Montpelier (March 31) – Comments at Thursday evening’s public hearing related to bill S. 241 to legalize marijuana ranged from strongly supportive to adamantly opposed, with plenty in between. The House Committees on Judiciary and on Government Operations heard testimony from the public, alternating between pro and anti legalization viewpoints. The arguments presented were not all straightforward. Some individuals demonstrated support of legalization in general, but were opposed to the provisions laid out in the current bill. Many argued that it was a mistake to exclude provisions for home grown marijuana in the bill.
Montpelier (March 30) – PFOA is now present in one district of the Pownal municipal water supply, which serves about 450 people. Discussions of water quality issues facing the state continue to percolate through the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources this week. Discovery of contamination of the public water supply in Pownal, VT has raised broader concerns in the Statehouse regarding the safety measures in place to protect Vermont residents from contaminated drinking water supplies. This concern is amplified in light of the recent detection of PFOA contaminants in over 100 wells in neighboring North Bennington, VT. As stated by Alyssa Schuren, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation, “we’re doing what is [federally] required of us, but we are asking the question, could we be doing more?
Montpelier (March 23) – Contaminated drinking water in one town in Southern Vermont is raising broader concerns in the Statehouse. Discussion of the need for new and stronger regulations regarding drinking water contamination reached the House Committee of Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources today. The appearance of this discussion in the Statehouse has been spurred by a recent discovery of high levels of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in over 100 individual wells in North Bennington, Vermont. Committee Chair, David Deen, began by saying that today’s meeting was meant to begin a longer discussion of the issue of contaminated drinking water and harmful chemicals in our environment. The case of the contamination in North Bennington has brought a sense of urgency to the discussion.
Montpellier (March 16) – Discussion of S.241 bill to legalize marijuana has reached the House, after passing through the Senate and crossing over before last week’s March 11th deadline. Much more hesitation exists among members of the House surrounding the provisions included and left out of the bill, than were present among Senate members. Of particular concern to the committees present today were issues of highway safety, restricting access to youth, and where appropriate, mirroring legislation from other states. Representative Chris Pearson (Burlington) opened the testimony. “If you folks believe that cannabis prohibition is working then this is probably not a bill you’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about, it’s not something worth supporting.
Essex (March 1) – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders returned to Vermont for a home state rally and celebration while primary election results streamed in from 11 states on Super Tuesday. “It is good to be home!” Sanders shouted to cut through “feel the bern” chants reverberating throughout the room. The support and excitement buzzing through the Champlain Valley Fair Grounds Expo Center did not go unnoticed. Sanders acknowledged the role that hometown support has played in his campaign and his political career, with his family standing with him on stage. “I want to thank all of you for the love and the friendship that you have given our family,” Sanders said.
(Montpelier – Feb. 19) The time for change is now. Bill Mckibben testified in front of the House and Senate Government Operations Committees today, pleading for their consideration to divest the state’s pension funds. Removing fossil fuel based investments, he argued, is both ethically and financially responsible. Early in his testimony, McKibben pointed out that, “the question is not whether one believes in climate change, but whether one understands the astonishing speed with which it is remaking the world.”
Montpellier (February 10) – Legislators in the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products are reviewing a bill calling for the creation of a Pollinator Protection Committee in the state. Passage of this bill would make Vermont one of only 14 states that have passed any legislation regarding pollinator health and protection, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. As it stands in the current bill, the committee’s responsibility is twofold. First, to evaluate the current threats to pollinator populations and causes for population decline in the state, and second to submit recommendations for how the state can improve conservation and protection of pollinator species and their habitats. The house bill is in part designed as a response to several national initiatives concerning pollinator health including a 2014 memorandum from Pres. Obama calling for promotion of the health of pollinators through the creation of a National Pollinator Strategy to be developed in collaboration by the EPA and USDA.
Montpellier (Feb. 5) – On Friday morning, the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs heard testimony regarding regulation and workforce issues related to the legalization of marijuana. Among those testifying, Bill Lofy, representing Vermont Cannabis Collaborative, provided arguments for the economic development incentives related to moving forward on legalization. However, a sticking point that still exists in the bill being considered in the legislature is the condition that prohibits home-growers and significantly limits small-scale production of cannabis. Lofy conceded that from a purely regulatory perspective, allowing an oligopoly system of control, with a handful of large producers dominating the market would be ideal in terms of simplicity of oversight.
Montpellier (Jan 27) – University of Vermont’s President, Tom Sullivan, provided testimony on Wednesday in front of the House Committee on Education, asking legislators to consider increasing state appropriations for the state’s only public land grant university. Among his arguments, President Sullivan made the case that “investing in education is an investment in the future of Vermont,” and through the expansion of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) facilities and educational offerings at UVM, graduates of the university are directly benefitting Vermont’s economic development. The value of investing in educational opportunities for Vermonters, Sullivan argued, is a decrease in the social, economic and medical costs that are often associated with populations with lower levels of education. Making UVM affordable and attractive to Vermont students is among the President’s top priorities. Given 32,000 UVM alumni live and work in the state, UVM is providing the foundation for a future of economic activity, innovation and development throughout the state.