Attorney general candidates debate on ‘Switchboard’

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(Host) Attorney General Bill Sorrell says he supports legislation that adds religious organizations to the list of groups that must report allegations of child sexual abuse. However the Progressive Party candidate for attorney general, Cindy Hill, strongly disagrees with Sorrell’s position. The candidates discussed this issue last night on VPR’s Switchboard program.

Currently, religious organizations are exempt from Vermont’s mandatory reporting law, but Sorrell says Vermont should join with the 27 other states that require this action:

(Sorrell) “The sexual assaults that have taken place don’t typically take place within the church setting, so I don’t think First Amendment rights are really at issue here. There is no immunity under our current law for church personnel to be immune from prosecution for violating our laws – whether it be theft or murder or sexual assault.”

(Host) Cindy Hill says she opposes any expansion of the mandatory reporting law because she believes that there are significant constitutional issues at stake:

(Hill) “The primary one being the separation of church and state and the civil liberties regarding religious protections, which are implicated by that. Expanding mandatory reporting to religious personnel would raise in the first instance the question of who are clergy? Who are religious personnel? And perhaps we’ve been focusing significantly on the Catholic Church given the recent news stories in which the identity of the clergy is perhaps quite distinct, but in other religions it is not necessarily that clear cut.”

(Host) Hill and Sorrell also disagreed on the issue of federal recognition for the Abenaki Indians. Sorrell’s office filed a report with the Bureau of Indian Affairs arguing that the Abenaki claim did not meet federal requirements. Hill says the report is flawed and she supports federal recognition of the Abenaki.

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