Restorative justice: Program makes leap to Vt. schools

A part of the Vermont correctional landscape for years, restorative justice is making the leap to schools. ...

[Restorative justice consultant Jonathan] Kidde said many Vermont educators cite a Vermont Legal Aid report as a catalyst for their interest. The report, released last year, found that Vermont students had lost a minimum of 8,000 school days to suspension during the 2011-12 school year. It also found that students with disabilities were three times more likely to be suspended, and that black or Native American students were two to three times more likely to be suspended than white students.

Restorative justice is often cited as an effective way to address discrimination in discipline. Kidde said he believes it’s because the approach requires building trust and relationships. ...

At Fair Haven Union High School, where administrators are just starting to look at the model, Assistant Principal Jason Rasco pointed to the Legal Aid report as evidence that the traditional discipline model needed to go.

“We know it doesn’t work. We know it,” he said.

Local businesses sound off on ‘Ban the Box’ legislation

A new Vermont law that will prevent employees from asking about criminal records on a first job application will give those with criminal records “a fair chance,” according to a press release issued this week by the office of Gov. Peter Shumlin. ...

The bill, H. 261, dubbed “Ban the Box,” passed the House and Senate on April 21 and was signed into law on May 3 by the governor. It prohibits employers from asking questions about prior convictions on an initial job application, allowing participants to be “judged on their work history and qualifications rather than on a mistake made in their past,” according to the governor’s office.

Employers may still ask those types of questions in later stages of the hiring process. The law also provides exemptions for “certain positions” where a criminal conviction would automatically disqualify a job applicant, due to state or federal law, according to that press release. ...

Shumlin said that Christopher Curtis, co-chair of the governor’s Pathways from Poverty Council and an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, has “made ‘Ban the Box’ hiring policies a priority,” according to the press release.

Blue Cross and MVP request price increases over 8 percent

The two health insurance companies that sell through Vermont Health Connect are asking to increase what they charge for insurance plans by more than 8 percent each. ...

The board has scheduled public hearings for the Blue Cross proposal at 9 a.m. July 20 and the MVP proposal at 9 a.m. July 21 at its boardroom in Montpelier. Health care advocates at Vermont Legal Aid will testify on behalf of consumers.

Vermont advocate: Not a bad legislative session

A leading advocate for low-income and disabled Vermonters says despite a tight budget year it was not a bad session at the Vermont Legislature.

Vermont Legal Aid lawyer Christopher Curtis says a curb on drivers’ license suspensions, a bill banning employers from asking about criminal records on job applications and another requiring paid sick days for workers were important achievements.

Curtis also points to a partial restoration of a benefit cut enacted previously. That affects families with a parent who receives Social Security disability benefits who also get help from the state’s Reach-Up welfare-to-work program.

And he says a bill creating a new class of dental therapists will help low-income Vermonters get the dental care they need.

Can the state do more to help Vermonters in poverty?

Anti-poverty advocates tout this legislative session as one for the ages, but a senior lawmaker [Rep. Francis "Topper" McFaun, R-Barre Town] says Vermont took good steps when it needs to leap. ...

"Huge changes that are going to make dramatic improvements for Vermonters," said Chris Curtis, Vermont legal aid advocate.

Curtis is an advocate and co-chair of the Governor's Council on Pathways from Poverty. He says there's always more on the menu of ways the state can help, but praises lawmakers for helping the poor in a tight budget year. Next year, he'll push again for a fee on rooms and meals to fund homeless and affordable housing.

"There are lots of things the state of Vermont can do to address the problems, let's get to work, let's make progress," said Curtis. ...

McFaun says that means tax incentives for employers willing to bring good-paying jobs to Vermont, an education system designed to cater to poor students who start well behind their more affluent peers, and drug treatment projects to prevent addiction from tearing apart families. The representative concedes what he's proposing would carry massive costs, but argues it's affordable

DLS reform bill offers lifeline to thousands of Vermont drivers

Among dozens of bills passing at the end of the 2016 Statehouse session is one low-income advocates say is nothing short of a lifeline.

H. 571 reforms penalties for driving with a suspended license ... and allows those Vermonters who are simply unable to afford to pay old tickets to wipe the slate clean.

"We have 60,000 Vermonters whose license to drive is suspended. Of those, 32,000 are for their inability to pay the fine," said Chris Curtis, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid. "We have a system that's totally broken that low-income Vermonters cannot navigate because they just cannot pay the fines. It's trapping people in poverty."

Curtis pushed hard for H. 571, which will offer motorists an opportunity to erase many unpaid civil penalties and tickets for $30 each.

Legislative Wrap: New health care accountability, reform ideas emerge

Lawmakers spent the session providing oversight on Gov. Peter Shumlin’s ambitious health care goals, and most of the new reform ideas came from the lawmakers themselves. ...

In October, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont was the first to request an independent technical review. Vermont Legal Aid joined the call in January, when the backlog of changes to be made to customer accounts exceeded 5,000. Republicans then called for any review to be divorced from the control of the Shumlin administration. ...

The final version of H.812 directs the Green Mountain Care Board to regulate accountable care organizations — the intermediaries between doctors and insurance companies that the Affordable Care Act allows as a method for changing health care payment.

Much of the regulation is designed to protect consumers as health care payment reform moves forward. Provisions require public notice periods for certain accountable care organization functions and give Vermont Legal Aid the right to review an organization’s budget.

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.”