Legislative Update 2

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Jan 27, 2014 No Comments ››

Here are the issues I have been working on in committee.  At the end of my report you will find my remarks I made at the Governor’s press conference on military affairs.  I spoke about my bill to help veterans and their spouses.

Innocence Protection/S.184: Eye Witness Identification and S.297, Recording of Custodial Interrogations in Homicide and Sexual Assault Cases:

We took testimony with the Senate Judiciary Committee on two bills that will further our work on wrongful convictions and wrongful incarceration.  We passed the first piece of the Innocence Project Act in 1997 allowing an incarcerated person to petition the court for DNA testing to determine his or her innocence.  These two bills set up a task force to look at the need for a statewide policy on witness identification and videotaping of confessions.

For a more detailed account of the issues, this 60 Minutes piece demonstrates the harm of misidentification. It interviews a woman who misidentified the man who sexually assaulted her.  The wrong suspect was incarcerated for many years while the actual perpetrator was free and continued to commit more rapes.  We watched the video as part of our testimony.  The woman featured was on the phone with use while we viewed it. You can view the video here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-SBTRLoPuo. It is a fascinating demonstration of the fragility of memory.

S.119 An Act Relating to Amending Perpetual Conservation Amendments.  This bill sets up a process for amending conservation easements. Currently nothing exists.  We heard testimony that this issue is an urgent one.  Because of recent IRS letters, some land trusts won’t consider amendments unless they are very minor.   We heard testimony that many amendments are on hold until the legislature acts.

Examples of amendments are putting a solar panel on a barn, a cell tower in a silo, and addressing failing septic systems where the only land available was on a conservation easement.

Proponents of the bill state that this creates an open and transparent process.  We will continue our testimony on this next week.

H.555: Re Traumatic Brain Injuries and Competency to Stand Trial.  The bill is intended to protect members of the public and the person who has a traumatic brain injury and exhibits criminal behavior.  It gives this population parity within the mental health system.  Current law doesn’t give someone with TBI the same access to treatment as those with a mental illness.

The bill would allow the court to commit a criminal defendant who has been found to be incompetent to stand trial because of the TBI to the commissioner of mental health.

We heard testimony that many of those with TBI are military personnel who have returned from service.  The Addison County State’s Attorney testified that we need to look at this with compassion, recognizing that these are folks who are not criminals by choice, often men and women who have served our country, have been traumatized themselves and therefore need resources to treat them.

Currently, individuals with TBI get into the criminal justice system are found incompetent, the case gets dismissed, defendant doesn’t get treatment and the victim doesn’t feel like he or she received justice.  If this was a mental health case, they would have been reviewed, be given treatment and monitoring.

We heard from two state commissioners on the bill.  The Commissioner of the Department of Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) finds the bill problematic.  According to the Commissioner, TBI is very broad from high school sports concussions to military injuries.  The Commissioner also stated that cognitive impairment varies.

The Commissioner of Mental Health expressed concern about unintended consequences that come from putting this under his custody and the limited bed space.

H.88 Parental Rights Where a Child was Conceived as a Result of a Sexual Assault.    We continued our testimony on this.  There was a question as to if there should be an exemption for when the victim and perpetrator were married or living together and if the bill should exempt those situations. We learned that marital rape is very common.   Statutes used to make a distinction for spouses.  All 50 states in the 1970’s amended their statutes. We amended ours in 1985. Took the words “other than a spouse” out.  According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 Summary Report:  More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance [which leaves about 8% strangers]; for male victims, more than half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger.

Veteran’s Benefits:  Last week I spoke at the Governor’s Press Conference on Veteran’s affairs.  The Administration is supporting my bill H.275: An act relating to professional licensing of members of the Armed Forces and allowing Unemployment Compensations for military spouses who leave work becauseit is necessary allow the individual to accompany his or her spouse.  The following are my remarks.

H.275 recognizes that our service men and women, who while separating from the military, are still active participants in our workforce and are vital for building our economy and workforce.

It is the right thing to do for men and women who have served our country and now wish to serve our state with their valuable training and education.

These men and women come with the things that our state is looking for: young viable families to enroll in our schools, education and skills to enhance our workforce and strong commitment to service and community that we know is the Vermont way.

(1)                  While Separating Service members enter the civilian community with valuable training and skills they are

  • Frequently delayed getting post-Service employment even though they have applicable military education, training and experience that can qualify them for licenses or provide academic credit toward degree requirements.
  • This bill is about professional recognition, respect and gratitude for those who have put their lives on the line for us.
  • In the past two years, 41 states enacted new laws to help grant our veterans credit towards licensing or academic credit.  We don’t want Vermont to be the last to do so.  We should facilitate getting our service men and women employed as quickly as possible.

The second part of H.275 addresses Unemployment compensation for miliatary spouses.  Such compensation is important to military families, who cannot afford to lose income during a military move.

  • Providing unemployment compensation is both pragmatic and a matter of principle: A military family moves to fulfill military requirements, and spouses should not be penalized by states for “voluntarily” leaving employment.
  • Currently 44 of 50 states grant unemployment compensation to military spouses.  Vermont shouldn’t be last.

Come to Farmer’s Night: Wednesdays at 7:30pm in the House chamber! Featuring performances from Vermont’s talented music groups, including The Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Maple Jam and more! This event is free and open to the public. For more information visit http://www.leg.state.vt.us/.

How to Follow the Legislature’s Work: Each legislative committee now has a information or home page. It is a great tool for the public to follow our work and issues of interest.  The page includes committee agendas, bills in the committee, witness testimony, reports and much more.

To find my committee page, visit the Legislative page at  www.leg.state.vt.us. The third topic down is Committee Information Pages.  Click on Standing Committee Information Pages and under House Standing Committees, click on Judiciary.  There you will find our weekly agenda, documents and handouts,  links to previous meetings and other information.  Each day more and more is posted. It is a live page. I hope it helps you follow any committee in the Legislature, issues that concern you, feel connected to the process and help me help you!

If you haven’t already, please visit my website and also “like” my Facebook page. I will be posting updates as often as possible, to keep you informed about what is happening in the Vermont Statehouse. You can also look for my updates on Front Porch Forum and in the Valley Reporter and Waterbury Record.
Rep. Maxine Grad
Washington-7: Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield, Warren