Break out the tiny violins for Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, who’s just getting run ragged because the House has passsed sooooo many law and justice related bills.
After just a few minutes of discussion around the best language to use to redefine consent in Vermont, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, trailed off mid-sentence, “to be honest with you, I’m fried,” he said.
My first reaction was “Aww, poor baby.” But given the quality of Judiciary’s work lately, it might be best if they simply shut down for the year. The panel’s recent actions have made them worthy of The Kids in the Hall Award for Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Series.
Sears’ comment was reported by VTDigger’s Ellie French on Friday evening, shortly after I’d closed the books on the first ever Veepie Awards for Outstanding Stupidity on Public Display. The context was Judiciary’s struggles over H.183, which would enact several steps aimed at better enforcement of sexual violence.
The bill is such a tough nut to crack that the committee is threatening to basically gut it. Sen. Phil Baruth complained that “It’s not unusual for the House to put us in a position where we get things that are controversial or tough to deal with.”
Yeah, it was so controversial that it passed the House on a voice vote. Sheesh.
Sen. Joe Benning distinguished himself with some very iffy comments about the issue of “consent,” positing a case where a married couple are in bed together and one of them is interested in sex but the other is asleep, and the first is hoping that the other “will wake up and be willing.” He said that H.183 would create “a crime out of that situation.”
Umm…. well… I’m just gonna slowly back away from that, OK?
This is the latest in a series of farfetched and/or wrongheaded hypotheticals that have been spun in this committee this year. Recall the others:
- In discussion of H.128, a ban on the so-called gay panic defense, Sen. Jeanette White mused about getting propositioned by a Black man or a motorcyclist (and later, a politician) and being so scared that she shot him.
- After rightfully getting major blowback for her comments, White issued a fake “apology” full of self-pity and empty of honest remorse.
- During the committee’s final discussion of the bill, Sen. Alice Nitka delivered her Jeanette White impersonation, asking what would happen if someone put their hand on her buttocks and she pushed them away and they fell and were badly injured.
- In arguing for the gay panic defense to be allowable at sentencing but not during trial, Sens. White and Joe Benning argued that judges wouldn’t use the defense to impose a ridiculously light sentence because if they did, they’d be subject to the judicial review and reappointment processes. Problem: Judges are so rarely sanctioned or removed that it’s a completely inadequate fallback.
- And all this over a bill that passed the House 144 to 1, and went on to pass the Senate on a 29 to 0 vote. One single lonesome “No” vote in the entire Legislature, and Judiciary came thisclose to killing the bill or significantly watering it down.
- Finally, we have Senate Judiciary weakening H.145, a bill that defines the circumstances in which law enforcement personnel can use chokeholds like the one an officer used to kill Eric Garner, a New York City man suspected of selling single cigarettes.
The Senate version would allow chokeholds in cases where an officer believes there is “an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.” And, as someone noted on Twitter, how can you be under imminent threat when you’ve got the suspect in a chokehold from behind? Once again, the Judiciary Committee seems more solicitous of the rights of perpetrators than of victims.
Not to mention the inconvenient truth that police officers lie, a lot, about instances of deadly violence.
But hey, I can understand why Sears is so wiped out. It takes a lot of energy to dream up hypothetical arguments against bills with almost universal support. And a committee with a median age of 71 has to conserve energy whenever possible.
There is a simple solution, though. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Stop running for re-election. Give way gracefully to a younger and more diverse Senate. I know these folks have carefully curated senses of their own indispensability. In truth, no one is that important.
And this bunch is proving it by their words and actions.