Roll Call: Senate limits speech by broadening ‘threat’ definition

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

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR
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10 thoughts on “Roll Call: Senate limits speech by broadening ‘threat’ definition

  1. It is fundamentally wrong when one group is given special treatment and more protections than another. It is even worse when that group, using the powers loaned to them by the voters, simply take it.
    I can assure you that there are many Vermonters, and others, that feel threatened by Vermont Legislators, Officials, Commissions, Bureaucrats, and the increasing number of unaccountable and unpredictable Boards, Agencies, and Councils those “leaders” create.
    I well recognize that our legislators are bombarded every day by lobbyists and partisan legislators and that few (in this case just 2) have the integrity to stand up to that tremendous peer pressure.

  2. Can Corey Parent just be honest about his party affiliation already? His constituents deserve better than being played for fools.

  3. Thanks Senator Benning – to your fellow Rs serving as DemocratMarxist yes-men hang head’s in shame traitors to our state

  4. I guess this means I can’t exclaim FJB any more in Vermont. This bill is in direct violation of the First Amendment, but when did liberal socialists give a damn about Constitutional freedoms?

  5. Let’s see definitions for ‘terrify’ and ‘intimidate’.

    It would appear that everybody desiring to express their dissatisfaction with an elected official must file to be a candidate for one or more elected offices.

    As a candidate for office, one could claim an elected official is intimidating them.

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