The People’s Report of 2012 Vermont Legislative Session

The People’s Report of 2012 Vermont Legislative Session

Overview:
We, the People of Vermont, continued tipping the balance of power in Montpelier this year, winning important legislation on many human rights issues. Under the umbrella of Put People First (PPF), we made progress on our rights to healthcare, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights, and our right to a healthy environment and livable planet.

In addition to pushing for advances on individual human rights, we fought for human rights to become the foundation for all public policies, and we succeeded in taking an important step in this direction. Our People’s Budget Campaign - launched only a year ago - managed to get language into the final budget bill which says that, for the first time, our state budget must raise and spend public money in a way that addresses people’s needs. This is a first step toward building a budget that is based on human rights. Thanks to all of you who demanded a People’s Budget this year!

Our Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign continued to push for progress in implementing Act 48, our universal healthcare system. Because Act 48 makes healthcare a public good, there can’t be a role for private insurance companies selling coverage for necessary care as a commodity. That’s why we used this legislative session to make sure that insurance companies can no longer profiteer in a private market outside the new insurance exchange. Getting rid of such a private market is essential for moving to a universal, unified and public healthcare system.

Over the summer, we will continue to grow our movement and strengthen our unity, so that we can keep tipping the scales of power in our favor.  Much human rights work lies ahead, and we know that our efforts will be opposed with money and fear tactics from big corporations, especially insurance companies seeking to block universal healthcare.  We are on a path to take back our democracy from those big businesses - we CAN and WILL make our government  FOR the people if all of us continue to stand together.

Below we have a more detailed analysis and report of these bills, as well as bills relating to other fundamental human rights. If you have other bills you think increase the realization of our fundamental human rights, or would like to help with reports like this, email James Haslam at james@workerscenter.org.

Our government’s obligation to ensure our human rights are met
The first step toward spending and revenue policies that meet people’s needs and rights
People’s Budget Amendment:
Bill Language:
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/calendar/sc120504a.pdf (section 306)
Key Content/ Highlights:
For the first time in history, Vermont’s state budget is now linked to meeting people’s needs. Also for the first time, the budget should be guided by the human rights principles of dignity and equity:

  • “The state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.”
  • “Spending and revenue policies will ... recognize every person's need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment.”

The people of Vermont will now be able to participate more directly in developing budget and revenue policies, and the budget process will be more transparent and accountable.

  • “The Administration shall develop budget and revenue proposals as part of a transparent and accountable process with direct and meaningful participation from Vermont residents.”

What this means for the PPF movement:
It is the very first step toward a People’s Budget - a budget that would meet people’s fundamental needs, grounded in human rights principles.
Next Steps:
We must grow our movement to ensure that the People’s Budget language does not remain language on paper but gets translated into real changes to the way Vermont raises and spends money. We don’t expect we’ll get an actual People’s Budget - real dollars and cents - next year, because we’ll have to build much more power to make such dramatic changes. We need to push for the human rights principles to become a required part of the budget process - something the Administration cannot sidestep or ignore. Next up are the following concrete steps:

  • The Administration is now required to propose a process for participation. We should tell them what this should look like in order to be meaningful. “The administration will develop a process for public participation in the development of budget goals, as well as general prioritization and evaluation of spending and revenue initiatives. This process shall begin by October 1, 2012.”
  • How well the budget does in meeting people’s needs will now be measured. The Administration will propose ways to measure this, and we should demand that this measurement is based on the same human rights principles that we use to measure the progress of health care reform.

Background:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anja-rudiger/vermont-state-spending_b_1477641.html
http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/04/peoples-budget-moves-forward-in-the-vermont-legislature/

S.237 - Genuine Progress Indicator
Bill Language:
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/database/status/summary.cfm?Bill=S.0237&Session=2012
Lawmakers approved a bill that will set in motion the development of a “Genuine Progress Indicator.” In short, a GPI is a measure of the net benefits of economic activity, while traditional Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, measures total economic activity. The bill, authorizes the Secretary of Administration to work with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at UVM, who will develop and test the GPI. The analysis will include such items as the cost of underemployment, net capital investment, the cost of water and air pollution, the value of housework, and the cost of crime. Under the bill, the secretary of administration will report back to the legislature every two years on the usefulness of the GPI. GPI will be used as a complement to – but not as a replacement of – the Gross State Product, and will help Vermont begin to evaluate the social, economic, and environmental

