Legislative Update – February 16, 2017

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Feb 16, 2017 No Comments ›› maxinegrad
Vermont State House Photo by John Phelan - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Photo by John Phelan – Own work, CC BY 3.0

It is an honor to Chair the House Judiciary Committee and work on such timely issues as immigration, bias free policing and the impact of implicit bias on our communities.

Fair and Impartial Policing (F&IP)

Quite a few weeks ago, I scheduled a full packed morning to update the Committee on F&IP. It was scheduled prior to President Trump’s Executive Orders on Immigration. The hearing couldn’t have been more pertinent as we as a state and nation react to the President’s policies that collide with Vermonters’ core values of tolerance and celebrating our common humanity. Community policing is more important than ever. I am committed to continuing working on this important issue that is directly tied to public safety.

Immigration

House Judiciary took testimony with Senate Judiciary on a bill designed to provide protections against President Trump’s executive orders.

We heard from public safety officials and advocates on a proposal that is the result of the collaboration of the Governor, Attorney General and Dept. of Public Safety.  

The bill would block state, local and county agencies from collecting and disseminating personally identifying information for the purpose of a national registry. It would also require the Governor’s approval to enter into contracts for a local or state law enforcement agency to conduct federal immigration enforcement work.

This bill is a compliment to fair and impartial policing.  The bill strikes a balance of complying with federal law while protecting Vermonters’ constitutional rights.

Marijuana Legalization: H.170

Currently, Vermont law marginalizes and penalizes individuals who possess small amounts of marijuana. While possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a civil infraction like a speeding ticket, possession of a plant is a crime, carrying with it collateral consequences of a criminal record. Cannabis use ranks below alcohol and tobacco use as far as individual and public harms. Accordingly, it is difficult to rationalize legal alcohol and tobacco use, while criminalizing marijuana consumption. The best way to reduce use is through education and prevention, not incarceration or criminal penalties.

H.170 takes an incremental step in addressing this situation. It removes civil and criminal penalties for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana and for growing a limited number of plants, so long as the grower follows certain conditions related to those plants. This step would build on the legislature’s previous decriminalization of possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. The bill imposes penalties on the possession of marijuana by individuals under 21 years of age and imposes penalties on those who enable minors to consume marijuana.

The bill recognizes Vermonters’ rights to privacy and autonomy. They should be entitled to make decisions related to marijuana use free from government intrusion so long as no harm is being visited on others by those individual choices.

Prosecutors testified mostly in favor of the bill. Law enforcement testified that decriminalization is working and the amounts allowed under the bill—2 oz. and any plants are too much. It should be noted that when the “decrim“ bill was introduced that is now law, the law started as 2 oz. and was voted out with 1 oz.

Witnesses expressed concern that the State needs to do a better job, whether or not marijuana possession is legalized, with prevention and education programs, primarily aimed at youth. The committee learned that while prevention curriculum is consistent statewide regarding alcohol and tobacco, not all school districts teach about the harm caused by marijuana.

Highway safety continues to be a concern. This highway safety problem needs to be addressed whether or not H.170 is enacted. I sponsored 2 impaired driving bills that are in House Transportation.

The bill does not create a regulated market for marijuana. Some prosecutors and others thus testified that H.170 doesn’t go far enough in truly protecting from the illegal market, pesticide use and quality. A regulated market could run afoul of Federal laws related to marijuana. Also, my committee’s jurisdiction is focused on crimes and penalties, not taxation. H.170, which will result in a decline in the use of State resources to pursue criminal penalties against those who possess marijuana for personal consumption, is within the State’s purview.

Other Committee Reports

General Housing & Military Affairs

The Committee is working on the modernization and structural reorganizing of Title 7: Alcoholic Beverages. Our beer, wine and liquor industries have been tremendously successful and are rapidly growing. The craft beer industry alone is estimated to have a $350 million economic impact on the state. By reorganizing the way the Title is structured, it will make it easier for license holders to get the information they need to operate their business and successfully be in compliance. This is an important bill to our district!

Healthcare

The committee looked at the Vermont health insurance legal landscape if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed. Certain items are already protected under Vermont law and would continue to apply to health insurance plans in Vermont even if the ACA is repealed, such as: contraceptive coverage with no cost sharing in most instances; coverage for mammograms and colonoscopies with no cost-sharing; and mental health parity requirements. Provisions that would not continue to apply to health insurance plans or to employers’ self-funded plans in Vermont if the ACA is repealed would be such things as: annual out-of-pocket maximum; ban on preexisting condition exclusions; bans on annual and lifetime limits for essential health benefits; ban on cost-sharing for preventive services; and coverage for young adult children up to 26 years of age on their parents’ plan.
Please stay in touch. 828-2228. mgrad@leg.state.vt.us.