VT Terrorism Bill Debated in Senate

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee has started work on a new terrorism bill. The American Civil Liberties Union says the legislation is unnecessary and could have a chilling effect on the first amendment rights of Vermonters.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation, which has been identified as a top priority by Legislative leaders, gives the State of Vermont a role to play in the prosecution of terrorist activities.

The bill enhances penalties for crimes like arson or murder that are motivated by terrorism, it deals with cases of Internet terrorism and it addresses terrorist activities using weapons of mass destruction, like poisonous materials.

Windsor Senator John Campbell is the lead sponsor of the bill:

(Campbell) “We’re trying to develop a comprehensive package that allows Vermont to deal with any issues that may come up that involve terrorism in this state¿. I mean, look at 9/11. That happened; no one expected it. So I think we need to be aware of that and the possibility that something similar could happen in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) However Ben Scotch, who is the head of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, thinks the bill is unnecessary and could be harmful because it is triggered by a person’s state of mind:

(Scotch) “What we end up doing if we adopt legislation like this is to put the right of free expression in doubt¿. Virtually all demonstrations have a political purpose. I think this bill will tend to chill the first amendment right to speak and to assemble ¿ and to no end because it is not going to deter terrorism.”

(Kinzel) The Judiciary Committee is expected to review several new drafts of the bill later in the week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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