2018 Session – Acts to reduce violence in our schools and communities

During the Legislative Session there are typically three different groups of eighth grade pages that rotate in for six-week terms to the statehouse.  The pages are a group of students from all backgrounds and areas of our state who carry messages back and forth to legislators from their constituents and other legislators.  This year’s second group of pages finished their work this past Friday.  They started six weeks earlier on February 13th.  Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson noted the historical nature of their term in her comments prior to weekend adjournment.  This group of pages first week was remarkably violence filled, even by today’s standards.  On Wednesday, February 14th 17 students in Parkland Florida were killed with another 14 injured in a mass shooting event and on Friday, February 16th a Fair Haven, Vermont high school student was arrested following a tip that he had been planning for two years to cause mass casualties.  What followed in the ensuing weeks began with a request by the governor and legislative leadership to have an expansive conversation on what could be done to improve the safety of Vermont schools, reduce community violence and protect Vermonter’s rights.  It ended after a week filled with historic votes in the Vermont House and Vermont Senate.

At public hearings that filled the statehouse, committee rooms as well as a public hearing in Whitingham, Vermonters asked us to take steps to secure school buildings, address undiagnosed and untreated mental health and drug abuse issues, and give families, law enforcement and the courts more tools to keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them.  Here are the actions that the legislature has taken, and that the governor is expected to sign.

Secure Buildings:

  • Creates a felony charge for the possession of a firearm on school ground with intent to harm.
  • $4 million in funds to the School Safety and Security Grant Program. Schools will be able to apply for grants to implement safety measures such as video monitoring and surveillance equipment, intercom systems, window coverings, exterior and interior doors, locks, and perimeter security measures. Another $1 million in federal funds is expected to be leveraged on this program.

Address untreated mental health and drug issues:

  • The Agency of Human Services will receive funds to increase their capacity to provide mental health services to relieve the backlog in our local hospital emergency rooms, increase the number of beds for therapeutic placement, as well as create a new psychiatric residential treatment facility at the Woodside juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex

Keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them:

  • Puts current practice into law giving the judge discretion to require any individual who is a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as of condition of pretrial release.
  • Empowers family members and law enforcement to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a court order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others (commonly called a ‘Red Flag’ bill).
  • Provides protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person.
  • Expanding background check requirements to unlicensed (or private) firearm sales, including a provision that provides immunity to Federal Firearm Licensees that provide background check services in unlicensed (private) sales;
  • Requiring purchasers of long guns to be 21 years or older, unless they have taken a hunter safety course (which is already required to obtain a hunting license), are a veteran, are a law enforcement official, or are in the military. This puts long guns on par with handguns. Under federal law one must be at least 21 to purchase handguns.
  • Bans the purchase and possession of bump stocks effective October 1, 2018; and
  • Bans the purchase (not possession) of high-capacity magazines while excluding antiques, replicas and long guns with lever or bolt action. Possession of high-capacity magazines that were purchased before the enactment date is grandfathered.

I am a strong supporter of our entire Constitution including the Second Amendment.  As such, I worked extremely hard to understand the legal provisions and constitutionality of the bills, read about supreme court cases, met with the attorney general’s office, spoke with supporters and opponents of various pieces of legislation, attended and hosted public hearings with leaders from our schools, communities and from local and state law enforcement, and at the very end worked with folks from our valley, legislative attorneys, the speaker’s office and members of the governor’s staff to develop amendments that were needed to strike an appropriate balance between Vermonter’s rights and public safety.

For some we will have done too little and for others too much.  Our individual Constitutional rights are not absolute.  Our courts have allowed for reasonable regulations when one individual’s rights have encroached upon another individual’s rights. While nothing we do can guarantee 100% safety for our students or are citizens, I believe we have found a balanced way to improve the odds and respect Vermonters rights.  Thank you to all in our Valley who supported or opposed this legislation that took the time to engage with us to learn, to research, to attend hearings, speak on the phone, offer technical knowledge, or who listened to the hours of debate on public radio.  That is how a free people govern themselves in a democratic society.

The session is rapidly drawing to a close and an early May adjournment is expected.  There are very significant education, income tax, telecommunications, minimum wage, family leave laws that have also been being developed and debated during the past 6 weeks.  I look forward to providing additional updates in the coming weeks.

Please stay in touch with questions about any of the legislation noted above of if you need assistance.  lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us or 802-384-0233

Kind regards,

Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham
Advertisements

School safety and gun regulations votes

Thank you to all who attended the hearing Rep. Gannon and I held in Whitingham last week.  Thank you also to the law enforcement, school administrators, civic leaders, sportsman and gun regulation advocates who helped us plan an event we hoped all would feel comfortable sharing their views at.  Read more about the event here.

