Editor’s note: Roll Call is published by the Ethan Allen Institute.
S.265, an act related to expanding criminal threatening to include threats to third persons, passed the state Senate on February 17, 2022, by a vote of 28-2.
The purpose of S.265 is to allow for the legal punishment of citizens who “threaten” public officials. The key language in the bill states, “A person who violates subsection (a) of this section with the intent to terrify, intimidate, or unlawfully influence the conduct of a candidate for public office, public servant, election official, or public employee in any decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or other exercise of discretion taken in capacity as a candidate for public office, public servant, election official, or public employee, or with the intent to retaliate against a candidate for public office, public servant, election official, or public employee for any previous action taken in capacity as a candidate for public office, public servant, election official, or public employee, shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $2,000.00, or both.” Additionally, S.265 makes it more difficult for a defendant’s legal defense to claim that the defendant was unable to carry out their threat.
Analysis: Those voting YES believe that the increased levels of conflict between citizens and school board members and other public official across the country, particularly in regard to Critical Race Theory (CRT) and controversial Covid policies, warrants increased protections for elected officials from threats of violence. In Vermont, they point to recent allegations of threats to legislators, election officials, healthcare workers, neighbors of shooting ranges and women of color in Vermont.
Those voting NO believe S.265 infringes on the Constitutional rights to free speech and to petition government for redress of grievances. S.265 could potentially result in citizens being punished for criticism (rather than actual threats) of certain groups, which is clearly protected speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The ACLU of Vermont chose not to endorse S.265, warning lawmakers that an earlier version of S.265 could be applied too broadly and chill “certain forms of political hyperbole.” Vermont law enforcement already has the authority to deal with truly violent threats. Officials chose not to prosecute recent allegations under current law, which suggests a conscious decision by officials, rather than a failure of Vermont law.
As Recorded in the Senate Journal, Thursday, February 17, 2022: “Thereupon, the bill was read the second time by title only pursuant to Rule 43, the recommendation of amendment was agreed to, and third reading of the bill was ordered on a roll call, Yeas 28, Nays 2” (Read the Journal p. 171-173).
View the floor discussion on YouTube (Senators Sears, Lyons, Pearson and McCormack).
HOW THEY VOTED
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – YES
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – YES
Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) – NO
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – YES
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – YES
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – YES
Thomas Chittenden (D-Chittenden) – YES
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – YES
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – YES
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – YES
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – YES
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – YES
Russ Ingalls (R-Essex-Orleans) – NO
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – YES
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – YES
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – YES
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – YES
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – YES
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – YES
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – YES
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – YES
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – YES
Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) – YES
Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden) – YES
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – YES
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – YES
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – YES
Joshua Terenzini (R-Rutland) – YES
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – YES
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – YES