Vermont governor signs driver restoration law

A leading advocate for low-income Vermonters is hailing Gov. Peter Shumlin’s signing of a law designed to make it easier for many suspended drivers to get their licenses back.

Lawyer Christopher Curtis of Vermont Legal Aid urged passage of the law, based on pilot driver restoration days last year in Chittenden and Windsor counties.

The new law will dismiss any tickets prior to 1990. Tickets incurred prior to 2012 will qualify for a three-month restoration program this fall for all eligible Vermonters at $30 per ticket.

Curtis says the ability to pay off fines at a fraction of their face value will enable thousands of low-income Vermonters to get back in the social mainstream in a state with limited mass transit.

Gov. Shumlin Signs Drivers Suspension Bill Into Law

A new bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D - Vermont) aims to bring relief to some of the 50,000 Vermonters who have suspended drivers licenses.

The law, H.571, will expunge all non-criminally suspended drivers licenses issued before July 1, 1990, without charge.

People with non-criminal suspensions from July 1990-2012 will be allowed to pay a $30 fine from September 1, 2016 - November 30, 2016 to have their suspension lifted. Vermonters with suspensions post-2012, will be informed of repayment plan options. ...

Of the 50,000 Vermonters who have suspended licenses, 32,000 are because of the inability to pay fines, according to Christopher Curtis, staff attorney for Vermont Legal Aid. ...

“The general public wants other drivers who are on the road who are licensed and insured, that’s the public safety component of this bill,” said Christopher Curtis.

Regional conference on 3Squares being held in Brattleboro

The third of four regional conferences on Vermont's largest nutrition program, 3SquaresVT (formerly food stamps and known nationally as SNAP), is being held Tuesday, from 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Marlboro Graduate Center on Vernon Street.

Participants in the conference are advocates and service providers who work directly with Vermont's population eligible for 3SquaresVT benefits. The conference offers an opportunity for participants to learn more about how the 3SquaresVT program works from Hunger Free Vermont's experts on the subject; hear from policy experts from the Economic Services Division of the Department For Children and Families where applications are processed; brainstorm new outreach opportunities; learn about advocacy strategies from Vermont Legal Aid; and network with colleagues from their region.

Restorative justice: Program makes leap to Vt. schools

A part of the Vermont correctional landscape for years, restorative justice is making the leap to schools. ...

[Restorative justice consultant Jonathan] Kidde said many Vermont educators cite a Vermont Legal Aid report as a catalyst for their interest. The report, released last year, found that Vermont students had lost a minimum of 8,000 school days to suspension during the 2011-12 school year. It also found that students with disabilities were three times more likely to be suspended, and that black or Native American students were two to three times more likely to be suspended than white students.

Restorative justice is often cited as an effective way to address discrimination in discipline. Kidde said he believes it’s because the approach requires building trust and relationships. ...

At Fair Haven Union High School, where administrators are just starting to look at the model, Assistant Principal Jason Rasco pointed to the Legal Aid report as evidence that the traditional discipline model needed to go.

“We know it doesn’t work. We know it,” he said.

Local businesses sound off on ‘Ban the Box’ legislation

A new Vermont law that will prevent employees from asking about criminal records on a first job application will give those with criminal records “a fair chance,” according to a press release issued this week by the office of Gov. Peter Shumlin. ...

The bill, H. 261, dubbed “Ban the Box,” passed the House and Senate on April 21 and was signed into law on May 3 by the governor. It prohibits employers from asking questions about prior convictions on an initial job application, allowing participants to be “judged on their work history and qualifications rather than on a mistake made in their past,” according to the governor’s office.

Employers may still ask those types of questions in later stages of the hiring process. The law also provides exemptions for “certain positions” where a criminal conviction would automatically disqualify a job applicant, due to state or federal law, according to that press release. ...

Shumlin said that Christopher Curtis, co-chair of the governor’s Pathways from Poverty Council and an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, has “made ‘Ban the Box’ hiring policies a priority,” according to the press release.

Blue Cross and MVP request price increases over 8 percent

The two health insurance companies that sell through Vermont Health Connect are asking to increase what they charge for insurance plans by more than 8 percent each. ...

The board has scheduled public hearings for the Blue Cross proposal at 9 a.m. July 20 and the MVP proposal at 9 a.m. July 21 at its boardroom in Montpelier. Health care advocates at Vermont Legal Aid will testify on behalf of consumers.

Vermont advocate: Not a bad legislative session

A leading advocate for low-income and disabled Vermonters says despite a tight budget year it was not a bad session at the Vermont Legislature.

Vermont Legal Aid lawyer Christopher Curtis says a curb on drivers’ license suspensions, a bill banning employers from asking about criminal records on job applications and another requiring paid sick days for workers were important achievements.

Curtis also points to a partial restoration of a benefit cut enacted previously. That affects families with a parent who receives Social Security disability benefits who also get help from the state’s Reach-Up welfare-to-work program.

And he says a bill creating a new class of dental therapists will help low-income Vermonters get the dental care they need.

Can the state do more to help Vermonters in poverty?

Anti-poverty advocates tout this legislative session as one for the ages, but a senior lawmaker [Rep. Francis "Topper" McFaun, R-Barre Town] says Vermont took good steps when it needs to leap. ...

"Huge changes that are going to make dramatic improvements for Vermonters," said Chris Curtis, Vermont legal aid advocate.

Curtis is an advocate and co-chair of the Governor's Council on Pathways from Poverty. He says there's always more on the menu of ways the state can help, but praises lawmakers for helping the poor in a tight budget year. Next year, he'll push again for a fee on rooms and meals to fund homeless and affordable housing.

"There are lots of things the state of Vermont can do to address the problems, let's get to work, let's make progress," said Curtis. ...

McFaun says that means tax incentives for employers willing to bring good-paying jobs to Vermont, an education system designed to cater to poor students who start well behind their more affluent peers, and drug treatment projects to prevent addiction from tearing apart families. The representative concedes what he's proposing would carry massive costs, but argues it's affordable

DLS reform bill offers lifeline to thousands of Vermont drivers

Among dozens of bills passing at the end of the 2016 Statehouse session is one low-income advocates say is nothing short of a lifeline.

H. 571 reforms penalties for driving with a suspended license ... and allows those Vermonters who are simply unable to afford to pay old tickets to wipe the slate clean.

"We have 60,000 Vermonters whose license to drive is suspended. Of those, 32,000 are for their inability to pay the fine," said Chris Curtis, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid. "We have a system that's totally broken that low-income Vermonters cannot navigate because they just cannot pay the fines. It's trapping people in poverty."

Curtis pushed hard for H. 571, which will offer motorists an opportunity to erase many unpaid civil penalties and tickets for $30 each.

Legislative Wrap: New health care accountability, reform ideas emerge

Lawmakers spent the session providing oversight on Gov. Peter Shumlin’s ambitious health care goals, and most of the new reform ideas came from the lawmakers themselves. ...

In October, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont was the first to request an independent technical review. Vermont Legal Aid joined the call in January, when the backlog of changes to be made to customer accounts exceeded 5,000. Republicans then called for any review to be divorced from the control of the Shumlin administration. ...

The final version of H.812 directs the Green Mountain Care Board to regulate accountable care organizations — the intermediaries between doctors and insurance companies that the Affordable Care Act allows as a method for changing health care payment.

Much of the regulation is designed to protect consumers as health care payment reform moves forward. Provisions require public notice periods for certain accountable care organization functions and give Vermont Legal Aid the right to review an organization’s budget.