New state laws on sexual consent, health care and alcohol sales take effect July 1

New state laws on sexual consent, health care and alcohol sales take effect July 1

Vermont Statehouse
The Vermont Statehouse on August 24, 2020. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

In the first five months of 2021, state legislators sent dozens of bills to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk, and he signed all but a handful into law.

Many of those new laws take effect this Thursday, the start of the new fiscal year. That includes the $7.32 billion state budget, which is harnessing a windfall of federal money to invest millions of dollars into broadband expansion, climate change measures, affordable housing and more. 

Here is a rundown on some of the other laws taking effect July 1. 

Sexual consent laws

Legislators passed a bill this spring that strengthens and clarifies Vermont’s laws on sexual consent. 

Act 68 states that people who are physically incapable of resisting, or mentally incapable of understanding or making a decision about a sexual act, cannot consent. Nor can people who are asleep, unconscious, or substantially impaired by drugs or alcohol legally consent to sexual activity.

In addition, the legislation establishes an Intercollegiate Sexual Harm Prevention Council, which will lead “a coordinated response to campus sexual harm across institutions of higher learning in Vermont.”

Under the new law, the Department of Public Safety will be required to regularly provide data to the Legislature about cases of sexual violence that have been reported to Vermont law enforcement officials and are moving through the court system. 

Health disparities

Act 33 establishes a Health Equity Advisory Commission to address health disparities in Vermont, particularly among people of color, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. 

The commission will review the “impact of current and emerging state policies, procedures, practices, laws and rules” on members of these communities, according to a summary of the bill. It will also advise the Legislature on “efforts to improve cultural competency, cultural humility, and antiracism in the health care system.” 

The commission will provide guidance on the development of a permanent Office of Health Equity, which will be established no later than Jan. 1, 2023. 

Prison reforms 

A wide-ranging effort to address sexual misconduct and improve conditions for staff and incarcerated people within Vermont’s prisons takes effect Thursday.

Act 56 establishes an internal corrections investigative unit to look into deaths, escapes and allegations of sexual misconduct within the corrections department. 

It bans sexual contact between state corrections department employees and the people under the department’s supervision. 

It also creates a Corrections Monitoring Commission to promote anti-retaliation policies and advise the corrections commissioner about the reporting of sexual misconduct.

State officials are also assigned to develop training standards and a process for certifying and decertifying corrections officers. They will make recommendations to lawmakers by December.

Alcohol to go

At the beginning of the pandemic, Scott signed an executive order allowing curbside pickup and home delivery of alcohol. Act 70, which Scott signed into law this month, would authorize alcohol sales via curbside pickup for another 24 months.

By 2023, Vermont’s Department of Liquor and Lottery will report to the Legislature on to-go alcohol sales. Lawmakers will review it before deciding on whether to make the change permanent.

Lower property taxes

Property taxes are expected to go down slightly in the fiscal year that starts Thursday, thanks to a $20 million surplus in the state education fund and lower-than-expected education spending. 

In setting tax policy for the upcoming year, policymakers lowered the statewide property tax rate for education by 1.5 cents from this year’s level.

The average homestead property tax rate will be $1.52 per $100 in property value — $1,520 per $100,000 of property value. However, about two-thirds of Vermont taxpayers pay the education tax based on their income, rather than their property value. 

Banning PFAs

Act 36 will ban toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals — PFAs for short —  from several consumer products in Vermont.

The legislation restricts the use of PFAs in fire-extinguishing foam, food packaging, rugs and carpets, and ski wax. It also includes restrictions on phthalates and bisphenols, which are commonly used in plastic products.

The legislation will take effect July 1, though some of the restrictions will be phased in over the coming years.

Correction: This story was updated to more precisely describe the rules on alcohol to go.

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