Attorney General T. J. Donovan raised some eyebrows last week when he said that violation of Gov. Scott’s Executive Order could result in civil fines of $1000 a day, and even criminal penalties of $500 or six months in jail or both.
I made it a point to inquire of the AG just whence originated this power to enforce a governor’s executive order, never voted on by our legislators, with civil and criminal penalties.
His office cited two provisions of Title 20 Vermont Statutes, Chapter 1,sections 24 and 40. This is the chapter that defines the governor’s emergency powers, which are extremely far reaching. And yes, those two sections give support to the AG’s statement about civil and criminal penalties. His staff pointed out that no such actions were contemplated, and the two provisions served only as a last resort in a case of a flagrant and defiant violation of an emergency order, that promised really harmful consequences to society.
The civil penalty section was added in 1994, apparently relating to hazardous material spills, but it could be used for other threatening events. Incidentally, martial law is forbidden by the Vermont constitution.
Just the same, I was startled to come across a web page inviting people to report violations of the Governor’s executive order to the Vermont State Police. That was reminiscent of the East German Stasi police state, and a bit much for me.
— John McClaughry is vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute.