Note: This post will be updated (last updated 6/17/19)
Over the past few years, we have experienced sustained and unprecedented attacks on our most fundamental rights and values. In this context, it is especially important for Vermont and its elected officials to show leadership in securing our freedoms and liberties for ourselves and future generations, and to serve as a model for other states to do the same.
This year, despite some disappointments, Vermont celebrated historic civil liberties wins and the ACLU played a central role. This session, we tracked nearly 120 bills and testified dozens of times on legislation critical to our constitutional and civil rights, including:
Defending Reproductive Rights
- Passage of H.57, an act to related to preserving the right to abortion in Vermont. With increased threats to reproductive rights at the national level, Vermonters made clear they wanted to ensure abortion care remains safe and legal in Vermont. This bill safeguards the right to reproductive health services like abortion and ensures that no government entity can infringe upon or restrict that right. Status: signed into law by Governor Scott.
- Passage of PR.5, a constitutional amendment that preserves the right to reproductive liberty. This amendment recognizes the importance of reproductive autonomy and ensures it is given the highest legal protection possible. Status: passed by both bodies, must be passed by both chambers again in the next biennium, then put on the 2022 ballot for voters. If successful, Vermont will be the first state to enshrine reproductive rights in its constitution.
Smart Justice Vermont
- H.543, act relating to capital construction and State bonding (including evaluation of new prison construction). H. 543: initially included $250,000 to study building a new women’s prison, without any input from stakeholders on size or programs. After the ACLU and its supporters raised concerns, the bill was amended. The bill and the budget, H. 542, now include studies on Vermont’s incarcerated population and alternatives to incarceration that will inform the size and scope of any future prison construction, including a “Justice Reinvestment II” initiative with the stated goal—which we share—of creating a “smarter criminal justice system.” Status: H.542 awaits the governor’s signature. H.543 was signed into law by Governor Scott.
- H. 460: expands qualifying crimes for expungement or sealing, including drug possession and DUI. The legislation does not go as far as it could, but still represents an important step towards reducing collateral consequences for past convictions. Status: signed into law by Governor Scott.
- H. 132: provides protections against housing discrimination for victims of sexual and domestic violence. This builds on successful litigation by the ACLU to end the practice of evicting tenants who call for emergency services “too frequently,” which disproportionately impacts victims of domestic and sexual violence. Status: signed into law by Governor Scott.
Advancing Racial Justice
- H. 3: promotes the adoption of ethnic and social equity studies in Vermont schools. This bill creates a working group to update Vermont school curricula to recognize fully the history, contributions, and perspectives of ethnic groups and social groups. Status: signed into law by Governor Scott.
- S. 68: replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Vermont will now officially celebrate and honor the contributions of Native Americans and indigenous people in our state and across the nation. Status: signed into law by Governor Scott.
- H. 518: strengthens protections for immigrants against federal government overreach by allowing cities and towns to restrict police communications with ICE and Border Patrol. Status: signed into law by Governor Scott.
There were several other bills we worked on this session that did not pass, which we will advocate for during the 2020 legislative session:
- H.107 (Paid Family Leave) and S.23 (Minimum Wage): We continue to support raising the minimum wage and enacting paid family leave in Vermont. Unfortunately, the legislature pared down both bills significantly and the chambers were not able to come to an agreement on these bills before the House adjourned for the year. We will continue working for strong legislation on both counts in 2020.
- PR.2: amends the Vermont Constitution to establish a clear prohibition on slavery. The wording of Vermont’s Constitution currently allows for the enslavement of those under twenty-one. This amendment makes clear that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited. Status: passed by Senate, in the House Government Operations Committee.
- H. 103: defelonization of drug possession. This bill would downgrade all felony drug possession crimes to misdemeanors, decreasing punishment and the collateral consequences experienced by those struggling with substance use disorder and others who use illegal drugs. Status: in House Judiciary Committee.
- H. 284: Justice Transparency Act. This legislation, advanced by the ACLU of Vermont, requires standard and comprehensive data reporting from all criminal justice system entities, including state’s attorneys. With better data, Vermont can finally identify the sources of persistent racial disparities and craft smarter criminal justice policies. Status: in House Judiciary Committee.
- H. 162: decriminalizes possession of non-prescription buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a medication used to help treat substance use disorder. People who are trying to recover should not be penalized or criminalized for the use of this medication. Status: in House Human Services Committee.
- S. 54: allows for roadside oral fluid testing to determining if a driver is impaired by marijuana. As in years past, we again advocated against warrantless roadside oral fluid testing relating to legalized cannabis. S. 54, currently under consideration by the House, contains evidentiary, non-roadside saliva testing. We continue to oppose this test, but this language is a huge improvement from past years. Status: in House Ways and Means Committee.
Looking ahead to 2020, it is clear states will continue to be critical battlegrounds in the fight to secure civil liberties – and Vermont will be at the forefront. We and our supporters will be ready.