Courts & Corrections

House supports changes in sex crime laws

House lawmakers advanced three bills that adjust various aspects of Vermont’s laws concerning sex offenses.

One bill, H.74, would establish a misdemeanor crime of lewd conduct, which would carry a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $300 fine on the first offense.

Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Wells River, encouraged fellow lawmakers to think of the measure as a “replacement law.” Currently, when a felony charge of lewd and lascivious conduct is pleaded down, the lesser charge often does not reflect the sexual nature of the crime, he said. The measure fills that void, he said.

Anne Donahue
Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield. File photo by Andrew Nemethy/VTDigger
The House gave the bill preliminary approval on a voice vote, though there was some opposition.

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, said on the floor that the existing crime of lewd and lascivious conduct is not clear.

“I’m not in support of adding something that actually adds to the lack of clarity,” Donahue said.

Another bill, H.25, establishes a bill of rights for people who have been sexually assaulted.

Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington, introduced the bill on the floor. For many victims of sex assault, she said, the experience of reporting it can be very difficult.

“The way in which they’re treated is so traumatizing it is sometimes described as a second rape,” Rachelson said.

Under the bill, people reporting they have been sexually assaulted must be given written notice that they have the right to a forensic medical exam, information about protective orders or potential restitution, and other services.

In current law, the state bears the cost of some medical care for crime victims if it isn’t covered by health insurance. Under the proposed legislation, the state will also cover the cost of care for victims whose safety or confidentiality could be at risk if the services are billed to their insurance.

The measure passed on a voice vote.

Another bill, H.27, eliminates the six-year statute of limitations for prosecuting the crimes of sexual assault and sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult. That legislation, too, was approved on a voice vote.

All three measures are expected to come up for final approval in the House later this week. If they pass, they will advance to the Senate.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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