By Guy Page
The Legislature isn’t in session, but that doesn’t mean nothing newsworthy is happening at the Vermont State House. Almost daily, intermingled with tourists visiting from all over the globe, state officials and advocacy groups are holding conferences, working groups or summer study committees.
Today, the topic is criminal justice. Here’s the agenda for the Vermont Legislature Justice Oversight Committee: a revised plan for prison construction; Act 46 report; preparation for the influx of crystal meth; challenges in prison population and overcrowding; and, update of racial disparities in criminal and juvenile justice advisory panel.
A July, 2019 Vermont Public Radio report notes that nationally, crystal methamphetamine seizures by federal authorities rose 142% in 2018. U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan told the Vermont press in December 2018 that meth is coming to Vermont. Burlington Police Chief Brandon Del Pozo said that while use is still relatively small, it is on the rise. The VPR report cites its versatility for drug users: “There are many paths to meth use. Some drug users say they take it to pick themselves up after taking downers: heroin or fentanyl. Those on the streets say they take it to stay awake at night and avoid rape or robbery. Meth offers a relatively cheap high that can last days. That means fewer injections and less worry about finding money for the next hit. And some drug users pick up meth because they are terrified of fentanyl, the opioid that can shut down breathing in seconds.”
Methamphetamine is among the many “hard” drugs targeted by H.103 last year for reduced sentencing for possession. Introduced by Rep. Martin Lalonde and other members of the House Judiciary Committee, it is supported by advocates of complete decriminalization of hard drug possession. The bill did not pass last year but may reappear for discussion in the coming session.
The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in Room 10 and goes all day. Members include Sens. Dick Sears, Chair, Philip Baruth, Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, James McNeil, and Cheryl Hooker; and Reps. Alice M. Emmons, Vice Chair, Maxine Grad, Sandy Haas, Mary S. Hooper, and Charles “Butch” Shaw.
When the Legislature passed S.113 to restrict the use of single-use plastic straws and shopping bans, it also established a Single-Use Products Working Group to help implement the ban next year and to recommend any further items to be banned. The group will meet for the first time Tuesday, September at 12:30 p.m. in Room 10. Members include Sen. Sen. Christopher Bray, Rep. James McCullough, Stephanie Bonin, Kim Crosby, Andrew Hackman, Lauren Heirl, Jennifer Holliday, Cathy Jamieson, John Leddy, Erin Sigrist and Gwynn Zako.
The working group’s agenda includes election of a chair, review of S.113 requirements, impact of single-use products on the state’s waste stream, and how these items are managed at the solid-waste district level.
Other scheduled meetings include:
Sunset Advisory Commission, Sept. 11
Joint Fiscal Committee, Sept. 16
Joint Legislative Management Oversight, Sept. 17
Legislative Study Committee on Wetlands, Sept. 17
PreKindergarten-16 Council, Sept. 18
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.