2022 Mid-Session Legislative Update

We’re about to enter “crossover week” in the Vermont Legislature, when House and Senate lawmakers scramble to vote bills out of the committees send them “across” to the other chamber. If a piece of legislation doesn’t “cross over” to the other chamber before the deadline, it likely won’t advance any further.

At this critical juncture, we wanted to share a status update on some of our priority issue areas.

Police Reform

Ending qualified immunity for law enforcement officers S.254

This session, the ACLU of Vermont has worked closely with our allies to introduce legislation that would eliminate qualified immunity for police in Vermont, a measure backed by three in four Vermonters. Not surprisingly, our efforts to make it easier for victims of police misconduct to access justice have been met with coordinated opposition and misinformation from law enforcement. 

The chances of the bill passing this year are narrowing, and though we are disappointed, we are not surprised – police reform is a long-term struggle, and we and our allies will continue fighting to eliminate qualified immunity and to reimagine public safety in Vermont.

Enhancing accountability for law enforcement officers S.250

95% of Vermonters agree that police need to be held accountable when they violate someone’s rights. S.250 includes several measures that would enhance accountability systems for police in Vermont, such as ending qualified immunity, improving data collection, improving training requirements, creating a database of untrustworthy police officers, and prohibiting the use of confessions gained with false information. The bill is currently in the Senate Government Operations Committee and testimony is expected to continue after the town meeting break.

Prohibiting civil arrests at courthouses S.140

When immigration agents are allowed to conduct arrests in courthouses, tremendous harm results. Courts cannot operate fairly and effectively, and people cannot access justice when they do not feel safe appearing in person. S.140 addresses these harms by prohibiting “civil arrests” in Vermont courthouses.

We testified in support of the bill, which is currently in the Senate Judiciary committee, and expected to be sent to the Senate for a full vote before the crossover deadline.

Smart Justice

Racial justice statistics H.546

Good public policy requires good information.  Without data, our court system cannot address persistent racial disparities and other bad outcomes, and that’s why getting comprehensive data from across our criminal legal system remains a top priority for the ACLU of Vermont. 

Thankfully, a bill to help close the data gaps in our system passed the House Judiciary Committee and should come up for a full vote of the House soon. This bill makes significant improvements, but it also creates unnecessary delays, and we will continue advocating to get the data we need to address the disparities in our criminal legal system as soon as possible.

Reclassifying penalties for unlawfully possessing, dispensing, and selling a regulated drug H.505

A recent study by The Council of State Governments found that Black people are fourteen times more likley than white people to be defendants in felony drug cases in Vermont. In response, H.505 would reclassify drug possession offenses so that they are no longer felony crimes, one step towards addressing the racial disparities that plague our legal system.

The bill is in the House Judiciary committee, and we expect to see it headed to the full House for approval.  We support the intent of this bill, but hope lawmakers will continue to move forward with efforts to institute a public health approach to drug use, including by decriminalizing personal possession of drugs in Vermont.

Classification system for criminal offenses against persons H.475

Reducing unnecessary sentence lengths is one of the best tools we have to fight mass incarceration in Vermont. H.475 continues important work done by the Sentencing Commission and the House Judiciary to create uniformity in our laws and reduce unnecessarily long prison sentences. We are in strong support of the provisions of this bill that reduce sentence lengths, though we will continue to push back on provisions in the bill that would increase sentences or fines.

The bill is being debated by the House Judiciary Committee, and if it reaches the Senate, we hope the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up H.475 along with H.87. H.87 was passed by the House last year and would raise Vermont’s felony threshold and reduce sentence lengths for property crimes.

Reproductive Freedom

Reproductive Liberty Amendment Prop 5

We know that the right to decide if and when to become a parent is critical to an individual’s dignity and well-being. Despite unprecedented attacks around the country, Vermont is once again leading the way in defending this fundamental right.

This January, we testified in support of Proposition 5, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, and celebrated the historic moment when it passed the House.

This November, Vermont voters will have the opportunity to make Vermont the first state to explicitly enshrine reproductive liberty in our state constitution by passing the Reproductive liberty Amendment. Pledge to vote yes today and learn how to get involved in the campaign!