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May 3rd Newsletter | Constitutional Amendments, Overdose Prevention Centers, and the Child Protection Registry

Submitted by Lisa.Gerlach@v… on

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The legislative session is scheduled to end on May 17th- though the legislature may need a few more days to give each bill the time it needs in order to be considered, debated, and concluded. In this newsletter are updates on proposed constitutional amendments, child abuse and neglect investigation and substantiation standards and procedures, and overdose prevention centers. 


Constitutional Amendments 

There are two constitutional amendments that are on the way to passing the first step in the process of being ratified. After they receive a majority vote in both the House and Senate this year, they will be voted on again in the next biennium. They will need a majority vote of the body of the Senate and a majority vote in the House in order to go to the voters for ratification in 2026. 


Proposition 3 would enshrine the right to organize or to join a labor organization for the purpose of collectively bargaining. Labor unions are an important tool for workers to be able to collectively negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions with their bosses. Enshrining this right in our State Constitution would mean that no law would be able to be adopted that would interfere with, negate, or diminish the right to organize. This proposition has been approved in both chambers and will move to the next step of the process in the next biennium. 


Proposition 4, also known as the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA, would add language to Vermont’s constitution specifying that the government must not deny equal treatment under the law on account of a person’s race, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or national origin. This would serve as a foundation for protecting the rights and dignity of historically marginalized populations and address existing inequalities. Prop 4 has been approved unanimously by the Senate and will be voted on by the House in the coming days.  


I am pleased to see the widespread support that both of these proposed amendments have received. Affirming our commitment to protecting marginalized groups and working people will help us create a more equitable future for all Vermonters.  



Child Protection Registry

This week, the Senate passed H.661, An act relating to child abuse and neglect investigation and substantiation standards and procedures. This bill will now go to the Governor. 


Children are the most vulnerable members of our communities. Protecting the health and welfare of children is a universally high priority among Vermonters. Vermont’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) is tasked with conducting investigations into allegations of child abuse and neglect in order to substantiate them or determine that abuse has not taken place. This bill establishes clear procedures that DCF employees must follow during these investigations in order to protect children who are suspected abuse victims, other children who may face abuse, and clarify who should be placed on the Child Protection Registry.  


Vermont’s Child Protection Registry contains records of all investigations that have resulted in a substantiated report. This registry was established in 1992 with broad parameters for inclusion. At its outset, it was primarily used internally in order to place kids who had been removed from a house due to abuse and neglect into safe homes. Over the past 30 years, use of the registry has changed, such as being used as a tool to screen for employment, but the parameters to be placed on it have remained the same. This has created a disconnect. 


Inadequate investigations have led to many reports concluding with abuse being substantiated that should not have been. A Vermont Parent Representation Center report from 2022 found that 100% of cases appealing substantiations since the system was created were overturned or dismissed. This is a clear indication that the system for investigating and substantiating abuse claims has significant flaws. While individuals are appealing their cases, they remain on the registry. This means potential employers may make false judgements about their character and people have unduly been declined work. 


Additionally, individuals who are placed on the registry but remain in custody of their children often have a difficult time finding employment, causing harm to both them and their children. 


Not everyone who is investigated for child neglect or abuse pose a risk of repeat harm in an employment site. There is a natural instinct to be cautions, but the way this system has been operated has caused a lot of harm to both caretakers and children. This bill clarifies both protections for children and protects adults from repercussions of false allegations or inaccurate findings.  


Overdose Prevention Centers 

I’ve been following H.72, an act relating to a harm reduction criminal justice response to drug use, closely throughout this session (you can read a previous newsletter on the topic here.) I’m pleased to report that this bill has passed both chambers and will be making its way to the Governor soon.  


Unfortunately, the Governor has indicated that he plans to veto this bill. If he does, the legislature will need to vote to override the veto in a special session in order for it to become law. 


H.72 will establish one overdose prevention center (OPC) as a pilot facility in Burlington. This OPC will be closely studied to see what affect it has on the community. Overdose prevention centers have been used throughout the world and in NYC. They have been extremely effective at reducing overdose deaths AND have greatly improved community safety by drastically reducing dangerous needles and other waste in public areas such as parks and sidewalks. 


This bill will also direct the Department of Health, along with other stakeholders, to develop operating guidelines for OPC’s to allow for and guide more centers to open in the future. People who operate and utilize these centers in good faith will be given immunity from citations, arrest, and prosecution under normal drug laws, as they are reducing deaths and harm from this public health challenge. 


This pilot site will allow people with substance use disorder to test and consume pre-obtained drugs and medications under the supervision of trained staff. These staff members will be present to provide first aid if needed and monitor and treat potential overdoses. They can also provide information about addiction treatment, medical services, and social services in order to help people seek help and support for their substance use, thus opening a doorway towards recovery. 


OPC’s are just one tool we can provide to help combat substance use disorder. We have seen the number of overdose deaths rise steeply in Vermont over the past few years as the opioid crises has worsened. OPC’s can help ensure that fewer Vermont families will lose loved ones to this heartbreaking disorder, help more people with substance use disorder access services and treatment to overcome their addiction, and reduce the amount of drug-related litter in parks and on streets.  



We encourage you to contact your legislators and the Governor’s office on this issue and other issues that are important to you.  


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Lt. Governor David Zuckerman