My constituent Stephanie Greene, who assisted in the planning and hosting of this event, posted an opinion piece on the importance of using your voice.

Prior to Town Meeting, the House voted on H.675 :

  • Puts current practice into law giving the judge discretion to require any individual who is a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as of condition of pretrial release.
  • Empowers family members and law enforcement to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a court order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others (commonly called a ‘Red Flag’ bill).
  • Provides protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person.
  • Creates a felony charge for the possession of a firearm on school ground with intent to harm.

The roll call vote on this bill was 104-29 in favor.  I voted yes on this bill.  The Extreme Risk Protection Order contained in this bill is the most effective measure we have been asked to consider to ensure firearms do not end up in the hands of those who should not have them.

In addition, this bill allows law enforcement to remove firearms at the scene of a domestic assault.  Last year I voted against this piece of the bill because I felt it violated an individuals right to due process.  Changes to this language include requiring arraignment within one business day.  In my discussions with the Vermont Attorney General’s office I learned that the courts have found an individual is not Constitutionally entitled to pre deprivation due process.  In simple terms, in certain cases where law enforcement believes there is an extreme and imminent risk, due process begins after your weapon is confiscated, not before.

I tried to live post the voting on S.55 yesterday and it looks like it was tough for folks to follow.  Here is a detailed explanation of what happened on the House floor yesterday, March 23rd, with S.55.

I want to let those who elected me know that I take all parts of the Constitution very seriously.  In addition to the right to bear arms and the right of the people to petition, that also includes the separation of church and state, the right to assemble – as our youth are courageously doing today – and freedom of the press.

It is important to me to help people engage with their government, and so I work to ensure you know how to reach me, how I vote, how to read bills under consideration, and in yesterday’s instance to attempt to report what was happening from the floor.  I invite each of you to come to the State House and spend a day with me and see how our government functions.  The State House is also available to you without visiting me.  If we are in session, you have a right to be in the building watching as we attend to the people’s business.

Running for office is not a decision to take lightly.  Particularly if you are a parent with a school age child, particularly if you are not wealthy, particularly if you are not affiliated with a party.   I decided to run four years ago because I did not think our voice was being heard in Montpelier.  I’ve worked hard to help individuals and groups interact more successfully with government.  It is impossible for me to vote more then one way, so inevitably, on every vote, I have disappointed some and pleased others. If you are dissatisfied with the overall service of your legislators, the Vermont Secretary of State website contains the rules and links to forms needed to run for office. Competition in a democracy is a great thing.

To those in my district who are posting death threats and threats of bodily harm to me and/or to my fellow House and Senate Members, here are a few things to consider:  in addition to the fact that you are creating a public record of your intent, your children, their children, and my children are reading those comments.

It seems to now be acceptable for persons acting in fear to not take the time to research and cross check facts prior to taking to social media. I’d like to suggest an alternative.  Let’s turn down the emotion and rhetoric and try engaging with the information and facts which are being made available – before commenting.

Fear is contagious.  So is courage.

Thank you to all who have engaged and are engaging on these issues.  Please do stay in touch, please do ask questions, please do let me know what you are thinking about specific issues and please do let me know if you need assistance.  lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us or 802-384-0233

 

School Safety Forum planned for March 18th in Whitingham

Deerfield Valley Residents and employees invited to attend

A significant discussion about school safety is happening throughout Vermont and the Deerfield Valley following the Florida and Fair Haven, VT school incidents.  There is a sense of urgency to the conversations happening in Montpelier, led by the Governor, Speaker and Senate Pro Tem, which includes considering new safety measures as well as legislation increasing regulation of guns. Governor Scott has issued a memo detailing ideas he would like the Legislature to consider in order to improve school safety.   Deerfield Valley State Representatives Laura Sibilia and John Gannon want to ensure residents, students, staff, and law enforcement in the Deerfield Valley communities are able to weigh in.

A School Safety Forum for residents and employees who work in the towns of Dover, Halifax, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Readsboro, Wardsboro, Whitingham and Wilmington will be held on Sunday March 18th from 4 pm to 6 pm at Twin Valley Middle High School 4299 Vermont Route 100 Whitingham, VT.    Gannon and Sibilia are hosting the forum and met with school administrators, board members, and staff, law enforcement and community representatives to plan the event.

The purpose of the forum is for those who live and work in the 9 towns to be able to share ideas about possible legislative and non-legislative solutions to school safety. This will be a moderated discussion.  To allow as many people as possible to speak, individuals who live and work in the 9 towns will be given three minutes to speak and share their thoughts on school safety.

Questions from residents or employees of the Deerfield Valley on the upcoming forum can be sent to Rep. John Gannon at jgannon@leg.state.vt.us or Rep. Laura Sibilia at lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us