Commentary, Opinion

Supporting public transparency

By Lisa Loomis

The Vermont Press Association wishes to thank Gov. Phil Scott for his veto of S.107 and siding with greater transparency for all Vermonters while also allowing for more time on this important issue.

His veto letter is very clear and thoughtful as to why the bill as passed needs more consideration. The governor makes clear that there are bigger societal issues that need to be addressed. There were serious public transparency problems with the bill and the veto will allow time to address those issues. It will also allow a chance for more involvement by those that deal with these criminal cases.

The bill as drafted would allow for defendants up to age 20 to avoid public disclosure for a long list of serious crimes in Vermont like DUI fatal car crashes, domestic abuse, hate crimes, lewd conduct, embezzlements and much more.

The Vermont Press Association was among the groups and individuals that found some inconsistency with legislation allowing criminals up to age to 20 years old to go to juvenile court because they apparently lacked maturity. Yet at the same time there was legislation approved to allow 16-year-olds (and those just about to turn 16) to vote at Vermont Town Meetings and to serve as select board members, town treasurer and other positions through the Brattleboro town charter.

We agree with the governor along with the Senate and House that the state needs to have relevant changes made to the Vermont juvenile justice system. As was noted during testimony and elsewhere Vermont has no adequate system in place. 

Last September a 16-year-old licensed driver crossed a double yellow line on Route 7 in Charlotte and killed the retired Ferrisburgh town clerk and his wife, police said.

Little could be done. The county prosecutor refused to send the case to adult court like in other similar cases through the years in Vermont. The case of Isabel Seward, 16, of Atlanta apparently went to juvenile court, which — officials have said — has few options since Vermont closed its juvenile jail and does not have many, if any, relevant long-term programs.

In the end Vermont State Police did issue a $220 ticket to the 16-year-old related to the crash killing two people.

As Gov. Scott so well put, Vermont is still lacking “access to the rehabilitation, services, housing and other supports needed to both hold these young adults accountable and help them stay out of the criminal justice system in the future.”

The Vermont Press Association  looks forward to a comprehensive program that works for all Vermonters while also ensuring public accountability and transparency.

Lisa Loomis is the president of the Vermont Press Association and the editor of The Valley Reporter serving the Mad River Valley and Sugarbush and Mad River Glen ski communities.

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