Our Priorities Have Shifted…

VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns here.

Like so many others, I am working from home, making sure friends and relatives are secure, figuring out how to homeschool our 3rd grader, and trying to adjust. I know I’m lucky.

So many Vermonters now find themselves on the front lines: medical professionals, grocery store clerks, delivery truck drivers, and nursing home staff.

And tens of thousands more are facing this crisis newly unemployed and without health insurance.

If we can connect you to the resources you need, please reach out. We’re hosting a lot of video chats these days, and I find those to be helpful reminders that while we may be isolated, we’re not alone.

And VPIRG’s mission goes on. In fact, our focus on protecting the public interest is incredibly important right now. We know that in times of chaos and crisis, there can be a tendency to reduce government transparency and public participation. And some corporations may take advantage of consumers who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

We have staff following all of this essential activity of government right now. And we want to make sure your concerns are being heard. As we’re weighing in with legislative leaders, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with us so we can pass them on. This is also a good time to contact your elected representatives directly.

Here are some of our current priorities as we press for action that will make Vermonters safer and more secure at this difficult time:

  • Modernizing open-meeting laws. In the current crisis, it is imperative that governing bodies meet remotely for all participants’ safety. We’re supporting smart policies to ensure that important work can continue, while increasing accessibility, accountability, and transparency for the public.
  • Promoting our local economy. To put people back to work and make Vermont more resilient, we need to prioritize our local energy and food systems during and after this crisis.
  • Ensuring safe and timely elections. Already, we have seen elections postponed due to COVID-19. But we don’t have to give up our democracy. We can enact measures that allow elections to occur in a timely, transparent, secure, and accessible manner, without sacrificing the health and wellbeing of voters, election workers, and candidates. During this crisis, we support universal vote-by-mail, early ballot collection stations, allowing more time for ballots to be processed, waiving requirements for candidates to gather petition signatures in order to get on the ballot, and extending voting hours on Election Day.
  • Supporting virtual communication. It is imperative that all Vermonters have the ability to telecommute, regardless of their household income or where in the state they live. We will continue to work to address Vermont’s connectivity issues by supporting reliable, affordable broadband.
  • Combating price gouging. Since VPIRG was founded, we’ve fought to put people ahead of profits. Especially in times of scarcity and economic uncertainty, it’s crucial that Vermonters are protected from exploitative price gouging. We intend to work with the Attorney General’s office to educate and inform our members on this issue and watchdog COVID-19 related price gouging.

In addition, we’ll continue to partner with like-minded organizations to support health care reforms that are long overdue and so sorely needed.

And we’ll keep a watchful eye out for wasteful spending that supports special interests over the public interest. (Thankfully, Vermont is far better off than the federal government when it comes to this sort of thing.)

We’ll get through this. From a public policy perspective, I’m hopeful that this situation might actually bring about some reforms that are long overdue. But I’m also realistic. Any silver linings will come at enormous cost to Vermonters’ health and economic well-being, and that is nothing less than a tragedy.

I’m sending you my deepest gratitude and my best wishes as we weather these challenging times together.

You can find additional COVID-19 information and resources at https://www.vpirg.org/covid-19/