State Legislators Oppose Fast Track of Trade Bill

I issued the following Press Release on Monday, June 8,2015:


Secret trade negotiations threaten state sovereignty and policies promoting renewable energy and
state-based climate solutions, GMO labeling, pollinator protections

Several Vermont state legislators joined environmental leaders from legislatures across the nation
urging a vote against so-called “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority legislation now pending in
Congress. This controversial legislation would put into place for six years a speeded-up process for
approving any trade deals negotiated by current and future presidents, requiring a simple up or down vote without amendments.

Trade agreements that would be covered by fast track include the 12-nation Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) encompassing 36 percent of global GDP – by far the biggest trade agreement the
U.S. has ever negotiated - as well as an agreement with the European Union, the Trans-Atlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These trade deals go far beyond traditional trade
agreements that simply lowered tariffs, and would include sweeping provisions aimed at
“disciplining” local, state and federal policies viewed as “trade irritants”.

 Vermont legislators that signed on to the letter include Chittenden County Senator Ginny Lyons,
Representatives Steve Berry (Manchester), David Deen (Putney), Patsy French (Randolph), Helen
Head (South Burlington), Warren Kitzmiller (Montpelier), Amy Sheldon (Middlebury), Mary
Sullivan (Burlington), and Michael Yantachka (Charlotte).  The legislators’ letter (posted here: raises concerns both
about the extreme secrecy of these trade negotiations and likely provisions that threaten state
sovereignty and could chill future legislation by allowing corporations to challenge state laws and
seek multimillion-dollar damage payments, using a trade arbitration process that side-steps state and federal courts.  The Vermont House and Senate both passed a joint resolution, J.R.H.12 (Act R-230), during the 2013 session opposing the TPP and the fast track process.

 While virtually every investor group is well represented among the US Trade Representative's more than 600 ‘citizen’ advisors, almost no legislators are, yet these agreements can put at risk important state initiatives including clean energy policies and environmental regulations. Even under existing trade agreements including NAFTA, local and state policies such as bans on chemicals, environmental permitting decisions and tobacco regulations have faced challenges. Just this month [May 2015], the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that U.S. country-of-origin food labels for meat violate trade rules, and the U.S. House Agriculture Committee has already voted to repeal the law. Legislators are concerned that GMO and toxic chemical labeling laws in the states could be threatened next under trade deals such as the TPP that go beyond WTO rules.

 The fast track bill passed the U.S. Senate on the eve of the Memorial Day recess and may be
considered by the U.S. House of Representatives in the next days or weeks. Vermont's Senators
Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch are on record opposing fast track for the TPP.  The
Representatives support the state’s federal delegation in rejecting fast track, so that each trade
agreement can be considered on its merits as it is negotiated, with sufficient opportunity for the
public as well as members of Congress to fully review complex text and assess any impacts on state
and national environmental laws.

Legislative Report 6/4/2015 - 2015 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

As a final installment in my Legislative Reports, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the best work the legislature did as well as point out some areas where we need to do more.

Water Quality
With cooperation and input from Vermont's agricultural community, we passed legislation that will help prevent agricultural runoff from small farms by controlling discharges that could violate our water quality standards. New farmer education and training requirements have been adopted. Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) will become Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) that all farms must follow. The Agency of Agriculture will provide technical assistance to help farmers comply and access financial resources to support necessary alterations.

Public Safety
The Legislature made considerable progress in fortifying the safety of our citizens this year. We strengthened the sex offender registry requirements, ensuring that convicted sex offenders report updated information to the Department of Public Safety prior to release from a correctional facility. Our groundbreaking “Revenge Porn” bill made it a crime to disseminate sexually explicit photographs or videos of individuals without their consent and with the intent to harm. We helped law enforcement combat drug trafficking by modifying rules related to the forfeiture of assets used in perpetrating certain crimes. While we failed to require background checks for all firearms purchases in Vermont, we did manage to prohibit under Vermont law violent felons from owning firearms and we required courts to submit the names of those whom a judge has deemed to be a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Child Protection
The deaths of two children because of abuse last year required an effective response by both the administrative and legislative branches. In the past year, prosecutors and the judiciary have seen an increase in the number of petitions filed for both children in need of supervision and termination of parental rights. No single agency or system can keep all children safe from harm. Child protection is a community responsibility requiring collaboration among the various departments within DCF, families, the courts, treatment providers, other stakeholders, and the public. Legislation that we passed this session requires better communication between these stakeholders, clarifies and strengthens the mandatory child abuse reporting law, focuses on the best interests of children rather than a rigid placement hierarchy, and enhances the penalties for those who harm children with death or serious bodily injury resulting.

Energy Transformation
Over the past decade, Vermont has led the nation with its energy efficiency programs, lowering both electricity costs and rates. With this year’s Renewable Energy Standard law, we will help Vermonters transform their energy use in the heating and transportation sectors. The law will encourage a shift in these sectors from fossil fuels to clean electricity, reduce carbon emissions, and save Vermonters money. As envisioned under this law, homes will be well insulated and tightly sealed; appliances and heat sources, such as air source heat pumps, will be highly efficient; electric vehicles will harness local sources of clean energy and reduce carbon-emissions in transportation. Solar and other forms of renewable electricity will provide the clean power to replace fossil fuel energy and reduce transmission and distribution costs for all Vermonters.

Vermont’s public schools enrollment has declined for nearly two decades. Since 1997, public schools in Vermont are down more than 24,000 pupils, but staffing levels have remained relatively constant, and education spending and taxes have continued to climb. The Education System Reform legislation passed this year attempts to address the problem of student population decline and rising costs by promoting district consolidation while improving student access to the education they need to succeed in tomorrow's economy. Another focus of cost reduction is teacher health insurance. A working group led by the Director of Health Care Reform will be formed to consider alternatives available to school districts, supervisory unions, and their employees to address the high cost of health care and recommend options that will avoid triggering the federal tax on high-cost, employer-sponsored insurance plans (referred to as the “Cadillac Tax”). Among other options, the Director is required to consider the possibility of transitioning to plans offered through Vermont Health Connect, the Vermont Education Health Initiative, and other means. While these moves are in the positive direction, the property tax burden of funding education has not changed. Several proposals for alternative funding are still being considered, but they will have to wait until next year.

Budget Reform
While the legislature always passes a balanced budget, the approach the budget committee took this year was a significant step toward bending the growth in state spending and creating long-term budget sustainability. This session, we made significant progress in reducing the rate of increase in Corrections, Buildings and General Services, and Public Safety budgets. Continuing reductions in federal support, growing demand for services and investment in public infrastructure, and slower economic growth has spurred the Legislature to adopt five new fiscal goals:

1. Reduce reliance on the use of “onetime” money.
2. Move toward budgeting less than 100% of projected revenue.
3. Include assessment of future year costs as part of assessing programs and budget proposals.
4. Explore moving to a two-year budget process.
5. Expand the use of Results Based Accountability measurements throughout state government.

I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (

House speaker Shap Smith Discusses 2015 Session

Vermont Speaker of the House Shap Smith appeared on the June 1st segment of the Chittenden county Democrats Show to discuss the results of the past session, including the budget, Vermont Health Connect and other topics.  The show, which features interviews with office holders and others airs on CCTV Channel 17, Burlington's community access television station on the first Monday of the month unless pre-empted by other programs.  Hosted by Chittenden County Democratic Treasurer Bob Hooper and State Representative Mike Yantachka of Charlotte, the show offers an opportunity for callers to question guests on topics of current interest.  This segment can be viewed online here.