VPIRG 2020 Legislative Preview

The 2020 Vermont legislative session kicked off today and we’re excited.

The challenges we face as a state are greater than ever: An unprecedented climate crisis that demands immediate action. Corporations that put their bottom-line ahead of consumers’ safety and well-being. Toxins in food packaging and a plastic pollution problem that’s out of control… When it comes to tackling these problems, there’s no time to waste.

Together with our supporters and allies across the state, we intend to make progress on a long, ambitious list of priorities this session – check out the full list below!

Climate and Energy:

Pass a Global Warming Solutions Act – It’s time to require that Vermont’s government make measurable progress each year toward our climate targets, just as other New England and northeastern states have done. The Global Warming Solutions Act would make Vermont’s carbon pollution goals enforceable requirements and allow enforcement through court action if our state government fails to act. While the Act would direct the state to evaluate and implement the best approaches to emissions reduction, it would not be prescriptive about how these reductions are achieved.

Institute a 100% Renewable Electricity Standard – Getting Vermont to 100% renewable electricity statewide at the pace the climate crisis demands, while prioritizing local projects that build resilience for Vermont communities, is a critical step to cutting our carbon pollution. Our goal this session is to advance legislation requiring 100% renewable electricity statewide by 2030 and significantly increasing the requirement for newly built renewables (especially those built here in Vermont) — far beyond the 10% by 2032 currently required.

Expand Efficiency Vermont’s Work & Focus on Climate Pollution This session we’ll work to expand the efficiency and electrification work being done by Efficiency Vermont and our other efficiency utilities, to provide far more help to Vermonters in cutting their fossil fuel use for heating and transportation. At the same time, we’ll push to make cutting climate pollution a new top priority for the efficiency utilities, and pair it with traditional metrics such as reduced energy use as secondary goals.

Participate in a Strong, Equitable “Transportation & Climate Initiative” – Vermont has been working with 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Washington, DC on a regional approach to reduce climate pollution from the transportation sector through a cap-and-invest program.  The Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is aimed at designing an equitable program that reduces carbon pollution from transportation – our most polluting sector. We’ll push to ensure the proceeds raised are used to help people invest in more diverse transportation options, such as vehicle electrification, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, transit, affordable housing in community centers and far more, in a way that works for all Vermont communities.

Government Reform:

Ban Corporate Campaign Contributions – The federal government has prohibited corporations from giving money to candidates for over 100 years, and 22 states have done the same. To limit the influence of special interests over our elections, it’s time for Vermont to ban corporate contributions too. The Senate has already passed this legislation (S.47). Now the House must act.

Invigorate and Modernize Vermont’s Public Campaign Finance System – There are many ways to address the problem of big money in politics. We should not only ban corporate contributions but also work for a robust, innovative public financing system. VPIRG supports doing this by incorporating democracy vouchers and other means of increasing voter engagement. The Senate passed S.32 last year and it’s up to the House to pass it this year so it can be signed into law.

Give the State Ethics Commission Teeth – Vermont’s ethics commission was supposed to foster openness, transparency and greater trust in state government. But VPIRG has consistently argued that it is too weak to accomplish its mission. We support granting the ethics commission the authority and resources to investigate complaints and take enforcement measures. If state leaders are unwilling to strengthen the commission, it should be abolished as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Environment & Public Health:

Provide Legal Remedies to Victims of Toxic Pollution – VPIRG believes that those exposed to toxic chemicals through no fault of their own should be entitled to have medical monitoring paid for by the polluter who released the toxins into the environment. We support a legislative override of Governor Scott’s veto of medical monitoring legislation in order to provide some justice for innocent victims of chemical exposure and to hold polluters accountable.

Protect Vermonters from Harmful PFAS Chemicals – We are supporting several proposals to better protect Vermonters from harmful PFAS chemicals. Vermont should ban PFAS from food packaging, firefighting foam, and residential rugs and carpets. Further, reporting requirements should be strengthened so the State can better regulate PFAS and know when and where exposures may occur.

Enhance Public Health and Safety through Pesticide Reforms – VPIRG is working with allied organizations to ban the use of harmful pesticides, like Chlorpyrifos, in the state. We are also working to build on the Neonicotinoid legislation passed last year by banning the use of seeds coated with this pollinator-killing pesticide. In addition, we will advocate for legislative reforms to the Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council (VPAC) to ensure that the council is fulfilling its mandated duties and actively working to prevent the misuse of pesticides in the state.  

Plastic Pollution:

Modernize the Bottle Bill – This past fall Vermont finally started collecting millions of dollars in unclaimed deposits for environmental initiatives, rather than giving the money away to the beverage industry. Now it’s time to bring the Bottle Bill into the 21st century by expanding its scope to cover more beverage containers, including water bottles and wine, and raising the deposit to 10 cents.

Curb Single-Use Plastics – Last year, Vermont enacted the most comprehensive single-use plastics ban in the nation  but it only begins to scratch the surface of the vast plastic pollution crisis. Plastic waste is not only a toxic threat to our environment, wildlife and human health, it’s a climate disaster too. This year, VPIRG will press for comprehensive policies designed to reduce production and consumption of single-use plastics.

Consumer Protection:

Improve Data Privacy for Vermonters – Last year, VPIRG supported a wide-ranging data privacy bill that would prevent educational technology companies from using student data for non-educational purposes, update Vermont’s data breach notification law to ensure that Vermonters know when their sensitive information has been compromised, and direct the state to do a comprehensive review of what personal information the state of Vermont is collecting, storing and disseminating. In 2019, this bill passed both the Senate and House but stalled in conference committee after the House included unrelated language designed to roll back Vermont’s first-in-the-nation protections for auto-renewing contracts. We intend to get the bill past the finish line this year without the problematic language.

Protecting Consumers from Unwanted Automatic Renewals – VPIRG worked (and will continue to work) to push back attempts to repeal the auto-renewal law which took effect earlier this year. This law requires companies that offer services (like subscriptions, software agreements, etc.) with contracts that auto-renew after one year to get an affirmative opt-in from consumers up-front agreeing to auto-renew terms and to provide consumers clear notice in advance of the contract renewal so they can opt-out. VPIRG will fight to protect and improve this law to ensure Vermonters don’t get trapped in so-called zombie contracts.

Support Right-to-Repair Legislation – 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. We’ll be encouraging the legislature to review the findings of the Right to Repair Task Force and support subsequent legislation aimed at passing Right to Repair in Vermont

Stopping Unfair Auto-Lending Practices – VPIRG will be supporting efforts to end the practice of auto dealers falsifying or doctoring financial information on loan applications thereby saddling consumers with loans they can’t afford. VPIRG supports a bill that would make such practices illegal and provide greater transparency by requiring auto dealers to provide consumers with copies of their application at the time of submission.

Economic Justice

Establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program – VPIRG supports legislation to provide paid leave time for employees needing to care for a new child, or a seriously ill or injured loved one.

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