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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Vermont Senate Rejects Proposed 'Right To Privacy' Constitutional Amendment

Angela Evancie
VPR file
The Senate rejected the amendment 15-14 Thursday. Sen. John Campbell, seen here in January 2015, said the proposed amendment could have had unintended consequences.

The Vermont Senate has rejected a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have created "a right to privacy."

Backers said the proposal was needed to keep up with the enormous technological changes taking place in society. But opponents argued the measure could overturn a number of state laws.

It's very difficult to amend the Vermont Constitution. The proposal must originate in the Senate and receive 20 votes to proceed. The full process can take at least two years to complete. 

The vote on this amendment was 14 in favor and 15 against.

The proposal stated, "an individual has a right to keep personal information private, to communicate to others privately, and to make decisions concerning his or her body."

Speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning said the amendment was needed because the writers of the Vermont Constitution never contemplated many of the issues that are now in the public arena.

"I would contend, Mr. President, that our language as it stands from the 18th century is not adequately equipped to deal with the issues we are facing today," said Benning.

The proposal stated, "an individual has a right to keep personal information private, to communicate to others privately, and to make decisions concerning his or her body."

Benning said the proposal gave judges two ways to determine if a law met the new constitutional requirements.

"Number one, is there a right to privacy," Benning explained. "And number two, if there is a right to privacy, is there a compelling state interest that would override that right to privacy?"

But Windsor Sen. John Campbell said the amendment could have had many unintended consequences.

"It opens the door to a tremendous amount of potential litigation regarding laws that we've had on the books here," Campbell said, "and that we have passed in this body and it takes it and potentially could turn them on their heads."

Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Sears was upset that his committee did not have a chance to review the amendment this year.

"I just think our committee deserves some time to look at it," said Sears. "If that delays the process so long that the amendment doesn't come out, the amendment doesn't come out. There are a lot of bills that die." 

Sears says he's hopeful that the House will approve different privacy protection legislation previously passed by the Senate by the end of this session.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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