Located in the State House, situated at a large table in the center of a large room, 10-12 transportation committee members meet to discuss and ongoing case involving the Quechee Gorge Bridge in Quechee, Vermont. The issue at end is suicide via the bridge. Two members of VTrans sit in the front of the room and present an ongoing case involving the Quechee community. Earlier this past summer members of the community reached out to the State House for help. Since 2007 there have been 11 suicides in Vermont committed on bridges.
Burlington (Apr 11) – City Council learned of racial profiling in Burlington Police Department traffic stops in a presentation given by Dr. Stephanie Seguino, an economics professor at the University of Vermont. Seguino has been studying BPD traffic reports from 2012 to 2015 to see if there are differences between blacks and whites. “Black drivers are being over searched, or another way of looking at it is white drivers are being under searched” saidSeguino. Dr. Stephanie Segunio presenting her study on Burlington Police Department Racial Disparities in Traffic Policing to City Council
This study shows that although blacks make up only 4.5% of the local population they accounted for 7.9% of traffic stops in town. Also, car search rates of black drivers (3.3%) is three times the rate of searches for white drivers (1.1%) even though when searched white drivers were found with some kind of illegal substance or object 63.5% of the time as opposed to blacks who had a “hit” rate of 46.2%. “Hit rates are significantly lower in blacks which shows that they are being searched with no results” said Segunio. “It is incredibly helpful and sobering to see this information” Councilor Sharon Bushor of Ward 1 said. Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo later joined Seguino at the table for questions and said he wants to make information like this available “quarterly” for the public. Seguino also touched on the fact that there are “stark differences between the way Asian drivers and black driver are treated” but that wasn’t the focus of her report. Vehicle searches can be conducted without a warrant with reasonable cause or suspicion but intentionally or unintentionally, Burlington police have been searching blacks at a much higher rate than whites. “I don’t believe the smell of marijuana emanates any more from African-American cars more than it does white cars.
Testimony from three experienced farmers for their expertise on regenerative agriculture was heard by Vermont’s Agriculture and Forest Products committee in the State House, yesterday. “Farming can be a tool we can use to repair the environment,” farmer Lindsay Harris said. This statement contrasts many views people have of the agricultural system, especially when raising cattle. Harris brought butter from her farm for the committee to enjoy before sharing her knowledge on the economic and environmental benefits of raising grass fed livestock. She told the story of her friend who raises their beef on grass alone and his comment that this decision was an economic one, not philosophical.
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.
A tax on carbon pollution is looking like one of Vermont’s best options if the state wants to meet their goal to reduce energy consumption and have 90% of its energy be renewable, by 2050, according to Chris Granda. Senior researcher at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, Grenada spoke to the committee of Natural Resources and Energy yesterday about the “Vermont Total Energy Study,” highlighting the benefits a carbon pollution tax would have for the state in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the previously mentioned goals. One chart shown during his presentation mapped the progress of carbon reductions as the tax increases. Representative Kesha Ram questioned why the reductions decreased drastically as the price taxed reached its maximum cost. Granda pointed out that when taxed at its highest cost, the state as a whole would be much less dependent on fossil fuels so there would be less carbon to be reduced.
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, 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.
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.
An act relating to health insurance and Medicaid, recently introduced in Montpelier, would mandate the coverage of contraceptives by all insurance providers in Vermont. It fails to exempt institutions and individuals whose religious views oppose those methods of family planning, as they would be mandated to cover those procedures. Known in the State House as H. 620, this act was discussed in the House Committee on Health Care yesterday and Carry Handy, representative of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, spoke to the lawmakers about her stance on this problem. “The issue is the protection of religious freedom,” Handy said. She then went on to explain in more detail how some of the specific contraceptives included in the act are seen as morally objectionable to the church.
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.
Essex Junction (Mar 1) – “I want to thank all of you for the love and the friendship that you have given our family. You have sustained me,” Sanders heartwarmingly addressed a massive crowd of Vermont supporters on Super Tuesday.
The crowd had been standing for a few hours waiting for Sanders in the Champlain Valley Expo center in Essex Junction, but the energy levels never wavered. Supporters enjoyed live entertainment from local artists and singer-songwriter Ben Folds. Jerry Greenfield, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s, opened the evening with energy, passion, humor, and pure excitement.