Vermont’s full House of Representatives gave preliminary approval yesterday to House Bill 237, which would allow law enforcement to administer saliva tests for drugs during traffic stops.
The House gave approval to the measure in a voice vote yesterday after 2.5 hours of debate and after approving several rather inconsequential amendments. Representative David Potter (D), the bill’s primary sponsor, says that under his proposal the saliva tests alone can’t result in an arrest or conviction, though it can play a factor. The measure requires at least two peer-reviewed studies to verify the accuracy of the devices being deployed before they can be used.
According to Potter, overall impairment would still be determined by police who are trained as Drug Recognition Experts, and they would need to consider the “totality of the evidence.”
“The courts will also determine the science,” Potter said during the bill’s debate on the House floor, “Is this test reliable and is it a reasonable, accurate science? It isn’t you or I who that’s going to decide that, it’s the court system that will do it. We need to give them a chance.”
The tests “won’t be here overnight”, says Potter, who estimates that it will cost between $250,000 to $300,000 to outfit every police cruiser in the state with the proper technology to administer saliva tests. which. Potter hopes this will be paid for by federal grants.
During the debate Representative Selene Colburn (P) expressed concerns with the measure. He noted that saliva tests can detect marijuana from metabolites that are seven to 30 days old, which could result in positive tests of unimpaired drivers.
“If the person gets out of the car and does sobriety tests and passes them all, there’s not impairment, who cares what drug they are taking or might have used five days ago or anything else?” said Potter, “The key to this whole process is you have to have a series of observations of impairment all the way down the line.”
The House’s approval of House Bill 237 comes less than two months after Governor Phil Scott signed a marijuana legalization bill into law. House Bill 237 will need to receive final approval from the House, and pass the Senate, before it can be sent to Governor Scott for final consideration.
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