in the State House of Representatives
on April 12, 2022, by a vote of
Purpose: The underlying language of S.265 would allow for the legal punishment of citizens who are aggressive toward public officials.
A citizen prosecuted under S.265 could be given a misdemeanor (a year or less in prison) or even a felony (up to two years in prison). A felony charge could result in temporary relinquishment or permanent seizure. A fine between $1000 and $2000 is also in play.
The key language in section 1.f of 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 … 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.
The Notte Amendment adds sexual assault to the Senate’s list of illegal conduct, and reorders section of S.265 to make more logical sense.
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, above those of ordinary citizens. 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. Protecting the ‘victim’ from further attacks could give the courts license to remove an individual’s firearms.
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 threats under current, which suggests a conscious decision by officials, rather than a failure of Vermont law. S.265 could also give the courts more freedom to violate an individual’s 2nd Amendment rights by removing an individual’s firearms while the case is being processed.
As Recorded in the House Journal, Tuesday, April 12, 2022: “Pending the question, Shall the bill pass in concurrence with proposal of amendment?, Rep. LaClair of Barre Town demanded the Yeas and Nays, which demand was sustained by the Constitutional number. The Clerk proceeded to call the roll and the question, Shall the bill pass in concurrence with proposal of amendment?, was decided in the affirmative. Yeas, 89. Nays, 32.” (Read the Journal, p. 1023 - 24 ).
How They Voted
(Click on your Rep’s name to send an email)
Sally Achey (R - Middletown Springs) – NO
Paul Lefebvre (R – Newark) – ABSENT