The fine folks at the Vermont ACLU got together Tuesday to unveil a plan that would cut the state’s inmate population by hundreds — which would, among other things, allow Vermont to bring its out-of-state inmates back home. (It’d also save money in a bloated corrections budget.)
Great idea. And in the words of Rice University Prof. Quincy Maddox, “Ain’t nothin’ gon’ happen.”
Seriously, I have to admire the dedication of these public interest advocates who do all kinds of research and put together plausible policy proposals in professional-quality brochures and pdfs that you just know are destined to get the bone-saw treatment in the legislative abbatoir. (Not on the official public tour.)
The plan calls for an end to cash bail (at any moment, hundreds of Vermonters are behind bars for failure to post bail), expanding alternatives to incarceration, better treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders, sentencing and prosecutorial reform, decriminalization of certain offenses including sex work, and better options for released inmates.
For years now, our political leaders have paid lip service to the notion of bringing all our inmates back home. But even as we’ve seen scandals and problems and questionable policies at out-of-state prisons, our leaders have failed to follow through.
This time, as usual, there’s plenty of lip service to be had.
Well, a pair of House committees got out their carving knives and turned S.241, the marijuana-legalization bill, into an unrecognizable mess.
This is a significant setback for legalization. The best hope is that the House passes the bill and then a House/Senate conference committee comes down firmly on the Senate’s side. After that, perhaps the bill could pass muster in the full House. But the outlook is definitely worse than it was a couple days ago.
Earlier this week, House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad proposed, well, a Bizarro World version of S.241. She slashed out the legalization stuff, opting instead for a mild extension of decriminalization that would allow for personal cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. That idea was specifically rejected by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, the primary gatekeeper on the Senate side.
Oh, and she also attached the House’s favorite Action Evasion Tactic — a study commission! Yay!
That was bad enough. But even that bill couldn’t pass the full committee. After Grad’s version failed on a 5-6 vote, the grow-your-own provision got the ax. The study commission, naturally, was spared. The bill also creates a penalty for driving under the influence if a driver has a BAC of 0.05 or higher PLUS any trace of psychoactive chemicals in their system, plus a new crime of making hash oil from marijuana.
A lot of lawmakers are throwing stones at the idea of legalizing marijuana in Vermont this year. A lot of influential lawmakers. The latest, and perhaps most dispiriting: the brontosaurus of the State Senate, “Democrat” Dick Mazza. He’s chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, which is one of the committees that would have to pass the bill, because reasons. In an interview to be broadcast this Sunday on WCAX-TV, he sent loud signals that he’s prepared to put the kibosh on the idea. Bottom line?
… I say let’s not hurry it. I don’t think a year or two will make a difference, but let’s answer all these questions with our eyes wide-open.”
In addition to that cheery comment, he also argued that public-safety funding needs a boost before making pot legal. His reasoning:
“Public safety always has some sort of shortfall. The reason they do is because we are asking public safety to do more, more and more. There are a lot more crimes in Vermont, so before you burden them with a service, let’s make sure that they are fully funded on their existing services that they are providing today.”
Not sure what he means by “burden them with a service.” I could infer that he expects more trouble for the police if marijuana is legal. This is a common sentiment among law enforcement types and lawmakers looking for reasons to vote “No,” but the evidence is decidedly mixed, where evidence exists at all.