Legislative Update

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Feb 12, 2015 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State HouseThings are in full swing at the State House. The Legislature’s website is a great resource to follow committee work. Below, I will update you on the Education and my committee’s work.

Education:

This past week, the Education Committee released a first draft of a bill. Below you will see a report from the committee. Please note, the bill is a starting point. Thank you to our school boards, staff and others for your leadership. Please stay in touch so you can help us craft a bill that truly moves us forward.

A separate financing bill will be coming.

From the Education Committee:

In the coming weeks, significant effort will be spent tailoring the language of the bill to ensure it aligns with our collective values. Chief among our aims is to maintain a community-supported education system, assert our deep commitment to public education, and strive to realize greater returns on our investment.

What’s the problem?

  • Affordability, Quality, Equity. Every community in Vermont is challenged by the high cost of ensuring that all learners can access an adequate and equitable array of services and opportunities.
  • Sustainability. The viability of many (small and often rural) schools is in jeopardy.
  • Efficiency. Flexibility. Performance. Organizational complexity inhibits operational efficiencies, ability to respond to declining enrollments, cross-sector collaboration, program evaluation, and adoption of innovative practices.
  • Leadership. School communities and their leaders are stressed and increasingly less able to sustain a long-term approach to fiscal and quality improvements.

What are we doing about it?

The education committee is considering changes to our education funding and delivery system to provide high quality opportunities to learn for every child in the most equitable and affordable way possible. We aim to leverage best practices that are currently employed to create greater a return on investment.

What principles are we guided by?

  • Changes must promote equity, efficiency and quality. Enhance performance measurements; provide data to boards and citizens; empower state-level involvement where performance or cost indicators warrant intervention; and provide statewide funding for substantially equal access to excellent education opportunities regardless of where a student lives.
  • Enable districts to more flexibly deploy resources. Changes must address the need for nimble deployment of resources to achieve a somewhat greater scale and achieve greater equity.
  • Recognize that there isn’t a single, perfect delivery model. Invite local communities to design and implement their own structural changes that reflect local challenges and assets.
  • Support structural change through a mix of incentives and disincentives. All solutions need to be evaluated by their outcomes – measured against common standards.
  • Retain strong community connections. Transition steps and resulting system should encourage connections between education delivery system, students, and the citizenry.
  • Maintain a long-term view of funding and success

 

My Committee Work: House Judiciary

Over the past two weeks, House Judiciary has heard testimony related to juvenile justice, privacy and the Internet, state law to collect funds in fraud cases, and uniform child support legislation.

We have also received updates from Vermont State Police and Federal law enforcement on issues such as human trafficking and truancy. State police testified that the rise in human trafficking in the past year far surpassed what they believed to be the case. Law enforcement sees a direct link between Vermont’s opiate problem and human trafficking. They are now looking differently at runaways and truancy to see if trafficking is involved.

As we continue to look at helping our students succeed, build a trained workforce and community safety, these issues are integrally related.

Juvenile Justice:

H.62 — prohibiting a sentence of life without parole for a person who was under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense. This bill recognizes that because their brains are not fully developed, juvenile offenders have the unique ability to be rehabilitated. This creates strong policy against allowing children to die in prison. It is seen as a human rights issue. We heard testimony in support of the bill from the Judiciary, State’s Attorneys, ACLU, Defender General, Youth Advocates and Victims advocates.

The Vermont Network Against Sexual and Domestic Violence testified: “Recent scientific research shows that juveniles’ brains are still developing until the age of 25; Juveniles hold a capacity for change and the potential for rehabilitation.”

H.95 — jurisdiction over delinquency proceedings by the Family Division of the Superior Court. The objective of the bill is to start juvenile cases in the family court, where certain confidentiality and other procedural protections are in place, rather than adult criminal court, which does not have such protections. Also, if found to be a delinquent, in family court, the juvenile will be given services with the hope of rehabilitation. It focuses on 16 and 17 year olds.

The committee received mixed testimony regarding court and DCF resources. Also, the State’s Attorneys objected to the curtailment of their discretion to decide whether to file charges against a juvenile in criminal or family court. The bill requires the initial filing to occur in the family division, although a case could later be transferred to the criminal division.

Committee members expressed concerns over the inconsistencies in practices related to charging juveniles and what is seen as unequal justice.  Given our county system, depending upon where a juvenile commits an unlawful act may determine if his or her case is started in family or criminal court. A criminal record has grave collateral consequences for a minor-financial aid, employment, housing and the ability to serve in the military.

H.105 — An act relating to disclosure of sexually explicit images without consent. This bill would amend the State’s voyeurism laws to impose criminal sanctions on individuals who disseminate sexually explicit photographs or videos of individuals online without their consent, even if the photograph or video itself was taken with consent – so-called revenge porn. The bill came from women victims where images and contact information was posted. We heard testimony that such action can impact a victim’s reputation, job and living situation.

Websites created specifically for this type of pornography sometimes include a victim’s name, address, and links to social media profiles with the images, and some websites charge a fee to have the materials removed. This is an emerging area of law, highlighting the evolution of technology.

H.105 also imposes sanctions on dissemination of digitally altered sexually explicit images of another person without their knowledge and consent. The committee will hear additional testimony in the coming week, including testimony addressing concerns related to First Amendment protections, particularly with respect to digitally altered images.

H.86 — An act relating to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. By an 11-0 vote, we voted H.86 out of committee. H.86 will amend the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) originally enacted in Vermont in 1996. The Act sets forth jurisdictional rules and determines which state’s law applies when more than one state is involved in establishing, enforcing or modifying a child support or spousal order, or is establishing a child’s parentage.

H.86 must be enacted in this session to ensure that the Office of Child Support continues to receive approximately $56 million annually in federal support for the child enforcement program.

H.120 — This bill proposes to create a Vermont false claims act.

It allows the government to seek recovery from businesses and others that defraud the government. I sponsored this bill for the Attorney General’s office.