The Word in the House 2/29/2016 - Divestment, Voting and Protection

As I write this the weekend before Town Meeting, I’m looking forward to one of the great New England traditions where voters can get together in an exercise of direct democracy to make decisions affecting their local government. It gives me a chance to talk to constituents and find out what’s on their minds and get some idea of whether I am doing my job properly in Montpelier.

Last week saw passage of several bills as well as a resolution on fossil fuel divestment in the Vermont House. The resolution, HR.13, calls on the State Treasurer working with the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) to eliminate coal and ExxonMobil stockholdings from Vermont’s pension funds. The rationale for the measure included recognition that: climate change due to human consumption of fossil fuels is real and has significant negative consequences for our environment; given the recent bankruptcy of America’s largest coal company and efforts around the globe to curtail use of coal, investments in fossil fuels pose a threat to Vermont’s pension funds; and ExxonMobil specifically has been documented to have misled the public and its investors and funded climate change denial despite having evidence to the contrary from its own scientists. While it encourages divestment, it also recognizes that the pensions belong to the employees whose money is invested and that they, through the VPIC, have the ultimate responsibility to divest while taking care to invest wisely. The resolution passed on a vote of 76 to 57.

On the same day that the resolution was voted on, a bill that changes the “motor-voter” law, that is, the ability to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license, was passed. Today the applicant must choose to register on the form. This bill, H.458, now provides that the default is to submit a voter registration application unless the applicant chooses otherwise. Of course, the applicant must fulfill the requirements of U.S. citizenship, be a resident of Vermont, have taken or self-administered the Voter’s Oath, and attest to the veracity of this information on the form. While many other states continue to restrict voting privileges by erecting roadblocks to registration, Vermont continues to embrace the right of every citizen to vote and encourage them to do so. This bill passed on a voice vote.

Another important bill that passed was H.749, which allows a friend to file a relief from abuse request for a minor or for a person who lacks capacity to protect his or her interests due to psychiatric, intellectual, or developmental disability. It also allows a minor who is at least 16 years old to file a request on their own behalf if they are currently or were previously engaged in a sexual or dating relationship with the defendant. This provides a measure of protection for young people and vulnerable adults who are in a recognizably abusive relationship and may be reluctant to file the request themselves. This bill also passed on a voice vote. H.749 as well as H.458 will now be considered by the Senate.

I welcome your thoughts and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (