Bill would make DUI videos public

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BENNINGTON -- Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears has drafted a bill to ensure video of DUI arrests is a public record following a denial by the Department of Public Safety of a request to release footage of State Auditor Thomas Salmon's arrest.

Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hopes the bill will make all DUI arrest videos public.

"I don't know why there should be any discussion about releasing it," Sears said. "I don't know what good it does to try and play that game. And I don't know why it should be $45."

The legislation, currently in draft form for the upcoming legislative biennium, "proposes to establish that video recordings of roadside DUI stops are public records subject to disclosure under Vermont's Access to Public Records statute."

Salmon, a Republican, was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in November 2009. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine. However, the video recording of his stop and arrest by police was requested during the 2010 campaign by John Franco, a supporter of Salmon's Democratic opponent, Doug Hoffer.

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The Vermont Department of Public Safety refused to release a copy of the video, prompting Franco to sue for a copy of dashboard footage. Washington County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled just days before the election that the video is a public document and must be released.

Sears said he began working on legislation to clarify the matter as soon as the issue came to light.

"Right after all of that occurred I called legislative counsel and said, ‘look, this is ridiculous. There should be no question about DUI ... regardless of who it is.'"

Sears said the legislation will also set a limit to what the state can charge for copies of video footage on DVD. He said current state statute limits the cost at $4 for DVD records "unless it's set otherwise by the Legislature." The Department of Public Safety is currently charging $45, however, he said.

"I'm not sure, if it's $10 or $25, but $45 seems excessive," Sears said.


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