The 2011 legislative session was filled with victories on VPIRG-backed legislation across each of our program areas. With a new governor in office for the first time in eight years, our small state suddenly had opportunities to pass the kind of major policy initiatives that our friends in other parts of the country could only fantasize about. Our ambitious agenda heading into the session prioritized major campaigns promoting clean, local energy supplies, advancing affordable health care for all, defending recycling programs and demanding safe products and fair elections.
On behalf of our 10,000 member families across the state, we stood up to some of the most powerful political forces in the country, from insurance companies to Entergy Nuclear, and the beverage industry to the chemical industry. Despite these challenges, we forged partnerships, shared research and carried out principled organizing and advocacy that got results. Those results were recognized by Gov. Shumlin who invited VPIRG staff to speak at five separate bill signing events this year – an extraordinary achievement. Here’s a partial list of our successes during the 2011 session:
H. 202 – Health Care Reform – Vermont will again lead the nation with the passage of health care reform legislation that will provide affordable, high-quality care for every Vermonter. Cassandra Gekas, VPIRG’s Health Care Advocate shepherded this legislation through the House and Senate, ensuring passage of the historic bill in the final days of the session. The legislation will shape our health care system to serve everyone, and in 2014 it will create a health insurance exchange for Vermonters to compare and obtain insurance policies. The legislation also creates a new five member health care board to oversee the process of creating a universal system of care in Vermont.
S. 15 – Midwifery coverage – The legislation will make it possible for more women and families to choose safe and less costly home birth options when their pregnancies are considered to be low-risk. Passionate advocacy helped save this bill from attack by the health insurance industry and ensure passage in the last week of the session. S.15 ends discriminatory practice and allows more couples to choose home births for their babies by requiring insurance companies to cover midwifery services, including home births.
H. 56 – Renewable Energy – Vermont now has one of if not the best solar laws in the country and VPIRG Clean Energy Program Director, James Moore helped craft and pass it this year. The new law doubles the amount of solar power our electric utilities are required to support and it ensures that if you install solar at your home or business you will be paid a fair premium for all of the clean electricity you produce. H. 56 makes solar power easier and more affordable than ever. But that isn’t all that was in the bill. VPIRG played a critical role in eliminating incentives that helped promote heating oil use and moved that funding over to help Vermonters switch to local clean heating options and invest in energy efficiency. The law also created a new program to help Vermonters save money on their heating bills and make their homes more comfortable without paying lots of money upfront for energy improvements.
S. 34 – Providing free and convenient recycling of mercury lamps – The benefits of fluorescent light bulbs in terms of energy efficiency are tremendous. However, these bulbs contain mercury which needs to be recycled safely. In a victory for consumers and our environment, Charity Carbine-March, VPIRG’s Environmental Health Advocate worked hard to pass this law that will require manufacturers to share in the costs and responsibilities of recycling mercury-containing bulbs. S.34 will provide a sustainable funding source for Vermont’s popular recycling program and ensure Vermonters continue to have safe, free and convenient ways to properly recycle their spent CFLs.
S.92 Green cleaning products in schools – Conventional cleaning products used in schools can contain a wide variety of harmful chemicals that have been linked to negative health effects. In protection of our children and the environment, VPIRG pressed for S.92, a bill that would ensure the use of safer cleaning products at schools across the state. The bill passed the Senate and House. However, due to the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill and the limited time to reconcile those differences, the bill was not passed out of the legislature this year. We will continue to push during the 2012 legislative session to ensure final passage of this common sense law.
Protecting the Bottle Bill – Vermont’s Bottle Bill is the most successful recycling program in the state. Knowing that beverage industry giants had targeted our Bottle Bill for repeal, our priority was to defend the popular law. We succeeded in fending off the industry attack, but they will be back. Over the next year we will continue to defend the Bottle Bill and push for updating the program to cover non-carbonated beverage containers, such as bottled water and sports drinks.
CONSUMER PROTECTION & DEMOCRACY
S. 31 – National Popular Vote – Presidential candidates spend most of their time and energy battling for votes in only a handful of states, while the voters in “non-battleground” states like Vermont are taken for granted. National Popular Vote legislation (S.31) passed in Vermont this year is designed to ensure that every vote matters and that each state is relevant. Once states representing a majority of the votes in the Electoral College enact the same bill, the electoral votes from participating states will be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states.
H.287 – Telephone bill cramming – In a practice known as “cramming”, hidden charges are added to a consumer’s telephone bill for services that are typically not authorized. In a win for Vermonters, H.287 ends this deceptive practice and provides additional consumer protections. The bill passed the House, but has not yet been considered in the Senate.