by Guy Page
The Vermont Senate yesterday gave preliminary approval to S265, the ‘criminal threatening’ bill that would impose prison sentences of up to two years for threatening public officials and others.
The bill was approved by Senate Judiciary this week by a 4-1 vote. Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) was the dissenting vote. He and Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex Orleans) were the only two senators to vote against it. The roll call was requested by Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland), who voted yes. The third and “final reading” and vote on S265 is scheduled for today. If approved as expected, the bill will go to the House.
During committee discussions, Chair Dick Sears said the bill is necessary to protect (among others) store employees explicitly threatened by people angered at being asked to wear masks and school board, and other government officials faced with hostile threats. Earlier drafts of the bill had prison sentences of up to five years.
The bill adds two clauses to a bill passed to protect social services workers, in the wake of the 2015 shooting of Lara Sobel in Barre:
“A person who [makes] a threat that places any person in reasonable apprehension that death or serious bodily injury will occur at a public or private school; postsecondary education institution; place of worship; polling place during election activities; the Vermont State House; or any federal, State, or municipal building shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $2,000.00, or both.”
“A person who [acts] with the intent to terrify, intimidate, or unlawfully influence a person to prevent that person from complying with State laws or rules, State court or administrative orders, or State executive orders shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $2,000.00, or both.”