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Democracy Dispatch

Click here to access the Democracy Dispatch for 2022 and prior.

Mondays just got a little greener!

Welcome to the Democracy Dispatch podcast, hosted by Justin Marsh, political outreach director at Vermont Conservation Voters. Justin will be joined every Monday with folks from their team to update you about everything that happened in the Vermont State House the week before, and what to expect throughout the upcoming week. We will speak with legislators, environmental allies, go deeper on some policy initiatives, and sit down with special guests to discuss topics affecting our air, water, open space, and quality of life.

New podcast episodes launch every Monday during the Vermont Legislative Session.

Listen to the Democracy Dispatch podcast on the following services:

Spotify Podcasts | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | iHeart Radio | TuneIn | Podchaser

Episode List:

Special Episode: (July 31, 2023): Flood Recovery Efforts (Part 1)

Guests: Rep. Dan Noyes, Sen. Alison Clarkson, Rep. Katherine Sims, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale

As Vermonters begin week four of clean up from the devastating flooding that occurred the week of July 10th, we hear from four legislators from across Vermont as they share stories from their communities and efforts of recovery. I walked the streets of Johnson with Representative Dan Noyes, assessing firsthand the damages and work to rebuild. I spoke with Senator Alison Clarkson of Windsor County, who shared how her home district was impacted and also how resiliency efforts made following the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene likely helped areas in Bethel and Stockbridge that had been damaged in 2011 but were not as badly hit this time around. Representative Katherine Sims talked with me about the gaps in capacity for smaller towns, especially in the Northeast Kingdom, where she represents 4 towns hoping for FEMA relief designation. And lastly, Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale, who has stayed home with her newborn but took on a vital role of connecting supplies and volunteers, using her connections and relationships to provide aid to the affected communities.

S1, E17 (May 8, 2023): How Wisconsin Organized Voters to Combat Attacks on Democracy

Guests: Seth Hoffmeister, Rep. Seth Bongartz

Wisconsin Conservation Voters’ Deputy Director, Seth Hoffmeister joins the podcast from the 2023 LCV Conservation Voters Movement Conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. Seth shares stories about the incredible field organizing his organization led, resulting in successfully blocking a Republican supermajority in the Wisconsin House of Representatives. Despite being a majority democratic state, having elected Democratic Governor Tony Evers for a second term in 2022, the state is plagued with the worst gerrymandering in the country. He talks about the undemocratic district maps that strengthen Republican control, and hopes for reversing that movement thanks to last month’s Supreme Court election, giving the court liberal control for the first time since 2008. We discuss lessons for Vermont, and what Wisconsin’s recent victories mean for our national politics.

For our Deep Dive conversation, Lauren Hierl speaks with Representative Seth Bongartz (D-Manchester) about the progress of S.100, the housing equity bill, as we near the end of the 2023 session. Lauren and I recap the week in the State House and movement on environmental priority policies, including news of Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoing of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, and its potential override vote this week. Download the full transcript here: Word | PDF

S1, E16 (May 1, 2023): Addressing Legislative Pay

Guests: Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Sen. Ruth Hardy

Representative Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P/D-Burlington) speaks about proposed legislation that would incrementally increase the pay and benefits that legislators receive over the next two bienniums. The former director of the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign addresses historic wage disparities for women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ persons, and the ways that the current compensation structure in the legislature perpetuates those gaps. Rep. Mulvaney-Stanak, the Progressive Party House Caucus Leader, also takes time to discuss her party’s priorities, share progress on those policies and what looks poised to be enacted. Lastly, she gives advice to those who might be considering a run for state legislature themselves. 

Lauren Hierl speaks with Senator Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) about bills her committees have worked on this year, including a bill to remove PFAS and harmful toxics from several consumer products, as well as ranked choice voting measures. She also gives her perspective on legislative pay as former Executive Director of Emerge Vermont, an organization that recruits and trains femme-identifying people to run for office. 

