BanThe Box Bill Preventing Criminal History Question On Job Applications Signed Into Law In Vermont

A bill that bars employers from asking about a person’s criminal history on a job application form has become law in Vermont. ...

Vermont Legal Aid AttorneyChristopher Curtis is co-chair of the Governor’s Pathways from Poverty Council. He calls the law a fair second chance for Vermonters who made a mistake in their past.

Curtis says Ban the Box is one of the most important elements of criminal justice reform. “The question about a prior conviction on initial application may even apply to simple misdemeanors. And a lot of times if a person enters into a plea deal for a lesser sentence a simple misdemeanor may be the thing that ends up on their record. And they may not even be aware that they're going to have to in the future answer questions on initial applications about a prior conviction. So this is going to open up the doors to opportunity for many, many Vermonters. And we think that one of the key things you can do to prevent poverty, prevent recidivism, is for Vermonters to be able to have a good job.”

Top official says state not frustrated with exchange contractor

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s chief of health care reform testified Wednesday in the House and challenged the veracity of a VTDigger story that said the state has been unhappy with its current Vermont Health Connect contractor and is negotiating with another company. ...

Lawmakers are still considering how much money to devote to an independent review of Vermont Health Connect and whether to continue the power of the Department of Vermont Health Access, which oversees Vermont Health Connect, to make emergency rules.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, MVP Health Care and Vermont Legal Aid all oppose the original extension. The Department of Vermont Health Access supports extending its power.

‘Ban the Box’ bill becomes law in Vermont

In order to help people with criminal convictions find employment and build successful lives, Governor Peter Shumlin has signed a bill to remove questions about criminal records from the very first part of job applications in Vermont. “Banning the box” will give those with criminal records a fair chance at a good job and reduce the risk of recidivism and incarceration. The law follows a 2015 Executive Order signed by Governor Shumlin to implement a “ban the box” hiring policy for state jobs. ...

Christopher Curtis, Co-Chair of the Governor’s Pathways from Poverty Council and Attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, has made “Ban the box” hiring policies a priority.

“This legislation will allow many qualified workers to get a foot in the door to employment – it’s a fair shake and a second chance for many applicants who might otherwise find their applications in the recycle bin as a result of a prior conviction. This only results in Vermonters not being able to keep their housing or meet other important obligations,” said Curtis. “Ban the box’ can help open up new job opportunities for Vermonters.”

VLA Consumer Rights Attorney Receives National Award

Vermont Legal Aid attorney Grace Pazdan received the prestigious Henry J. Sommer Scholarship for the 2016 National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) Annual Convention to be held in San Francisco May 19-22, 2016.

Grace works in Vermont Legal Aid’s Montpelier office, defending clients throughout Vermont against foreclosure and advocating for consumer rights.

According to NACBA, Grace was selected from a large field of accomplished consumer bankruptcy attorneys to recognize her “achievements and dedication to serving low-income, elderly and disabled consumers facing foreclosure and debt collection.”

A 2006 summa cum laude graduate of American University Washington College of Law, Grace was selected in 2008 to serve as the first Vermont Poverty Law Fellow. During the two-year fellowship, which was based at VLA, she drafted and advocated for legislation that resulted in Vermont enacting a mediation program for homeowners facing foreclosure.  

“Vermont Legal Aid is very fortunate to be able to attract smart, talented attorneys like Grace who graduate from top law schools and are passionate about helping the most vulnerable people in Vermont with legal problems that threaten their rights, their home, their job, or their health,” said Vermont Legal Aid’s Executive Director, Eric Avildsen. “This award not only provides Grace the opportunity and resources to elevate her practice, it also provides independent validation of the high quality of representation our clients receive.”

NACBA is a national organization dedicated to serving the needs of consumer bankruptcy attorneys and protecting the rights of consumer debtors in bankruptcy.

Senate pares down, moves on special ed bill

A bill before the Senate Appropriations Committee, H.859, could lay the groundwork for reform of the state’s special education funding system. ...

Marilyn Mahusky, a lawyer with Vermont Legal Aid and a member of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union executive committee, ... [said she] had heard that while the results of similar pilot projects had been positive, administrators had been stymied in implementing reforms by the current spending formula.

“We need to figure out what the funding formula is and then I think it does make sense to do these pilot projects. I think it’s also critically important that if we do the pilot projects, that the funding be there for the schools that need it the most,” Mahusky said. “Schools that are underfunded are probably the ones that need the most support — they’re the ones that are least able to afford it.”

So-called liberals

The Senate has a chance to rectify a damaging and unjust cut in benefits to the poorest Vermonters. ...

The Senate Appropriations Committee is in a good position to right this wrong, especially since the Reach Up program has enjoyed $4 million in savings because of caseload reductions. This means that there is no longer any semblance of a budget justification for the cut in benefits. ...

Vermont Legal Aid challenged the state’s benefit cut, but a federal judge ruled the cut was permissible. That doesn’t make it wise. It only drives some families deeper into poverty while allowing the Legislature to tell middle class and wealthy Vermonters that it has steered clear of harmful tax hikes. It is baffling sometimes how a legislative body dominated by Democrats who conceive of themselves as liberals can be persuaded that it is in the interest of the state to punish the poor. The Senate is in a position to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Legal Services Law Line of Vermont: Housing Discrimination and Fair Housing

Rachel Batterson, director of Vermont Legal Aid's Housing Discrimination Law Project, and Karen Richards, executive director of Vermont Human Rights Commission and former Poverty Law Project director at VLA, discussed housing discrimination and fair housing issues in Vermont with Tom Garrett, executive director of Legal Services Law Line of Vermont on Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

Watch the program online

Senate Advances Bill That Bars Employers From Asking About Criminal Record On Job Application

The Vermont Senate has given its unanimous support to legislation that's designed to improve employment opportunities for people who have a criminal record in their past. Backers of the bill say it's needed because many people who've been convicted of a crime never get past the application process if they have to initially disclose this information to an employer.

The bill is a top priority for Vermont Legal Aid. Staff Attorney Chris Curtis notes that employers can still ask about a person's criminal record during the interview process.

"This allows them to get before the employer if they're selected as qualified on their merits and be able to explain something that might be in their past that really no longer applies to their ability to do a job," Curtis says.

Forum on poverty planned

Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid and a member of the governor's Council on Pathways From Poverty, will speak at a forum on poverty in Vermont sponsored by Transition Town Manchester Thursday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hunter Seminar Room at Burr and Burton Academy.

Other speakers at the forum will include Martha Carey, the director of the Community Food Cupboard in Manchester; Chris Oldham, the executive director of the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless; and State Representative Steve Berry.

About 16 percent of the state's youngest residents live in poverty, as defined by federal guidelines.

"We've come from a place where we've declared a war on poverty and we're now in a situation where, after 40 years of attacks on the social safety net, we're at risk of essentially declaring a war on poor people," Curtis said in a phone interview Monday. "We've been told for so long that we can't solve these problems that we've almost forgotten that we can."

Vermont Affordable Housing Show: April is Fair Housing Month

Rachel Batterson, director of Vermont Legal Aid’s Housing Discrimination Law Project, was the  guest for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition’s Live at 5:25 show on April 6.

Rachel provided an overview of what the federal Fair Housing Act and the VT Fair Housing and Public Accommodation Act cover; new HUD guidance on criminal background checks; and the duty of HUD funding recipients to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH). She also noted that Burlington’s first Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) under HUD’s new AFFH regulation is due in October 2017.

You can watch the half-hour program at the link above.