Governor Phil Scott vetoed two criminal justice reform bills, one to expand eligibility to clear criminal records and the other to study reform of state drug laws.
Scott’s vetoes, announced late Thursday night, extend his record total of vetoes to 32 over his nearly six years in office – far exceeding any other governor in the state’s history. Former Gov. Howard Dean is the closest with 21 vetoes over 12 years in office.
Scott took action on seven bills Thursday, vetoing two, allowing two to become law without his signature and signing three more.
Since lawmakers adjourned earlier this month without booking a veto session, they won’t have the opportunity to vote to override Scott’s vetoes.
H.534, which passed voice votes in the Senate and House, would have expanded eligibility to remove nonviolent crimes from a person’s record.
Almost all misdemeanor convictions, except for violent crimes, could have been expunged from court records, along with some crimes, including some drug offences.
Scott, in his veto letter to lawmakers, wrote that he had public safety concerns with the bill.
“Vermont is currently experiencing a significant increase in violent crime, most of it drug-related,” the governor wrote. “From my perspective, this bill seeks to make offenses related to the possession, sale, cultivation, distribution and transportation of dangerous, illicit and highly addictive drugs – as well as the use of fraud or deception to obtain these dangerous drugs – expungible offences.
Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, who sponsored the bill, said Friday she was disappointed with the governor’s action.
“This bill was an important step in judicial reform,” said Grad, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “I’m sorry there was a veto. I’m sorry we can’t help a number of people get their lives back together and give them a second chance and really help them thrive in the community. .
Grad said criminal convictions can be obstacles for people seeking jobs, education, housing and loans.
“These crimes are crimes that are eligible for expungement; it’s not automatic,” Grad said of the offenses covered by the legislation. Prosecutors and judges would also have been involved in the process, she said.
H.505, which also adopted voice votes, would have established a Drug Use Standards Advisory Committee to determine benchmarks for personal-use dosage and personal-use supply and make recommendations to the Vermont Sentencing Commission and the Legislature for any changes.
“It places no limits on the drugs that may be considered for legalization or the amounts,” Scott wrote in his veto letter to the Legislative Assembly, “and while rightly saying that we must view drug addiction as a issue of public health – a point on which I agree – it includes absolutely no recognition of the often disastrous health and safety effects of the use of drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc
The legislation called for the advisory council to include “experts in the fields of general and mental health care, treatment of substance use disorders and substance use communities”.
Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, a sponsor of H.505, said Friday the veto came as a surprise to him.
“It’s pretty simple,” LaLonde said of the bill. “It’s about building a capacity to get better information to make better decisions about what penalties to apply for possession of different drug weights.”
Any changes to the law, he added, would still have to go through the Legislative Assembly.
“What we’re trying to achieve is what I would call the defelonization of possession charges, so that an individual who is just a user and someone who might need treatment doesn’t not be treated as a criminal,” he said.
The bill would also have changed the law so that powder cocaine and crack cocaine are treated the same.
“Current law would impose a higher penalty for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine,” LaLonde said. “Really, this disparity has in the past resulted in disparate impacts on black communities.”
House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, released a statement Friday afternoon calling the bills the governor vetoed “well balanced” and essential to being “a more justice-minded state.” criminal”.
“If the governor continues to veto bills that Vermonters are counting on for a fairer and more just future,” the speaker added, “I just don’t know how we can make the progress we we all know that they are essential for health and well-being”. be future generations of Vermonters.
James Lyall, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a statement on Friday criticizing the governor’s decision to veto H.505, adding that Scott defers to officials of the law enforcement.
“By giving the police — not public health experts — the final say on drug policy,” Lyall said, “the governor seems more interested in continuing the failed war on drugs than seeking answers. meaningful public health solutions, criminal law reform and racial justice. ”
Also Thursday, the governor signed into law the following bills:
H.287, which establishes minimum requirements for patient financial assistance policies of certain health care facilities and provides patients with medical debt protection.
H.500, which prohibits the sale and distribution of mercury lamps.
H.553, which makes domestic partners eligible for reimbursement from the victim compensation program.
Scott also announced on Thursday that he was letting two bills become law without his signature:
H.523, establishing policies regulating the use and disposal of hydrofluorocarbons.
H.744, amending the Burlington City Charter to allow ranked voting.