Racial Justice and Criminal Justice legislation update

Vermonters care deeply about justice and equality, and in this time of national outcry for racial justice we are hearing this loudly and clearly from our constituents. We are listening, and we are acting. From the beginnings of our history as a state, we recognized the deep injustices of our nation’s foundings, becoming the first state to abolish slavery. Minimal progress has followed. Now we find ourselves in a critical moment of sea-change - and we must act both expeditiously and thoughtfully. Americans, Vermonters, are waking up to the fact that our county, our society, our laws, and our institutions are built on foundations that do not incorporate the interests of everyone, nor protect the well-being of every citizen.

Now is the time to address the institutional and systemic racism that harms and traumatizes Black and Brown Vermonters, Indigenous, People of Color, as well as undermines the free, full expression of all of us.
To dismantle systemic racism and centuries of oppression, we must work both individually to educate ourselves and collectively to transform institutions - every Vermonter has an important role in this. Our Laws and our lives need to be aligned for this work to be successful.
Likewise in the Legislature, addressing systemic racism falls within the jurisdiction of every single committee in this body, and we are eyeing our past, present and future policymaking using this expansive lens. This one single bill will never be a cure-all for the monolith that is systemic racism, but it is the first of many steps that must be taken methodically and ongoingly. And we have heard from stakeholders and community members impacted and marginalized by law enforcement that legislators need to listen deeply and receive critical expertise from communities of color and organizations working for racial justice before crafting laws that will live on. At the same time, we will not delay. S.219’s legislative intent section highlights the critical resource of “The Pillars of 21st Century Policing” as a guide, a plan that promotes policy- and culture-change that includes transparency and a “guardian” approach to policing.

The Six Pillars are:

  • Building Trust and Legitimacy

  • Policy and Oversight

  • Technology and Social Media

  • Community Policing and Crime Reduction

  • Training and Education

  • Officer Safety and Wellness

We should be proud to hold our members of law enforcement to high standards. It is not an offense to the badge to expect those who wear it to perform their duties with the utmost integrity and in a fair and impartial manner. The Dates of Enactment and Sunset in the bill may seem confusing and raise questions. They were included with intention - both to set these policies in motion, as well as to ensure that subsequent policy making towards full and expansive racial justice cannot be forgotten nor delayed.

What S.219 Does:

Sec.1 notes justice reform to date, while noting the General Assembly must do more.

  • States the General Assembly’s intent to advance legislation to address issues of racial bias and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement.

  • States the General Assembly’s intent to increase resources for the Executive Director of Racial Equity.

Sec. 2 provides that grant funding to local law enforcement will be contingent on the Sec of Administration confirming that the law enforcement agency has complied with race data reporting requirements within the past 6 months. Sec. 3 requires the Sec of Administration to notify all law enforcement agencies of the grant funding requirement by August 1, 2020.

Sec. 4 covers race data collection.

  • Race data collection is not burdensome. There are already sections to indicate some of this information -- in practice, only one additional box must be created for people to check.

  • Data collected must be sent to the Executive Director of Racial Equity and it must be publicly posted.

Sec. 5 updates “physical force” definition to include use of force greater than that required to handcuff a compliant person

  • Bill adds new conduct to Category B misconduct (gross misconduct) for:

  • Using a prohibited restraint on a person (defined in the bill as the use of any maneuver that applies pressure to the neck, throat, windpipe, or carotid artery that may prevent or hinder breathing, reduce intake of air, or impede the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain.)   

  • Failing to intervene and failing to report to a supervisor when an officer observes another officer using a prohibited restraint or otherwise using excessive force on a person

  • Category B conduct can result in the following sanctions:

  • Written warnings

  • Suspension

  • Decertification with option of recertification

  • Permanent decertification

Sec. 6 creates a new crime of law enforcement using a prohibited restraint that causes serious bodily injury or death (effective October 1, 2020). Sec. 7 requires the Department of Public Safety to equip all Vermont State Police with video recording devices by August 1, 2020. Sec. 8 requires DPS to fund body cameras within their FY2022 budget. Sec. 9 repeals the newly created crime in Sec. 5 on July 1, 2021. These repeals, or sunsets, of the new crime and sub 3 of the justifiable homicide defense, are necessary to ensure that the General Assembly take further action on resolving inconsistencies between these provisions. Sec. 10. Effective Dates

  • Sec. 2 re: State grant funding contingency takes effect on January 1, 2021.  

  • Sec. 5 re: unprofessional conduct takes effect September 1, 2020. 

  • Sec. 6 (new crime) and Sec. 7 requiring body cameras for VSP take effect October 1, 2020.



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