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A New Tax-And-Regulate System For Cannabis, Statewide Policing Reform And More

Protesters stand on the steps of the Statehouse
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR
Mark Hughes of Justice For All and the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance addresses a small crowd gathered at the Statehouse Sunday to protest bill S.54, which Gov. Scott allowed to become law without his signature on Wednesday.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, a new bill barring law enforcement from using facial recognition technology and more for Thursday, Oct. 8.

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1. Gov. Scott allows tax-and-regulate system for cannabis sales to become law

Gov. Phil Scott has allowed a tax-and-regulate system for commercial cannabis to become law without his signature.

But the governor, in a message sent late Wednesday, said lawmakers need to work further to ensure racial equity in the new cannabis industry.

Scott noted the difficulties the remote legislative session posed for dealing with the bill’s complexities. But he said the Legislature must improve the law to address highway safety, youth drug abuse and social justice issues.

In 2018, lawmakers legalized possession of small amounts of cannabis for people 21 and older, but the prohibition on commercial sales continued. The new law says sales would not begin until October 2022.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

2. Scott allows statewide policing reform to become law

A bill signed by Gov. Phil Scott Wednesday bars law enforcement from using facial recognition technology.

The ban on the technology was part of a larger police reform bill that included updates to police training and stricter hiring practices.

James Lyall is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. Lyall said the ban will protect the privacy of Vermonters.

“Facial recognition technology poses a real threat of around-the-clock police surveillance and they’ve been shown to misidentify women and BIPOC people at unacceptably high rates,” Lyall said.

Gov. Scott also allowed a bill creating a new use-of-force standard to become law.

Police reform advocates are praising the move.

Prior to the new legislation, deciding whether an officer was justified in using force was based on what was going on at the moment the use of force took place.

The new bill requires taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, and whether the use of force is “reasonable, necessary and proportional.”

Lyall said the state now has the best use-of-force standard in the country.

“It’s historic legislation. And we see it as a critical step to reimagining the role of police in our communities,” he said.

Some law enforcement officials have been critical of the bill and said police departments, not legislators, should have developed the new standard. Gov. Scott said despite allowing the bill to become law, he wants the Legislature to revisit it next year.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. 11 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases identified to date in the state to 1,838. As of Thursday, no one was hospitalized with the disease in Vermont.

Of the new cases, four were identified in Chittenden County, one in Franklin County, one in Bennington County, two in Windsor County, three in Washington County. There were no new cases identified in Addison County, where 27 people tested positive for COVID-19 this week as part of an outbreak on a Shoreham orchard. The health department has said that the outbreak is contained.

To date, the state has tested 169,402 people for active cases of COVID-19.

- Abagael Giles

More from Vermont Edition: Testing, Guidance, An Outbreak In Addison County: Checking In With Health Commissioner Mark Levine

4. Legislature plan for hybrid or remote next session

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson says she's putting together contingency plans for how House members will meet for the 2021 Legislative session.

Because of health concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers left the Statehouse in mid-March and conducted the rest of the session remotely.

Johnson said she's exploring whether some House committees could safely meet in the larger conference rooms at the Statehouse.

But she said bringing all lawmakers back to Montpelier is not an option.

“We are not going back to ‘business as usual’: standard full-time, everybody in the Statehouse. We are not anywhere near on track for that to happen. I am planning for a hybrid session," Johnson said. 

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said he thinks the democratic process was well served by the use of remote technology for the second half of the legislative session.

In mid-March, lawmakers left the Statehouse because of growing health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most committee meetings and floor deliberations were streamed live online and available to the public.

Ashe said the process worked pretty well for most people, and because legislators weren't conducting business at the Statehouse, lobbyists had less influence.

"Lobbyists definitely took a back seat, and I think a lot of the concerns that were raised about citizen access were really questions of lobbyist access," Ashe said. "From my point of view, the more we can remove their dominance from the influence over legislation, the better we're doing."

Ashe is retiring this year, after serving six terms in the Senate. In Aug., he lost the primary election for the democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Looking ahead, it's possible that the opening ceremonies of the 2021 session could be held at the Barre Auditorium.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Former Vermont state poet laureate earns Nobel Prize

Poet Louise Glück has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's the latest in a long list of accolates for her 12 collections of poetry.

In the 1970s, she taught poetry at Goddard College in Plainfield, and served as the Vermont State Poet Laureate in the 1990s.

Fellow laureate Chard deNord co-edited Road Taken, a collection of Vermont poetry that includes some of Glück's work.

"I think the Nobel committee just decided that her body of work at this point is so large and so profound and so kind of rebellious in enlightened ways, that they felt she deserved this award," deNord said.

Glück is currently a writer-in-residence at Yale and lives in Massachusetts.

- Betty Smith

Correction 5:45 p.m.: It was previously stated that the state had tested 1,638 people for active cases of COVID-19. The state has in fact tested 169,402 people for coronavirus.

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