Significant strides were made this year in the legislature around a number of civil liberties issues. Check out our quick rundown of the high points (as well as some disappointments). Details for each bill can be found on our full legislative report.
- Taser use regulated. Training and deployment standards will be developed into a statewide policy that all law enforcement agencies must adopt. Vermont is believed first in the nation to adopt statewide regulations.
- Race data collection mandated. Allegations of racial profiling have led to calls from the ACLU and others to require police to collect basic “stop” data when motorists are pulled over. After 15 years of work, success was achieved this year thanks to the efforts of migrant worker advocates.
- Innocence protection measures put in place. Recording of interrogations of suspects in high-level crimes will be required, and standards will be established for conducting eyewitness identifications.
- Abortion ban repealed. Leftover 19th-century language never taken out of state statutes was finally removed. It was a low-key nod to reproductive freedom rights.
- Ethics panel established in House. A series of transparency and accountability proposals sugared off to one successful measure: an ethics panel will be created to receive inquiries and complaints about conflicts of interest House members might face, and members will have to disclose the boards they serve on.
- Notice of “collateral consequences” required. It’s hard to imagine, but someone convicted of a crime, or about to accept a plea bargain, cannot now be told the totality of their sentence. That’s because there is no comprehensive list of all the things that could happen to you in addition to jail time and/or a fine. That will soon change.
- Police certification levels reviewed. Full-time police officers and part-time officers can exercise the same policing authorities – yet regular officers get 16 weeks of training at the Vermont Police Academy, part-timers only two weeks. A review will explore “tiered” certification.
- Rules on public meetings revised. An open meeting bill first proposed in 2011 finally made it through the legislature this year. The bill takes steps both forward and back, but overall it's a plus.
As usual, there were disappointments:
- Drone bill didn’t fly. A bill introduced in 2012 requiring police to get a search warrant before using drones for surveillance never got a hearing. Drones are slowly making their way into the state. While no police department is known to have them, federal Border Patrol agents do.
- Electronic communications privacy bill ignored. The ACLU has repeatedly expressed concern about police access to personal electronic communications. Citizens’ protections against government searches and seizures need an update. But a bill bringing e-communications under the same protections as non-digital media failed to attract legislators’ attention.
- Privacy of electronic medical records questioned; some protections added, but more needed. We fought hard before the Green Mountain Care Board to require strict privacy controls on access to records in the Vermont Health Information Exchange. But what’s really needed is a private right of action for patients to sue when their records are breached.
- “Drugged” driving bill hammered out. A last-minute compromise created a new standard for when police can take drivers off the road.
- Sex offender addresses may soon be posted on Web. Tucked onto the “collateral consequences” bill was language allowing Internet posting of the street addresses of certain sex offenders.
- School funding, consolidation, and privatization issues tangled until they expire. A range of complaints ran out the legislative clock.
- Campaign finance reform again falls short. The ACLU has consistently argued for greater disclosure of how money flows through politics. The legislature has consistently tried to adjust how much money who or what can give to whom, how, and when.