Legislative Update /GMO Bill Signing Thursday

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May 5, 2014 No Comments ››

GMO Bill Signing Thursday: Gov. Peter Shumlin will sign the newly passed legislation requiring the labeling of foods that contain GMOs into law at the State House on Thursday, May 8 at 2:30 p.m. There has been broad interest in the issue, and the Governor said the press and public are invited to attend the bill signing.


I am pleased to update you on 4 of my committee bills. They relate to Innocence Protection and Statewide adoption of Bias Free Policing Policies, Pre-trial Services (Opiate Bill), Involuntary Treatment and Medication and Ban on Handheld Cellphones.


Innocence Protection.  This has gained preliminary House approval. I reported this bill to the full House.  The following is my floor speech.


S.184 is related to law enforcement practices and the use of best policing practices.  It addresses the adoption of an eyewitness identification policy and the recording of custodial interrogations in homicide and sexual assault cases.


S.184 is a continuation of the Judiciary committee’s work with the Innocence Project and our commitment to ensure that innocent people are not wrongly incarcerated, actual perpetrators are found, enhancing public safety and the proper functioning of our criminal justice system.


S.184 will aid in the prevention of wrongful convictions by addressing two of its largest causes – eyewitness misidentification and false confessions.


The collaborative work between criminal justice stakeholders, that led to the passage of S.184 included the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, Chiefs of Police Association, the Law Enforcement Advisory Board, the State Police, the Department of States Attorneys and Sheriffs Association, the Office of the Public Defender and the Attorney General’s Office, and assures justice and safety for all Vermonters.

In 2007, the legislature passed The Innocence Protection Act that gave those incarcerated in Vermont with a claim of actual innocence, access to forensic evidence associated with their cases.

The Act, created a task force to look at eyewitness identification protocols and create recommendations for their adoption.

Since that task force released its report, The Innocence Project, Vermont law enforcement and others within the criminal justice system have worked together to develop and implement policies and a training system so that all Vermont officers are trained in using best practices for eyewitness identification procedures. S.184 is a product of that work.



Section 5581 (a) requires the adoption of an eyewitness identification policy. Section (b) sets forth the essential elements that the policy shall contain.  The Law Enforcement Advisory Board has identified these elements.


Section (d) states that if a law enforcement agency does not adopt a policy by January 1, 2015 the model policy shall be the one adopted by the Law Enforcement Advisory Board.

S.184 promotes statewide uniformity: Everyone involved in the criminal justice system will have a chance to learn what best practicesare.  We heard testimony that in fact the majority of law enforcement officers have been trained in the best practices set forth in the bill.


Above all, it allows our criminal justice system to better meet the goals it was created to achieve- to protect the innocent, hold those guilty accountable, and not send an innocent man or woman to prison for a crime he or she did not commit.


We heard testimony that there are 30 years of peer-reviewed uncontested, evidence-based research that has identified a series of modifications to line-up procedures that are included in S.184.


Innocent people wrongfully convicted after eyewitnesses misidentify them as the perpetrator of a crime are not the only ones who suffer from misidentification.  Public safety is greatly diminished, as misidentifications cause the police to focus their investigation on an innocent person, leading them away from the real perpetrator, who is then free and often does commit further crimes.


Crime victims suffer, believing they are to blame for the misidentification of the innocent person and also experience guilt about the subsequent crimes committed by the real perpetrator while the innocent person was incarcerated.  Simply put, the only beneficiary of a misidentification is the actual perpetrator.



Section 4 addresses preventing false confessions. False confessions were present in 25% of the nation’s 316 DNA exonerations proven by DNA testing.  According to testimony we heard, the single most important thing we can do to guard against the power of false confession evidence is to record custodial interrogations, which is required in S.297 in homicide and sexual assault cases.


Electronic recordings benefit police officers and prosecutors.  An electronic record of suspect interviews has proven to be an efficient and powerful law enforcement tool. It creates a permanent record of exactly what occurred. Recordings prevent disputes about officers’ conduct, the treatment of suspects and statements they made.

The bill also included a very much-needed section requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies on bias free policing. Many agencies already have such policies. It is important for there to be a consistent state-wide policy. Thank you to the League of Cities and Town for updating its policy and providing guidance to our local governments.


S.287: An act relation to involuntary treatment and medication-passed the House.


This bill strives to improve the care and protections for patients under current law. We heard testimony that it is not unusual for patients to be held against their will in an emergency room for as long as 45 days.  The bill shortens time frames and allows for expedited court hearings when an individual is in need of treatment.


This was a very difficult and complex bill.  As the chair of my committee stated to the House, when the power of the state and the power of psychiatry are combined, we as law makers need to be very cautious and deliberative as this area involves an enormous infringement on an individual’s liberty.


H.62 Ban on Hand-held Cellphones-passed the House: we amended this bill to the miscellaneous Department of Motor Vehicles bill.  The handheld cell phone ban is very important to a strong majority of Vermonters.  We wanted to send a strong message to the Senate and Governor.


S.295: Pre-trial Services (Opiate Bill)-passed the House.