Hinesburg (Feb. 29) – Town meeting is a time for citizens to be directly involved with government goings-ons in their towns. Tensions ran high at Hinesburg’s town meeting over a new firetruck. “I don’t remember this being on last year’s minutes. It feels a little underhanded” said one concerned citizen.
(Mar. 1—Essex Junction) A diverse group of Vermonters assembled at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction on Tuesday to support Bernie Sanders in his campaign for the Presidency. Bernie Sanders, Democratic Senator from Vermont, thrilled his constituents and the crowd on Tuesday after a series of performers and speakers. Despite his defeat against Hillary Clinton in most Super Tuesday states, the atmosphere was comfortable among the cohesive and excited crowd. The crowd slowly formed over the course of the afternoon, inclusive of college students, adults, children, families, and important public figures in Vermont, all in favor of Sanders’ “political revolution”.
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.
Representatives of the waste disposal industry met with law makers today to discuss to Vermont’s mandatory recycling law Act 148. Concerns over the effectiveness of the imposed franchise tax, a surcharge for every ton of waste collected, and the practical infrastructure to carry out the law incited a strong dialogue in the committee.
Vermont’s universal recycling law, passed in 2012 bans the disposal of any and all recyclable material by July 2016. Further, the disposal of organic material, principally food scraps, will be illegal by the middle of the year 2020. The time frame passed by Vermont legislator was to the most part an effort to incrementally phase the act into effect, allowing for the infrastructure changes needed to adequately implement to law.
(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.”
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.
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.
Vermont is currently in a three-year contract with some for-profit prisons and this week in the legislature, Burlington legislator Barbara Rachaelson argued that we should work towards not renewing that contract. However, the Committee on Corrections and Institutions was hesitant to jump on board with this proposal. There is a serious space shortage in Vermont when it comes to finding a bed for each prisoner in the state. This ongoing issue has pressured officials to find available beds and to find them quickly. New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts have all refused to accept Vermont prisoners into their jails though they do have sufficient space for them.
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 (Feb. 2): The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony today from members and leaders of the Vermont Citizens Advisory Committee (VTCAC) on Lake Champlain’s future. They were adamant about the need for a greater increase in funding from the current $5 million to $25 million. The VTCAC members were upset over the passage of Act 64, Vermont’s Clean Water Act, last year without any proper source of funding. The requested that the state must “Establish new, immediate, perpetual, and dedicated funding sources for the Clean Water Fund.” Senator MacDonald responded quickly by stating they should have fought harder during the last legislative session because “it doesn’t get easier to fund a bill once it’s passed.” The VTCAC proposed an income tax of $1 per person per week to fund the need for necessary improvements to the wastewater infrastructure of Vermont.