An important year for the Judiciary Committee

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The House Committee on Judiciary has had quite an interesting session. Our committee is one that covers many of the controversial issues that arise in our society. At the beginning of the session, our committee came together to determine our "ground rules" moving forward. We established that our purpose is to uphold the rule of law, adhere to the Vermont and U.S. Constitution, and foster a judicial system that adheres to the values of democracy and our values as Vermonters.

At the start of the session, we dove into protecting reproductive rights in Vermont. The bill H.57 is one which codifies Vermont's current practices as it relates to abortion and protecting bodily autonomy. During the debates we heard often from opposition that there is "nothing to worry about" regarding reproductive rights in Vermont. However, we can clearly see now across America that states are enacting some of the harshest and most restrictive laws relating to reproductive healthcare. Passing H.57 shows that Vermont respects bodily autonomy, and trusts that women can make their own personal choices between themselves and their medical professionals.

Another important topic was fair and impartial policing, contained in H.518. Our committee worked alongside the American Civil Liberties Union, the attorney general's office, Migrant Justice, and the Human Rights Commission to create a policy that allows for local and state police to create greater restrictions between collaborating with federal immigration authorities. Furthermore, H.518 also provides funding to create an outreach and education position within the Human Rights Commission.

We also heard extensive testimony relating to medical monitoring, contained in S.37. This bill was prompted by the misfortune our neighbors to the west experienced by a business called Saint-Gobain. Thousands of Vermonters have been exposed to toxic substances due to the presence of this large business in Bennington, and many folks who have been exposed are now at a high risk of developing a latent disease. S.37 creates a "cause of action" for Vermonters who become exposed to toxic substances by large businesses who negligently release these substances into waterways or the soil. This cause of action will allow Vermonters to sue to have their expenses paid so they can be medically monitored if they prove in court that the exposure to toxic substances increases their chances of developing a latent disease. Overall, this is a bill which shows that Vermont puts its citizens' health and well-being before corporate profit.

Our committee also worked on two bills that will help victims of sexual and domestic abuse. The first bill removes the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse and petitioning the court for damages. Sometimes, it takes decades for a person to come to terms with their trauma and muster the courage to come forward. Removing the statute of limitations provides victims with greater leniency regarding when they're able to come forward. Furthermore, we closed a loophole regarding domestic assault and prior convictions. With the help of our Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver, and state Rep. Sibilia of Londonderry, we worked together to allow law enforcement and prosecutors the ability to use prior domestic assault convictions from other states in the course of their investigations and prosecutions. With this change, individuals who repeatedly abuse their partners will be held to a higher level of accountability.

Overall, it is a truly remarkable and unique experience to serve on the Judiciary Committee. It is a first-hand look into not just how one branch of government (the legislature) operates, but it is also a first-hand look into how the judicial branch operates. It is humbling to sit in committee and hear testimony from a very broad range of Vermont citizens, whether it's a Supreme Court Justice, an activist from Migrant Justice, or a police chief, who are trying to delve into any number of important issues that come within our jurisdiction. I look forward to continuing this work in 2020, and I also look forward continuing alongside my wonderful Windham County delegation colleagues!

State Rep. Nader Hashim, a Democrat, represents the Windham-4 District.

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