Vermont lawmakers to discuss 'hurtful speech' remedy

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont lawmakers say passing new laws to protect people from hurtful speech has legal challenges but will be explored.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced Monday that former state Rep. Kiah Morris faced racial harassment but no charges will be filed because of First Amendment protections.

Key lawmakers say they'll explore ways to prevent hurtful speech but aren't trying to restrict constitutional rights. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says federal and state courts have consistently defended free speech.

"There are so many U.S. Supreme Court and Vermont Supreme Court rulings on this issue it would be tough to overcome some of those," he said.

"A bill would be the answer saying yes we can do it. We need to start with the, 'Can we do it and what would those barriers look like?' Ideally we would. I'm not sure that we can, but I definitely want to explore it," said Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

Morris was the only African-American woman serving in the House before she dropped her re-election bid and resigned last fall because of racial harassment.