Governor Phil Scott signed eight bills Monday, including a bill that will advance the state criminal justice system’s mental health assessment of those facing criminal charges.
Kelly Carroll, a Bennington resident whose 26-year-old daughter Emily Hamman was killed in downtown Bennington this January, testified before the Senate and State House of Representatives in support of S.3 this year.
She found out that Governor Phil Scott signed the bill when the banner asked her for comment Monday afternoon.
“I’m very, very happy to hear the governor signed it … I am delighted that people are thinking about mental health and what to do with this small percentage of violent offenders,” said Carroll. “I hope the dialogue continues, and I hope to be a part of it … There is much more to be done, but it is a start.”
Carroll was confident that Scott would sign the bill.
“I have spoken with [Agency of Human Services Secretary] Mike Smith a while ago and I knew it had his support .. and with Senator [Dick] Sears and [state Rep. Mary] Morrissey, the way you advocated … I hope it will improve the local mental health care. If it had been in effect a few years ago, I think Emily would still be with us. “
Darren Pronto, Pownal’s husband charged with first degree murder in Hamman’s death, was reportedly diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Scott, who worked off a backlog of laws in the final days of the 2021 legislature, also signed reforms to the state’s “Tax and Regulate” cannabis law, a summer legal study on local education funding, and a bill to permanently send out ballot papers for general elections.
On the Voting Act, p. 15, Scott called for the legislature to return to the issue next year and add primaries, local elections, and school budget votes to the list of ballot papers mailed to registered voters.
“I am signing this bill because I believe it is important to make sure that voting is easy, accessible and that voter turnout is increased,” Scott said in a press release. “However, we should not limit this expansion of access to parliamentary elections, which already have the highest voter turnout.”
The Cannabis Act, p. 25, creates a “Cannabis Business Development Fund” with the aim of granting loans and grants to “applicants for social justice” – people who have historically and disproportionately been affected by the cannabis ban. It also requires an affirmative vote of a community’s voters to issue a cannabis retail permit.
Also enacted was S.13, a bill that lays down an implementation plan for weighting factors per student used in determining wealth tax capacity in education.
The bill establishes a legislative task force to draft legislation with the new weights developed for a 2019 University of Vermont report chartered by the legislature. This report found that the existing weights were not based on empirical data and new weights were created to reflect the higher cost of education for rural students, new English learners and students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
The eight-person task force will consist of two members each from the Senate Finance and Education Committees, the House Ways & Means, and the Education Committees. Members are appointed by House Speaker Jill Krowinski and the Senate Committee on Committees and cannot all be from the same political party.
Her role includes “recommending an action plan and legislative proposals to the General Assembly to ensure that all public school students have equal access to education, taking into account the report”.
Marc Schauber, executive director of the Coalition for Vermont Student Equity, said the coalition is grateful for Scott’s signature and “glad that he fully supports the work of this task force.
“We look forward to working with the task force because this work is important and cannot wait any longer.”
Legislation also directs the education authority, under the direction of the task force, to develop an easy-to-use simulator that will model the impact of the new weights on taxpayers in counties across the state. The existing simulator is a spreadsheet and uses 2018 financials and consolidation district limits before the 46 law – both are now deprecated.
Schauber warned about how this simulator can and should be used – as a tool to educate residents about the potential tax implications. “I want people to remember that correcting weights per student is about equity in educational opportunities, not about setting a tax system.”
Tiffany Tan, Bennington Banner reporter, contributed to this report.