Socially responsible businesses unveil legislative agenda


By Jason Starr
The Colchester Sun

The Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility gathered Tuesday in Burlington to preview its lobbying priorities for the upcoming session of the Vermont Legislature.

Roughly 130 business leaders whose membership in the nonprofit trade group signals their focus on beyond-financial bottom lines to include social and environmental justice joined about 15 state legislators at the event.

The group will put its weight behind legislative efforts to tax carbon emissions; mandate that employers provide paid leave; tax-fund health care and decouple it from employment; remove criminal history questions on job applications; and favor Vermont businesses for procurement of state government contracts.

Problems with state contracting were highlighted in a report released Monday by State Auditor Doug Hoffer. The report criticizes several state agencies and departments for “sole source” contracting — failing to put state contracts out for competitive bidding.

“It was a complete surprise, but it confirms the suspicions we have about state procurement practices,” VBSR spokesman and lobbyist Dan Barlow said. “It’s an opening to make some changes.”

Speaker of the House Shap Smith addressed the gathering at the Black Box Theater in Main Street Landing, focusing on the Legislature’s work on two VBSR priorities — health care reform and taxing carbon pollution. He highlighted an emerging effort to expand the state’s subsidized child health care program, Dr. Dynasaur, to cover young adults up to the age of 26.

VBSR supported the state’s thwarted attempt at universal, government-run health care, and the group sees the Dr. Dynasaur expansion plan as a move in the right direction.

“I think we’ve already shed our tears about the single-payer proposal and now we’re looking for what’s next,” Barlow said.

The key to any heath care reform is to decouple Vermonters’ employment status with their health insurance coverage, he said. The VBSR platform states: “The employer-sponsored system is not sustainable and is resulting in increasing costs and diminishing results for workers and businesses. There is no level playing field — businesses that do pay for employee health insurance are at a disadvantage when competing against businesses where the workforce either has no insurance or gets state subsidies.”

The VBSR group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Its legislative agenda was developed through meetings of its board of directors and input from a membership of roughly 750 businesses leaders around the state.