Our human right to healthcare
Another step on the path to universal healthcare and a major victory against insurance company profiteers.
H.559: Healthcare Exchange:
Bill Language:
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/bills/Passed/H-559.pdf
Key Content/ Highlights:
Insurance companies won’t be able to profiteer in a private market outside the new insurance exchange. All individual and small business health insurance will be sold only within the exchange, as a first step toward a unified and public healthcare system.
What this means for the PPF movement:
This was our first win over insurance profiteers since the passage of Act 48. We faced a lot of opposition and a nasty media advertising campaign, but we prevailed. This means that we are still on the path to a true universal healthcare system, grounded in human rights, with health care treated as a public good.
Key next steps:
Next year will be a very important year for the people to stand strong for our human right to healthcare. We will face decisions about whether Green Mountain Care will be funded equitably by taxes, or whether unfair premiums are going to continue, and about the kind of healthcare benefits we will get in the new system. The insurance companies will be putting all of their efforts and money into derailing universal care.  Only by growing our movement can we have the people power necessary to fight these giant corporations funded with out-of-state money.  Next year we MUST make sure that our healthcare is truly treated as a public good, and is financed equitably by public funds.
Background:
http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/07/lunge-an-important-next-step-in-health-care-reform/
http://www.workerscenter.org/blog/peoplesteam/healthcare-human-right-campaign-testimony-h559-february-7-2012-0

Our human right to be free from discrimination
S.238 - Bill to move towards allowing all people of Vermont to be able to have driver’s licenses
Bill Language:  
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/bills/Passed/S-238.pdf
Key Content/ Highlights:  
This bill recognizes that human rights apply to all residents of Vermont, regardless of their citizenship, and demands a study as to how those rights are affected by Vermont’s current driver license registration process. Migrant workers and those who are considered undocumented must be able to access healthcare, driver’s licenses and other services necessary to lead a life of dignity and free from discrimination. The study required under this bill will gather information on ways a drivers license or state identification card would improve the lives of migrant workers in Vermont. Allowing all people in Vermont access to a driver’s license will be a crucial step in allowing all people to live with dignity and free from discrimination in their access to public goods.
What this means for the PPF movement:  
People are people. Universality as a principal unites us and citizenship status is irrelevant to human rights issues. This is an important first step to realizing that goal.  
Next Steps:  
In the coming legislative session we must rally all of our support for the migrant worker organization to stand in solidarity as a part of the PPF campaign.  We must make sure that our legislators know that human rights are universal.  We are and have been committed to universality in all human rights issues.  Over the summer we must build a network of support to tip the power in favor of all people in Vermont and demand our legislators allow our undocumented neighbors access to their human rights.
Background:
http://migrantjustice.net/node/167

Our human right to housing
S.99 - Mobile Homes Bill
Bill Language:
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/bills/Passed/S-099.pdf
Key Content/ Highlights:  
The bill prohibits mobile home park owners from discriminatiing against lot renters (on the basis of age, family status, race, religious creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability, or national origin, or because a person is a recipient of public assistance), provides for notice upon closing of the parks, regulates the process for rent increases in mobile home parks, regulates the sale of mobile home parks (making it easier to form cooperatively owned mobile home parks), and provides for disaster preparedness to benefit mobile home residents in the event of a disaster.
What this means for the PPF movement:
This is a breakthrough in the human right to housing.  It was only possible by mobile home park residents organizing statewide and standing together to demand their human right to housing.  Mobile homes in our state are an important affordable housing to many working class and low income people of Vermont, and we have and are standing with them to make sure that the corporate profiteers who own the parks do not trample the residents’ human right to housing. This is a perfect example of the people taking back their rights by standing together and demanding dignity in housing.
Background:
http://www.workerscenter.org/mobile-home-park-residents-equality-and-fairness

Our human right to dignified work
S.95
Bill Language:  
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/bills/Passed/S-095.pdf
Highlights/key content:  
S. 95 prohibits employers from demanding sensitive financial information as a condition of employment, including credit checks and savings or checking account information. Employers are now prohibited from discriminating against employees or potential employees on the basis of their economic situation.  Employees are protected from retaliatory termination if they complain about their employer violating this law.  
What this means for the PPF movement:   
The Vermont Workers Center Workers’ Rights Hotline has received many calls from employees and people seeking employment complaining that they were not being hired, or worse yet were being fired, because of their personal financial situations.  Our members were able to stand with labor unions to make employers respect the human right to dignified work, and let corporations know that this right cannot be trampled.  Employers cannot use public funds to discriminate against the people of the state of Vermont.
Next Steps:
Vermont Workers’ Center members must continue to stand with and support employees to make sure that businesses don’t ignore this important human right, and continue the fight for dignified work.
Background:  
See February 22nd Testimony from Workers’ Rights Hotline Co-Coordinator here: http://www.workerscenter.org/blog/%5Btermalias-raw%5D/testimony-vermont-workers-rights-hotline-co-coordinator-kim-lawson


