The VBA Legislative Blawg is the law-related blog of Bob Paolini our government relations guru at the VBA. Bob will keep you apprised of the happenings in the Legislature and keep members up-to-date with pressing legal issues affecting the practice of law in Vermont
The Senate has appointed its members to the Joint Judicial Retention
Committee. The members are: Senators
Benning, Flory, Galbraith, and Nitka. This biennium chairmanship moves back to
the House and Rep. Tom Koch is the new chair. Hearings on the judges should
begin in early February although the calendar is not yet set. As soon as it becomes
available I’ll post it here.
Yesterday Justice Dooley and Court Administrator Bob
Greemore made a presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee on the
budget request of $2 million in the budget adjustment bill. Recall that the
House passed bill contains that money. There seemed to be no opposition to the
request in committee. In fact, the bulk of the hearing focused on an
inter-departmental transfer of some $25,000; totally irrelevant to the budget
deficit issue. It looks as though things should move smoothly for the judiciary.
Tomorrow morning the Senate Judiciary Committee will return
to S. 31, the “Billings” bill. Two family practitioners with objections to the
bill will be in to testify in opposition to the bill as written. I’ll report
after that hearing.
This morning Uniform Law Commissioner Rich Cassidy testified
before the House Judiciary Committee on the Uniform Collateral Consequences of
Conviction Act, a bill that has yet to be introduced. Rich chaired the ULC
committee that drafted the act. This will be the second go round for the UCCCA,
the first version of which failed to pass the Senate in the last session. His testimony
was really just background for the committee to begin to understand the issue. There
is an estimated 35,000 statutes across the country that may apply post conviction.
There may be as many as 300 statutes that contain consequences of conviction
in Vermont. He also said that some estimate that 100,000 Vermonters may have a
conviction in their past.
So what would this bill do? It would require the collection
and updating of the list of collateral consequences. It requires notice to a
defendant of the concept of collateral consequences that may be out there. it
regulates the effect of collateral consequences from state to state and it
would provide limited relief from some consequences.
As we know some consequences of a conviction are automatic (collateral
sanctions) while others are discretionary (disqualifications). As I understand it
the bill would make all sanctions discretionary and provide states specific
grounds to exercise that discretion.
A couple of quick things this Friday afternoon. First, Lisa Maxfield
here at the VBA has added a Bill Watch link on the VBA homepage. If you scroll
to the bottom and select the second bullet under Explore you’ll see a spreadsheet
of those bills that I am following.
Earlier today the Speaker of the House appointed the House’s
four members of the Judicial Retention Committee. They are: Tom Koch, Linda
Waite-Simpson; Suzi Wizowaty; and Chip Conquest. All four are members of the
House Judiciary Committee.
Have a great weekend and, as always, thanks for reading.
So, after a week without posting I’m back. Montreal was
great as always and we didn’t really miss much under the golden dome when we
were away. What is remarkable was that on Friday of last week the House
Appropriations Committee voted out H. 47, the budget adjustment bill. It’s a
midyear correction to the state’s spending. Fortunately for the judiciary the
bill includes $2 million dollars that the judiciary needed. The bill passed the
House on second reading yesterday on a voice cote and final action will occur
this afternoon. let’s hope the funding for the courts stays in at this level;
it’ll really alleviate a number of problems.
Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on
H.1, a bill that would relieve the superior court clerks from the requirement
of maintaining a separate book of judgments. Actually, I never knew that there
was such a book. The testimony so far points to the requirement being somewhat
redundant and of little value. Kathy Hobart, Clerk of the Lamoille Superior
Court, offered that her survey of other clerks showed that they are almost
never asked to produce the book. The Committee will return to the bill tomorrow
afternoon and, barring any opposition, will likely vote it out and send it to
the floor for action.
While that was happening the Senate Judiciary Committee
began work on S. 1, a bill that would require a court to consider the
approximate financial cost of available sentences prior to its issuing a
sentence. More testimony needs to be taken and at this point I’m not certain
where the bill may go.
This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Susan
Murray and Mark Langan on S. 31, the bill that would overturn the Billings v
Billings case. Susan was pretty clear about her and other family practitioners’
concerns about the case itself. She told the committee that the case created
evidence problems, cost problems to the parties, to third parties and to the
court itself, and family relationship problems. Mark spoke from the perspective
of an estate planner whose clients may want protection from disclosure in some
cases. they certainly don’t want to be subpoenaed to court in a divorce
action.The committee seems disposed to
move the bill even though there may be some issue with the language about civil
and criminal penalties for a party’s acting in bad faith. They will return to
S. 31 on Friday, February 1st in hopes of marking it up and voting
it out. If any of you have concerns that this bill “goes too far” please let me
know ASAP so I can get you before the committee next Friday. I’ll be cutting
this paragraph and sending it out to both the Family Law and Probate and Estate
Section list serves.
Finally, on a non legislative front, the VBA Board is
looking into developing a protocol for dealing with the “medium” sized case,
whether you define that at $50K or $75K or some other number. The Board is
setting up a study committee to begin discussing how best to handle these types
of cases to move them through the system at an affordable cost and timeline for
litigants. Please let me know if you have any input on this topic and/or if you
want to be involved in the working group.
