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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Town Meeting Survey Shows Support For Cell Phone Ban, GMO Labels

The preliminary results of Senator Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey show very strong support for a number of bills that expand the role of state government.

But the survey -- which the Washington County Republican has distributed for more than four decades --comes with big caveats. It’s not a scientific poll, and the results represent the views of a self selected group of people who filled the survey out on Town Meeting Day.

But many lawmakers pay attention to the results in the second half of the session because roughly 14,000 people participate. This year there’s very strong support for three bills that will be considered in the next few weeks.

By more than a three to one margin, people responding to the survey support raising the state minimum wage. Doyle isn’t surprised.

“A number of people are having a hard time making it in Vermont,” he said. “It’s so overwhelming that that erases some of disadvantages of raising the minimum wage.”

"How is it written in such a way to make a challenge less likely if a legal challenge does occur." Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis on some concerns at the Statehouse over a GMO labeling bill

Eric Davis is a retired Middlebury College political science professor. He says there could be a downside if lawmakers raise the minimum wage much beyond $10.10 an hour because some people could lose their eligibility in a number of state benefit programs.

“So the Legislature is going to have to figure out carefully how to increase the wage for low-income workers without at the same time causing their total bottom line of earned income and benefits to drop,” said Davis.

The Doyle survey also showed very strong support for legislation that requires the labeling of food products made with genetically modified organisms.

Davis says the big question at the Statehouse is if Vermont should go it alone, and risk a major lawsuit from national food processors, or wait for several other states to pass similar legislation.

“How is it written in such a way to make a challenge less likely if a legal challenge does occur,” said Davis. “And where will the money be in the Attorney General’s office budget to defend the bill in court?”

Legislation banning drivers from using cell phones also received very strong support on the Doyle survey. The bill passed the House with a huge majority vote and it’s now pending in the Senate.

Gov. Peter Shumlin opposes the bill but Davis questions whether the governor would actually veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

“The better part of valor for the governor on this issue might be, if his personal views continue to be strongly opposed, [to] simply to let the bill become law without his signature,” he said.

The survey also found that respondents were split on the issue of legalizing marijuana. 44 percent said yes, 45 percent said no and 11 percent were undecided.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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