Legislative Update

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Feb 26, 2015 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State HouseI am enjoying my new position as chair of House Judiciary. Below you will find an update on our some of our work. I continue to work with school board members and others on education and property tax reform. I am very concerned about the state of Vermont Health Connect and the burdens it has placed on many of you. I continue to voice my concerns to the Shumlin Administration and my colleagues in the House.

I look forward to seeing you at Town Meeting—it will be brief as I will try to get to all 5 towns!

Education:

I convened a meeting with school board members Rob Rosen and Heidi Spear, Speaker of the House Shap Smith and Rep. Adam Greshin regarding proposing an independent study of the AEF and Warren proposals to be included in the House’s education reform bill. I will be working to move this effort forward.

My Committee Work: House Judiciary

Reporting to the Sex Offender Registry

On Wednesday, Governor Shumlin will sign this important bill into law, making victims of sex crimes and their communities safer when sex offenders are released from prison. It requires a sex offender to report to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to provide updated information for the Sex Offender Registry prior to his or her release from a correctional facility. While this is current practice, it had not been reflected in the law. I was the lead sponsor of this bill that is intended to help Warren resident Sue Russell and other victims of violent crimes.

Prior law did not specifically require a sex offender to report information to the Registry prior to release from confinement. In cases where the offender was completing his or her maximum sentence and was uncooperative, DOC could not compel the offender to provide the information upon release. Thus, DPS might not have had information about the offender’s intended residence upon release until three days later when the offender was required to notify DPS. These could be three very long days for a victim and his or her community.

The new law codifies current practice by requiring DOC to advise the offender of his or her duty to report to the Registry, assist the offender with registration, and advise the offender that failure to register prior to release is a crime.

State False Claims Act (H.120)

We intend to pass H.120, which would enact a state False Claims Act. The Act would improve the state’s ability to recover penalties from businesses and others who defraud state government. It would help detect fraud by providing incentives to individuals to bring actions against companies that have made false claims in their dealings with the state. The state stands to collect significant money should the legislature enact the law.

H.120 is modeled after the federal False Claims Act, which has resulted in the recovery by the U.S. of billions of dollars.

Juvenile Justice

Current science shows that the brain continues to change and mature throughout childhood and adolescence. Due to the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to act on impulse and misread or misinterpret social cues, and less likely to think twice, change their mind, or pause to consider the consequences of their actions. They are, in short, more likely than adults to make bad decisions and to violate criminal law. My committee has recognized this as it has delved into issues related to juvenile justice.

Judiciary and the House passed H.62, which prohibits sentences of life without parole for a person who committed his or her offense as a minor. No inmates are currently serving such a sentence in Vermont. Nevertheless, enactment of the bill would recognize that, because their brains are not fully developed, juvenile offenders are less culpable and have the unique ability to be rehabilitated. Eliminating this harsh sentence would not excuse a juvenile’s behavior, but would provide the opportunity for such an offender to demonstrate rehabilitation to a parole board.

In addition, Judiciary continues to consider H.95, which focuses on jurisdiction over delinquency proceedings by the Family Division of the Superior Court. The objective of the bill is to ensure that States Attorneys file more cases involving juveniles in the Family Division of state court, where certain confidentiality and other procedural protections are in place, rather than in adult criminal court, which lacks such protections.

Criminalizing “Revenge Porn” (H.105)

H.105 would criminalize the dissemination of sexually explicit photographs or videos of individuals online without their consent, even if the subject had consented to the taking of the photograph or video. While termed “revenge porn,” the term is misleading as perpetrators may engage in this conduct as a form of domestic violence and thus are not always motivated by revenge. “Non-consensual pornography” is considered a more accurate term. This conduct affects both male and female victims, as well as people of many ages, by destroying their personal relationships, as well as their educational and employment opportunities.

Websites created specifically for this type of pornography sometimes include a victim’s name, address, and links to social media profiles along with the images, and some websites charge a fee to have the materials removed. Existing laws may be insufficient to address the increasing incidence of distribution of sexually explicit images without the consent of the subject.

The Committee continues to work on this bill to assure that it does not create First Amendment issues, while still addressing the underlying problem. It is looking at some of the bills passed by the thirteen states that have enacted such legislation since 2013.

 

In up-coming weeks we will consider home improvement fraud, the Judiciary’s budget, S.9 child protection, enforcement of water quality laws and more.

 

Please stay in touch: mgrad@leg.state.vt.us, 828-2228 (State House) 496-7667 (home).

If you haven’t already, please “like” my Facebook page and “follow” me on Twitter. 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.