Racial Justice Reform

In addition to starting to review Senate bills, House Judiciary has directed significant effort toward considering H.492, a bill related to racial justice reform. The Committee has heard extensive testimony on the bill, which, as introduced, involved two main initiatives: (1) establishing a Racial Justice Oversight Board to manage and oversee the implementation of racial justice reform and (2) ensuring uniformity across the State in the adoption of fair and impartial policing policies by all law enforcement agencies in Vermont. After extensive consultation with the sponsors of the bill, the Office of the Attorney General, and advocates of the bill, the Committee has decided that the best route forward is to have two different bills.

The first bill, which will continue to be H.492, would establish the Racial Justice Oversight Board. The Board would be established in the Office of the Attorney General and would have an advisory role. The members would be drawn from individuals across the State with diverse racial, ethnic, religious, age, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It would review racial justice reform efforts across the State, including within the systems of education, labor and employment, housing, health care, economic development, and criminal and juvenile justice by monitoring the collection and publication of race-based data, recommending policies and training to address systemic implicit bias, and evaluating racial justice policies, practices, and results.   Among other responsibilities, it would make recommendations to the Criminal Justice Training Council and the Vermont Bar Association on model trainings and policies for law enforcement, judges, and correctional officers to recognize and address implicit bias and use of force in policing.

A separate Committee bill would address fair and impartial policing policies. It would amend 20 VSA 2366, related to such policies, by requiring all State, local, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies in Vermont to adopt the Criminal Justice Training Council model fair and impartial policing policy in its entirety. This would ensure uniformity among the law enforcement agencies. Currently, agencies may adopt only certain required parts of the policy, not all of the policy. In addition, the bill would require the Criminal Justice Training Council in consultation with the Attorney General to ensure that the model policy does not conflict with federal immigration law.

The Committee anticipates voting these bills out in the coming week.