MONTPELIER — A proposal to restrict firearms from hospitals, child care facilities and certain public buildings has been whittled down to hospitals and has emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation.
The bill, S. 30, has been replaced with a “strike-all amendment” that bans firearms from hospitals and charters a study by the Capitol Complex Security Advisory Committee on the regulation of firearms in the complex. The study will look at situations when people have brought firearms onto the property, how those incidents were handled, and whether the issue should be addressed in legislation.
Committee chairperson Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, bill sponsor Sen. Philip Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, and Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, voted yes, while Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, was opposed. Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, missed the meeting due to illness.
Nitka voiced some misgivings before voting yes.
“I know some people who are very, very scared — they’re afraid of many people who come into hospital emergency rooms, some dealing with severe mental illness,” Nitka said. “I’ve been looking at both ends of this … there are issues I don’t like in [the bill].”
The Vermont Medical Society, American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter and Vermont Academy of Family Physicians supported the amendment in written testimony.
“Vermont must do more to mitigate risk to our health care professionals and patients. Hospitals are inherently emotionally charged environments and staff face verbal threats and physical assaults from patients and visitors,” Stephanie Winters, the deputy executive director of the Vermont Medical Society, said.
Winters cited earlier testimony on the bill from Dr. Ryan Sexton, an emergency room physician at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, and Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric Intensive Care Physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center, in which the two doctors talked about threats they have experienced in emotional medical situations.
Chris Bradley, executive director of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, was not swayed by the narrowing of focus onto hospitals.
“If someone with evil intent wishes to do harm in a hospital, it must be understood by all that a sign will not stop them any more than the implementation of S.30, which would only carry the weight of a misdemeanor,” Bradley said in written testimony.
The bill now asks the Cannabis Control Board to “propose a plan for reducing or eliminating licensing fees for individuals from communities that historically have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition or individuals directly and personally impacted by cannabis prohibition.”
It also proposes $500,000, and 3 percent of gross cannabis medical marijuana sales from an eight-month period next year, for the Cannabis Business Development Fund. That fund would provide low-interest rate loans and grants to social equity applicants to start and operate cannabis-related businesses.