Government Reform

Government Reform

Building a Movement for Happiness

May 15, 2014; John de Graaf; Truthout

Vermont and Bhutan have embraced happiness rather than GDP as a measure of social success. The world's happiest countries share surprising characteristics - a small gap between rich and poor; work-life balance; urban design favoring community over cars; high degrees of interpersonal trust; a strong social safety net, and the highest tax rates in the world.

You probably missed it, but April 13, 2014, marked the third annual Pursuit of Happiness Day. April 13 just happens to be the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those famous words "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" into our Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson and other American revolutionary leaders including Washington, Adams and Franklin all believed that the main purpose of government was increasing the happiness of its citizens. They said so on many occasions. But the idea of government promoting happiness or its corollary, "wellbeing," is more often derided in contemporary politics - "social engineering," some call it.

One significant exception is the state of Vermont. In addition to electing the most progressive and independent of US senators, Bernie Sanders, Vermont has become a laboratory for promoting new ways of understanding and promoting happiness and wellbeing. Its governor, Peter Shumlin, has proclaimed Pursuit of Happiness Day in Vermont for the past three years. Its legislature, with support from Democrats, Republicans and Progressive Party members, has established a state GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator, that uses some two dozen measures of health, wealth, education, leisure and sustainability to measure progress (Maryland has the same index and other states may follow soon).

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Progressive Legislative Roundup

Aptil 18, 2014; Bob Kinzel; VPR

Click here to listen!

When the 2014 legislative session started, leaders in the Progressive Party were expressing concern with some of the policies of Governor Shumlin. How do they feel about the Governor now as the session winds down?

We’ll talk with the House Progressive Caucus leader, Burlington Representative Chris Pearson, and with Enosburg Representative Cindy Weed and Senator David Zuckerman about the progressive legislative priorities for the end of the session.

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Will the House balk at holding an earlier primary?

March 31, 2014; Nancy Remsen; Burlington Free Press

Robert Millar, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, worries about making changes to the process so late in an election year. Many Vermonters wouldn’t be aware of the schedule change — which obviously isn’t yet official, he said. And the change would take effect so fast, it would leave potential candidates with “much less time to make the extremely important and difficult decision of whether to run for public office and then to gather the required signatures.”

“I find it deeply concerning that this major change in our elections calendar could move forward based on what I perceive to be mainly misconceptions and unsubstantiated fears,” Millar said. He argues that the Department of Justice lacks authority to move Vermont’s primary date.

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Minor guardianship bill passes House

February 14, 2014; Laura Krantz; VTDigger

House members Thursday afternoon passed a bill that overhauls the legal process for transferring guardianship of a minor to someone other than the parents.

H.581 now goes to the Senate, where family advocates say they will once again fight for changes that didn’t make it into the House version.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Haas, P/D-Rochester, establishes clearer processes for situations in which someone other than the state, such as a grandparent, assumes responsibility for a child.

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Vermont signs $2.8-million software contract

february 3, 2014; Nancy Remsen; Burlington Free Press

MONTPELIER — When the first campaign finance reports for the 2014 election are filed in July, the office of the Secretary of State hopes candidates will be able to submit their reports electronically if they want.

Electronic filing of contributions and spending on campaigns would be voluntary, but state officials want this component of the new election system to be ready for testing. The campaign finance application will eventually allow the public to conduct searches across candidate reports, for example, to better understand how money is being spent on elections...

...Robert Millar, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, agreed that a searchable database of campaign contributions would increase transparency, but he was disappointed that a new campaign finance law allows bigger contributions. “It will be increased transparency of increased spending.”

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Vt. lawmakers told whistle-blowers fear payback

February 3, 2014; Dave Gram; Times Argus

MONTPELIER — It started with what seemed like a simple request: State Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer wanted an exemption from Vermont’s public records law so he could protect the identities of state employees who report waste, fraud or abuse in their agencies.

But as testimony unfolded recently before the House Government Operations Committee, the subject mushroomed into a broader discussion about the concern many state employees have about coming forward to report problems in government.

Former Rep. Steve Howard, now the chief lobbyist for the Vermont State Employees’ Association, said the union surveyed members last year and found that fear of retaliation for speaking out in state workplaces is widespread.

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