The House voted Thursday morning to accept the Senate's changes to H. 225, the Taser regulation bill. The bill will now go to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his approval. The House acceptance came on a unanimous voice vote, identical to the Senate's approval on Monday. The concurrence avoids a conference committee, which coming this late in the session could have meant defeat due to lack of time.
The final bill is a consensus bill among all sides in the debate – law enforcement, civil rights, disability rights, and mental health advocates. Each side has its disappointments with certain particulars, but on the whole all parties support the final version. At times it seemed getting to this point would be impossible.
Assuming gubernatorial approval, it is believed that Vermont will be the first state in the nation to adopt a statewide standard on Taser use (or “electronic control devices,” as the stun gun weapons are called in the bill).
The road the bill has traveled goes back to when the ACLU, the Mental Health Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Disability Rights Vermont, Rep. Anne Donahue, Rep. Jim Masland, and other advocates held a press conference in June 2012 following the Taser death of Macadam Mason.
The group called for a Taser moratorium until statewide standards for training and use could be established. A bill setting standards was introduced in February 2013 by Donahue and Masland, joined by 28 other legislators.
The attorney general’s office inserted itself in the process, then handed the ball to the Law Enforcement Advisory Board. The LEAB drafted standards in a policy that was widely criticized. Attention shifted back to the legislature, where review of the bill started January 2014 in the House Government Operations Committee. Significant changes to the House bill were made by the Senate Government Operations Committee in April, before passage this week by the full Senate.
The major provisions of the bill are these:
- Statewide policy adoption: The state’s Criminal Justice Training Council will develop a policy on Taser training and use that must be adopted by all Vermont police departments by Jan. 1, 2016. If a department doesn’t adopt the policy by that date, the policy will be assumed to have been adopted by the department.
- Training required: All officers carrying Tasers have to be trained initially and then annually in Taser use. They must also take special training on dealing with people facing mental health issues.
- Revised deployment standard: “Officers may deploy an electronic control device only against subjects who are exhibiting active aggression or who are actively resisting in a manner that, in the officer’s judgment, is likely to result in injuries to themselves or others.”
- De-escalation stressed: Officers must attempt to de-escalate situations before using a Taser. The weapons can’t be used in a punitive or coercive manner and may not be used on passively resisting subjects.
- Clear delineation of vulnerable groups facing additional risks from Tasers: “Persons who are in an emotional crisis,” “persons with disabilities,” and “higher risk populations that may be more susceptible to injury as a result of electronic control devices” must be recognized and given special consideration.
- Annual reporting on Taser use incidents.
- Request for study by Law Enforcement Advisory Board of body camera use by officers authorized to carry Tasers.
- Request for policy by Law Enforcement Advisory Board on the “calibration and testing of electronic control devices.”