20210426-MEMORIAL-SUSAN-17.JPG

People leave flowers and a message of love for Jada Spaulding-Doyle, 16, who died in a car crash on Sunday, April 25, 2021.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

MONTPELIER — A committee of the Vermont House has approved a bill that bars police from identifying anyone under the age of 20 who has been charged with a crime, including fatal motor vehicle crashes, unless and until they are formally charged with a major felony .

The bill, S.107, adds a public records exemption barring the release of information about the initial arrest or charge of a person under the age of 20 “that would reveal the identity of the person.”

“However, a public agency may disclose identifying information relating to the arrest of a person under the age of 20 years of age in order to protect the health and safety of any person,” the bill says.

“However, upon a finding that a child is a delinquent child by reason of commission of a delinquent act which that would have been a felony if committed by an adult, the court, upon request of the victim, shall make the child’s name available to the victim of the delinquent act,” the bill said. If the victim is incompetent or deceased, the child’s name shall be released, upon request, to the victim’s guardian or next of kin, the bill reads.

The committee vote was 10-1 with Reps. John Gannon, D-Windham 6, and Michael Mrowicki, D-Windham 4, voting yes. Rep. Samantha Lefebvre, R-Orange 1, was the lone no vote. The bill has already passed the Senate.

The vote by the Government Operations Committee came days after Jada Spaulding Doyle, a 16-year-old sophomore at Bellows Falls Union High School, died following a one-car crash on Route 5 in Putney.

The juvenile motorist at the wheel in the one-car crash, whom Vermont State Police have not identified, now faces drunken driving charges, death resulting, in Windham Family Court on Wednesday.

The fatal accident and law enforcement’s refusal to name the victim or the motorist in the case were brought up in the committee hearing.

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

Michael Donoghue, executive director of the Vermont Press Association, said state police were not identifying the victim or the driver in the crash. He said the bill would create different standards for teen motorists whose actions lead to deaths on the state’s highways. (Donoghue writes for New England Newspapers Inc. as a freelance reporter.)

Mrowicki, whose district includes Putney, where the fatal accident took place, said the human toll of the accident needs to be kept in mind.

“I want to hold up that this is not just a news story,” Mrowicki said. “This is a teenager … this is two young lives affected. Their families have to deal with this.”

Later, he said accountability in cases involving young motorists should come in the judicial system, if and when they are judged to have committed a felony.

“This bill has nothing to do with what’s happened here [in Putney,” he said.

Mrowicki said the increase in age to 20 reflects the desire to not place those persons in the adult criminal justice system.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Phil Scott said that the state had ceased identifying juveniles as a result of confusion about what is or isn’t allowed in terms of releasing names.

“The law says we can’t. We don’t believe that we can release that information,” Scott said.

“We want to provide some more transparency but we’re going to need help from the legislature. In the meantime we have to follow the law,” Scott said.

Neither Mrowicki nor Gannon responded to emails seeking comment by press time Tuesday.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.