Here is a sample of some of last week’s bills proposed in the Vermont Legislature:
H.17: “An act relating to raising the penalties for texting while driving”
Sponsors: Malcolm, John W.; McCarthy, Mike; Potter, Dave; Russell, Herb
Summary: Increases fines from $100 to $250 and points from 2 to 3 for a first offense and no less than $500 for subsequent offenses.
My thoughts: This is a winner in my book, though still difficult to enforce.
S.6: “An act relating to freedom of expression for public school students”
Sponsors: White, Jeanette K.
Summary: Guarantees that public school students have the freedom to express themselves provided that it does not cause a disruption. Assemblies planned by students during school hours must be approved in advance by the principal.
My thoughts: The language used in the bill, “disruption or disorder within the school”, should be made more specific. Just about anything that anyone does could be construed as being disruptive or disorderly if someone wants to look hard enough. Otherwise, this is another winner.
S.7: “An act relating to social networking privacy protection”
Sponsors: Sears, Dick
Summary: Employers are not allowed to access your online accounts, force you to access your online accounts for them, retaliate against you for not complying with their requests for access, or refuse to hire you for refusing to provide them access.
My thoughts: This is great, though I’d like to see the language expanded to include all personal accounts.
As it stands, it seems that your Gmail or Yahoo account would not be subject to the same protection as your Facebook or Google+ accounts. UPDATE: Upon rereading the bill, the language would in fact cover all personal accounts. I overlooked it, and now that I understand it better, the bill doesn’t get any gripes from me.
S.17: “An act relating to filing campaign finance reports”
Sponsors: Ashe, Tim
Summary: Campaign finance reports are required to be filed electronically, searchable online, and no longer need to be filed with the House or Senate district clerks. It also provides for a $50 per day fine for late filings.
My thoughts: This is long overdue, and will be much cheaper to implement than the Secretary of State has previously claimed ($1 million?!?). If the district clerks need the filings, they’ll be able to find them online and not have to have redundant copies. It wasn’t a problem, but it was annoying having to drop off two separate paper copies of the campaign finance reports, especially when they were going to be scanned and put online within 24 hours anyways. There were a number of candidates who did not file their reports by the deadlines, and I hope these changes encourage candidates in the future to comply.
S.18: “An act relating to automated license plate recognition systems”
Sponsors: Ashe, Tim; Fox, Sally; Sears, Dick; Snelling, Diane
Summary: License plates recognition systems can be used by law enforcement officers, but not by citizens. Data collected by such systems are exempt from the Public Records Act. Law enforcement may not keep the collected data for more than 180 days, though this may be extended in 90 day increments with an application to the county superior court.
My thoughts: The 180 day expiration is a good move, but I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of carving out more exemptions to the Public Records Act. I could be persuaded if someone can show that there’s a legitimate privacy consideration. Preventing regular citizens from using devices that are systems “of one or more mobile or fixed high-speed cameras combined with computer algorithms to convert images of registration plates into computer-readable data” might be applied to more than what the bill intends. Taking a picture of a license plate with a handheld consumer-grade high-speed camera and storing it in flash memory would seem to be in violation of this. Keep the expiration, toss the rest.
S.21: “An act relating to prohibiting commercial construction on certain state and conserved lands and to municipal approval of wind towers and turbines”
Sponsors: Galbraith, Peter W.; Benning, Joe; Campbell, John F.; Hartwell, Robert M.; Kitchel, Jane; Rodgers, John; Starr, Robert
Summary: Prohibits the construction of wind turbines (and most commercial construction) in state parks and forests, designated natural areas, conserved lands, and lands managed by the Agency of Natural Resources. Other wind turbine construction must be approved not only by the town where the turbine is being built, but also adjoining towns where the tower is visible and other towns “whose interest will be affected”.
My thoughts: If this sees the light of day, I would bet that amendments to dramatically change it would be necessary for it to pass. The requirement to get approval from adjoining towns seems reasonable, but adding the requirement for approval by “affected” towns would probably prevent any new industrial-scale wind projects.