Plus, Lauren and Justin give the latest updates on our environmental priority policies in our Session Shakedown segment, including news that S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, has passed the Senate on a vote of 20-10 and will now spend the week on the Governor’s desk before he vetoes the bill, which he has publicly indicated he will do.  Download the full transcript here: Word | PDF

S1, E15 (Apr. 24, 2023): All About the Affordable Heat Act

Guests: Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins, Sen. Anne Watson

We examine the Affordable Heat Act, S.5, with co-chair of the Vermont Legislature’s Climate Solutions Caucus, Representative Gabrielle Stebbins (D-Burlington). Last week, the House voted to advance the Affordable Heat Act by a vote of 98-46. As the bill inches its way closer to the Governor’s desk, we felt it was an opportune time to really get into the substance of the bill with a policymaker who championed the bill and spent a great deal of time working on it and improving it while it was in the House Committee on Environment and Energy. Rep. Stebbins breaks down the major elements of the bill, what it will mean for Vermonters, and the timeline for implementation of the program it creates. If you still have questions about the Affordable Heat Act, our conversation will hopefully help you understand it better.

During our Deep Dive conversation, Lauren Hierl catches up with Senator Anne Watson (D-Washington) to hear about the work the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy has done on the modernized bottle bill, the 30×30 land conservation bill, as well as the Renewable Energy Standard. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E14 (Apr. 17, 2023): The MENA Caucus

Guests: Sen. Nader Hashim, Rep. Golrang “Rey” Garofano, Rep. Mary-Katherine Abdel-Ghany Stone, and Rep. Dara Torre

Senator Nader Hashim (D-Windham), Representative Golrang “Rey” Garofano (D-Essex), and Representative Mary-Katherine Abdel-Ghany Stone (D-Burlington) comprise the MENA Caucus. MENA is an acronym referring to the group of countries situated in the Middle East and in North Africa. The three share the stories of their journeys to Vermont, campaigning, their experiences with assimilation, as well as being visible leaders for other Iranians and Egyptians living in Vermont.

Representative Dara Torre (D-Moretown) shares the latest from her committee, including the vote on Affordable Heat Act and work on the housing equity bill. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E13 (Apr. 10, 2023): Being Green While Making Green

Guests: State Treasurer Mike Pieciak, Rep. Laura Sibilia

State Treasurer Mike Pieciak was elected as our 31st State Treasurer last November after completing his “Road to Victory” – taking part in the 251(+1) Club, visiting every town and city in the state – ending in Victory, VT and with a resounding victory on election night. The Brattleboro native, who previously served for six years as the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, talks about the honor of serving in a statewide office, his role as a top elected LGBTQ+ official, and how his background in law helps shape his work as Treasurer. We discuss his ‘slow and thoughtful’ approach to divestment from fossil fuels in state funds, and the impact his role has on climate-related decisions at the state level.

With crossover in the rearview mirror, things have settled down a bit in the State House. Now we’re into a countdown to the end of the session to see what will make it past the finish line – with bills voted out of the Senate now in their respective House committees and vice versa. Last week we saw a unanimous Senate vote in support of S.25, a nation-leading bill that would restrict PFAS and other toxic chemicals from cosmetics, personal care products, textiles, and athletic turf. Now it’s up to the House Committee on Human Services to take it up, and we will be advocating hard for that to happen soon. Hear more about the latest legislative action in our Session Shakedown segment, and then hear our conversation with Representative Laura Sibilia (I-Dover), after another week of testimony on the Affordable Heat Act, S.5, on why she’s a strong supporter of this policy, especially for her rural constituents. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E12 (Apr. 3, 2023): A Conversation with Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman

Guest: Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman

Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, is currently serving as our state’s 84th lieutenant governor, returning for a third term after one biennium break following a run for Governor. Zuckerman is a Progressive/Democrat who was the only third-party candidate to be elected in a statewide race this past Election Day nationwide. He served in both the Vermont House and Senate until being elected as lieutenant governor. Zuckerman discusses his day-to-day duties, his political career path, and the challenges and opportunities of being a member of the Progressive Party. With nearly a quarter century of experience in Montpelier, he also reflects on incremental change, the pace of lawmaking, and what may be next for him.

With the House and Senate enduring very long days in their respective chambers on top of their committee work, we decided to give our Senators and Representatives the week off from our in-depth investigative interviews, and instead, Lauren and Justin give a rundown on the many votes we witnessed last week – as well as what we expect to see voted on this week. With two House votes and four Senate votes on our priority policies, now is a great time to check out our environmental scorecard to see how your elected officials are voting. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E11 (Mar. 27, 2023): Protecting and Expanding Democracy

Guests: Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas, Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins

Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas speaks with Justin a few months into her transition to the role after an incredible 18-year legislative career representing Bradford in the Vermont House. During her tenure she was the lead sponsor of the Global Warming Solutions Act and most recently co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Copeland Hanzas reflects on her past climate work and why action is so crucial. She shares more about the role of Secretary of State, what the office has done in recent years to expand and protect democracy, and the goals she has for her tenure, including the advancement of ranked choice voting in Vermont.

