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June 14th Newsletter | Veto update 3: Harm Reduction and Restorative Justice

Submitted by Lisa.Gerlach@v… on

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In the early hours this morning, Governor Scott announced that he vetoed two more bills, bringing the total number of vetoed bills for this session to eight. The two bills added to the veto list are H.121, An act relating to enhancing consumer privacy and the age appropriate design code (aka the Vermont Kid’s Code), and H.687, An act relating to community resilience and biodiversity protection through land use (aka the Act 250 reform bill). You can view a complete list of vetoed bills from this session here


I’ve shared information about the renewable energy standard and the neonicotinoid ban bills that were vetoed in a newsletter last week (read more), and yesterday I wrote about property taxes and education funding (read more). In today’s veto update, I’ll be sharing information about the overdose prevention centers bill and a bill that would increase the use of restorative justice practices in our judicial system. 


I have heard from legislative leadership that S.18, the ban on flavored tobacco products, will not be taken up during this veto session. You’ll be getting one more veto update this weekend about the two bills most recently vetoed bills mentioned above. 


Overdose Prevention Centers 

I’ve been following H.72 closely this year (you can read some information about it in a previous newsletter as well as a press statement I made immediately after the bill was vetoed.) 


As a quick overview, this bill would fund one pilot overdose prevention center (OPC) in Burlington. It also commissions a study on the impact of this site and lays the legal groundwork for it to operate safely for the community and the individuals.  


An overdose prevention center is a site where people consume pre-obtained substances under the supervision of trained staff, without fear of arrest. These sites can provide sterile supplies and overdose reversal medication that staff can use in case of an emergency. They also help connect people with social services and provide information about treatment interventions. 


OPCs have operated in other countries and New York for many years, and studies have found that they have reduced the number of overdoses in the communities that they operate. They also help keep drug related litter, such as needles and other paraphernalia off of the streets. Additionally, they expose those who use OPC’s to information about paths to recovery. You can read more about OPC’s here.  


Why was this bill vetoed? 

In a letter explaining his veto, the Governor states that “While these sites are well-intentioned, this costly experiment will divert financial resources from proven prevention, treatment and recovery strategies, as well as harm reduction initiatives that facilitate entry into treatment rather than continued use.” 


Research on existing OPCs has shown that they are incredibly effective at preventing overdose deaths- in fact, not one death has taken place at an operating OPC. They also reduce the sharing of syringes and have helped increase linkages to treatment and increase social connectedness.  These are all positive outcomes that Vermonters can benefit from. 


Substance use disorder is an incredibly difficult disease. Our goal is, of course, to get as many people into recovery programs as possible and to prevent people from using these substances in the first place. However, it is unwise to think that individuals with SUD will stop using substances cold-turkey and make their way to recovery centers on their own. We need to create more avenues for people to learn how to seek help, and we need to find ways to reduce unnecessary deaths in the meantime. 


I have also heard arguments that these centers could increase drug use and crime in the communities that they operate in, but 20 years of research on existing OPCs has found no evidence that they are a threat to public health and safety. Rather, OPCs reduce the burden on ambulances and emergency rooms, decrease litter on the streets and public drug usage, and can overall benefit public safety. 


We need to use every tool we can to combat the opioid crisis. OPCs can help save lives and create safer communities.  


Equitable Access to Restorative Justice Programs 

Another bill vetoed by the Governor is H.645, An act relating to the expansion of approaches to restorative justice. This bill would create diversion programs into restorative justice programs for people, including children, who are charged with minor crimes.  


Restorative justice programs can vary, but they often focus on repairing harm between the offender and the victim rather than simply punishing the offender and leaving the victim without closure. These programs have been found to reduce recidivism at a higher rate than our traditional justice system does.  


Why was this bill vetoed? 

In his veto explanation letter, the governor points to the lack of funding in the bill as the reason for his objection. He states: “The bottom line is this bill expands the responsibilities of the Office of the Attorney General, which will require additional resources, and yet the new work is not funded.” 


However, Attorney General Charity Clark released a statement of support for H.645 after it was vetoed. In it, she stated that “The Governor’s veto message rightly points out that H.645 does not include requested funding in this fiscal year’s budget. It fails, however, to note that the effective date of the relevant sections of this bill is a year away. The funding requested for this year’s budget was to create a position within my office to assist with transitioning the pre-charge program from the Department of Corrections (DOC) to my office in advance of the effective date, July 1, 2025.” 


The Attorney General’s office worked closely with legislators on this bill, and, if the veto is overridden, will continue to work to secure funding for the necessary position during next year’s legislative session. However, according to their office, they have the staff and tools needed to start developing this program now. 


There is a clear desire, and need, for reforming our criminal justice system. I hope that the legislature can overturn this veto and allow the Attorney General’s office to start exploring, and creating, this new program that has the potential to do a lot of good for communities around Vermont. 



As mentioned, the veto session will begin on Monday, June 17th, so now is the time to contact your legislators and let them know how you feel about these bills. 


Lt. Governor David Zuckerman