This week lawmakers gave approval on expanded bottle recycling and changed course on how to address Vermont’s pension crisis. Also, the state suspended use of the Jonhson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to reports it is causing blood clots in some patients.
While business and waste industry leaders were telling lawmakers that expanding bottle redemption could cost Vermonter’s money but do little to boost recycling numbers, that didn’t stop House lawmakers from passing H.175 with a 99-46 vote on Thursday. The bill, a major reform of Vermont’s 1973 bottle law, allows individuals to redeem beverage containers for water, sports drinks, juices, wine and some craft alcohols for 5 cents.
Rep. Pat Brennan, R-Colchester, warned his colleagues that the costs could go up by as much as 11%. “We continue to try and convince ourselves that we are a business-friendly state, but folks it’s time to show that we are and vote no on this bill or admit that we’re not,” he said.
A report by Vermont for Recycling breaks down how this bill might drive up costs: “This bill will not only raise prices for Vermonters at the cash register but will also make it more expensive to recycle, effectively raising costs on Vermonters at both ends of the system.”
Proponents, however, tout the environmental benefits. Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, stated, “The deposit return system is a tried-and-true conservation program, it goes beyond reducing litter,” she said. “It addresses some of the most pressing environmental programs that are a result of our throwaway economy.”
Public pensions crisis
Lawmakers punted on decided who will pay to fix the state’s underfunded public sector pension liabilities, instead opting for a governance overhaul to the pension program, as well as a study committee to see where this money will eventually come from.
Estimates of the total pension liability are as high as $5.7 billion. Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, wrote in a recent commentary that it was a combination of changes that led to the massive shortfall.
“Currently, mismanagement and a change in accounting rules share equally in having caused a $5.7 billion unfunded liability in Vermont’s teacher and state employee retirement systems,” he wrote.
Two weeks ago, when lawmakers put forth a proposal to reduce pension benefits for public workers beginning with those retiring after the next five years, unionized state employees took the microphone at two public hearings to express anger.
In a recent commentary, Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte, shared data on who’s been already paying for this crisis. He wrote: “Other contributing factors include an aging workforce with the number of active teachers/employees roughly equal to the number of retirees, increased longevity of retirees and the consistently low returns on investment experienced since the ‘great recession’ of 2009. The revised actuarial estimate this year added another $600 million to the pension system’s unfunded liabilities in this year alone.”
Vaccines causing blood clots
Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned health officials to halt the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to numerous reports of blood clots in some patients.
In particular, six women between the ages of 18 and 48 experienced severe clots, prompting the FDA to issue a warning on Tuesday.
“For people who recently got the vaccine within the last couple of weeks, they should be aware to look for any symptoms,” wrote Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the CDC.
Gov. Phil Scott has stated in his weekly press conferences that due to the emergency status of the current COVID-19 vaccines, the government is not allowed to require citizens to take the shots.
The governor’s current plan is for the state to completely reopen to pre-COVID-19 living by July 4 with a goal of 60 percent vaccination rates among state residents.