The Vermont Senate has passed a bill to clarify the role of the defender general in investigating problems in Vermont's prison system.
Defender General Matt Valerio says his office already has authority under state law to investigate inmate deaths, prison disturbances and other incidents.
He says the bill clarifies that his office is at par with Disability Rights Vermont, a federally funded nonprofit that also investigates problems in the prisons.
Valerio says he had a disagreement about the authority of his office last year with a lawyer for the state Department of Human Resources.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Senator Richard Sears says lawmakers' interest in the issue also was piqued by the suicide of an inmate at the state prison in Newport last year.
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