Burlington, April 13 – Thirty UVM students rallied for their rights on Wednesday. The group marched across campus from the Davis Center to the steps of the Waterman building. They chanted “Free tuition! Free tuition is our mission!” and “Hey hey! Ho ho!
February 25 — The Vermont State Senate passed the marijuana legalization bill Thursday with a 17-12 vote. This is only the first step toward legal weed in Vermont, but it is an important first. All similar laws in other states have been enacted through popular votes, not through the government. A poll of UVM students showed that 77 percent support marijuana legalization, compared with 55 percent of Vermonters in Vermont Public Radio’s study. Both studies were conducted February 22.
Montpelier, February 19—Tensions over fossil fuel divestment ran high at the joint Government Operations committee meeting at the State House this afternoon, and speakers found little middle ground. The committee met today to hear testimony on their proposal to divest the state retirement funds from ExxonMobil and coal extraction companies. One point of agreement was that “no one wants the pension fund to lose money,” in the words of Senator Anthony Pollina. Beyond that, however, the debate was highly polarized. Bill McKibben, long-time environmental activist and founder of 350.org, said that the intensity and urgency of climate change merit action beyond traditional government processes.
Burlington, April 23 — Candidates for Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor debated education policies at a forum held at the University of Vermont on Saturday. Lowering college tuition costs and voicing student concerns in the State House “is the reason I ran for the legislature in the first place,” State Representative Kesha Ram, one of the Democratic candidates, said. Ram was elected to her current position the same year she graduated from UVM. All three candidates have strong ties to Vermont colleges. Both Democrats, Rep. Ram from Burlington and Chittenden County State Senator David Zuckerman, are UVM alumni, and Republican State Auditor Randy Brock graduated from Middlebury.
Montpelier, April 6 — A proposed raise of the tobacco smoking age from 18 to 21 was successfully voted out of the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday. The bill, HB 93, would impose new taxes on cigarettes to make up the revenue difference from reduced cigarette sales. Representatives Kesha Ram of Burlington and Samuel Young of Glover proposed an amendment which would have required 95 percent of the revenue from the new tax to fund programs that help people stop smoking or prevent new smokers from starting. The amendment also called for additional government spending on these programs. “We’ve raised significant amounts of money from tobacco users, but we are doing very little to help them quit,” Rep. Young said. “At the heart of this, it is an issue about spending money,” Rep. Mitzi Johnson, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said of the proposed amendment.
Montpelier, Mar. 23–Vermont lawmakers have been haggling over next year’s budget all week. Bills reviewed during Wednesday’s House floor session included H. 872, the annual “Fee Bill.”
Licensing fees for agricultural processors such as maple sugaring and ice cream production will increase next year under the Fee Bill. Fees for fertilizer, pesticide, and seed production, as well as livestock sales, also increase. Most increases range from $15-50 per year.
Essex Junction, March 1—Senator Bernie Sanders celebrated Super Tuesday Vermont-style, with a rally of thousands at the Champlain Valley Expo, after a resounding victory in his home state’s primary. The event featured musical guests such as Ben Folds, Kat Wright, and Brett Hughes. Opening speakers ramping up the excitement included Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Greenfield said that he and colleague Ben Cohen have never endorsed a presidential candidate before because “there has never been a candidate like Bernie Sanders.”
“It is good to be home,” Sanders began, to roaring cheers and chants of “Feel the Bern!” Sanders connected Vermont’s town meetings, which occurred earlier that day, with the issues in campaign finance at the national level. “Billionaires do not buy town meetings,” Sanders said.
Montpelier, Feb. 12—Rural development advocate Paul Costello presented to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy this morning on behalf of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Costello spoke about a promising new agricultural program called the Working Lands Coalition (WLC), which has created 4,500 new jobs in the state since 2011, according to Costello’s presentation. The WLC is focused on “systematically encouraging significant additional public investment” for farming, logging, and other industries based in Vermont’s natural landscape, according to their website. Over the past few years, Costello said, the program has supported land-based startups and small farmers in each of Vermont’s fourteen counties.
Burlington, February 3—The City of Burlington’s Divestment Committee held a public forum on Wednesday to discuss fossil fuel divestment. Local activists, UVM students, and community members voiced their support of the issue. Comments were received favorably by committee chair Selene Colburn and members Ben Rinehart and Kurt Wright. The city appointed the committee in 2014 to study the feasibility of divesting the Burlington Employee Retirement System (BERS) from fossil fuels and to create a process by which future divestment requests from citizens could be addressed by city officials. Burlington recently withdrew its pension fund of about $150 million from the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) due to high management fees and suboptimal stock performance.
Montpelier, Jan. 27—UVM president Tom Sullivan presented to the Vermont Senate Education Committee at the statehouse on Wednesday, requesting an increase to next fiscal year’s appropriations from the state government. This was one of three presentations the President gave to the legislature that day. Sullivan emphasized the new STEM complex, which is the highest-cost building project UVM has ever undertaken. He stressed that the complex will benefit the state as well as the university, saying “I think every one” of the construction workers associated with the project is a Vermont native, and that UVM “could be seen as Vermont’s biggest engine for economic development.” This claim stems from UVM’s status as a “talent magnet” for out-of-state students and researchers, as well as the University’s status as the state’s largest employer*.