Slavery ban testimony heard by Vermont legislators

Associated Press
Published: 1/21/2022 1:22:07 AM
Modified: 1/21/2022 1:21:03 AM

Vermont legislators are again taking up a proposed constitutional amendment to make it clear that slavery and indentured servitude are prohibited, as some other states have done.

Vermont’s constitution currently says no person 21 or older should serve as a slave unless bound by their own consent or “by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like,” language that would be removed by the amendment. The proposal would add that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are banned.

Legislation was also introduced in Congress in June to end a loophole in the U.S. Constitution that allowed forced labor for those convicted of some crimes.

The measure would revise the 13th Amendment, which bans enslavement or involuntary servitude except as a form of criminal punishment.

Kaman Allen, lead organizer and co-founder of the Abolish Slavery National Network, testified virtually during a Vermont legislative public hearing Thursday evening.

He asked the committee to pass the constitutional amendment to the full House and to “join a story of justice that is being written by organizers, legislators and clergy persons, and incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people and community folks like myself all across this nation from coast to coast.”

To amend the Vermont Constitution, the proposal must be approved by two consecutively elected Legislatures and then approved in a statewide referendum.

The Vermont House unanimously approved the measure in 2020 and the state Senate passed the proposal in the previous session.

Pat Autilio, of Quechee, told the committee that he also supports passage of the constitutional amendment, saying the country’s founding documents are the basis for many disagreements and are getting more scrutiny as the political climate grows more polarized.

“In our uncertain times, we should embrace clarity and certainty where we can find it by making this change,” he said.

If passed this session, the question will be go before Vermont voters this year.

In 2018, voters in Colorado backed a measure to clarify language in the state Constitution to ban slavery and involuntary servitude under all circumstance. Since then, voters in Nebraska and Utah have approved initiatives amending their state constitutions to remove language that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.

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