Update, March 10, 2023: We are about to enter “crossover week” in the Vermont Legislature, when House and Senate lawmakers scramble to vote bills out of the committees and send them “across” to the other chamber. If a piece of legislation doesn’t “cross over” to the other chamber before the deadline (March 17), it likely won’t be signed into law this year, though the legislature can continue working on it next year.
This is a critical time to make your voice heard. Tell your lawmakers to advance essential reforms like the ones detailed below, before the crossover deadline.
Community Safety and Policing Reforms
We entered the legislative session with an eye towards investing in proven solutions that address the root causes of crime and make our communities safer and more equitable. We also set out to advance reforms that eliminate unnecessary interactions between the public and law enforcement and help prevent misconduct by creating greater accountability for police officers.
Ending unnecessary traffic stops (H.176) ACT NOW
H.176 would address overpolicing and advance racial equity by limiting law enforcement's ability to pull over drivers for "non-public safety" reasons such as an expired registration, obstructed license plate, or broken taillight. Black drivers are more likely than white drivers to be pulled over for minor traffic offenses that do not affect the safety of other motorists. Placing stronger limits on the broad authority we have ceded to our law enforcement agencies — particularly in policing our roadways — can be one of the most direct ways to further racial justice and equity in our state. Learn more here.
This bill is a major racial justice and police reform priority, and we are advocating for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee so the bill can advance further. It is critical that you contact your legislators and ask them to pass H.176 this year.
Preventing coercive interrogations (S.6) ACT NOW
Under current Vermont law, police officers are permitted to lie to suspects and witnesses during questioning. This tactic is known to elicit false confessions, not only hurting people who falsely confess, but derailing investigations and denying communities access to truthful and just resolutions. S.6 would prevent police from using deceptive and coercive interrogation methods on young people in Vermont. We have advocated for the expansion of this bill to prohibit the use of these unjust tactics in all interrogations—regardless of a person’s age. Read more here about S.6.
S.6 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since it includes funding to support improved oversight of law enforcement, the bill is currently in front of the Senate Approprations Committee. We expect this bill will be taken up by the full Senate in time for crossover.
Civilian oversight of law enforcement (S.75)
A bill called S.75 would enable all Vermont communities to enhance police accountability. It would authorize municipalities to create civilian oversight boards without undergoing a charter change, which presents a major hurdle to establishing meaningful community oversight of police. S.75 would empower these boards to receive, investigate, and adjudicate complaints of misconduct against law enforcement officers, and grant them appropriate disciplinary power.
The bill is currently in the Senate Government Operations Committee, where we hope to see continued hearings and passage before the crossover deadline. Learn more here about community oversight of police and how to get involved.
Rejecting prison expansion (Capital bill) ACT NOW
Though policymakers have reduced our prison population by about 40 percent from its peak over a decade ago, Scott administration proposal in the 2024-25 Capital bill would jeopardize that progress. The plan would expand Vermont’s prison system at enormous costs to incarcerated people and taxpayers, while ignoring the opportunity to advance thoughtful, evidence-driven reforms to our criminal legal system and to reduce our reliance on prisons. We sent a letter urging Vermont lawmakers to reject multimillion-dollar prison expansion and instead consider lower-cost alternatives to incarceration and continue to reduce our prison population through evidence-based reforms. Read it here.
The House Corrections and Institutions Committee will be working on the Capital bill and deciding how to move forward in the next two weeks. Now is the time to act. Tell your legislator(s) to invest in people, not prisons, and reject the administration’s prison construction proposal.
Reducing the imposition of cash bail (S.27)
Cash bail is a fundamentally unjust practice that unfairly targets low-income Vermonters. Decisions about whether to hold someone in prison before they have been convicted of a crime should be based solely on the risk they present to their community, not how much money they have. Cash bail comes at a great cost—both fiscally and in the toll it takes on our communities. As introduced, S.27 would end the imposition of cash bail for those charged with a misdemeanor. This bill is a good start, but we hope to see the legislature expand its scope to end cash bail statewide, regardless of the type of crime a person is charged with.
The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on S.27 and will be identifying important stakeholders to participate in the pending study to end the imposition of cash bail. This should move forward in the next two weeks.
Take action: Call the State House Sergeant at Arms at 802-828-2228 and leave a message for your Senator, asking them to pass S.27.
Shield laws protecting patients and providers (H.89 and S.37) ACT NOW
Vermont voters made history in 2022 by passing the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, which codified reproductive autonomy as a constitutional right for everyone in Vermont. But as politicians across the county move to severely restrict access to essential reproductive and gender-affirming health care services, some will attempt to criminalize care provided across state lines and enable frivolous and abusive civil litigation. In response, states like New York, Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts have advanced “shield laws” to protect providers and patients who administer or receive health care services that are legal within the state.
The Vermont legislature is working to pass similar bills this year. H.89 and S.37 would function through several legal mechanisms. They include enabling “claw back” lawsuits, protecting patients’ and providers’ personal information, safeguarding providers’ ability to practice medicine when offering legally protected health care, and prohibiting Vermont officials from assisting another state in pursuing criminal or civil liability for providers. Learn more here.
H.89 passed the House in February by a vote of 130-13 and we expect it to be taken up by the Seante Judiciary Committee in the second half of the legislative session, after March 17.
S.37 passed out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee. We expect the bill to go to the full Senate for a vote before the crossover deadline.
Vermont has a longstanding commitment to providing quality public education to all, regardless of geography or status. Last year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court jeopardized those values, and put our state—and our students—in a difficult position. In Carson v. Makin (2022), the Court ruled that where states provide funding to private schools, they can no longer exclude religious schools from receiving public dollars.
Given Vermont’s many small towns and rural areas, our education system has long relied on private schools to educate students living in places not served by public institutions, or “school choice towns.” For years, the State has paid public tuition to those independent schools, while trying to maintain appropriate safeguards.
Numerous bills related to the town tuition program, including H.258, are currently under consideration by the House Education Committee. We have been providing comments to guide the committee, detailing how Vermont can both comply with the radically shifting Supreme Court precedent while upholding our commitment to a public education system that is well-funded, equitable, and serves all students. Find recent testimony here.