March 15th was the last legislative session before crossover. Crossover is when bills that have passed out of one chamber, house or senate, get passed to the other, senate or house, to be taken up, And since this is the second year of our legislative biennial, any bill that hasn’t “made the crossover” will need to be refiled the following year.

Disappointingly, the bills that we favored, that would reduce cash bail, reduce long sentences, and require us to rethink plans to expand the prison infrastructure or our dependency on out-of-state prisons, did not make the crossover. Most, if not all, of these bills didn’t even get a hearing. The criminal legal bills that did get traction, however, were “tough on crime” bills. We’ve written here about one of these bills, H.534, which can bring a felony charge, and conviction, for multiple retail thefts – shoplifting – within a certain time frame. According to Vermont ACLU’s Falko Schilling, Vermont currently has the lowest felony threshold for retail theft in the region, so this bill is moving us in the wrong direction. It is important to remember that a felony conviction is a burden that will affect the person’s ability to find housing and employment — the things that are really needed for them to become a stable member of the community. And of course, this bill, along with other “tough on crime” bills working their way through the chambers, will further increase the prison population.

Day of Empathy

On a more optimistic note, although the Second Look bill didn’t get a hearing or a vote this year, there is a lot of positive energy for promoting the bill next biennial, starting in January 2025. The Sentencing Project, Drop LWOP New England, Vermont CURE, Vermont ACLU among others (including Vermont Just Justice) are behind this bill. There are currently versions of the bill in all New England states. On March 14, these organizations held a Day of Empathy at the state house, with a press conference and lobbying opportunities, and a happy hour and film “District of Second Chances” at the Inn at Montpelier. Impacted Vermonters were able to meet with advocates, legislators, and each other, for a day that was productive and uplifting. Plans are already underway for next year’s Day of Empathy.

In the meantime, we all need to keep talking to our legislators, to our friends and neighbors, about the need for Vermont to move away from the costly and counterproductive prison system we seem so dependent on, and focus on healthy communities, and opportunities for all Vermonters to live healthy, rewarding lives.

Our post on bills we support:
Bills We’re Watching this Session
Vermont Needs a Second Look

Our posts on “tough on crime” bills:
Good Things Take Time
The “Tough on Crime” Approach Won’t Solve our Problems

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Vermont Just Justice is an all-volunteer organization. Help us continue to support Vermont’s incarcerated people and change our state’s criminal legal system.