Vermont House advances bills addressing racial injustice, police use of force

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MONTPELIER, VT – The Vermont House advanced three bills Tuesday as part of a racial justice package intended to address community concerns regarding the corrections system and police brutality and violence. 

One bill, S.119, relating to a statewide use of deadly force policy for law enforcement, passed the House in a 106-37 vote. The bill tasks the Department of Public Safety and Executive Director of Racial Equity with working out the details of implementing a uniform policy on use of force.

The standards provide that the use of force by law enforcement is lawful if it is ‘objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional’ and the use of deadly force is lawful if it is ‘objectively reasonable and necessary in defense of human life.’

“It is the oversight responsibility of the Legislature to create standards governing the use of force,” said Rep. Martin Lalonde (D-South Burlington). “For the most part, Vermont police already train and act in a manner consistent with these standards. But, by putting these standards in statute, they are enforceable in a court of law and have far more potential to shape police culture and provide further protections for BIPOC Vermonters.” 

S.24, An act relating to a report on racial equity and bias in the Department of Corrections, passed the House on a voice vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration of the House amendment. 

“This bill aims to address systemic racism and promote social equity within the Department of Corrections by focusing on training and supervision practices and shifting their focus from a model of punishment and surveillance to a human-services approach,” said Rep. Sara Coffey (D-Guilford). “The goal is to create a system and approach that is based in inclusive, reparative, and restorative practices with a focus on recruiting, training, and retaining a diverse and high-quality workforce.”

Lastly, S.124, An act relating to governmental structures protecting the public health, safety, and welfare, passed on a voice vote and now moves to the Senate.

Should the bill be enacted, the Criminal Justice Council would add civilians, including people representing BIPOC communities, people with lived experience with mental health conditions or psychiatric disorders, and a mental health crisis worker to its ranks. The council would recommend statewide policies on officer qualifications, testing, and training. They would also propose policies on use of body cams, surplus military equipment and facial recognition technology.

“S.124 is the beginning of an ongoing process to address policing policies and training, within the larger issue of systemic racism and the experiences of BIPOC Vermonters, said Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford). “In considering this bill, we heard from over 90 Vermonters in public hearings and considered the input of over 1500 Vermonters who answered the survey posted by the Social Equity Caucus. The changes made in this bill are part of our ongoing efforts to ensure equity within our criminal justice system.”

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