An Agency of Public Safety?

Committee chair’s bill would place state police, game wardens, sheriffs, Corrections, etc. in one centralized Agency of Public Safety

By Guy Page

January 30, 2020 – The Vermont Legislature – already seeking a more central role in how Vermonters learn, where they live, how they travel, what they smoke, and how their property may be used – is taking testimony on a bill to place all state police powers under a single, new state agency.

S182, sponsored by Senate Government Operations Committee chair Jeanette White (D-Windham), creates a plan to elevate a new Agency of Public Safety to lead a new “hierarchical structure” over all state and county enforcement, including:

  • Police and fire training schools
  • Sergeant at Arms and Capitol police
  • “All state law enforcement officers” including state police and game wardens
  • All sheriff’s departments and special investigative units
  • Liquor and Lottery enforcement
  • Department of Corrections
  • Probation and Parole
  • Motor Vehicle Inspectors
  • Investigators for the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and State’s Attorneys, and Medical Board
  • Railroad Police
  • Cannabis investigators

Municipal law enforcement is not included. S182 incorporates many ideas included in a Jan. 14 report by Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling claiming that single-agency consolidation would save money, allow more sharing of resources, and reduce redundancy – the usual justifications for centralization.

Critics of the bill say it won’t work that way in practice.

Years ago, during a previous state government reorganization, “we were assured the game warden force would remain independent,” Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs said in a State House interview today. “We want them to be in an agency where their skills are properly utilized. You can create an agency on a flowchart that looks efficient.  But in practice it’s not effective or efficient. The best utilization of resources is done by those aware of the mission and skills of the game wardens.”

Another critic said the bill discards the sound management principle of vertical integration in favor of less practical ‘horizontal integration.’

Senate Gov Ops reviewed the bill Thursday, January 23. Included in the discussion were Schirling; Steve Howard, Executive Director, Vermont State Employees Association; Patrick Delaney, Commissioner, Department of Liquor and Lottery; Sklyer Genest, Director of Compliance and Enforcement, Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery; Louis Porter, Commissioner, Department of Fish and Wildlife; Colonel Jake Elovirta, Director of Enforcement and Safety, Department of Motor Vehicles; Evan Hughes, Vice President, Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs; Robert Rooks, Citizen; Kelly Price, Senior Warden, Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Time will tell if S182 becomes law. The same is true of other bills and initiatives that would claim a more centralized role for state government in the following aspects of daily life:

Education – the State Board of Education continues to defend in the Vermont Supreme Court its forced merger of school districts; a decision is expected in two months. Yesterday a key legislator for education said there will be no ‘school choice’ legislation this year.

Firearms – legislation includes a 24-hour waiting period for the purchase of a firearm, seizing firearms from people charged with domestic violence, and banning the manufacture, export and possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines. Also. Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) has sponsored S259, banning the carrying of semi-automatic weapons in public places.

Smoking – bills in the House and Senate would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, as well as vaping products. Meanwhile many legislators supporting this ban also support the legal commercialization of marijuana.

Transportation – bills would charge higher registration fees for heavier, low-mileage vehicles, levy a ‘carbon tax’ on gasoline, and allocate more tax money to subsidize, promote and extend public transportation and electric vehicles.

Housing – H719 would require state Renewable Energy Building Standards certification and inspection before any new single-family home can be occupied.  

Energy – an energy expert advised the House Energy & Technology Committee this week that under H688, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the State of Vermont could stop power in times of peak demand to ‘millions’ of appliances including refrigerators and hot water heaters, without home owner consent.

Land use and development – The revision of Act 250, still ongoing, would require rigorous climate change restrictions and limit home construction on ridgelines and in forests, while easing restrictions for home development in certain urban centers.  It also would require local and regional development plans to conform with Act 250 standards and would eliminate a system

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