By Guy Page
The House version of S265, the criminal threatening bill, received preliminary approval from the full House on Friday and is scheduled for final approval Tuesday.
If approved, it will return to the Senate changed from the bill that emerged from the upper chamber on February 18. The House added sexual assault to the bill’s list of proscribed threats. Either the Senate will accept the House changes, the House will accept the Senate version, or dickering over the two versions will ensue.
Both House and Senate versions double the maximum sentence for criminal threatening if undertaken “with the intent to terrify, intimidate, or unlawfully influence the conduct of a candidate for public office, public servant, election official, or public employee.” Current law allows up to a year in prison and/or a $1000 fine for the misdemeanor offense. S265 would allow two years and/or $2000 fine.
The bill’s sponsors expressed concern about confrontational situations, including an angry phone call made to the Secretary of State’s office disputing the 2020 general election, and angry parents venting about school masking policies at school board meetings.
In an anxious moment for Second Amendment supporters, the House Judiciary Committee Thursday briefly pondered making S265 a felony if it might allow police to seize firearms from the criminal threateners. This possibility was raised by Rep. Martin Lalonde (D-South Burlington), regarded as a leading advocate of gun control among members of the House of Representatives. But Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said turning this particular misdemeanor crime into a felony wouldn’t necessarily have the desired effect (from Lalonde’s point of view) of increasing the legality of firearms seizure.
After Rep. Ken Goslant (R-Northfield) said he couldn’t support gun seizures, Chair Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) observed that neither a felony upgrade nor gun seizures were in the current draft. The discussion ended with no further changes.
However, the gun seizure discussion was enough to touch off a flurry of letters from concerned Vermonters. Although only a half-dozen appear on the legislative website today, more than 30 were posted on the site over the weekend. Most of the letter writers were Vermonters concerned with the Legislature not taking away more gun ownership rights than it already has.
Letter writer Wendy Bucchieri of Arlington said Vermonters’ fears of losing freedoms to pandemic restrictions and climate change initiatives should, if anything, make the Legislature more willing to hear their concerns.
“So many constitutional rights were trampled on in these last 2 years through medical tyranny and I believe the next perpetrator will be the ‘green’ schemes,” wrote Bucchieri, who expressed the desire for “freedom to choose for myself. Whether I want to wear a mask, get vaccinated, own guns, have solar panels, drive an electric car, have privacy in my banking, integrity in my vote, freedom to travel and most of all to be heard…to air grievances to our government without prejudice and /or retaliation.”