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Thousands sign ethics complaint petition amid controversial gun bill vote

COLCHESTER, Vt. - Thousands have signed an ethics complaint petition against Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and others connected to sweeping gun legislation expected to pass the final vote in the House Tuesday.

John Nagle, of Colchester, posted the petition online Friday night. Since then, it’s gained more than 4,300 signatures.

“I've seen this constant anger about not being heard and feeling that their voices are being squashed and muted and just ignored all in all,” he said.

Nagle says he’s an independent and not a gun owner, though he tends to express views supported by gun rights advocates.

“We're all looking to take away the object of the situation in Florida, which was tragic, but we're not talking about the condition of why it happened,” said Nagle.

Opinions aside, Nagle says he filed the petition because he wants transparency in Montpelier.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Judiciary approved a senate-backed bill that would expand background checks to include firearms sold privately and raise the gun purchasing age from 18 to 21.

The House of Representatives added other measures to include the ban of bump stocks and a ten-round limit on high capacity magazines and clips. It also considered banning assault-style weapons, but there were concerns over what guns the ban would apply to.

The bill, with those amendments, passed 85 - 59 on Friday after ten hours of debate.

The House never held a public hearing on the bill with amendments, which is not a requirement.

“All these amendments were added and nobody got a chance to weigh in on it,” said Nagle. “We can't legislate this way. This is a whole Vermont issue. It's going to affect a lot of people."

Nagle addressed the online petition to the director of the newly-formed Vermont State Ethics Commission Brian Leven.

Leven says when his office receives a complaint, the alleged violation is reviewed and then forwarded to the appropriate state entity, in case the legislature.

Speaker Johnson (D - Grand Isle - Chittenden) argues the regular legislative process was followed.

She says committee members heard public input during discussions on the bill and constituents have been in touch with representatives.

She also says she held a public hearing in Milton on March 6.

“This claim is without basis and is unfortunately meant to district from the real issue, which is the safety of Vermonters and the safety of children in schools,” she wrote in a statement.

Governor Phil Scott called on lawmakers to come forward with gun reform after law enforcement foiled what prosecutors call a 'well-planned' school shooting at Fair Haven Union High School.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary Chair Dick Sears did hold a public hearing on the senate version of the bill in January.

That version did not include the amendments in the current house bill.

Sen. Sears (D - Bennington District) says he’s heard from hundreds of Vermonters, mostly those who are against the bill.

“It's almost impossible to return emails from people outside my district but I've read them,” said Sen. Sears. “Obviously civil unions, the education reform bill all are extremely controversial but this ranks up there with the civil unions."

Senator Sears says his committee will be hearing testimony on the bill Wednesday.

He expects the senate may ask for conference committee be convened to work on the bill. A new group, Vermont Law Enforcement Against Gun Control, is holding a rally at the State House Tuesday opposing the bill. It begins at 8am.


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