Just as a reminder, I serve on Judiciary in the morning and chair Government Operations in the afternoon.
It seems like this year is not only busy but has many major issues we are addressing: minimum wage, gun legislation, law enforcement coverage and issues, dispatch, universal primary care, prisons and prisoners, among others. As of yet none of these have reached any conclusions but we continue to work on them.
We have, however, passed some major pieces. Legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use passed the Senate last year, passed the House this year and has been signed by the governor. I realize that this is a major step: the first state to do so in the Legislature. I do believe that once this goes into effect there will be more interest in regulation of the product that will lead to some sort of tax and regulate legislation during the next biennium.
Getting less attention but important, are some measures that have passed the Senate and are now on their way to the House. We passed a bill that would require any internet provider that does business with the state to maintain net neutrality. The bill is S.289 if you want more details. S.207 prohibits a fee to either place or remove a freeze from one’s credit report. S.179 expands the scope of the community justice centers allowing referrals from more places and also extends this option to civil cases.
Although it might not seem terribly important we passed S.29 which rewrote the probate process. That process seems to have been more reflective of the last couple of centuries than today. It took the probate bar a number of years to do it right, and our Judiciary Committee spent hours on this 120-plus-page bill and we believe it finally brings our probate system into the current time.
Government Operations continues to work on issues surrounding law enforcement, dispatch, and emergency services. This fall we had meetings in eight places around the state to listen to citizens, selectboard members, sheriffs, police departments, town managers, and others. A number of issues were identified. Some of them - dispatch, training, recruitment, retention, public safety plans, data collection, EMS - are issues that we are addressing this year. The issue of equitable access and responsibility for funding will need more time and we are suggesting they be tackled over the summer/fall.
Gov Ops is also addressing the problem of systemic racism in agencies and departments of the state. We are looking at the Fair & Impartial Policing Policy: the immigration section is the most controversial at this point. We are also looking at a bill, S.281, that would establish a panel to have oversight of systemic racism in state government departments and agencies. We have had a full day of testimony and another day of committee discussion. At this time it seems that we are inclined not to create another panel but instead to charge certain governmental positions with this responsibility. We will identify those positions and give them specific charges.
This leads me to remind everyone that just sending notes encouraging us to pass certain bills is not terribly helpful. Bills change from day to day. It is best to actually point out your interest in the issue so that as the actual bill changes we can take your thoughts into consideration. Contact us about what is on your mind.
Bills that originate in one chamber, H for House, S for Senate, must be out of that chamber and on to the other by March 2. That means we don’t have much time left so get in touch soon if you have any questions or concerns.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (802) 387-4379, or leave a message at the Statehouse at (802) 828-2228.