Roll Call! Senate Limits Speech by Broadening 'Threat' Definition (28-2), 2022


in the State Senate
on February 17, 2021, by a vote of

Purpose: 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).

ACLU written testimony on S.265

These roll call reports are designed to help citizens understand how their elected representatives vote on key issues. The bills may or may not eventually become law. Click on the link to the bill page at the top of this post for an up to date status on the bill.

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

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Enter Comment Here:

  • Shep Jones
    commented 2022-03-06 12:26:39 -0500
    Does this make “If you vote for this bill, I’m going to vote against you.” an unlawful event? Welcome to the Soviet Union!
  • Ivan St George
    commented 2022-03-05 08:30:43 -0500
    This event is breathtaking , dangerous and completely counter to our 240 year old bill of rights, in fact other than recent 20th and 21st century communist strongholds like the Soviet Union, China and Cuba,
    King George III employed these same tactics of threat and of use of force, intimidation and imprisonment to silence dissent.
    Where on earth are we going with this?, are we supposed to simply bow and kiss the ring of people
    we elect simply because they were elected ?, our vote is the very power we have over these people and short of a physical threat of assault by anyone, they do not get to dictate if and how we influence
    them with our vote or anything else for that matter including generating public opinion against them.
  • Tom Rood
    commented 2022-03-04 23:07:41 -0500
    I wonder if some event in particular raised this issue for these elected officials of ours, who’s salaries we pay, to spend so much time on.
    I suppose next, if you look cross-eyed at someone, into the slammer you go!
    How much more thin-skinned can people get ???
  • David Flemming
    published this page in Votes 2022-02-22 14:58:45 -0500