By Guy Page
Gov. Phil Scott signed into law several public safety bills yesterday. Taking away police officers’ immunity to civil suits was not among them.
In retrospect, this year’s legislature was notable for a sea-change in the criminal justice system that didn’t happen: there was no repeal of police qualified immunity. A qualified immunity bill that had considerable momentum in the 2021-2022 Legislature – post-George Floyd – was transitioned into a “study bill.” The bill ordered the study to be completed by November 2022, but VDC can’t find any record of the study on the legislative website.
The issue of Qualified Immunity has attracted no interest at all (yet) in the current biennium.
Other state government offices have been actively pursuing perceived police misdeeds, however. At least three police officers in recent months have been subjected to ‘decertification’ proceedings by the Vermont Criminal Justice Council. The Vermont Attorney General this month directed the State Police to cite two state troopers for simple assault and reckless endangerment after they fired a bean-bag round at an out-of-control man who refused to come down from a roof in Windham County. And the State Police this spring investigated and accepted the resignations of two young officers who used inappropriate language while video-gaming in their off-duty hours.
On May 30, Governor Scott signed into law the following public-safety bills:
- S.4, reducing crimes of violence associated with juveniles and dangerous weapons. Bans straw purchases of firearms, tightens restrictions on gun purchases by felons, makes changes in juvenile criminal justice system.
- S.36, crimes against health care workers at hospitals and against emergency medical treatment providers. Gives police more leeway to take into custody suspects in attacks on hospital staff, EMTs.
- S.47, the transport of individuals requiring psychiatric care. Police may take into custody and transport if there is probable cause of causing harm to self or others.
- S.73, workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters with cancer
- S.89, establishing a nine-bed forensic facility to existing VT State Psychiatric hospital, amends guidelines to allow involuntary medication.
- S.91, competency to stand trial and insanity as a defense. Places more burden of proof of insanity on the defendant.
- S.138, school safety. Requires school safety plans, drills, and locking exterior doors during school hours. Establishes behavior threat assessment teams.
When signing S.4, S.36, S.89, S.91, and S.138, Governor Scott issued the following statement:
“Today, I am proud to sign a suite of bills that will enhance public safety, support victims of crime, keep our kids safer in school, and more. My team has worked collaboratively with the Legislature to advance these proposals, and I want to thank them for working with us. In particular, I want to express my appreciation to Senator Sears for his efforts and partnership. Several of these bills would not have made it across the finish line without his hard work.
“These bills take important steps. They work to provide local officials the ability to hold offenders accountable for straw purchases of guns; hold justice involved youth accountable for violent offenses and provide them with support services in a more timely manner; provide communities access to resources for violence prevention efforts in their towns; help better protect health care workers from violent incidents; lays the groundwork for a facility to fill a gap in our human services system for justice involved individuals who are incompetent to stand trial; separate competency and insanity evaluations to provide swifter justice and ease the backlog of evaluations; and increase school safety by standardizing basic measures in every school district across the state, such as high quality emergency operations plans, centralized visitor management, and behavioral threat assessment teams, a tool for schools to identify concerning behaviors and get kids the help they need before something goes wrong.
“As I have often said, public safety is a primary responsibility for any government, and although there is more that needs to be done, these bills make Vermont an even safer place to live and raise a family.”
To view a complete list of action on bills passed during the 2023 legislative session, click here.