Legislative Wrap-up, Part 1

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May 19, 2016 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State Capital BuildingHere is the first in a series of legislative wrap-ups. This week focuses on my committee: House Judiciary. It was a very productive session for the justice system.

While this is our “off” time, I am busy working on constituent concerns and other justice issues as Chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. This week I have met with law enforcement leaders to monitor the progress and challenges on adoption of Fair and Impartial Policing Policies and will attend a meeting of the Judicial Nominating Board. We anticipate another Judgeship opening. I will also be busy with the Justice Oversight Committee this summer and fall where we will be working on corrections issues, juvenile justice reform and marijuana policy.

Please stay in touch.  It is an honor to represent you. Thank you!

Protecting Privacy of Electronic Data

An increasing amount of personal information is being captured and stored electronically. Hospitals and other health care providers collect health information. Electronic communication providers keep email and social media postings on their servers. And law enforcement captures and retains photos of license plates. New technologies such as drones with high-resolution cameras are able to observe areas where people have traditionally had heightened expectations of privacy.  Current state law does not sufficiently address the privacy concerns that these trends raise.

This year, the legislature took significant steps in addressing these concerns by increasing privacy protections while ensuring public safety.

The bill addresses four separate areas, explained below.

  1. Enhances the State’s protection of health information.
    We adopted the HIPAA definitions and prohibit, as a matter of State law, a covered entity from disclosing protected health information.
  2. Sets guidelines for law enforcement’s use of drones.
    The general rule established in the bill is that a law enforcement agency cannot use a drone or information acquired through the use of a drone for the purpose of investigating, detecting, or prosecuting crime unless the agency has obtained a warrant or unless one of the court-recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. Law enforcement is not, however, prohibited from using a drone to observe public gatherings in real time for purposes of public safety, for search and rescue operations, and aerial photography for the assessment of accidents, forest fires and other fire scenes, flood stages, and storm damage.
  3. Establishes procedures for law enforcement to obtain electronic information from electronic communication providers.
    Importantly, the law establishes the Vermont Electronic Communications Privacy Act (VECPA), which would address law enforcement access to emails, communications data, and other records held by electronic communications companies.
  4. Reauthorizes law enforcement’s use of cameras to capture photos of license plates, but with additional protections related to the use of the captured data.
    The law adds additional privacy protections related to the use of Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) data. That data can be accessed by law enforcement for “legitimate law enforcement purposes,” including the detection, investigation, analysis, or enforcement of a crime, or commercial traffic violation (or defending against the same); operation of an AMBER alert; or a missing or endangered person search.

Protection from Stalking

Stalking is a serious problem in Vermont and nationwide. In Vermont, 3 out of every 4 stalking civil protective order requests are denied, most often due to the inflexible and confusing language in the definition of stalking. The modern stalker is usually not “lying in wait.” Rather, he (or she) is using technology to monitor, observe, and threaten victims. This year, the legislature modernized this definition and provided further protections to victims. This bill will ease the way for individuals to obtain protective orders against stalkers and for law enforcement to prosecute stalkers. 

Fair and Impartial Policing

Recognizing that a statewide policy on traffic stops and data collection is needed to track and prevent bias in law enforcement, the legislature passed a bill that amends current law related to Fair and Impartial Policing.

The legislature required that law enforcement training also include “training on the State, county, or municipal law enforcement agency’s fair and impartial policing policy” by the end of 2018.

The bill establishes data collection requirements to identify bias in current policing practices and to monitor the effectiveness of training. Through these improvements in training and transparency, the legislature seeks to ensure impartial policing practices at all levels of law enforcement.  

Reducing Stress on the Court System

Vermont’s courts have been facing an alarming increase in neglect and abuse cases, largely due to the opiate epidemic. Children in Need of Care and Supervision (CHINS) and Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cases add a substantial strain to the court system. Because these cases are complicated, lengthy, and time consuming, they have stretched judicial resources.

The legislature acted quickly this session to address the issue. We created a new position called a Judicial Master who will help facilitate the implementation of early intervention and judicial monitoring and monitor compliance in some cases. The legislature also worked to alleviate some of the strain on trial courts that hear CHINS and TPR cases by streamlining certain appeals. We also authorized the Supreme Court to designate a region of up to four counties as the venue for TPR cases. Taken together, these changes should free up time for Superior Court judges and improve the public’s timely access to justice.


Please stay in touch: [email protected], 496-7667.