For our Deep Dive segment, Lauren catches up with Representative Gabrielle Stebbins (D-Burlington) to get the latest on work in her committee, House Environment and Energy, including updates on the updated Bottle Bill and testimony on Affordable Heat Act.

Last week the House passed H.126, known as the 30×30 land and water conservation bill. Many more votes are expected in the Senate and House this week, which Lauren and Justin recap in our Session Shakedown segment of the podcast. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E10 (Mar. 20, 2023): The Environmental Role of the Attorney General’s Office

Guests: Attorney General Charity Clark, Sen. Christopher Bray

Attorney General Charity Clark is our state’s 28th AG, and the first woman to ever be elected to the position. In a candid conversation with Justin, she talks about her upbringing in Southern Vermont, how the intimacy of Vermont’s politics allowed her access to role models where she could see herself reflected, her passion for Vermont’s climate and environment, and the role of the AG in shaping that conversation.

Lauren talks with Sen. Christopher Bray (D-Addison) on the Deep Dive segment for updates on the Energy Efficiency Modernization Act, the housing equity bill, and the Affordable Heat Act.

Lauren and Justin discuss crossover week with updates on what made it across the line and what did not in the Session Shakedown segment. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E9 (Mar. 6, 2023): 2023 Halftime Report

Guest: Lauren Hierl

Move over, Rihanna. We’ve got our own Halftime Show!

With the legislature on break for Town Meeting Day, it seemed like the opportune time to sit down with Lauren Hierl, executive director, Vermont Conservation Voters, to discuss the policy priorities outlined in the 2023 Environmental Common Agenda and provide a progress report on each. 

We update you on the latest surrounding the Affordable Heat Act, the Renewable Energy Standard, transportation affordability, environmental justice funding, smart growth housing, the 30×30 land conservation initiative, rivers, wetlands, and riparian area protections, PFAS, the updated bottle bill, and ranked choice voting. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E8 (Feb. 27, 2023): Banning PFAS and Toxic “Forever” Chemicals

Guests: Rep. Dane Whitman, VNRC’s Kati Gallagher

Rep. Dane Whitman (D-Bennington) speaks about policy banning harmful PFAS and toxic “forever” chemicals from several items. His work on this effort last biennium earned him VCV’s Rising Star Award in 2022. He shares why PFAS are of concern to Vermonters and particularly the Bennington region for which he represents, and outlines the next wave of consumer products that include toxics that the legislature intends to further ban this biennium. Later, he outlines other important priorities his committee is taking up as we approach crossover week.

Lauren Hierl sits down with Kati Gallagher, Sustainable Communities Program Director at Vermont Natural Resources Council, for our Deep Dive segment. The two discuss the intricacies of smart growth housing policies which aim to address our state’s housing crisis. Lastly, our Session Shakedown segment gives the latest update on Affordable Heat Act (which should be going to a full Senate vote this week), and what’s next for policies being worked on in the House Committee on Environment and Energy. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E7 (Feb. 20, 2023): Is Serving in the State House Sustainable?

Guests: Rep. Saudia LaMont, Sen. Rebecca White

Rep. Saudia LaMont (D-Morristown) speaks about her experience as a freshman legislator and how the reality of serving differed from her perception while campaigning. She discusses the weight she carries representing several different identities in a mostly homogenous state, including being the third Black woman to serve Vermont, and what keeps her doing this work for her community. Later, she shares her advice for folks contemplating running for office. Spoiler alert: she thinks you should run! Sen. Rebecca White (D-Windsor) talks with us about two separate bills in two separate committees she serves on – the Affordable Heat Act and ranked choice voting. She outlines the importance of both policies for Vermonters, shares insights on some of the testimony her committees have heard, and the next steps for the bills. Plus: updates on the expanded bottle bill, the housing equity bill, and the 30×30 land conservation bill. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E6 (Feb. 13, 2023): Vermont’s Love/Hate Relationship with Act 250

