March 11, 2022
Contact: Stephanie Gomory, Communications Director, [email protected], 802-223-6304 x111
Montpelier, VT – The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to advance S.254 to the full Senate. In its current form, S.254 attempts to build on Vermont Supreme Court precedent, though it does not end qualified immunity for police who violate Vermonters’ rights, as proposed in the original draft of the bill. Instead, it would require an independent legal analysis and written report from the Office of Legislative Counsel on the extent to which victims of police misconduct are denied justice under the doctrine of qualified immunity.
The co-sponsors of S.254 are Senator Sears, Senator Balint, Senator Baruth, and Senator Ram Hinsdale.
ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall: “We are grateful to the sponsors of S.254 for advancing a long-overdue conversation about police accountability and access to justice in Vermont. Thanks to their leadership, Vermont is taking another step in the right direction on police reform, and we are confident these efforts will eventually bear fruit.
“Vermont’s legislature should act this year to end qualified immunity, a fundamental police reform supported by three in four Vermonters from across the political spectrum. Through multiple hearings on S.254, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from witnesses who testified that qualified immunity prevents victims of abuse from accessing justice, undermines police accountability, and damages community trust, particularly in BIPOC communities most impacted by overpolicing.
“It is unfortunate that law enforcement officials were unwilling to take these problems seriously, and instead pursued a deliberate strategy to confuse and distract from the issue with faulty legal analysis, unfounded speculation, and baseless claims. Opponents of reform have pursued that strategy in other states as well, and in many instances it has worked.
“The good news is that the proposed independent analysis of qualified immunity will provide legislators an opportunity to step back and consider this critical issue on the merits. With accurate information and sound analysis, we are confident they will agree with the overwhelming majority of Vermonters that qualified immunity is incompatible with Vermont values and civil rights.
“The people of Vermont are firmly committed to replacing status quo policing with a different kind of public safety – one that respects and values the dignity, health, and well-being of all community members – and ending qualified immunity is an essential step towards that goal.
“We thank the bill sponsors for their leadership, the many partners and allies who have testified on S.254, and the thousands of people who have contacted legislators to express their support for ending qualified immunity in Vermont. We will continue working together to ensure that victims of police abuse have access to justice, that officers who violate rights are held accountable, and that Vermont follows through on its commitments to eradicate systemic racism and reimagine public safety.”