For the first time since the state’s public records law was written 35 years ago, the window on police criminal investigations will open a little wider thanks to passage of S. 148 on Tuesday, the last day of this year’s legislative session. Final adoption will come upon gubernatorial approval, which Gov. Peter Shumlin, a supporter of the measure, will undoubtedly provide. The bill is a significant advance for government transparency and greater accountability.
You need some background to understand this post: S. 7 started out as a bill to protect job applicants from being forced by a prospective employer to turn over Facebook and other social media site passwords. In the course of consideration in the Senate, the bill first morphed into an employer online surveillance bill, then a study of both job applicant protection and employer surveillance, and finally a study plus minimal privacy protections for someone’s smart phone and computer. When the bill landed in the House, the minimal privacy protections were stripped out — and a patent infringement bill targeting “trolls” was added.
A nasty ruckus has erupted at the statehouse over what some see as a “stealth” provision in the annual tax bill that would allow the legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office “or its agents” to obtain Vermonters’ tax returns.
Rhode Island joined all other New England states this week in enacting a law guaranteeing gay and lesbian couples the same right to marry as straight couples. Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill Thursday, shortly after passage by the Rhode Island legislature. The victory capped a long struggle — sidetracked last year when a marriage bill was made over into a civil unions bill and passed. That measure imposed onerous restrictions, such as a broad “religious” exemption that essentially allowed any religiously affiliated institutions or employees of those institutions to disregard the validity of a couple’s civil union.
Tags: marriage equality
Within five years after federal approval of drone access to U.S. airspace, up to 7,500 non-military unmanned devices will be flying overhead, predicts the Federal Aviation Administration. The prediction came at a recent U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, chaired by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. The high-tech devices no longer seem like science fiction. A Vermont lawmaker, Rep. Kevin Christie of Hartford, thinks it’s time to plan for how they’ll be used. He’s introduced a bill, H. 540 to prohibit drone surveillance without a warrant, except in emergency situations. He’s been joined by two dozen other representatives from across the political spectrum — Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, the right, the left, and the center.
For the first time since the creation of the World Wide Web, Congress has made it clear that all private communications online require a search warrant based on probable cause. That’s the word from ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese in Washington following a vote Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee to send the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 2013 to the Senate floor. The prime mover on the bill has been Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who was in the Senate when the first ECPA law was passed — in 1986. How long ago was that? Mark Zuckerberg was in day care.
Discussion of police access to the state’s e-database of Vermonters’ prescription drug records is seeping back into consideration of changes to the state’s drug laws. The discussion is arising in the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chair, Sen. Dick Sears, last year led an effort to allow police to access Vermonters’ Rx records without first obtaining a warrant. His insistence that such a provision be included in last year’s multi-faceted drug reform bill caused the bill’s defeat.
For the first time since Macadam Mason’s death 10 months ago following a Taser shot from a Vermont state trooper, a Vermont official has apologized publicly to Mason’s family for what happened.
Legislative committees are inviting the public to come to the statehouse and express their views on two hot-button issues of the year — End-of-Life Choices and Tasers. Hearings are being held on successive days: End-of-Life Choices on Tuesday in the House chamber and Tasers on Wednesday in Room 11. Both hearings begin at 5:30 p.m. and are scheduled to run until 7:30 p.m. Sign-up for testifying opens at 5 p.m.
Secretary of State Jim Condos was asked Wednesday by members of the House Government Operations Committee how much it costs, on average, to mount a race for the Vermont House. Condos told committee members, “We don’t know.” The state’s campaign finance reporting system is “too antiquated to tell.”