Legislative Update – February, 2021

We’re one month into the 2021 legislative session, and already have lots of exciting updates to share with you on our various public interest priorities!

Democracy

Making Universal Mail-In Ballots Permanent: VPIRG has been building on the success of our 2020 “Vote Safe Vermont” campaign to grow and strengthen a diverse coalition of vote by-mail-supporters. Many of these stakeholders have signed onto a formal list of recommendations that have been filed with the state Senate’s Government Operations Committee, which is currently considering the legislation. The recommendations include mailing every active registered voter a ballot for the general election, with prepaid return postage, offering multiple return options (by mail or at drop boxes, polling places, and town clerks’ offices), the ability for town clerks to process ballots before the election, and a process to cure defective ballots.

  • For the past several weeks, both the House and Senate Government Operations Committees have been holding election discussions with the Secretary of State’s Office, members of the Vermont Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Association, and various stakeholders including VPIRG’s own Paul Burns to analyze the successes of vote-by-mail in 2020, as well as opportunities for improvement.
  • We are working to have a strong vote-by-mail bill up for a vote in the Senate by the end of February.
  • More information, resources, and a full list of coalition partners can be found at www.VermontVoterChoice.org.  

Adopting Ranked Choice Voting for all Federal Races: VPIRG supports adopting Ranked Choice Voting for all federal races in Vermont beginning in 2024 – but first, we’re backing the Better Ballot Burlington campaign, co-chaired by former Governor Howard Dean (D) and Burlington City Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P). On Town Meeting Day, Burlington voters will have the opportunity to make democracy more fair and functional by voting YES on Question 4 to support a charter change allowing ranked choice voting for city council elections starting in 2022. Learn more at www.BetterBallotBurlington.org.

  • On January 28th, Paul Burns joined Bob Kinzel on VT Edition to discuss the benefits of ranked choice voting. The full interview can be found here: https://www.vpr.org/post/should-burlington-reinstate-ranked-choice-voting#stream/0.
  • If you live in Burlington, please join in support by hosting a lawn sign, additional opportunities for volunteering and support can be found on the Better Ballot Burlington website.

Environmental Health

Modernizing Vermont’s Bottle Bill: VPIRG has been advocating to modernize Vermont’s Bottle Bill for years, and 2021 could be the year it finally happens. H.175 was introduced by Representative Jim McCullough and would expand the containers covered by the Bottle Bill to include non-carbonated beverages like water, sports drinks, coffee, tea, and hard cider, as well as increasing the deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents.

  • On Thursday (2/4), Paul Burns (Executive Director) and Marcie Gallagher (Environmental Associate) testified in the House Natural Resources Committee on the benefits of the Bottle Bill and advocated for H.175. The legislators on that committee seemed very interested in moving forward with the bill in coming weeks.

Fighting Single-Use Plastic: This biennium, VPIRG will be advocating for a variety of legislation aimed at reducing single-use plastic in Vermont, from bans on products like plastic hotel toiletries, to a recycled content law, requiring that certain plastic products sold in Vermont meet a standard of recycled plastic. In January, our Executive Director Paul Burns outlined these policy goals in the House Natural Resources Committee and took questions from legislators. We are hopeful that we will make significant gains in fighting plastic pollution this year and next.

Reducing PFAS Exposure in Vermont: In 2020, a VPIRG backed bill that called for the banning of certain products containing PFAS chemicals passed the Senate with a unanimous vote, but unfortunately didn’t make it to the House as the COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted priorities. This year, we plan to pick up where we left off, with a new bill that aims to ban even more PFAS-laden products than that of last year’s bill, including food packaging, rugs/carpets, firefighting foam, and ski wax. This bill is set to be introduced by Senator Ginny Lyons in the coming weeks.

Climate and Energy

Ensuring funding for modern transportation infrastructure that will cut both costs and carbon pollution: The Transportation Modernization Act has been introduced with 70 cosponsors in the House. This bill includes a variety of policies that will cut costs for Vermonters while making transportation more accessible and cutting climate pollution at the same time. These policies include implementing permanent fare-free public transit, investing in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and expanding the work of programs like MileageSmart and the EV Incentive Program, which make it easier for Vermonters of all economic backgrounds to purchase low- and zero-emissions vehicles.

Working to ensure that the Climate Council develops a forward thinking and progressive plan: The work of the Vermont Climate Council, as established by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020, is underway. VPIRG and our coalition partners are collaborating to highlight this work over the course of 2021 and give Vermonters the tools to add their voice. For right now, that looks like laying the groundwork for a webinar series focused on the different ways the Climate Action Plan might affect Vermont, with the first being planned for February 23rd.

Consumer Protection

Working toward affordable, high-speed internet access for all Vermonters: VPIRG is tracking and supporting a bill currently being worked on by the House Energy & Technology committee that seeks to accelerate broadband buildout in the state by 1.) making more resources available to the state’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) as they work to bring community fiber to their regions and 2.) incentivizes existing internet service providers to work with the CUDs to achieve universal service.

Protecting Vermont farmers from giant repair monopolies, by giving them the Right to Repair: VPIRG is advocating for legislation (H.58) that would require large agricultural manufacturers to make available the parts, tools and documentation necessary to fix the products they sell so that farmers have the option of fixing their own equipment or using local independent repair shops, instead of being forced to rely on the manufacturers. This bill has received two hearings in the House Agriculture committee. We’re currently looking for any farmers who might be willing to share their experiences with costly repair monopolies.

Stopping unfair auto-lending practices and enact a moratorium on auto repossessions during the COVID emergency: Nobody should worry about having their vehicle taken away because they are unable to make car payments during this pandemic. That’s why VPIRG is supporting soon-to-be introduced legislation in the Senate that would put a moratorium on automobile repossessions for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and permanently provide consumers with a 180-day “right to cure” period for delinquency going forward.