Bill, as introduced, banned traffic stops for minor offenses
by Guy Page
The Vermont Racial Equity Advisory Panel will hold a zoom hearing 6-8 PM today seeking Vermonters’ feedback on the purported use of minor traffic violations by police to target minorities.
The hearings were required by Act 106, passed in 2022. Introduced as H.635 by several Democrat-Progressive lawmakers, it would have prohibited police from ‘secondary enforcement’: using so-called minor violations to initiate a traffic stop, then making arrests on more serious charges.
In the initial version of H.635, these minor violations included: failure to display registration or unobscured license plate numbers; failure to display license plate on a trailer; obstructing windshield or windows; using tobacco in a motor vehicle with a child present; possession or consumption of cannabis or alcohol by driver or passenger; not wearing seatbelts; and, inoperative headlights, taillights, or directional lights. However, the bill was amended into a more generic “study bill” to explore repeal or limiting of secondary enforcement.
Act 106 “requires the Executive Director of Racial Equity, the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, and the Commissioner of Public Safety to jointly examine all motor vehicle violations for the purpose of making recommendations on whether or not statutes should be repealed, modified, or limited to secondary enforcement.”
H.635 would not ban minor traffic violations, but such violations could not be used as the primary justification for a traffic stop. This bill thus would serve to reduce the number of stops for minor traffic violations, alternatively called non-safety related or pretextual stops, H.635 advocate Stephanie Seguino testified March 9 to the Legislature.
“In stops that are pretextual in nature, the officer’s primary interest is not the traffic violation. Rather, the intent is to use the pretext of a minor traffic violation as justification for a stop where the officer suspects but does not have evidence of a more serious crime. A major concern with pretextual stops relates to the fact that officers have discretion on whom they choose to stop. That discretion can be unevenly exercised, based on the driver’s race. Officer discretion combines with a long history of negative racial stereotypes in which African American and Latinx people are portrayed as more criminal and dangerous than white Americans,” Seguino said.
As part of this process, the working group wants to learn about Vermonters’ experiences with traffic enforcement. “Specifically, we hope to learn about how traffic laws affect your communities. We also hope to learn whether there are specific changes or updates that would improve your experience as a motorist, passenger, pedestrian, resident, or visitor in Vermont,” a panel statement said. The feedback will help the Executive Director and the Commissioners make recommendations to the Vermont Legislature on how to update the traffic code to meet the spirit of Act 106 of 2022.
We will hold five sessions (in-person and via Zoom) around the state: northwest region, northeast region, central region, southwest region, southeast region. The first event will be on October 4 in Chittenden County from 6-8 PM. Event registration and details can be found by visiting: https://racialequity.vermont.gov/traffic-statute-review-community-engagement. If you have specific questions or concerns, please direct inquiries to: email@example.com