Legislative Update, March 26, 2014

Home  »  News  »  Legislative Update, March 26, 2014
Mar 30, 2014 No Comments ››

It’s a busy time at the State House.

Many thanks to members of our school boards for your input on the school consolidation bill. It is very helpful to have folks help me frame the conversation. I encourage all of you to give me your input on school governance and how to best serve our students and communities.

Bills Passed the House:

Drugged Driving: I am pleased to report that the House passed a bill regarding drugged driving. We heard from law enforcement that many people are driving while under the influence of prescription and other drugs, but the law was very difficult to enforce. We therefore made the standard consistent with the law of driving while under the influence of alcohol.

H.866 Judicial Nominating: Vermont is unique in that we have laws that create a judicial nominating board that carries out a process for selecting candidates for judges to be recommended to the Governor. Judges are confirmed by the Senate for a term of six years, and then reviewed by the Legislature to determine whether they should be retained for another six year term. This is in stark contrast to most states where judges are elected; much money is spent on candidates who become judges who then often sit on cases involving those that contributed to their campaigns.

The heart of the bill changes the list of candidates sent to the Governor from “qualified” candidates to “well-qualified.” This parallels the federal standard. The bill also puts in eligibility attributes. The bill passed out of the House on Thursday.

H.879: Judicial Hearing Officers: This bill deals with administrative officers in the executive branch.

When people go in front of administrative officers, the perception is that theses hearing officers are judges like those within the judicial branch. There are approximately 10,000 decisions made by about 200 individuals in the executive branch and these decisions have the force of law.

Our committee was concerned about impartiality, fairness and appearance of impartiality as it impacts our constituents. We wanted to make sure these officers follow a code of conduct.

Hearing officers play a very important role in departments and agencies such as taxes, labor, human services, and education. We have a decentralized system of administrative officers whereas 25 states have centralized hearing officers.

The bill asks the Agency of Administration to adopt by rule ethical standards, make the rules of procedure available to the parties, develop a process for complaints, and determine the feasibility of training for the hearing officers.

H.875: elimination of a defendant’s right to a trial by jury in traffic appeals and fines for driving with license suspended. The intent of this bill is to provide a path for those who have had their driver’s license suspended for failure to pay civil traffic fines to have their driving privileges reinstated. It does this largely by clarifying the hearing officer’s statutory authority to grant a defendant an extended period to pay the total amount due. The bill also seeks to preserve our judicial resources by limiting appeals of civil traffic violations to a trial by judge rather than jury.

In Judiciary Committee

Follow up on Implementation of 2012 Act 134 an Act Relating to Racial Disparities in the Vermont Criminal Justice System:

This act requires that “no later than January 1, 2013, every state, local, county, and municipal law enforcement agency that employs one or more certified law enforcement officers shall adopt a bias- free policing policy and training.”

My committee is in the process of reviewing policies of approximately 59 municipal police departments and county sheriffs offices to determine whether or not they meet these standards.

We are also looking into whether there should be civilian oversight of law enforcement, and if the Human Rights Commission can be a forum for persons to bring complaints about enforcing law enforcement bias-free policing polices. We will be continuing our work on this issue.

S.237 Civil forfeiture proceedings in cases of animal cruelty. This bill attempts to have a more timely procedure in cases of animal cruelty. We heard from the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in support of the bill. According to Commissioner Flynn, the bill strengthens current law. It closely parallels many of the driving license suspension bills.

The civil proceeding created in this bill is intended to run independently from any criminal prosecution. This is because the animal that is allegedly abused remains in the custody of the caregiver during the proceedings. This often creates a financial burden on the caregiver. The bill expedites the process and makes it a summary proceeding.

One of the purposes of bill is to relieve humane societies and caregivers of the expense of caring for the animal. The bill’s intent is to give much needed clarity to humane societies and further the humane treatment and proper policing of animals.

The bill also includes a provision to study the creation of an animal training or adoption program within our correctional system. It is thought this would be therapeutic for the inmates, respond to an issue of need for care for these animals and be beneficial for job training.

S.287 An Act Relating to Involuntary Treatment and Medication: This is a very complex bill. We will be spending much of our remaining time on it. This bill attempts to expedite the procedures for involuntary treatment and medication. Treatment in this case actually means hospitalization. Current law has a 24-hour to 24 day period in which these treatment commitment procedures can take place. There can also be unlimited number of continuance requests. This bill limits it to just one seven day continuance. Currently, involuntary medication applications cannot be filed until the initial decision of treatment is made. The bill allows the motion for involuntary treatment and for involuntary medication to proceed at the same time. Involuntary medication orders are now automatically stayed. The bill changes that and exempts them.

Additionally, the bill changes current law, adding an automatic probable cause review for involuntary treatment cases. This requires the court to make a preliminary determination in every case before determining if involuntary treatment is warranted.