The legislature’s work in the 2021-22 Biennium resulted in major accomplishments, including investing significant funds in housing and workforce development, putting the State’s public pensions on a path to sustainability, and assisting vulnerable Vermonters. The House Judiciary Committee on which I serve also produced important legislation that may not have received as much attention. Below, I focus on four of those bills from this past Session.
Firearm Safety Measures. Some of our most at-risk Vermonters are those fleeing domestic violence. The majority of all homicides in Vermont are domestic violence-related, and usually involve a firearm. Act 87 helps address this danger by clarifying that judges can order the relinquishment of firearms in an emergency relief from abuse order to remove guns from emotional, potentially dangerous situations.
The law advances other important public safety measures. It removes firearms from potentially volatile situations—and protects our frontline healthcare workers—by banning firearms from hospitals. The law also protects Vermonters by extending the amount of time someone must wait to purchase a firearm when their criminal background check is delayed.
Identifying Racial Disparities in Vermont’s Criminal Justice System. Vermonters of color make up a disproportionate number of incarcerated persons in our state. To help identify and address the sources of these disparities, we need better data from the State’s criminal justice system. To that end, H.546 creates a Division of Racial Justice Statistics. The new division will collect data on individual interactions with law enforcement, State’s Attorneys, Vermont courts, the Department of Corrections, and other entities in order to uncover and remedy systemic racial bias and disparities in our criminal and juvenile justice system. An advisory council has also been created to incorporate the data collected into suggestions for concrete actions the legislature can take as we strive to make our state welcoming to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Access to Adoption Records. Act 100 allows adopted Vermonters to access their original birth certificates. During testimony on this bill, many adoptees spoke movingly on how incomplete they felt and how difficult it was to move on without having birth documents — access that most Vermonters take for granted. With passage of this law, adopted Vermonters—over 30,000 of our neighbors—will own their history in a way previously denied to them. It also creates a registry for future birth parents to clarify if they wish to be contacted by children they given up for adoption. This registry also allows them to share any information they wish their birth children to know, making this process kinder for both birth parents and adoptees.
Medical Monitoring for Vermonters Exposed to Toxic Substances. Over the past several years, Vermonters have been disturbed to learn of several instances of toxic contamination in our state. People exposed to these toxic substances often have no way of knowing what the long-term consequences could be for their health. They also may not have the financial means to afford the medical monitoring that could catch health issues at an early stage, when treatment would be most beneficial. Act 93 provides a cause of action for compelling the party responsible for exposure to a toxic substance to cover the costs of medical monitoring to those affected by the contamination. It lifts a burden of uncertainty off Vermonters coping with long-term health concerns through no fault of their own.
One effort that did not make it across the finish line involved restructuring Vermont’s criminal code. The House passed three bills that dealt with this issue (H.87, H.475, and H.505), but the Senate Judiciary Committee was unable to take them up before the Session ended. I am excited to be running to return to the State House and, if I am reelected, one of my priorities will be to finish this work.