Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

Prescription Drug Monitoring

One of the many controversial bills still moving through the process is H.745, which makes some changes to the prescription drug monitoring system (VPMS) that began in 2009 (based on legislation passed in 2006). VPMS allows a pharmacist or treating physician to search the database and find out whether a patient is obtaining controlled substances from more than one pharmacy or more than one doctor. It also allows the Department of Health to flag doctors who may be over-prescribing controlled substances for a patient and reach out to them regarding best practices. VPMS was intended to assist doctors and pharmacists in determining whether a patient was at risk of becoming addicted to prescription drugs to facilitate treatment and recovery. The language of the act was carefully chosen to focus on health care, not law enforcement.

This year, as part of its effort to address the increase in prescription drug abuse, the administration is pushing to expand access to that database. After hearing extensive testimony, the House Human Services committee recommended its own version of H.745, which continues to require a warrant for police access to the database. We learned that the State Police have never even requested a warrant to search the database. A warrant requires only probable cause and that seems a reasonable standard for access to otherwise private medical records. The House bill passed on a voice vote.

Now the Senate is considering the bill, and the pressure for warrantless access to VPMS continues. This week it is included in a proposed amendment from Sen. Sears that includes provisions decriminalizing possession of one ounce of marijuana. We expect a wild ride in the Senate and a lively conference committee debate if the Sears amendment is adopted.

Corrections and Mental Health

Our corrections population was a large part of the discussion when developing the bill for Vermont’s mental health system of care.  We heard that the correctional system needed 2-3 in-patient psychiatric beds at any given time. Before Irene, the corrections population has primarily been served by the Vermont State Hospital. During the discussions the Commissioner of Mental Health (DMH), Patrick Flood, proposed that DMH evaluate the needs in our correctional system over the next year. So, in the end, my committee added language on collaboration with the department of  corrections and decided to draft a separate bill. Now, in committee we are working on a bill that will set the parameters for the evaluation, the time-frame and define the stakeholders who will be involved in this collaboration. The question is should the collaboration be just the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Corrections or should other stakeholders be involved, should the evaluation be done on the correctional population inside the walls of our prisons or include all who are under the custody of corrections (probation for example) and at what cost? Commissioner Flood and Corrections testified that if the evaluation is done in-house it can be done without additional costs but to involve other stakeholders would add costs.
To Commissioner Floods credit, this is a good first step because this issue is something that has been discussed and needed since I have been on the committee. To get an idea of the needs of our corrections population; It is reported that between 6 and 8 percent of offenders in the custody of the Department of Corrections inside the prison walls are diagnosed with serious functional impairment (SFI).  Serious functional impairment is a term in Vermont that describes people with certain mental illnesses that are so severe that it impairs the person’s ability to function in the correctional setting.
We hope to get a bill out by the end of the week.

Medicaid and Prisoners

Medicaid expansion - a little known federal rule allows coverage for Medicaid-eligible inmates who leave a prison and check into a private or community hospital. Read more:

An act relating to penalties for possession of marijuana (H.427)

Chris Pearson sponsored H.427, An act relating to penalties for possession of marijuana .

This bill proposes to decriminalizing the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.

An act relating to a task force on children and families affected by the criminal justice system (H.321)

Sandy Haas sponsored H.321, An act relating to a task force on children and families affected by the criminal justice system .This bill proposes to create a task force to provide oversight and technical assistance to communities establishing procedures and policies that improve the lives of children and families affected by the criminal justice system.

An act relating to the impact of sentencing on minor children (H.305)

Sandy Haas sponsored H.305, An act relating to the impact of sentencing on minor children .This bill proposes to require the court to consider the impact of sentencing on minor children of the defendant.

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