Legislative Report 2/11/2015 - Green Burials and Dead Nickels

One of the first jobs a legislature has in January is to make adjustments to the current year's budget to balance any gap between expected revenues and actual revenues. While budgets are normally the focus of partisan disagreements, this year's Budget Adjustment Act, dealing with a $19M revenue shortfall, was a pleasant exception. By the end of January the House realigned spending to end the current fiscal year with a balanced, responsible budget and passed the bill on a 135-5 vote. With that important vote out of the way, I decided to devote this report to two bills I introduced.

The first is a bill to allow the establishment of “natural burial grounds”. I introduced H.25, after talking with Lisa Carlson, a Hinesburg resident and the author, along with Joshua Slocum, of "Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death". I had been aware of only two ways of laying the dead to rest: embalming and cremation. It hadn't occurred to me that embalming is a relatively recent phenomenon that arose in the U.S. funerary industry in the 20th century. Lisa pointed out that the downsides include the use of toxic chemicals as well as expensive caskets and the concrete burial vaults to hold them, and that cremation requires very high temperatures generated by burning fossil fuels. On the other hand, the practice termed "green burial" requires neither and allows us to "return to dust" in the natural way that all other living beings do. This burial method is already allowed by state law, but must take place in specially reserved areas of existing cemeteries. Orthodox Jews as well as Muslims practice this type of burial as a religious practice. H.25 will expand the allowable use of the green burial method in an even more natural way. It establishes the right of a landowner to set aside a section of land where such burials can be performed with the additional characteristic that would not require a grave marker, but would allow the land, a field or forest, to return to its natural state. It would require the land to be registered as a natural burial ground and the grave site(s) to be “platted” or mapped for future reference. While most people may still prefer to be buried or to bury their relatives in the usual manner in a traditional cemetery, H.25 will provide an alternative for those who wish their bodies to simply "return to nature".

The second bill, H.104, will reclaim the deposits on unredeemed beverage containers for the state. Under current law, the sale of a soft drink or other deposit beverage includes passing the deposit from the final customer to the distributor. If the beverage container is never redeemed for the deposit, but instead is diverted into regular recycling or the trash, the beverage distributor keeps the deposit. It is estimated that between one and two million dollars in Vermonters' deposits are abandoned every year. Since we have paid these deposits for the purpose of maintaining a clean environment, my bill will reclaim 80% of them to help pay for Vermont's recycling efforts. The beverage industry will keep the remaining 20% for handling costs. Three states – VT, IA and OR – currently allow the distributors to keep all of the unclaimed deposits, while five – CT, NY, MA, ME and MI – reclaim some or all of them. In these tight budget times, finding an extra million or two without raising taxes makes sense to me.
I continue to welcome your thoughts and questions and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).