House advances bill to address ‘systemic racism’ in state government

Michael Bielawski/TNR

RACISM IN STATE GOVERNMENT?: Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, presents S.281 on the House floor Tuesday morning. The bill attempts to curb alleged systemic racism within Vermont’s government.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The House has approved a bill to curb alleged “systemic racism,” which some lawmakers claim is rampant among offices of the Vermont state government.

After little debate, the House chamber on Tuesday voted 140-2 in favor of S. 281, “an act relating to the mitigation of systemic racism.” The measure would create a five-member advisory panel and require the appointment of an Executive Director of Racial Equity in the executive branch to recognize and remedy “racism” in government offices.

Legislators gave their final approval on Wednesday after the third reading, before dispatching it back to the Senate.

Prior to appearing on the House floor, the measure stipulated that the executive director was to have subpoena powers to gather documents and information. That controversial language has since been stripped.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Wilmington, presented the bill and argued that Vermont needs to change its allegedly discriminatory ways.

“There are a number of racial disparities in Vermont’s state systems that are troubling,” he said on the House floor. “The Vermont African American state employees have a voluntary separation rate that is two times that of white employees. Even more disturbing is black employees are three times more likely to be terminated than white employees.”

He went through several more of such statistics implying that African Americans get unfair treatment while working among state agencies, relative to white counterparts.

When he was done, a trio of Republicans questioned whether the issue is as pervasive as Gannon made it out to be.

“I voted no,” Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, said on the floor after the vote. “In college, I learned there were ‘lies, damnable lies, and then there is statistics.’ I am not impressed with a number of these statistics.”

Van Wyck, along with Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, were the two no votes.

Other Republicans noted that important information seemed to be missing from the testimony that had been taken so far for the bill.

Rep. Bob Frenier, R-Chelsea, noted that both the Vermont State Employees Association and the Vermont National Education Association — two of the largest groups representing and tracking workplace issues in the state — were not heard from amid all the testimony.

“In the long list of people who testified on this bill, I note I do not see a member of the VSEA or the VNEA,” Frenier said. “Did you take testimony from any of those folks?”

Gannon said they did not testify, and that the focus of the bill was on state agencies and having them work on ending systemic racism.

Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, said she was troubled by the lacking testimony.

“I voted yes, but I am disturbed that no testimony was given by either the VSEA or the VNEA as to the number of incidences of demonstrable racism experienced by their members,” she said.

Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, chair of the state Human Rights Commission, praised the effort.

“I am moved and proud of the statement that this body has made,” he said. “Today we have made history, and I thank you all sincerely.”

After the floor session, Gamache told True North that she was baffled by the lack of relevant testimony supporting the legislation.

“I find it curious that there was no there was no testimony taken from either the VSEA or the NEA because they have a lot of members,” she said. “If we’re talking about systemic racism, I would think they have vast numbers of employees that they represent. So why was there no testimony taken?

“[These groups] potentially could have information that would demonstrate instances of racism leveled by workers who feel they’ve been fired unjustifiably, or whatever, that would be on file.”

Van Wyck told True North that the statistics presented to House members, without further context, don’t adequately demonstrate systematic racism.

“To define systemic racism by a group of statistics, you don’t know what the basis of those statistics are,” he said. “Were people really being treated unfairly or not? Is there a reason why various groups of people leave state employment at a higher rate than others?”

He added: “I’m not saying that people haven’t been treated unfairly, but you can not demonstrate that by just a large group of statistics.”

The bill is now headed back to the Senate because of changes made by the House.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

12 thoughts on “House advances bill to address ‘systemic racism’ in state government

  1. So going forth we can expect that supervisors will be terrified of giving even so much as a negative review of a minority employee for fear of bringing the witch burners down upon them. Incompetent workers, or workers with poor work ethics, will be kept on out of fear of being called the “R” word, (which is even worse than the “B” word, the “N” word, the “C” word, the “H” word, the “S” word, etc. etc.) and the swamp will continue to grow and taxes will rise and the liberals will proclaim that all is right in nirvana and they will then go forth like modern day Don Quixotes looking for more ficticious windmills to tilt at. Oh, by the way, did any of those departing minority employees even claim that they were the objects of discrimination?

  2. “alleged “systemic racism,” which some lawmakers claim is rampant among offices of the Vermont state government.”

    This doesn’t say much for the quality of the people running this state.

  3. Advisory panel to investigate a non issue? Another feel good project costing tax payers, how much? They never think of cost, it’s always full speed ahead, cost? Who cares?

  4. Here we go again, our legislative ” buffons ” trying to fix an issue in there feeble little
    minds, that doesn’t really exist but needs to be fixed.

    Instead of fixing the real issues the state has ( Taxes, Drugs, Debt ) but they don’t worry
    about that stuff , just feel good policy !!

    Lets go back in History, yes 200 years ago blacks were treated badly in the US and
    there treatment was wrong, but that’s History. I believe we have come a long way so
    lets move forward 200 years look around, we’ve even had a Black president for two
    terms. Are things perfect today of course not, nothing is and nothing will be !!

    If these legislators feel VT is not fair, there needs to be a one for one ratio so they can
    sleep at night, then they need to find an appropriate replacement and they need to
    support them and then they should step down. We know that will never happen, now
    that’s “systemic racism ” legislators .

    Fix the real problems within the state !!

  5. If you haven’t seen enough evidence to vote out a lot of the nuts, you need to pay better attention!

  6. So did these people all vote for Randy Brock in his statewide races. I and thousands of other Vermonters voted for Randy, but not at all based on race, rather his character and abilities. But if these nose-in-the-air liberals are at all genuine, they would have ensured Randy won every race he ran. Of course they don’t mean a word they say. This is simply a means to their socialist ends of concentrating even more power in government to make decisions that the people are simply incapable of making.

  7. This is ridiculous, “systemic racism” is a bait phrase used to conjure a sense of empathy for a nonsensical cause that will end up wasting more taxpayer money


  8. So a solution in search of a problem. I suggest that any funding needed to fund this be taken out of the reps pay.

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