As I write, we are just entering our sixth week of the final year of the 2017-18 Legislative Session. It seems as if this year is not only busy but that we are also addressing many major issues: minimum wage, gun legislation, law-enforcement coverage and issues, dispatch, universal primary care, prisons and prisoners, among others.
None of these issues have reached any conclusions, but we continue to work on them. We have, however, passed some major pieces of legislation.
Legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use passed the Senate last year, passed the House this year, and has been signed by the governor. I realize that this is a major step — Vermont is the first state to do so in its Legislature, not as a result of citizen referendum.
I do believe that once this law goes into effect, there will be more interest in regulation of the product that will lead to some sort of tax-and-regulate legislation during the next biennium.
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Getting less attention — but still important — are some measures that have passed the Senate and are now on their way to the House:
• We passed a bill (S.289) that would require any internet provider that does business with the state to maintain net neutrality.
• S.207 prohibits a fee to either place or remove a freeze from one’s credit report.
• S.179 expands the scope of the community justice centers, allowing referrals from more places and also extending this option to civil cases.
• Although it might not seem terribly important, we passed S.29, which rewrote the probate process, which seems to have been more reflective of the last couple of centuries than today. It took the probate bar a number of years to do it right, and our Judiciary Committee spent hours on this 126-page bill, and we believe it finally brings our probate system into the current time.
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The Senate Committee on Government Operations continues to work on issues surrounding law enforcement, dispatch, and emergency services. This fall, we had meetings in eight places around the state to listen to citizens, Selectboard members, sheriffs, police departments, town managers, et al.
• A number of issues were identified. Some of them — dispatch, training, recruitment, retention, public-safety plans, data collection, emergency medical services — we are addressing this year.
• Other issues — of equitable access and responsibility for funding — will need more time, and our committee is suggesting they be tackled over the summer and fall.
• Gov Ops is also addressing the problem of systemic racism in agencies and departments of the state. We are looking at the state Criminal Justice Training Council’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy — the immigration section is the most controversial at this point.
• We are also looking at a bill (S.281) that would establish a panel to oversee the fight against systemic racism in state government departments and agencies. We have had a full day of testimony and another day of committee discussion.
For now, we are inclined not to create another panel, but instead we plan to identify certain governmental positions and charge them with this responsibility.
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This leads me to remind everyone that just sending notes encouraging us to pass certain bills is not terribly helpful. Bills change from day to day. It is best to actually point out your interest in the issue so that as the actual bill changes we can take your thoughts into consideration.
Remember to contact us about what is on your mind. Bills that originate in one chamber — named “H” for House, “S” for Senate — must be out of that chamber and on to the other by March 2.
That means we don’t have much time left, so get in touch soon.