Guests: Rep. Amy Sheldon, Rep. Kristi Morris

Act 250 is Vermont’s land use and development law, enacted in 1970 at a time when Vermont was undergoing significant development pressure. The law provides a public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing the environmental, social, and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and developments in Vermont. It assures that larger developments complement Vermont’s unique landscape, economy, and community needs. Rep. Amy Sheldon (D-Middlebury) has been active in several House committees where Act 250 is in the spotlight. In 2017, she was appointed as chair of the Commission on Act 250. In this episode, Sheldon breaks down the complicated relationship Vermonters have – both appreciation and concerns about Act 250, what changes need to be made, and what the future of the law looks like. Rep. Kristi Morris (D-Springfield) outlines the proposed expansion of Vermont’s Bottle Bill. Plus: updates on Affordable Heat Act, Transportation Affordability Act, and more. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E5 (Feb. 6, 2023): Roaring Twenties: Three Young Lawmakers’ Reflections

Guests: Rep. Larry Satcowitz, Sen. Becca White, Rep. Jay Hooper, Rep. Lucy Boyden

The Vermont Legislature boasts six members who are in their 20s. That number nearly doubles when looking at those serving in their 30s. But despite these figures, the reality is that Vermont’s legislative body is still quite a bit older than the average age of Vermonters. Sen. Becca White (D-Windsor), Rep. Jay Hooper (D-Randolph), and Rep. Lucy Boyden (D-Cambridge) discuss their experiences as legislators in the 20s. The three reflect on ageism both on the campaign trail and in the state house, the difficulties of serving as a young person, as well as why their voices matter. Rep. Larry Satcowitz (D-Randolph) walks through the 30×30 land conservation bill. Lauren and Justin give updates on the Affordable Heat Act, Smart Growth Housing, and the Transportation Affordability Act. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E4 (Jan. 30, 2023): Looking Back on 15 Years of Environmental Justice

Guests: Sen. Ginny Lyons, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D/P-Chittenden Southeast) takes a look back at the environmental justice legislation that inspired her to run for the state legislature over 15 years ago. She explains the importance of equity in the conversation about the environment and climate, as well as the progress that has been made, and where work still needs to happen. Lauren has a conversation with Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden Southeast) about toxics legislation that would remove PFAS and other harmful chemicals from products like shampoo, lotion, and other cosmetics. We share the news that Rep. Kate Donnally (D-Hyde Park) has stepped down from her role in the statehouse and give updates on progress around the Affordable Heat Act, housing equity, land conservation, and more. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E3 (Jan. 23, 2023): Accessibility from State Trails to the State House

Guests: Rep. Seth Bongartz, Rep. Elizabeth Burrows

Justin has a conversation with Rep. Elizabeth Burrows (D/P-West Windsor) about her proposed bill that would make state-owned and managed trails more physically accessible. She speaks candidly about the limitations of serving for differently-abled legislators. Lauren chats with Rep. Seth Bongartz (D-Manchester) for our deep dive conversation about a bill to expand smart growth housing. Lauren joins for the session shakedown segment, covering insight from the week prior (the Governor’s budget address, the Climate Solutions Caucus’s walk-through of the Affordable Heat Act, and housing bills in both chambers) and what’s planned for the week ahead in the Vermont State House. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E2 (Jan. 16, 2023): Freedom & Unity: A Graphic Guide to Civics and Democracy in Vermont

Guests: Sen. Anne Watson, Susan Clark

Justin speaks with Susan Clark about her contributions to Freedom and Unity: A Graphic Guide to Civics and Democracy in Vermont, recently published as a collaboration between The Center for Cartoon Studies, Vermont’s Secretary of State office, and Vermont Humanities Council. Here in Vermont, freedom isn’t a free-for-all and unity doesn’t mean uniformity. From Town Meetings to cooperatives, and all the way up to the state house, Vermont’s approach to democracy is by turns unique, varied, and inspired. Lauren Hierl catches up with Sen. Anne Watson (D/P-Washington) for our deep dive conversation about the Affordable Heat Act, just moments after the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee reviewed the new proposed legislation. Lauren joins for the session shakedown segment, covering the week prior and the week ahead in the Vermont State House. Read the full transcript here.

S1, E1 (Jan. 9, 2023): The Winooski Dome Proposal Project of 1979

Guests: Rep. Amy Sheldon, Rep. Taylor Small

Rep. Taylor Small (P/D-Winooski) talks about the Winooski Dome Proposal Project of 1979, a PFAS bill set to be taken up this session, and climate priorities for her city. Lauren Hierl catches up with Rep. Amy Sheldon (D-Middlebury) for our deep dive conversation outlining her priorities for the new biennium as chair of the restructured House Environment and Energy Committee. Lauren joins for the session shakedown segment, covering the week prior and the week ahead in the Vermont State House. Read the full transcript here.