Free Press editor Emilie Stigliani and reporter Joel Banner Baird discuss the morning’s top headlines.
EMILIE STIGLIANI, JOEL BANNER BAIRD, ABIGAIL SILIN/FREE PRESS
MONTPELIER – The Vermont Senate split Wednesday over whether non-white Vermonters should lead efforts to reduce racism in state government.
The proposal, S. 281, would create a Civil Rights Advisory Panel, which would oversee work to eradicate systemic racism in state government.
The bill would require at least three of the five panelists to be people of color. Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, found the requirement “repugnant” and argued on the Senate floor that appointments should be done in a “racially blind manner.”
“I think it’s extremely important that we do not go down the road of deciding that because of a person’s color, they are uniquely qualified to fill a certain position,” said Brock, who is African American. “I believe that’s wrong.”
Supporters of the requirement said the state should elevate the voices of people who are most affected by systemic racism.
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“In this case, people of color do have more insight into the systems that we’re talking about,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee.
Sen. Dick McCormack argued that “color blindness” was no longer a helpful way to address racism.
“The fact is, people don’t smell their own bad breath because they live with it,” said McCormack, D-Windsor. “And we have a racist reality, regardless of how people feel. … Certainly, people who are on the receiving end of it have experience and a perspective different from those of us who can very comfortably congratulate ourselves because we have a few black friends and we never personally did anything ugly.”
Brock proposed new language that would have created a broader requirement that the panel be racially and geographically diverse for the sake of “vigorous debate and a full exploration of the issues.”
Brock’s amendment failed by a vote of 12 senators in favor and 18 senators opposed.
The overall bill would create a new paid position in state government called the chief civil rights officer, who would report to the Civil Rights Advisory Panel.
The civil rights officer would be responsible for working to identify state government systems that “engender racial disparities,” collecting data on racial discrimination in state government, and training state employees.
The official would have power to subpoena records and take testimony under oath.
The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on whether to give final approval and send the bill to the House of Representatives.
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