Rep. Joan Lenes
Rep. Kate Webb
This is the final article in a three-part series that provides an update on a variety of actions of the 2013 legislative session. Joan and Kate are currently working on a variety of constituent issues and can be reached over the summer and between sessions at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Campaign Finance Reform: Vermonters are asking for campaign finance reform that is enhanced, robust, and provides for more frequent reporting and more disclosure. At one end, public donations facilitate speech and political association, two fundamental First Amendment rights. At the other end, the Citizens United decision allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on electioneering communications, suggesting that a stricter, more frequent disclosure of spending is necessary. Although no resolution was reached this session, we expect action next year. Efforts will continue to try to craft a defensible bill that provides transparency for all and will be upheld under scrutiny.
Your “Right to Know” Genetically Engineered Labeling in Vermont: Our food supply has been increasingly infiltrated by genetically engineered (GE) ingredients over the past 25 years. An estimated 80 percent of all food sold in supermarkets today contain some GE components. The products were rushed onto the market as part of a “regulatory relief initiative” in the early 90s, though there were warnings from FDA’s own scientists that were only revealed during the discovery phase of a lawsuit years later. Numerous peer-reviewed studies in the international scientific literature have raised doubts about the safety of these products, though the industry and the FDA maintain they are no different. H.112 requires the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering, making the Vermont House the first legislative body in the nation to move a bill this far. The Senate will take this up next January. The bill is crafted to be defensible against three potential legal challenges from the biotech industry. Although federal labeling would be preferable, there is little indication that this will move before individual states bring this issue to a head. Vermonters are vocal in their insistence that they have the right to make an informed choice about the food they eat and serve their families. If passed, Vermont would join 64 countries in which this labeling is required.
Opioid Addiction and Methamphetamine Abuse: This spring, the legislature took significant steps to address the growing problem of drug addiction in Vermont and its devastating affects on health, crime, and the environment. First, added strength to the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System will make it more difficult to acquire multiple purchases of addictive prescription drugs such as oxycodone. The use of NPlex, a real-time database, will alert pharmacists to purchases of drugs used to make methamphetamines, now requiring a photo ID.
Second, improvements are underway for those responsible for treating and those suffering from addiction. In addition, granting limited immunity to those calling 911 to report an overdose should help reduce death due to users and friends afraid to call.
Third, two studies will address crime related to drug addiction. One will look at the effect of meth labs on housing while another looks at stolen property used to support drug addiction.
First-in-the-Nation “Troll-Buster” Bill: Vermont is a creative, innovative place. Vermonters invent things – lots of things. According to CNNMoney, Vermont is #1 in the nation in patents granted per capita and #8 in entrepreneurial business start-ups. Vermont is home to large, medium, and small tech companies that are developing and exporting hardware and software solutions to companies around the world – often in web-based applications. These “knowledge-based” businesses are seriously threatened by a bad faith business practice that is nothing more than a modern day protection racket. In the press, it’s called “patent trolling.”
The business model is simple: a lawsuit is threatened and a license fee is demanded. For the target business or non-profit, their choice – even if they have done nothing wrong – is to pay the fee or spend huge sums on a legal defense in court. This practice is extortion, plain and simple.
Vermont will be the first jurisdiction in the nation to offer its businesses a defense against this racket. Vermont companies will be able to bring a cause of action in Vermont where a court can distinguish between legitimate patent enforcement and the troll’s practice of bad faith assertion of patent infringement.
With this bill, Vermont proclaims it is a ‘welcoming place’ for software developers. Our message is clear: “Vermont is the place to innovate and create, and the state has your back.”
You can review all acts signed into law at www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/acts.cfm?Session=2014. This will continue to update as bills cross the governor’s desk.