Senate committee would expand right to sue police

By Guy Page

A bill that would expose police to lawsuits for exercising their duties is scheduled for review Wednesday 9 am in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

S254 would “create a private right of action [power to file suit] against law enforcement officers for violations of Vermont constitutional, statutory, and common law rights. This bill also proposes to waive the use of qualified immunity as a defense in such actions and provides for qualified indemnification of law enforcement officers by law enforcement agencies.”

The Vermont Constitution only confers legal immunity on the Legislature: “Article 14. [Immunity for words spoken in legislative debate] – The freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in the Legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any accusation or prosecution, action or complaint, in any other court or place whatsoever.” Vermont courts extend a qualified immunity to state government employees – including police – charged with carrying out laws established by the Legislature. 

If S254 becomes law, it could have “the most negative impact on policing in Vermont in recent history,” the Vermont League of Cities & Towns said Feb. 4. 

The bill “eliminate all immunities applied to law enforcement officers – that is, it opens them to suits for any action or lack of action,” the League wrote. “The bill specifically singles out law enforcement officers. All other governmental officials covered by qualified immunity would retain that protection. VLCT is concerned that the committee members misunderstand the doctrine of qualified immunity and how it works. Advocacy staff testified about our concerns with the scope of S.254 and its potentially devastating impact on community policing, access to law enforcement services, recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers.”

To date, only one state – Colorado – has eliminated police qualified immunity. Opponents of S254 are concerned police would leave Vermont for more legally-friendly jurisdictions. Even without S254 as law, police departments in Burlington, Rutland, Montpelier, Brattleboro all report severe staffing problems. The Vermont State Police and the Dept. of Corrections also are understaffed. Recruitment and training is a lengthy process and the capacity of the Vermont Police Academy is unequal to the current demand. 

Taxpayers also would suffer, the League claimed, noting “fiscal impacts on taxpayers and property taxes due to higher insurance premiums that result from additional prolonged and protracted litigation.”

S254 is co-sponsored by the committee chair, Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), and its vice-chair, Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) – thus assuring it will get all of the attention the committee leadership believes it needs. The committee has discussed the bill off and on over the last two weeks. At Wednesday’s hearing, testimony is scheduled from the Department of Public Safety, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the VT Dept. of Financial Regulation and the ACLU. 

Now Sears, Baruth, and Sens. Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden) and Becca Balint (D-Windham) want to take that protection away from police. They are supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, which says qualified immunity supports racist policing. 

21 replies »

  1. Why is it not surprising that some of the dimmest lights in the State Senate, Balint, Baruth, Ram and Sears, are backing this virtue signaling lunacy? And I’m sure there will be others who will want to jump onto this clown car piece of legislation before too long. Crime in Vermont is on the increase and our state and local police are not getting the support they rightly deserve. Mr Finnie is correct. We need a mechanism that would would make it easier to sue legislators for wantonly endangering public safety by introducing nonsensical legislation such as S254. Perhaps the legislators need to realize that their thoughtless, fantasy-land visualization of what laws are necessary for Vermont are actually worthless and have tragic real world effects. These fools don’t represent Vermont; they’re just self-serving political hacks…

    • Mark, you make some good points. It’s to bad you weaken your arguments by ad hominem remarks. If Balint, Baruth, Ram and Sears are the fools you say they are, it’s easier to give them a pass for their ill advised proposals. If on the other hand they are the intelligent, thoughtful people that I suspect they are, the points you brought out make them all the more culpable for their errors.

      • No Dwight, I’m not giving these fools a pass! Over the years, I’ve meet them and talked with them, and when they talk with you, they can ‘t look you in the eye. They’re scanning the room as if looking for a photo op they might be missing. Suspect whatever you want, but they are NOT intelligent and thoughtful people, and yes, they are fully culpable for their continuing errors and ill advised proposals.
        I have reached a point, as many of my fellow Vermonters have I’m sure, where I realize that most of our legislators, and members of the of the current committees that are using the fraud ‘climate change’ to ruin our state, do indeed believe they are smarter than the citizens of Vermont, and know best how to run this state. But you know what, Dwight, they’re dumb as ditchwater. Vermonters don’t count in their thinking, they’re out only for their own benefit…

    • Our men in blue already haves a problem. The legislators are working hard to protect criminals from our Police force. We want smart hard-working policemen protecting us. Is there anyone left who will want to serve and protect anymore? Maybe some of these men and woman need to call on an officer in an emergency

  2. Fantastic! Fentanyl will be taken off the Schedule 1 drug list this month (causes most deaths among 18-45 year olds – anyone have kids or grandkids?). With that change (and other chuckleheadedness), now the understaffed and underfunded police will hopefully have the extra time to devote to preparing their defenses to more lawsuits instead of investigating serious drug crimes.

    • Who votes in the Vermont elections?
      Somebody voted for these out of touch progressive legislators. You get what you vote for!

  3. Keep it up and you will have zero nada, none police officers.but that is exactly where the progressive/socialists IDIOTS want to drive avermont. Time to vote them OUT of the legislature

  4. Baruth, Balint and Ram behind this anomie is expected. Sears? Something or someone has gotten to him, he and Benning are vying for “most idiotic” award this biennium.
    Vermont Legislatures, past and present have inflicted so much damage to Vermont to further the cause of liberal socialism that this concept of castrating police agencies along with limiting free speech (as it might make a legislator uncomfortable) seems the next step for totalitarian socialism,
    better know as communism. It certainly seems to be what politicians currently in office want, I’m very sure it’s not what the majority of taxpayers and the electorate want. It is time to stop electing legislators on popularity, or promises of free stuff. We’ve seen what 30+ years of this has brought us to.

  5. May we sue the legislature for their breach of Article 9 of the Vermont Constitution?

    “That …. previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evident to the Legislature to be of more service to community than the money would be if not collected.”

  6. Every week I read of more insanity coming from under the “Golden Dome”. It’s high time Vermont elects legislators with some good old Vermont common sense.

  7. I’ve always been a strong supporter of good policing. I have a few friends who were cops and one member of our family who is on the force. After seeing how the police are conducting themselves in Canada, Australia, France and most of the E.U. countries and every Socialist-Democrat governed city in the U.S. to oppress the citizenry who are protesting and demonstrating against the loss of their freedom, maybe the wacky leftists actually have hit on something here! If a cop is more concerned about arresting a mother in Chuck E Cheese because her 2-year-old is not wearing a mask, while completely ignoring the BLM guy out in the parking lot nailing some 84-year-old Korean woman with a brutal upper-cut, not only does he need to have his butt sued, he needs to have his butt kicked! They have gone from ” To Serve and Protect” the Public to “To serve and Protect” the Socialist politicians and the elite!

  8. I think what they want is the collapse of policing. But also collapse of the economy, the border, education systems, religion, nuclear families….the entire government and country. Then they can build their woketopia and have more power over more people than ever before. Its really, really evil

  9. I agree with other commenters. As it appears taxpayer dollars are misappropriated, used for criminal purposes and activities by members of the Legislature as well as violating their oaths of office – I want the ability to sue my representatives for misrepresenation and criminal conduct. I want my money back because of the fraud that is our government.

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