It's more than gratifying to report that the major bills being voted out of many committees are with unanimous, bi- or tri-partisan approval. It's a testimony to the extremely thorough, dedicated and hard work each individual member is expending in order to achieve a common goal - developing legislation that is in the best interest of all Vermonters.
Major bills voted out of committees this week: Judicial Restructuring, Education Governance and Consolidation, Vermont Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Jobs), and a Renewable Energy bill.
H. 470 - Judicial Restructuring. Our committee spent a good part of January, February and early March holding hearings on this bill and contrary to any misguided reports constituents may have heard, courts will be open in all counties and performing all duties they have been previously doing.
The goal of a new Unified Court System is the courts will be more efficient, and cost-effective in providing justice to all our citizens. There will one "unified" Superior Court with five divisions: Family, Criminal, Civil, Probate and Environmental. The Judicial Bureau remains distinct for hearing traffic cases and other ticketed matters.
The unified superior court shall be divided into 14 geographical units to follow county lines, and Superior Court shall be held in each unit (county) of the state. Court presence will remain in each county and no county courthouse will be closed.
Courts will be authorized to propose rules to promote use of video technology to ease travel requirements for court appearances and to propose rules for statewide electronic case filing systems. Probate court will exist in each county, and there will be six full-time probate judges and two half-time judges.
These arrangements were determined through proven statistical analyses of caseload studies, conducted by the National Center for State Courts. Probate judges will preside at the courts within their districts and will run for election in those districts. The Eastern District will comprise Windsor and Orange Counties and will have one full-time judge.
Assistant judges will continue to be elected in each county, however they will no longer preside as a "side" judge, but will preside at traffic court. Specific job descriptions will be outlined for assistant judges and training will be required and provided by the judiciary. Assistant judges will continue to administer the affairs of the county courts, including the budget. More complete details of H. 470 can be found at www.vermont.state.vt.us. All the bills that have been voted on by the full House now go to the Senate for committee hearings and vote. The procedure is that, as the Senate committees debate these bill, some or all parts of the bills may change.
When that happens, a Committee of Conference (3 members of the House Committee and 3 members of the Senate Committee) is appointed and these 6 members work out details of the bills which is then are referred back to the full bodies of each chamber to be voted on once again.
There are approximately six weeks left in the session and they will as we get closer to the end of the session be busy.
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