Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a bill that would have prevented police from reporting the names of juvenile offenders up to the age of 20 until and unless they were charged with a felony.
The bill, S. 107, had passed the Senate on March 17 on voice vote, and 88-36 on division in the House — 25 members short of the usual voting number of 149. An override session of the Legislature is scheduled for next month.
The veto is the 21st of Scott’s five years in office, tying Gov. Howard Dean’s record over 12 years as governor.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, bars public agencies from releasing any information “reflecting the initial arrest or charge of a person under 20 years of age that would reveal the identity of the person,” except “in order to protect the health and safety of any person.”
The bill does, however, allow for release of that information to the victim of a crime if a juvenile is ruled a “delinquent child by reason of commission of a delinquent act which that would have been a felony if committed by an adult.”
Scott, in his veto letter, explained that three years ago, he signed legislation “intended to give young adults who had become involved in the criminal justice system certain protections meant for juveniles.” He said at the time he was assured that before those age increases took effect, there would be plans for rehabilitation, services and housing, to hold those individuals accountable and provide for rehabilitation that would keep them out of the system.
“This has not yet been the case,” Scott said.
Scott said he does not blame the Legislature or the Judiciary for that gap, but said it needs to be addressed, so the state provides “the combination of accountability, tools and services needed to ensure justice and give young offenders a second chance.”
In reaction to the veto, White said she was not certain that Scott understood the bill’s intent.
“He is concerned that since we raise the age we have not put into place the services needed in order to keep the juveniles out of the criminal justice system. Yet this is a move to make sure that those same juveniles do not get tagged with criminal activity because of an initial arrest,” White said. “This will follow them all their lives even if they are eventually found innocent or receive the proper support and subsequently do not violate any laws. So this would have kept their name out of the public as being a criminal.”
“If this turns out to be a criminal matter and goes to criminal court the proceedings are public and the public will know,” White added. “If it goes to family court then it is confidential but the person’s name is still out there. I remain confused about why the media feels that it is in the public interest to know if a juvenile was arrested.”
“So I have yet to be convinced that this is a right-to-know issue,” she said.
The Vermont Press Association, which opposed the bill, said it welcomed the veto.
“[Scott’s] veto letter is very clear and thoughtful as to why the bill as passed needs more consideration,” Lisa Loomis, president of the VPA, said in a prepared statement.
“There were serious public transparency problems with the bill and the veto will allow time to address those issues. It will also allow a chance for more involvement by those that deal with these criminal cases,” Loomis said.
“The bill as drafted would allow for defendants up to age 20 to avoid public disclosure for a long list of serious crimes in Vermont like DUI fatal car crashes, domestic abuse, hate crimes, lewd conduct, embezzlements and much more,” the VPA said.
Disclosure: The Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal are member publications of the Vermont Press Association, and its executive director, Michael Donoghue, is a freelance reporter for all three publications.