PUTNEY — The House Committee on Judiciary has had quite an interesting session.
Our committee covers many of the controversial issues that arise in our society. At the beginning of the session, we members came together to determine our ground rules. We established that our purpose is to uphold the rule of law, adhere to the Vermont and U.S. constitutions, and foster a judicial system that adheres to the values of democracy and our values as Vermonters.
During the debates, we heard often from opposition that there is “nothing to worry about” regarding reproductive rights in Vermont. However, we can clearly see now across America that states are enacting some of the harshest and most restrictive laws relating to reproductive-health care.
Passing this bill shows that Vermont respects bodily autonomy and trusts that women can make their own personal choices between themselves and their medical professionals.
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Other important topics:
• Fair and impartial policing. Our committee worked alongside the ACLU, the attorney general's office, Migrant Justice, and the Human Rights Commission to create a policy that allows for local and state police to create greater restrictions on collaborating with federal immigration authorities.
Furthermore, this law also provides funding to create an outreach and education position within the Human Rights Commission.
• Medical monitoring: We also heard extensive testimony for a bill that was prompted by the misfortune our neighbors to the west have experienced.
Thousands of Vermonters have been exposed to toxic substances due to the presence of Saint-Gobain, a large business in Bennington, and many folks who have been exposed are now at a high risk of developing a latent disease.
The bill creates a “cause of action” for Vermonters who become exposed to toxic substances by large businesses that negligently release these substances into waterways or the soil.
This cause of action will allow Vermonters to sue to have their expenses paid so they can be medically monitored if they prove in court that the exposure to toxic substances increases their chances of developing a latent disease.
Overall, this bill shows that Vermont puts its citizens' health and well-being before corporate profit.
• Our committee also worked on two bills that will help victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
The first bill, signed by the governor on May 28, removes the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse and petitioning the court for damages.
Sometimes, it takes decades for a person to come to terms with their trauma and muster the courage to come forward. Removing the statute of limitations provides victims with greater leniency regarding when they're able to come forward.
With the help of Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver, and Rep. Laura Sibilia of Dover, the bill's primary sponsor, we worked together to allow law enforcement and prosecutors to use prior domestic assault convictions from other states in their investigations and prosecutions. With this change, individuals who repeatedly abuse their partners will be held to a higher level of accountability.
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Overall, it is a truly remarkable and unique experience to serve on the judiciary committee. It is a firsthand look into not just how one branch of government (the Legislature) operates but also into how the judicial branch operates.
It is humbling to sit in committee and hear testimony from a very broad range of Vermont citizens - whether it's a Supreme Court Justice, an activist from Migrant Justice, or a police chief - who are trying to delve into any number of important issues that come within our jurisdiction.
I look forward to continuing this work in 2020, and I also look forward continuing alongside my wonderful Windham County Delegation colleagues!