Prop 2 aims to close slavery loophole in Vt. Constitution

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 11:22 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Vermonters say the language in the state’s Constitution still allows for slavery. Now, lawmakers are looking to clarify that’s not the case.

Amending the Constitution is an intentionally lengthy process that takes about four years, but many lawmakers say it needs to be done. In 1777, Vermont was the first state prohibiting slavery in its constitution, but people say the clause isn’t comprehensive. Thursday night, state representatives took input from the public about Proposal 2.

“It will bring clarity to Article 1 that has some ambiguity around the language surrounding slavery and indentured servitude,” said Rep. Hal Colston, D-Winooski.

The current language in Article 1 is lengthy but says slavery is prohibited up to the age of 21 and afterwards if a debt or fine is owed. Many at the hearing say it unfairly impacts those in the state’s correctional system, suggesting the allowance of prison labor.

“It’s a burden, a burden, to work for Vermont when such revolting and ancient language hangs over the heads of the dispossessed like an old unwelcome stormcloud,” said Dr. Etan Nasreddin-Longo, the equity advisor for the Department of Public Safety.

The proposed change would strike the current language to say slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.

“We need to have a constitution that has laws that speak our values. If you ask any Vermonter today if they would permit or allow slavery to exist, I’d be really surprised to hear anyone say yes,” Rep. Colston said.

Thursday’s public hearing was just a formality of the House. The proposed change has already been passed in the Senate.

“The fact that that it was misinterpreted by many many people and had an impact on their lives is what led us to change it,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham County

The House should be voting on the proposed change in the near future. Once Governor Scott signs off, it’ll be put before voters in November.

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