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PSN on May 8, 2008 - 9:32am
The Vermont legislative session ended two weeks early with legislators opting not to return for a veto session to try to overturn potential vetoes by the governor. Tough economic times and declining tax revenues left the state in fiscal trouble, yet lawmakers rightly rejected the governor's dangerous proposal to lease the state lottery to a private operator for short-term cash and long-term loss to the state.
Election Reform: The legislature passed the National Popular Vote compact through S. 270, and the bill now sits on the governor's desk. A bill authorizing mobile polling stations for early voting, S. 232, has become law. The legislature failed, however, to override a governor veto on S. 108,
which would have allowed instant runoff voting for reelection of US
representative and US senator and failed to override, by one vote in
the House, S. 278, which would have dramatically strengthened campaign contribution limits.
Labor Rights: One of the state's greatest accomplishments this session was passing H. 338 - Sweat-Free Goods, which requires that all bidders seeking contracts to supply the state with apparel, footwear, and textiles, provide certification that suppliers at the point of assembly comply with workplace laws of the vendor and with treaty obligations. The legislature also passed S. 201 to give state employees more specific protections for speaking up about job-related problems
Clean Energy & Environment: The state also passed some good environmental gains, including:
- S. 209, the Vermont Energy Efficiency and Affordability Act, is comprehensive legislation that requires, among others, a plan for meeting Vermont's renewable energy requirement of 25 percent by 2025, building efficiency, clean energy development, net metering, and steps to make renewable energy cost efficient. It was signed by the governor.
- S. 350 creates state agency energy plan and looks for all opportunities to conserve resources, save energy, encourage renewable energy use, and reduce pollution.
- H. 863 lifts land-use permitting for new housing created in specified areas alongside existing development in communities with planning in place if 20 percent of the homes meet moderate-pricing ranges.
- H. 267 permits industrial hemp farming.
- H. 865 gives the Agency of Natural Resources and the attorney general's office more authority to prosecute environmental laws. Unfortunately, the final version does not include citizen suit provisions, which would have allowed citizens, as opposed to agencies, to bring suit for violations.
- S. 304 protects groundwater by making underground water a public trust and allowing the state to regulate large withdrawals.
- H. 515 establishes a $5 bounty for returns of mercury filled thermometers.
In a step backwards, the legislature also passed H. 873,
which delays tougher standards for water treatment plants that
discharge effluents into rivers and streams that flow into Lake
Toxic Toys: The legislature took two strong steps forward in protecting children from toxic toys and products by passing:
- S. 152, which phases out lead in children's products and wheel weights down to a level of 100 ppm, and
- S. 261, which, beginning in July 2009, bans phthalates in products marketed to children under the age of 3.
Domestic Violence: Finally, the state also passed S. 357,
which increased penalties for domestic violence and provides for more
training for police on domestic violence and more money for prevention
programs and services offered to victims.