Friday, May 25, 2007

7 Leg. Highlights of 2007

The Vermont legislature is wrapped up for another year. Rather than run down the several hundred votes we took, I'll just highlight seven from this year:

1. Thinking Big on Prison Reform
2. Fighting Global Warming
3. Education Spending (and killing the Governor's Caps)
4. Protecting Transgender Vermonters
5. Taking a Stand Against the Iraq War, and for Impeachment
6. e-Vermont
7. More Local Chicken Dinners (seriously)

Thinking Big on Prison Reform

Bold success may be around the corner for prison reform in Vermont. I'm talking about (a) making society safer, while (b) reducing the number of people incarcerated, and (c) freeing up our taxpayer dollars. Can it be done? I say YES, but only if we approach it in a non-partisan, non-political way. Impossible you say? Then I plan to prove your pessimism wrong. To back up my assertion is the fact that there is agreement from all three branches of government to address these goals. After much work behind the scenes, we assembled a meeting of our Republican Governor, Democratic leaders House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate Leader Peter Shumlin, and Chief Justice Paul Reiber of the Vermont Supreme Court, along with 60 of their closest friends (myself included). This summer we will be meeting with the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments to create a plan achieve these three goals. The Justice Center found success in other states around the country, and now we've enlisted their help here in Vermont. This could be huge, and I'll continue to work closely on this project.

Fighting Global Warming

Mixed results here. First, we passed a strong forward-thinking bill to not only begin to address climate change / global warming, but also create jobs and save the Vermonters on their energy costs. Big kudos go to my district mate Rep. Rachel Weston for her work on this plan. The only catch? It's not free -- it requires an investment. To pay for it, we increased the fee akin to a property tax so that Vermont's nuclear energy company pays the same rate that wind turbines must pay. Fair's fair. The Governor threatens a veto on this bill, without offering an alternative funding source. What does it mean when people say that they're against global warming, but when push comes to shove, they're against funding the effort? Please let the Governor know your thoughts by calling him at 800-649-6825 or 802 828-3333. Urge him to sign this critical and inventive legislation. Or join VPIRG (

Education Spending (and killing the Governor's Caps)

We passed an education spending reform bill that first and foremost kills the Governor's proposal to cap spending. I believe that those caps would have been terribly detrimental to Vermont's children, including here in Burlington. Instead, we passed a bill that puts into motion several critical studies so that we can get the information needed to address some of the cost drivers for education. With more knowledge, we can make better decisions. Plus, the studies should yield results before we enact a new system of voting in certain towns. That system will then put pressure on school boards who spend more than the statewide average to address their spending. This new system of voting will not affect Burlington, since our school district spends less than the statewide average.

Protecting Transgender Vermonters

By a whopping vote in the House of 118-28, we passed a bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity, protecting Vermont's transgender communities. I worked hard on successfully signing up more than half of the House's Representatives to sponsor this bill. We ended up compromising slightly with the Governor on this bill (remember he vetoed a similar bill last year!), but frankly, the changes are minimal. This is a new law that we can all be proud of, and frankly, it's long overdue.

Taking a Stand Against the Iraq War, and for Impeachment

We didn't spend a lot of time making a statement on the national scene, but we had our voices heard. The Vermont legislature voted to tell Washington that we want our troops to come home starting now. We also had a debate on presidential impeachment, which I supported, but which didn't pass. Nevertheless, the debate on these contentious issues were respectful.


Look for better internet coverage throughout the state, due to a tri-partisan bill that will help the more rural parts of our state. Who says Vermont doesn't mean business?!

More Local Chicken Dinners (seriously)

Rubber chicken jokes aside (for now), we passed bills promoting locally grown food, including teaching children more about agriculture, nutrition, and buying dinner close to home. The law also allows restaurants to serve locally grown chickens, bypassing certain meat inspection criteria. Sound risky? Well, it's no fowl move. According to the farmers, their procedures are a lot safer than some you'd see at a slaughter house. Vermont joins a flock of many other states in this movement. Cluck, cluck, cluck.

If you have questions about any specific bill or issue, or suggestions for next year, please let me know. We're back in session from January to May, give or take a couple of weeks. But even though it's summer, the political duties continue -- right now I'm working on a bill to address the concern over racial profiling (there was an article about it in yesterday's Burlington Free Press). More to come.


PS. This summer, besides continuing my work on prison reform, which includes meetings in Montpelier and elsewhere, I'll be performing my standup comedy, appearing in a play, making several films, and of course, spending lots of quality family time with Nat and Max (who is one year old as of today).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

New Sex Offender Registry

Vermont has some of the most effective, tough, and sane laws on sex offenders in the nation. Below is an advance shortened press release from the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence:

May 18, 2007 -- The Vermont legislature last week passed a law that will expand Vermont’s sex offender registry requirements for high-risk, untreated perpetrators of sexual violence who are currently incarcerated.

“Vermont has some of the best laws in the country to deal with the epidemic of sexual violence. These laws have been carefully and thoughtfully crafted to protect the safety and rights of victims, to enhance the safety of our communities, and to reflect national best practices in treating and supervising those who commit crimes of sexual violence,” stated Karen Tronsgard-Scott, director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Vermont crime statistics indicate that more than 97% of crimes of sexual violence reported to Vermont law enforcement in 2005 were committed by someone known to the victim. Much attention nationally has been focused on aggressive campaigns supporting very lengthy mandatory minimum sentences and extensive residency restrictions for sex offenders. These public policy approaches fail to consider the true nature of sexual violence in our communities, and can in fact backfire and result in less accountability for those who commit these heinous crimes.

Lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for crimes of sexual violence in Vermont would likely result in more acquittals for perpetrators of sexual violence. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence opposes lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, stating: “Long mandatory minimum sentences can have a number of negative consequences that serve to decrease, rather than increase, public safety. For example, lengthy mandatory minimum sentences sometimes result in prosecutors not filing charges or filing charges for a lesser crime than a sex offense, as well as increased plea bargains down to a lesser crime. Similarly, judges or juries may be less inclined to convict a defendant on a sex offense because of the mandatory minimum sentence.... All of these possible negative consequences can result in fewer sex offenders being prosecuted and/or tracked….” (

Vermont passed several new provisions in the past two years that deal sensibly and comprehensively with the issue of sexual violence.

See for the full press release and more details.