As Vermont’s legislative session passes the halfway mark, the ACLU is tracking more than 100 bills with the potential to impact Vermonters’ constitutional rights.  Below are details on some of the priority bills that we’ll be asking our members to voice their support for in the weeks ahead. But you don't have to wait for us. Contact your legislators today to let them know where you stand!

Criminal Justice Reform

H.728 Bail Reform

The use of cash bail in the US means that hundreds of thousands of people are locked up every year without being convicted of a crime - simply because they’re too poor to make bail. We have more to do on bail reform, but H.728 gives Vermont a good start by:

  • Eliminating cash bail for low-level misdemeanors, like disorderly conduct or theft of property valued at less than $900
  • Requiring courts to consider a defendant's financial means when imposing bail
  • Changing the basis for imposing bail from "risk of nonappearance" to "risk of flight," ensuring detention is considered for those deliberately avoiding prosecution, rather than those who may miss a court date through no fault of their own

Status: H.728 has passed the House and is awaiting Senate consideration. We are urging legislators to help fight the practice of jailing Vermonters simply because they are poor by voting YES on H.728.

H. 660 Establishes a Commission on Sentencing Disparities

Unlike most states, Vermont does not have a system that puts crimes into different categories depending on their severity and appropriate punishment. This has led to an unjust patchwork of sentencing practices, with comparable crimes in different regions resulting in very different sentences. Far too many Vermonters are imprisoned for far too long as a result.

H.660 creates a commission to review Vermont’s criminal offenses and place each one in a standard penalty classification system. This commission will have the opportunity to help reverse mass incarceration in Vermont through fairer sentencing standards.

Status: H.660 has been passed by the House and is awaiting Senate consideration. We are urging legislators to support a criminal justice system that treats all Vermonters the same regardless of where they live by voting YES on H.660.

Racial Justice

S.281 Creates an Independent, Funded Board to Advance Racial Justice in Vermont

The Attorney General and Human Rights Commission taskforce found in its report last year that systemic racism pervades every corner of Vermont life: education, labor & employment, housing, healthcare and economic development. The report's topline recommendation? “Vermont state government will devote sufficient resources to reducing identified racial disparities across all systems of state government.”

S.281 answers that call by establishing an independent, funded board tasked with:

  • Providing education on systemic racism and how to combat it
  • Mitigating systemic racism in all systems of State government and public education
  • Creating a centralized platform for race-based data collection and overseeing its collection and dissemination
  • Appoint a Chief Civil Rights Officer to oversee training, collection of data and records, and comprehensive review of state systems with performance targets for improvement

If we're going to end systemic racism in this state, Vermont needs to put its money where its mouth is and invest in making it happen.

Status: S.821 has been passed by the Senate and is awaiting House consideration. We are urging legislators to advance racial justice in Vermont by voting YES on S.281

H.794 Adopts Ethnic Studies into Statewide K-12 Curriculum

H.794 directs the Agency of Education to convene an independent advisory board to develop statewide K-12 ethnic studies standards, focused on teaching the histories and contributions of non-dominant racial, ethnic, and social groups. The advisory board will identify standards that increase the cultural competence of students, provide access to curriculum that enables students to explore questions of identity, racial equality and racism, and ensures all curricular and extracurricular programs are welcoming to all students.

Status: H.794 is awaiting House consideration. We are urging the legislature to enrich the education of Vermont’s students and fight systemic racism by voting YES on H.794

Open Government

H.910 Public Records Act Reform

The Public Records Act says that the holder of a public record must “promptly produce it” upon request, but without a definition of “promptly” in the law, government agencies drag their feet for weeks, months and years in response to legitimate records requests. H.910 defines “promptly,” with some exceptions, as within three business days, which should help Vermonters get the information they need from their government faster and make obstruction easier to recognize.

Status: H. 910 has passed the House and is awaiting Senate consideration. We are urging the legislature to take this step towards good governance by to voting YES on H.910

Looking Ahead

There are many other bills that we’re monitoring and stand ready support or confront.

The legislature has a huge opportunity to shape a Vermont that works for everyone by taking up and passing an increase to the minimum wage (S.40, passed by the Senate, awaiting House consideration) and instituting paid family leave (H.196, passed by the House, awaiting Senate consideration). We’re also carefully watching a deeply problematic bill on roadside saliva testing and an attempt to exempt pollution management plans from the Public Records Act.

Thank you for working with us to advance civil liberties in Vermont.