Our human right to a healthy environment and livable planet
H.464 - Ban on Fracking
Bill Language:
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2012/bills/Passed/H-464.pdf
Key Content/ Highlights:  
Fracking is not legal in Vermont, and the water used from fracking cannot be stored in Vermont.
What this means for the PPF movement:   
Climate justice includes many human rights, and the right to clean and safe water is addressed by this bill.This is a breakthrough victory- making Vermont  first in the nation to recognize the dangers of fracking and preserve our clean water.   No more turning on the tap and having gas come out, which actually has happened in other states that allow fracking.  We have a human right to safe water, and Vermont will make sure its residents can access that right.
Next Steps:
The fight to realize our human right to a healthy environment and livable planet is far from over, as corporations continue to push hydraulic fracturing in states all throughout our bioregeion and the country. We will continue to be a part of national and international people’s movement to put people and the planet first
Background:
http://www.weather.com/news/vermont-fracking-ban-20120507
http://www.care2.com/news/member/100041282/3342046
http://www.mintpress.net/anti-fracking-legislation-sets-precedent/
http://www.greenerideal.com/politics/0514-vermont-takes-first-step-in-anti-fracking-legislation/

S.214 - Renewable Energy Bill
Bill Language:
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/database/status/summary.cfm?Bill=S.0214&Session=2012
Key Content/ Highlights:
The bill as passed will spur the development of smaller scale renewable energy projects. The bill also requires the state to consider greenhouse gas impacts and efficiency when reviewing proposals for electricity generating biomass energy projects and it requires the Public Service Board to further study an Renewal Portfolio Standard (RPS), including consideration of a system that rewards efficiency. It calls on the Department of Public Service to study how to move Vermont toward a “total energy standard,” a standard that includes targets for increasing the use of renewable fuels for heating and transportation, not just for electricity generation. The legislation also requires the Agency of Natural Recources, in consultation with other agencies, to develop a greenhouse gas accounting protocol to achieve lifecycle accounting of greenhouse gas emissions from various energy sources.
What this means for the PPF movement:
This bill moves Vermont toward realizing our human right to a healthy environment and livable planet by creating goals, measures, and accountability tools, as well as supporting community scale renewal energy projects.
Next Steps:
Due to opposition from some industry groups and legislative time constraints, lawmakers in the last days of the session ended up stripping from the bill one of its primary provisions: an actual RPS. That standard would have set a goal of Vermont getting 75 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032 and require that utilities fill 35 percent of their portfolios with “new renewable energy” (developed since 2005) by 2032. Over the summer we can build a broader base of people to fight for a more rigurous energy bill that more boldly takes action to combate climate and change meets our human rights principles.
Background:
http://world.350.org/vermont/2012/03/20/one-step-closer-to-climate-leadership/

Putting human rights before corporate greed
State resolution to end corporate personhood:
In April, 2012, the Vermont State Legislature passed a resolution calling for a federal Constitutional Amendment declaring that "money is not speech and corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution." Fighting against the treatment of corporations as “people” is an important part of our struggle for the realization of rights for all humans, that puts our fundamental needs pefore corporate profits.
Background:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/04/19/1084843/-Vermont-state-legislature-votes-to-End-Corporate-Personhood


If we continue building our movement, we can tip the balance of power next year and enable the people of Vermont exercise those human rights that were blocked this year. We will continue to fight for:

Realizing our human right to organize
H.97 - Early Educators Right to Organize
Though H.97, the Right to Organize for Early educators did not pass this year, the Vermont Early Educators United and Vermont Parents United fought hard to bring the issues of thousands of undervalued, underpaid, working people (mostly women) to the forefront of the conversation at the legislature this year. The bill actually passed in both the House and Senate, but in the eleventh hour a small number of legislators were able to block this bill from being considered in conference committee and passing into law.  The fight is not over.  Now we know there is significant support in the legislature, among early educators and parents, so we will keep organizing and come back bigger and stronger ready for a human rights victory for women and workers in 2013.