Now that we are two thirds of the way through the legislative session, I wanted to give you an update on where we stand on a few key pieces of Progressive supported legislation. This year Progressive Party members identified key social, economic and environmental issues in our legislative agenda. The key pieces of legislation we supported in our agenda include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, passing Sen. Pollina's property tax reform bill, and passing an expanded bottle bill. There were also several key pieces of legislation that were not on our 2017 legislative agenda, but are supported by Progressives and fit well within our platform. Some of these bills include the legalization of cannabis, paid family and medical leave, the creation of a racial justice oversight board, and universal primary care.
While many of these issues were brought to the forefront this year, it looks likes like few will become law. John Walters from Seven Days wrote an excellent story on this session titled "A Series of Unprogressive Events" in that story, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman said that
“In the land of Bernie, I would hope that we would be a leader on many of these working-class issues,”
We agree with LG Zuckerman, and will continue fighting for the needs of working-class Vermonters. If this year proved one thing, it is that we must continue to build our Party if we hope to advance a progressive vision for Vermont.
Check out our update on a few of these bills below, and consider becoming a $10 monthly donor. With a President Trump, Governor Scott, and Democratic majority unwilling to pass bold progressive legislation, we need your support more than ever.
$15 Minimum wage – H.93
There were two bills introduced this year to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The bill with the most momentum would raise the wage to $15 by 2022. While this bill had momentum earlier this year, it has since stalled and appears unlikely to pass. Some legislators were concerned that raising the wage could cause around 7,000 Vermonters to hit a benefit cliff and lose a disproportionate amount of state benefits due to increased income. We believe strongly in moving forward with raising the wage to $15 dollars an hour, something that would benefit 85,000 Vermonters, and must continue organizing to pass a bill in 2018.
Property Tax Reform – H.318 & S.58
This bill would create greater income sensitivity in the property tax system, and would advance our goal of moving away from a property tax and towards an income tax to fund our education system. We feel that this is something Progressives, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents should support. We expect the Senate Education Committee to hear testimony on this bill soon.
Expanded Bottle Bill - H.67 and S.28
This bill would expand the state’s current bottle redemption system to apply to all non-carbonated beverages. The bill also proposes to collect the escheats, or unredeemed nickels that are currently being absorbed by the beverage companies. This could bring $1-3M into the general fund to be used for environmental initiatives like lake cleanup. The House and Senate versions of the bill have not yet passed out of committee.
Racial Justice Oversight Board H.492 & S.116
This bill would create a board to oversee the implementation of racial justice reform across Vermont. In response to advocacy and the importance of the bill, it is moving quickly through the house with cooperation from the Senate to suspend rules (since it is past the deadline to move to the Senate).
The bill passed out of committee this week and will now be considered by the full House. We are hopeful that we can pass the bill this year. We encourage you to get involved with Justice for All, the advocacy group leading the fight, as racial justice reform in Vermont cannot wait.
Paid Family and Medical Leave H.196 & S.82
This is one of the few big pieces of progressive legislation that seems possible to pass this year. The bill was recently passed out of the House Committee on General Housing and Military Affairs. It would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to workers who become ill, have a child, or need to care for a family member. This is good for working-class people in Vermont. We are, however, concerned that the bill would be paid for through a new tax on employees. We feel that if we are going to ask employees to pay some of the cost, we should also ask employers to chip in as well. It appears that this was done to avoid a large new cost to state government, which would make the bill harder to pass. We will continue following this legislation and work to make it better as it makes its way through the full House and Senate, and hopefully becomes law.
Legalization of cannabis. H.170
There were two bills under consideration by the House this year. The bill with the greatest momentum would legalize possession of personal amounts of cannabis and allow individuals to grow small amounts of cannabis in their home. This bill would not treat cannabis like alcohol and tobacco by allowing for sales, something we support. While it is still possible for the bill to pass this year, it appears unlikely to move forward after House Democrats stopped a floor vote on the bill and sent it back to committee. We will continue fighting for the passage of this and stronger cannabis legislation. A strong majority of Vermonters want us to move forward.
In addition to these pieces of legislation, our Progressive reps. sponsored numerous other progressive bills.
Some of these bills include a bill to prevent a Muslim registry, publicly financed primary care, PTSD coverage for first responders, a carbon tax, and an act relating to the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day.
We will continue to update you as we make progress on these and other Progressive issues, and will likely call on you to support our efforts. With your help, we will continue to move the needle on Progressive issues until they become law.
Executive Director, Vermont Progressive Party
PS: With 7 Progressives in the House and 5 in the Senate, we are working to change what is politically possible in Montpelier. We could do a lot more with more elected Progressives, and that takes money. Consider becoming a $10 monthly donor so we have the resources to continue fighting for a Progressive agenda in Vermont.