Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Legislative Update by Rep. Maxine Grad

My committee continues to work on a number of complicated bills, many of which I have discussed before. I am glad we are taking the time to take full testimony, and engage in a thoughtful deliberative process. Here are some highlights of what we have been working on.

H.615 Juvenile Judicial Proceedings. We continue to wrestle with many policy decisions in this bill. Here we are making decisions about when a court finds that a child is in danger, how far can the state go in removing the child from the home and determining a placement for that child, whether it is temporary or permanent.

We have therefore spent the past two weeks on definitions of terms like parent, custodial parent, noncustodial parent, parent child contact, guardian, custodian, care provider, legal custody, and residual parental rights and responsibilities.

How we define these terms needs to recognize that families are very different these days, children may have meaningful relationships with adults other than their parents who could serve as a placement instead of foster care, and while a parent may not have been involved in a child’s life and may not have custodial rights to the child, that parent may be able to play a meaningful role in that child’s life if a court determines that the child should be removed from his or her current home.

Some of the most helpful testimony was from a law enforcement officer who has handled many of these cases. As some of us pushed to require notification to a number of people when the child is removed, she reminded us that often these situations occur at 3 AM and the first order of business is to get the child or children out of the situation and away from imminent harm.

H.636 An Act Relating to Embezzlement By A Public Official. This bill was introduced in response to the unfortunate instances of embezzlement and other crimes committed by town and county officials. As first introduced, the bill focused primarily on sheriffs, due to the recent events in Washington and other counties. However, as the League of Cities and Towns and others testified, there are other town officials like town clerks and town treasurers who have been indicted for crimes and should be held accountable.

One issue we have been looking at is if a court has found probable cause of embezzlement, should the court have the authority to remove or suspend or remove the officer pending the criminal investigation. My committee concluded the court should, if it finds that permitting the officer to maintain his or her official duties will result in harm to the public. We heard testimony that these cases result in an erosion of public trust and the integrity of the municipality or county must be upheld.

The League of Cities and Towns has legislative policy that would support legislation that addresses other crimes beyond embezzlement. There is also a Senate bill that would allow a town to appoint the town treasurer instead of having the treasurer an elected position.

H.267 Industrial Hemp. This bill passed out of House Agriculture Committee and was sent to my committee for review on matters such as crimes and penalties. This bill is a good illustration of why it is important for my committee to review proposed legislation before it gets consideration by the full House.

The bill as it passed out of the Agriculture committee stated that a person with a prior felony conviction is not eligible for licensure to growing industrial hemp. We discussed if it should be any felony or just a drug related felony. Also, a felony in Vermont is a crime punishable after two years in prison, while in most states it is one. We took testimony from a member of the Agriculture committee on these issues to understand the legislative intent and create a clear legislative record on these issues.

H.617 Guardianship. We continue look at revisions to our current law on court appointed guardians. Here, our challenge is balancing personal autonomy, capacity, and health. We had the opportunity to take testimony from Representative Anne Donahue on this bill. She represents a dissenting view from the working group that drafted the bill that we have been considering. Her testimony has been very helpful is raising issues of possible discrimination in the bill as drafted and other issues that have caused us to pause, take more time and testimony to fully consider these issues. The appointment of a guardian especially in terms of involuntary medical treatment can be a serious infringement of a person’s liberties and any legislation we pass must be mindful of this.

H.352 An Act Relating to Reducing Lead hazards in Housing. This bill has gone through House Committees on Housing and General Military Affairs, Human Services, and is now in my committee. Despite the findings on high lead exposure in children and the serious adverse health effects, our health department does not support this bill.

H.397 An Act Relating to Death Certificates. Here we are balancing the privacy rights of the deceased and family members and the public’s access to information. Proponents of this bill that would remove the cause of death from death certificates as a matter of privacy. Examples we heard are is it the public’s right to know that a cause of death was a self-inflicted gun wound? Should depression be listed instead, or should that be hidden from the public? Should HIV be disclosed to the public? The bill would have the information available, put at the department of health instead of the land records. Historians, newspapers, genealogists and others have concerns about the bill and restricting access to the information.

Please stay in touch. 828-2229 or It is an honor to represent you.

No comments: