Montpelier (May 3) – Vermont’s hopes to be the first state to legalize marijuana through legislation were dashed today by a House vote against legalization. The Vermont House killed Senate Language that would legalize having up to an ounce of marijuana, voting 121-28 against it. This was followed by another vote on whether or not the question should be put on a non-binding referendum for voters in the August primaries, which was also voted down 97-51. House majority leaders worked to promote “compromise language,” which would remove legalization, but add expanded decriminalization.
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.
Burlington (Apr 25) – Over forty Burlington and State government officials and special interest group leaders gathered outside the Burlington Town Center on Church Street to hold a press conference about the downtown redevelopment project that is in the works. This project will create more office space, affordable housing, and many opportunities for employment. Support for this revitalization of downtown is from government officials, local downtown businesses, and regular citizens. Only one voice has been loud in its disagreement with the project. “This development will be out of scale with Burlington” says Marc Sherman, owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange. “Burlington retail is strong but because we’ve maintained the small town feel” says Marc as he believes that urbanizing Burlington will drive tourists away from the town instead of attracting them. On the other hand, there are over 25 different organizations, non-profits, and businesses in support of the redevelopment with the list still growing. “Smart growth will lift us all up” said Zandy Wheeler, owner of SkiRack and Patagonia. He believes that not only will the side-street businesses grow from the redevelopment, all of downtown and Burlington as a whole will too. Mayor Miro Weinberger speaking about the positive impacts the redevelopment will have for Burlington
Vermont Interfaith Action is an unlikely, but strong supporter of this project as well. Debbie Ingram, the Executive Director, stated that Vermont Interfaith Action works for social justice and “that happens two ways 1) providing jobs and 2) providing affordable housing, both of which this project will do”.
Montpelier (April 20) – Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health warned the House Appropriations committee against legalizing marijuana as well as discussing youth education and prevention efforts through social marketing. Dr. Chen started his testimony with a clear message that the Vermont Department of Health sees “no compelling reason to legalizing marijuana,” however, if it were to become legalized, the market should be heavily regulated to prevent health impacts that could come with unregulated marijuana. According to data collected by the Vermont Department of Health, only 27% of youth perceive marijuana as risky, which is a number that may only decrease with the legalization of marijuana; however, with the right education programs, the number doesn’t have to decrease. Committee Chair Mitzi Johnson asked Dr. Chen what a strategy to curb youth marijuana would look like if he were to design one, starting a discussion about what that education program and campaign could entail. Dr. Chen envisioned an education program that continuing this frank discussion, “Let’s leverage these discussions we’ve been having into something people can hear and listen and continue, so we get that message out.” This would mean piping these conversations into education programs within schools as well as parent education programs.
The Appropriations Committee will continue to hear testimony until they reach a decision whether or not to pass the bill.
Burlington (Apr 12) – “I think survivors know everything” said Leah Lakshimi Piepzna-Samarasinha, keynote speaker for the 11th Annual Dismantling Rape Culture Conference at the University of Vermont. The DRCC is one-day, university funded conference that looks at rape and sexual violence and way they are perceived and received in our society. The UVM Women’s Center hosts this free event that is open to people of any and all identities that has hundreds of participants from all over Vermont and surrounding states.
Leah Lakshimi Piepzna-Samarasinha giving the keynote speech
“We have been told we’re in the wrong neighborhood, dressed wrong, coping wrong” said Piepzna-Samarasinha. Her speech was the opener for the conference and addressed the way society interacts with victims and blames them for being the victims of violence. “We’ve been told we’re too black, brown, and angry for the white feminist movement” she said. Leah also addressed the complicated issue of feminism vs. white feminism and how to acknowledge the differences. Along with the moving keynote speech that received a standing ovation from the audience, there were over 25 other workshops for participants to attend to explore the culture surrounding rape and sexual violence. Two UVM undergraduate students, Caroline DeCunzo and Jack Braunstein, lead a workshop titled “Troubling Consent: Toward the Prevention of Rape on Campus” where they lead a discussion surrounding research they did for a class project. The general consensus of the discussion was that prevention starts with proper sex and consent education for kids.
Vermont lawmakers met this week to confront how the state shall move forward on President Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP, a federal trade agreement between twelve nations surrounding the pacific rim including Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam. The treaty has come under heavy scrutiny by state and federal legislators from both republican and democratic parties. Concerns over the economic impact the partnership may have on state economies has driven debate across the country and Vermont has been no exception. House Democrat Steven Berry of Bennington pleaded to congress to reject the partnership as a deal that only projects the economic will of corporations. Rep. Berry continued to project insecurities about how Vermont made products would fare over the TPP’s implementation, asking the congress if it were willing “to give up the Vermont brand name?…