineffective flame retardants, and is an important step on our path to broader chemical safety reforms.
H.395/H.520 – Baby Steps on Clean Heat
Heating efficiency programs save energy and money, while reducing global warming pollution. But it takes money to save money, and in order to meet the statewide goal of weatherizing 80,000 (or one in four) Vermont homes by 2020, we need a serious investment of public dollars. Lawmakers, pressured by fossil fuel interests and Super PAC lobbying, failed to step up and make these investments. However, VPIRG did successfully back improvements to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which could bring in additional dollars to help Vermonters weatherize their homes. And we made some progress to expand electric vehicle adoption in the state.
To free up some financing to help individuals and small businesses invest in efficient heating, VPIRG also pressed legislative leaders to pass H.395, which will put about $11 million on the table for low-interest loans. These steps lay the foundation for more significant action in 2014.
S.30 – Anti-Renewable Energy Provisions Defeated
In one of the key votes of the legislative session, senators voted 16-14 to strip the most offensive provisions out of the anti-renewable energy bill – S.30. At different points, this legislation would have blocked wind, solar and other renewable energy sources of various sizes. Had it passed as its sponsors intended, it would have represented a major retreat from Vermont’s commitment to clean energy. With a clear majority of Vermonters demanding more clean energy, not less, VPIRG and our allies worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders and climate champion Bill McKibben to ensure that senators got the message. The 16 senators who voted for renewable power deserve our thanks, as do most House members who further improved the bill.
State Voice in Tar Sands Pipeline Affirmed
As the national and international debate over the Keystone XL pipeline heated up, VPIRG and our partners successfully pressed for more state control over a plan to ship tar sands oil through a 63-year old pipeline in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. VPIRG activists sent in over 1,000 comments to the District 7 Environmental Commission calling for appropriate environmental oversight over any plan by Exxon to ship tar sands through Vermont. The Commission agreed, and ruled that a proposal to reverse the flow through the aging pipeline would require new environmental review.
H.530 – Keep Vermont on the Path to Reform
Preparations are well under way to launch “Vermont Health Connect,” the virtual insurance marketplace required by the federal Affordable Care Act, so legislators and the administration spent much of the session considering how the transition would impact Vermonters who have subsidized insurance plans now. VPIRG urged policy makers to keep coverage consistent for those eligible for popular state programs like VHAP and Catamount. In the end, our efforts were somewhat, but not entirely successful. The new law will ensure most low and middle income Vermonters are spared a significant rise in what they pay in health care premiums each month.
Revealing Health Insurance Industry Secrets – Last year, VPIRG led the effort to require health insurers to disclose financial data and new information on the number and type of health claims they deny (click here to see what we found!). Thanks to the passage of another VPIRG-backed bill this year, Vermonters will soon be able to access the same data from Medicaid as well as private insurers. Enabling consumers to make side-by-side comparisons of health insurance plans (and the insurer’s track-record) is a huge step toward a more transparent health care system.
Rate Review – Vermont already has one of the strongest rate review processes in the country, and this year we worked with lawmakers to make it even better. Thanks to legislation passed this year, consumers will be able to sign up to receive notifications when their insurer is planning to increase premiums—so they have a chance to comment before any proposed increase goes into effect. This law also gives consumer protection advocates (like VPIRG) the means to help the state stop unjustified rate hikes. In Oregon, a similar law has saved consumers over $80 million dollars since 2010, and we expect to see significant savings here in Vermont too.
S.82 – Commonsense Campaign Reform: Delayed
Last November, when VPIRG laid out a plan to force Super PAC contributors into the light of day, legislators of all political stripes took notice. The window for passing comprehensive elections reform legislation – which had been closed for years – appeared to open. In fact, the Legislature took steps toward that goal. The Senate and House both approved versions of campaign finance and disclosure legislation. However, VPIRG had to threaten to oppose drafts of the legislation in both houses in order to prevent legislators from opening the floodgates to even more money in politics. In the end, legislators were unable to work out their differences before the session came to an end. VPIRG will be back next year to press for the strongest possible legislation next year to reduce the influence of money and require more transparency from politicians, PACs and political parties.