Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday signed a trio of criminal justice bills, two of which he said are tied to the state’s fight against opiate addiction.
Shumlin, back from a morning meeting of New England governors about opiate addiction, said the bills will help Vermont continue to lead the nation in its approach to battling addiction.
Joining him in his Statehouse ceremonial office for the signings were a host of law enforcement, politicians and state officials, including prosecutors, the defender general and officials from the courts and the health department.
The pretrial services bill was the hallmark of the House and Senate judiciary committees this session. It aims to connect more people who intersect with the criminal justice system with addiction treatment and other services.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan told the story of an addict who was arrested at Kmart because she sniffed an aerosol can. That woman needed addiction treatment, not a charge of retail theft, he said.
“It is no longer acceptable to do business as usual in the criminal justice system,” Donovan said.
The pretrial bill sets up a statewide system of monitors who will track whether people comply with instructions from the court to seek treatment or other services.
Donovan has started a similar program in Chittenden County that has led to a decreased rate of recidivism, according to preliminary data, he said.
The bill also creates a uniform statewide tool to evaluate people entering the court system for failure to appear in court or their likelihood to commit a new crime.
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster said all prosecutors are interested in a program that will reduce recidivism and reach addicts at the time when they are most open to getting treatment, which is directly after arrest.
The bill also includes several last-minute additions, including more regulations on doctors who prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to help addicts recover, to cut down on incidents in which the drug, also known as suboxone, is sold on the streets.
The bill’s signing is timely because addiction is also related to child abuse, another issue state officials are dealing with, said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who co-chairs a legislative panel that is investigating child welfare and, specifically, the Department for Children and Families.
“The connection between child abuse … to the heroin and growing heroin problem was not lost on members of the committee,” Sears said.
Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, highlighted a section of the bill that allows Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug, to be sold over the counter at pharmacies.
Shumlin gave the ceremonial pens to Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre Town, Donovan and Pugh.
Shumlin also signed S.184, a bill aimed at eliminating racial bias in police work in Vermont.
The bill mandates that all police departments adopt a bias-free policing policy. Lawmakers this session learned some departments had no policy or a deficient policy and heard stories about the racial profiling of migrant farm workers.
That bill also asks police to start collecting roadside stop data, which will eventually allow analysts to study policing trends.
Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, pushed for that bill, along with the group Migrant Justice. Karen Richards of the state Human Rights Commission called it “a huge step forward for civil and human rights in Vermont.”
The bill also includes two other criminal justice measures concerning eyewitness identification and the recording of interviews with potential suspects during investigations of certain crimes.
The precious metals bill, S.308, aims to make it harder for people to benefit from selling metals, with the hope that the number of burglaries will decrease as a result. Drug addicts often steal precious metals and sell them, Shumlin said.
Shumlin also signed two executive orders creating criminal justice-related task forces.