As the Vermont legislature begins their 2022 session, the ACLU of Vermont is excited to work with legislators to advance and defend the civil liberties of everyone that calls our state home. Below are some of the priority issues that we hope the legislature will address in the coming session in the areas of policing, smart justice, and reproductive freedom.
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End Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement Officers in Vermont: Vermonters agree that when police violate someone’s civil rights, they should be held accountable for their actions and victims should get the justice they deserve. The legal doctrine of qualified immunity prevents those things from happening, effectively closing the courthouse doors to victims of police misconduct and making it harder to hold abusive officers accountable. Vermont has made great strides in recent years at reimagining public safety – collecting more police data, limiting the authority of police to use force, and reducing the number of people incarcerated – and the next step in this ongoing work is to ensure that victims of police misconduct can have their day in court. We are greatly appreciative of all the legislative leaders who have committed to advancing this discussion, and we hope to see legislation to end qualified immunity move forward this session.
Remove Armed Police from Schools: Vermont's children need more support from trained counselors and mental health professionals, not policing. The presence of armed cops in schools leads to an increase in student referrals, arrests, and convictions, even for low-level offenses. Police in schools disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and low-income students. As part of our ten-point plan to reimagine policing in Vermont we and over a dozen organizations from across the state called for an end to armed police in Vermont schools. Legislation to do just that has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, and we hope legislators will move forward with hearings on this important issue this session.
Collect Racial Justice Statistics: Ensuring comprehensive data collection across our criminal legal system has been a top priority of the ACLU of Vermont since we first worked with legislators to introduce a bill on the topic in 2018. Since then, there has been slow but consistent progress, including three reports from the Racial Disparities Advisory Panel calling for the collection of high discretion high impact decision points in the criminal legal system. We are calling on lawmakers to pass legislation that requires the collection, analysis, and public distribution of comprehensive data from across our criminal legal system.
Decriminalize Drug Possession: Thanks to the work of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, we have learned more about some of the drivers of the racial disparities that exist within our state’s incarceration rates. After a first of its kind data analysis from the Council of State Governments we learned that two of the classes of crimes where we see the most pronounced racial disparities are charges for felony drug possession and felony property crimes. In response, the Justice Reinvestment Working Group has recommended that the legislature examine how to reclassify drug possession offenses so that they would no longer be felony crimes. The ACLU of Vermont supports this effort but challenge the legislature to move further and decriminalize drug possession in line with a public health approach.
Raise the Felony Threshold for Property Crimes: Over the last two years we worked closely with members of the House Judiciary Committee to reclassify Vermont’s property criminal offenses. H.87, which passed out of the House of Representatives in 2021, would make it harder for people to be convicted of felony property crimes by raising the felony threshold from $900- $3,000. This would change Vermont’s felony thresholds from the lowest in the region to the highest in the nation. This bill is squarely in line with the recommendations of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group that found felony property crimes is one of the areas of our criminal legal system where Black defendants are most disproportionately represented.
Pass the Reproductive Liberty Amendment: Proposition 5, otherwise known as The Reproductive Liberty Amendment, would amend the Vermont constitution to guarantee Vermonters the right to become pregnant and carry a pregnancy to term; to choose or refuse sterilization; to choose abortion, and to choose or refuse contraception. A constitutional amendment allows Vermonters an opportunity to preserve these liberties. This is one of the most effective tools to ensure the reproductive rights of everyone in our state. We hope the House of Representatives will pass the proposition swiftly so that we can ensure the question can go to the voters for approval in November 2022.