BILL ANALYSIS: Public Safety (S.58)

S.58 is one of several criminal justice bills passed by the legislature this session. Key provisions of the bill add zylazine (an animal tranquilizer) to the list of regulated drugs and tightened up language that allows dealers to dodge responsibility by claiming they didn't know what was in the products they were selling. More controversially, the bill delays "raise the age" efforts in an attempt to allow the Department for Children and Families to deal with a current spat of violent juvenile offenders.

The Details:

Many of the changes in the bill are related to offenders in the 16-22 age range. By default, they would be tried as an adult if the charges were for using a firearm while committing a felony, trafficking a regulated drug, aggravated stalking.

By default, a defendant between the ages of 16 and 22 will be tried in criminal court (as an adult) unless the State's Attorney files the charge directly as a youthful offender petition in the Family Division. Additionally, any child who violates a condition of release imposed by the Criminal Division for any drug-related offenses will be be prosecuted as an adult (in criminal court).

If the alleged offense was not violent or drug-related and the defendant was under 19 years of age, the case may (but is not required) be transferred to the Family Division. Cases may also be referred the other way after a petition alleging delinquency is filed in the Family Division; a case may be transferred the Criminal Division if the child had attained 16 years of age but not 19 years of age.

Dispensing controlled substances

The bill adds Xylazine to the the list of regulated drugs and dealing or possession of drug would closely mirror those of fentanyl with up to five years of prison time and $100k in fines.

The bill also redefines Fentanyl to include any compound that contains quantity of the substance. The penalties for dealing or selling fentanyl were left unchanged with imprisonment up to five years and $100k in fines. Possession laws were also left unchanged. However, the thresholds for deniability were updated to make it more difficult for a person to claim they didn't know fentanyl was contained in the substance they were in possession of or attempting to sell.

A two year minimum sentence will be enforced for the dispensing of any regulated drug with death resulting and the sentence may not be amended or deferred. Such a person would also not be eligible for probation or parole.


Reports & Studies

The Vermont Sentencing Commission will be asked to make a recommendation to the Legislature in October of 2024 whether to keep the two-year minimum term of imprisonment for selling a regulated drug with death resulting.

The Department of Health, in partnership with entities that provide education, outreach, and services regarding substance use disorder, is required to engage in continuous efforts to publicize the immunity protections to encourage persons to seek medical assistance for someone who is experiencing an overdose.

A working group composed of the Chief Superior Judge, the Defender General, the Executive Director of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, and the Commissioner for Children and Families shall submit a joint report on options for creating an expedited process for transfers of juvenile proceedings to the Criminal Division.

The bill creates a new expedited court process for more serious offenses, and specifies the offenses and offender age ranges that would qualify for the expedited process.

The Good:

  • Relieves some current pressure being placed on DCF dealing with increasingly violent juvenile offenders.
  • Criminalizes a dangerous new street drug not designed for human use.

The Bad:

  • Will likely lead to increased youth incarceration rates.
  • The Vermont ACLU believes that the bill will perpetuate racial disparities.
  • May increase long-term recidivism.


The bill may have some short-term benefits in dealing with a current spat of violent drug-related offenses perpetrated by juvenile offenders. There is merit to concerns that the bill may impact long-term recidivism so further work will be necessary in order to make the reforms in DCF that will be necessary to support the 'Raise the Age' effort in shifting focus towards rehabilitating juvenile offenders. This bill should be viewed as a step in the process to address an immediate need, but not and end-all solution.


Key News Articles:

Advocates fear public safety bill could send more Vermont children to prison - Vermont Public

Current Status:

The bill was signed by the Governor on May 29, 2024


See more coverage on S.58

Read the Bill

More bill summaries

Last updated: 6/1/2024

DISCLAIMER: Generative AI used to assist in the production of this report.

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