You have probably already read about the shakeup in
committee chairmanships and assignments in the Vermont Senate. Dick Sears will
remain as Chair of Judiciary but there are two new members - Joe Benning and
Tim Ashe - replacing Diane Snelling and long time member Ann Cummings. In
Appropriations, Sally Fox will replace Vince Illuzzi so at least one member of
that committee will be a lawyer. The full list of committee memberships can be
found in the Journal of the Senate dated January 10.
I sat in on House Judiciary this morning for two sessions.
The first was Administrative Judge Amy Davenport briefing the three new members
of the committee on the structure of the judicial system. After the committee
returned from the floor session the entire committee heard from the Chief
Justice, Judge Davenport again, Court Administrator Bob Greemore, and deputy
Court Administrator Pat Gabel. All discussed the budget shortfall, the failed
case management computer project, laws enacted last year, some issues for
committee consideration this year,
Today is a typical opening day for one of the most important
committees for our issues. I spend the majority of my time in the House and
Senate Judiciary Committees. I will be invited soon to give our overview of
what the VBA is, what we advocate for (or against) and how we can work
together. Of course I’ll report on that when it happens.
Late yesterday just before the Speaker adjourned the House
for the day he announced that he was going to appoint “non standing” committees
as soon as possible. Although he didn’t specify I hope he was including the Judicial
Retention Committee and the Judicial Nominating Board. As to the latter, the
Bar’s election process is now over and results should be available soon. the
Governor has already re-appointed the same two members from last session- Kathy
Pellett and Joseph Watson. The House and Senate will now each appoint 3
The Judicial Retention Committee is made up of four members from
each chamber. The sooner they get going the better as there are seven judges
and one magistrate up for retention. They are:
Tomorrow morning the House Judiciary Committee will host the
CJ, the Administrative Judge and the Court Administrator in a judicial branch
The House just recessed its morning session after the
Speaker made his committee assignments. The House Appropriations Committee
remains virtually unchanged from last year with Peter Fagan replacing retired
representative Joe Acinapura. The House Judiciary Committee, the most important
committee for us, will have three new members. Here’s its lineup:
So the session starts today with mostly ceremony as the
House elects its Speaker and House and Senate members are sworn in. Since there
is no leadership contest in either chamber, committee assignments could quickly
follow. Then the work of the session will begin. But even though the gavel has
yet to fall, the legislature’s website has been listing bills for introduction.
Among those, as of this morning, are two of interest if perhaps only to members
engaged in a property law practice.
The first, H.3, proposes to
repeal the requirement that an applicant for a potable water supply or
wastewater permit notify affected property owners when an isolation distance
surrounding the applicant’s proposed water supply or wastewater system extends
onto property other than the property on which the proposed system will be
H. 7 proposes to give unit owners of common
interest communities the ability to demand arbitration to challenge provisions,
application, or enforcement of bylaws or rules of a governing association.
I don’t know the motivation for either bill
but am confident that H. 7 introduced by House Judiciary Chair Bill Lippert
will certainly get a hearing.
After the constitutional officers are sworn
in tomorrow and the Governor gives his inaugural remarks the committees will
get down to work. I’ll continue to update you as things unfold. As always,
thanks for reading.
The Chief Justice made a presentation to the House Judiciary
Committee this afternoon seeking either a supplemental appropriation of $2
million OR the ability to spread this shortfall out over two fiscal years. The letter
reprinted below was given to the committee. It explains the problem and the
limitations that the court faces in making even greater changes.
Happy 2013 everyone. Every time I greet someone by saying
Happy New Year I am reminded that the beginning of the legislative session is
just hours away. The new biennium will begin on Wednesday January 9th,
the Wednesday after the first Monday. But just because the new general assembly
won’t be sworn in for a week doesn’t mean that work won’t begin until then. The
House Appropriations Committee is actually convening later today to open three
days of deliberations on the budget adjustment act- the mid term review of the
budget year we are now in. As part of those meetings, the committee will hear
from our Court Admi9nistrator Bob Greemore on the judiciary’s 2 to 2.5 million
dollar budget deficit. I’ll try to get there for his testimony on Thursday at 1
PM and report back to you as soon as I can.
Also tomorrow afternoon, the ad hoc committee formed to look
at foreclosure mediation, and what should happen if and when HAMP expires (December
31, 2013) will begin to wrap up over two months of work on a draft bill to be introduced
early in the session. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.
A big issue for the VBA this year will be the funding for
Vermont Legal Aid. You may not be aware that the Vermont Bar Foundation was
forced to reduce its grant to VLA by $200,000! VLA will receive $695,000
instead of the $895,000 it received last year. But this must be seen in light
of a loss of federal grant funds that further challenge VLA’s ability to serve some
low income clients. The VBA is already working on seeking an increase in the
amount of legislative funding VLA receives, which I believe has not increased
since 2006. Certainly the state budget will face many challenges in addition to
this one in the 2013-2014 biennium. Many of you have already donated to the
Access to Justice Campaign and, for that, the VBA thanks you. if you have not
yet done so, please do it now. If we are able to reach our goal of $150,000 we’ll
be able to put some money back into the Foundation’s general fund coffers which
will provide some cushion to the funding cuts that had to be made.
As always thanks for reading. I’ll do my best to keep this
blog as up to date as I possibly can over the next four or four and a half
months. If you need to want information on anything legislative just let me
know. Again, my best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2013.