Vermont House committee takes up ‘slavery’ amendment to constitution

Local News

MONTPELIER – A Vermont House committee heard testimony Wednesday on an amendment to remove most references to slavery and indentured servitude, one step in a lengthy process that would eventually be decided by a statewide vote.

The  House Committee on Government Operations took up the proposed amendment after its passage by the Senate in a 28-1 vote. The lone ‘no’ vote was cast by Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), who said it would be “history with a smiley face plastered on it.”

But Mark Hughes, executive director of Justice For All Vermont, testified that not enough attention on the amendment has focused on underlying issues.

“The proposal has always been about addressing systematic racism in our state laws and institutions,” Hughes said. “Despite this fact, much attention has been given to the words ‘removing all reference to slavery,’ again, this has never been our intention.”

The measure proposes to replace language that suggests someone could conceivably ‘consent’ to being a slave with the phrase, “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.” 

If passed by the House, the proposed amendment would go back to both chambers in 2020. Final approval would be left up to voters.

Last week, an editorial in the Caledonian Record criticized the amendment, saying “why are legislators wasting time on meaningless gestures when they could be making our state more competitive for business investment?”

But the committee’s chairperson, Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Orange), said the amendment isn’t taking much time away from other duties.

“I don’t think it’s a waste of time, and it’s actually the job of the legislature to take on these tasks even though it’s going to take four years and even though there may be voices out there who disagree,” Copeland-Hanzas said.

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