A united front of progressive and environmental advocacy groups gathered outside the Statehouse Thursday morning to deliver a message to Gov. Phil Scott.
"The governor has a choice," said Lauren Hierl of Vermont Conservation Voters. "Does he side with corporations or with regular Vermonters?" The gathered advocates brandished signs that stated the dichotomy.
The groups highlighted a series of bills that will soon land on Scott's desk for signature or veto. Some, such as paid family leave and raising the minimum wage, appear certain to be vetoed. Others are less clear. Scott himself has refused to officially commit on any bill before he has a chance to read it — with the notable exceptions of the tax and budget bills, which he has already said he will veto.
Chloé White of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont spoke on behalf of two internet-related bills. One would support net neutrality; the other would establish a regulatory system for companies that harvest and sell consumer information online. The latter includes a $100 annual registration fee for data brokers. But as White pointed out, it also "removes a $10 fee Vermonters have to pay for a data freeze following a data breach." So, she argued, the bill provides a net affordability benefit.
Nicole Grenier of the Stowe Street Café in Waterbury spoke in favor of paid family leave; Michelle Fay of Voices for Vermont's Children advocated for the minimum wage bill.
One of the more interesting choices before Scott is a bill that would give unclaimed bottle deposit money to the Clean Water Fund. "Vermont is one of only three states to give unclaimed deposits to the beverage industry," said Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, who estimated unclaimed deposits at $2 million a year. He held up a bottle of soda and a mason jar of water and said, "Will it be Coca-Cola, or clean water?"
Jon Groveman of the Vermont Natural Resources Council spoke for a bill that would make polluters pay for medical monitoring of individuals who might be affected by toxic substances. "This is not a theoretical problem," he said, pointing to the Bennington-area residents who face possible long-term health effects from a release of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from a since-closed factory.
"On issue after issue, the governor will be able to choose which side he's on," Hierl said in closing remarks.
He will, indeed. Most of the bills have yet to reach his desk, as each has to be thoroughly vetted by the legislature's legal team. But reach him they will, and Scott's decisions will establish the parameters of his affordability agenda.