Vermont Senate votes to remove slavery from constitution

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For the second time this session, Vermont lawmakers have approved a measure to amend the state constitution Wednesday.

On Wednesday, a group of state senators proposed removing any reference to slavery from the document..

“We need to be able to use our imagination to walk in someone else’s shoes to understand the world from another point of view,” said Sen. Debbie Ingram, D- Chittenden District. “This willingness, this understanding and this empathy are at the core of justice, the concept of justice.”

The Vermont Constitution currently says no person 21 or older should serve as a slave unless bound by their own consent or by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs or the like.

Supporters of the proposed change say the constitution should make it clear: “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited”.

“Some of the language might seem rough and perhaps not as clear as it could have been,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D- Windham District.

Vermont has amended its constitution 17 times, but opponents say this change would essentially re-write history — and ignore the fact that, in 1777, Vermont was the first colony to abolish slavery in 1777, before it became a state.

“The existing language has no legal power, nor would the new language have legal power. What it does have is historical power, it’s an artifact,” said Sen. Dick McCormack, D- Windsor District. “It won’t be accurate, it’ll be history with a smiley face plastered on it.”

McCormack ended up being the only ‘no’ in the final 28-1 vote.

“That history is there. The words that were done by the framers originally will remain,” said Sen. Randy Brock, R- Franklin District. “But what this change reflects is what we believe as Vermonters today,”

The Senate vote is just the first step in the process of amending the Vermont Constitution. If it is passed by the House, the measure will go back to the both chambers in 2020 and, if approved, go to a statewide vote. 

In March, a Vermont Senate committee approved a bill that would amend the constitution to preserve a woman’s right to abortion.

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