This legislative session, the ACLU of Vermont helped enact a series of historic bills that will help to shape a more inclusive, equitable, and just Vermont. We are excited to share some of the most significant victories with you, our supporters, who made it all possible.
Even with the many challenges of this unprecedented legislative session, the ACLU of Vermont and our allies were able to pass groundbreaking legislation – including several reforms that are the best of their kind in the country. We are excited to announce major wins in police accountability, Smart Justice, reproductive freedom, and voting rights.
The enactment of S.119 requires that when police use force it must be reasonable, necessary, and proportionate under the totality of the circumstances. The law will be the nation’s strongest statewide use of force policy. The law prioritizes de-escalation and requires decision makers to examine everything leading up to police use of force when determining if force was justified.
The enactment of S.124, Misc. Law Enforcement amendments, bans the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, provides increased community oversight of law enforcement, and requires the state to develop, adopt, and monitor quality of life indicators for people who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) in Vermont. The makes Vermont the first state in the nation to put a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of inaccurate and invasive facial recognition technology. It will also improve citizen oversight of law enforcement and ensure the state is measuring and reporting on key quality of life indicators that impact the lives of BIPOC people in Vermont.
The ACLU of Vermont is proud to be leading the country with both monumental bills. Although this is a win for all Vermonters, we know that the BIPOC community and people with mental health conditions are disproportionately impacted by policing. Our continuous work to dismantle systemic racism in all its forms is not close to being over, but these bills are two steps closer to making Vermont a place that is more just and equitable for everyone that calls this state their home.
In addition to reimagining policing, we are celebrating the enactment of S.338, the justice reinvestment bill. The law aims to make fundamental changes to some of the biggest drivers of incarceration in our state and reaffirms Vermont's commitment to safely reducing our prison population. The bill makes significant progress toward creating a criminal justice system that is more just, humane, and rooted in community-based solutions. Some of the most sweeping changes include allowing people to earn time off their sentences for good behavior, moving the state toward a system of presumptive parole, allowing people to appeal when they are imprisoned for technical violations of community supervision, and requiring stakeholders to develop recommendations on how to reduce racial and geographic disparities in our criminal legal system. The law also advances the goal of investing in people not prisons because it uses savings from reducing the prison population to support services that can prevent incarceration and help people successfully reenter their communities.
The ACLU of Vermont further advanced the goals of the Smart Justice campaign by helping to enact S.234 and S.54, which taken together, automatically expunge the records of anyone convicted of possessing less than 2oz of cannabis, decriminalize the possession of less than 2oz of cannabis, and create a path froward to implement retail sale of cannabis in Vermont. These laws make further progress in ending the racist war on drugs and start the process of addressing some of the harms done by the criminalization of cannabis, all of which are plans in the ACLU Smart Justice campaign.
We also supported efforts to address the racial disparities that exist within our Department of Corrections, which are some of the worst in the country. S.24, an act relating to a report on racial equity and bias in the Department of Corrections (DOC) requires the commissioner of the DOC to develop and present a strategy and long-term plan to address systemic racism and bias and promote diversity and inclusion in the DOC. This law recognizes the bias and discrimination that exist within our DOC, for it requires the commissioner to develop and implement a public plan to address these issues.
Since launching our Blueprint for Smart Justice Vermont last fall, we have seen incredible progress in reducing the population of incarcerated Vermonters and reinvesting the savings in services that improve public safety, reduce recidivism and revocations to prison, and support individuals as they reenter their communities. The work is not over, and we will continue to build off these successes in the coming year.
Reproductive freedom has been central to the ACLU of Vermont’s mission as we create a more equitable and just state for all people that call Vermont home. We are ecstatic to inform our community that H.663, an act relating to expanding the access to contraceptives, was passed into law this legislative session. Although Vermont has taken proactive steps to improve access to effective methods of contraceptives, the legislature found that some of these initiatives have not been implemented consistently across the state. H.663 requires that all secondary schools in Vermont will provide contraceptives to students free of charge in order to prevent or reduce unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in the state.
As we approach the election season in the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACLU of Vermont and our partner organizations championed important legislation that ensures equitable and safe voting for all Vermonters. S.348, an act relating to temporary election procedures in the year 2020, permits the mailing of 2020 General Election ballots to all registered voters, for the purpose of protecting the public health, safety, and welfare of voters, election workers, and candidates in carrying out elections.
Despite this year presenting all of us with unforeseen and unprecedented challenges, we were able to help achieve a historic series of victories that will improve the lives of the people who call this state home. We would like to thank the legislators, Governor Scott, and all of the Vermonters whose efforts made these landmark victories possible. We are proud of the work that went into this legislative session, and we look forward to working together to make Vermont a more equitable and just place in the next biennium.