State House Priorities in 2023

Vermont’s 2023-2024 legislative biennium has officially begun. As policymakers craft legislative solutions to the complex challenges facing our communities, we urge them to advance policies that protect and advance our civil rights and civil liberties. This year, our team is especially focused on legislation related to community safety, policing, criminal legal reform, education, and bodily autonomy.

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Community Safety and Policing Reforms

Vermont remains one of the safest states in the country, and we have made great progress enacting smarter, fairer criminal justice policies in recent years. As we work to address public safety challenges, we need to invest in the proven solutions that address the root causes of crime and make our communities safer and more equitable: namely, affordable housing, education, mental health, substance use services, and community-based alternatives to incarceration.

We also need to continue a conversation about the appropriate role of law enforcement and how to ensure accountability for police misconduct. We strongly support legislation that builds on the work done last year to:

  • Limit racially discriminatory traffic stops
  • Allow for community oversight of law enforcement
  • Curb deceptive police interrogation techniques that lead to false confessions
  • Create a statewide database to track officers with documented credibility problems
  • End qualified immunity for officials who violate civil rights
  • …And other meaningful reforms.

Smart Justice Reform

This year, we mark the 5-year anniversary of the ACLU's Smart Justice Vermont campaign and remain committed to the goals of reducing Vermont's prison population by 50% through evidence-based policy reforms and combatting racial disparities.

Thanks in part to coordinated cross-government initiatives like Justice Reinvestment, Vermont’s prison population has been reduced by 40% from its peak of 2,200 down to approximately 1,300 individuals. Significantly fewer people are being returned to prison for violations of community supervision, which used to account for approximately 80% of new prison admissions. And, last year the state created the Bureau of Racial Justice Statistics, which will bring greater transparency to our criminal legal system to help eradicate racial disparities that remain among the worst in the nation.

Despite that progress, we are seeing a renewed push to expand our prison system through new construction. We have very real concerns that the focus on prison expansion ignores more effective, lower cost community-based alternatives to incarceration, and could put the services people need to reintegrate into their communities behind prison walls – at great cost and after much delay. We urge legislators to continue supporting smarter policy reforms and reject a costly prison expansion.

Education

Vermont has a longstanding commitment to guaranteeing access to high-quality public education and ensuring that our public e­­ducation system is well-funded, equitable, and rooted in democratic values. For years, our state has paid public tuition to a number of independent schools, while trying to maintain safeguards, including those designed to prevent public dollars from funding religious instruction. Indeed, Vermont’s state constitution contains provisions disallowing the “compelled support” of religious institutions.

Last year, however, in Carson v. Makin the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that where states provide funding to private schools, they can no longer exclude religious schools from receiving public dollars.

Following Carson, Vermont must act to uphold our fundamental values, while keeping our public education system and traditions strong. The state can achieve this by ensuring that public dollars go to public schools, or by limiting public funding to a designated number of independent schools that act in accordance with the same nondiscriminatory and generally applicable standards as do public schools. We must also strengthen existing anti-discrimination protections so that all students receive equitable and inclusive education in Vermont.

The ACLU of Vermont is committed to working with stakeholders and policymakers to chart a path forward that both complies with the radically shifting Supreme Court precedent and upholds our core democratic values and traditions.

Bodily Autonomy

The passage of the Reproductive Liberty Amendment (Prop 5) was an historic victory for reproductive rights. Now, we must provide additional protections for providers and patients who are seeking reproductive and gender affirming health care in Vermont.

The legislature can build on the work of other states like Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and California, including “shield laws” to protect patients’ and providers’ private information, limit cooperation with out of state investigations intended to penalize legal medical services, and disincentivize out-of-state lawsuits related to reproductive or gender affirming care.

Get Involved

Your support and engagement make it possible for us to advance this ambitious legislative agenda. We hope you’ll consider volunteering with us in the year ahead. Sign up and we’ll be sure to share opportunities to contact your legislators, spread the word about the critical work that lies ahead, and grow our base of support across the state. We can’t do it without you!