Commentary: Committees lay the groundwork for legislation

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My apologies - it has been some time since I have written and a lot has happened. A quick recap with the pledge to keep you informed in a more timely manner from now until the end of the session - sometime in May.

My morning committee is Judiciary and in the afternoon I chair Government Operations. In Judiciary we have been working to reduce our prison population and provide more appropriate treatment for those with substance abuse and mental health issues. We have looked at more pre-trial services, adjustments in our youthful offender definitions and animal cruelty issues. We also worked on a bill that has passed the Senate that would prohibit the collection of data with the purpose of creating a registry based on religion, race, sexual identity or other personal characteristics. It also clarifies that enforcing immigration laws is a federal function and that our state and local police officers will not enforce those federal immigration laws.

Government Operations worked on a bill that set up a state Ethics Commission where anyone can file a complaint of an alleged violation by a state employee or elected or appointed official. The goal is two fold, both to address serious allegations and to find out where we might need more training and education.

Gov Ops is finalizing a bill that would protect the identity of confidential sources of journalists. To our surprise we found that Vermont is one of a handful of states that does not have this protection.

Judiciary made changes to our system of marijuana for symptom relief - we added PTSD, Crohn's and Parkinson's and allowed more dispensaries.

The Senate Education Committee, on which Senator Becca Balint (D-Windham District) serves, passed a bill that I have introduced a number of times. Thanks to the committee it passed this year. It protects the First Amendment rights of students in secondary and post secondary educational institutions.

All of these bills are now in the hands of the House - we hope they see their way to passing them.

Much has been made about last week being Sunshine Week - no not the coming of spring, but making sure that the actions of government are open and accountable to the public. In keeping with this, Gov Ops will be reviewing our open meeting laws from the perspective of the increased use of social media and what that means for keeping meetings open.

As always, stay in touch. And know that even if I don't respond to contacts, I do listen and read them. So keep them coming. Personal messages are the most effective.

State Sen. Jeanette White, a Democrat, represents the Windham District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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