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Slavery ban amendment approved; goes to voters in November

February 4, 2022 GMT

The Vermont House on Friday approved a constitutional amendment that would remove what supporters say is ambiguous language and make clear that slavery and indentured servitude are prohibited in the state.

The constitutional amendment now goes before voters in November.

Vermont’s constitution states that 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.” The amendment would remove that language and add that slavery and indentured servitude in any form are banned.

The current language is “harmful and threatening to Vermonters who experience the vestiges of slavery,” said Rep. Hal Colston of Winooski to his colleagues. “My truth as a descendent of slave advocates is that this current language gives the appearance that there may be an exception for the existence of slavery and indentured servitude. Language is powerful and the truth shall set us free.”

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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. The House vote on Friday was 139-3.

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.

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.