Joe Benning: Scott versus Trump

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The Immigration bill recently passed by the Vermont State Senate has managed to ruffle some feathers. Forgive the title of this essay, for it was meant to attract your attention. By the end of it, you may be disappointed there isn't anything "versus" about it.

The bill's genesis stems from a rather contentious national campaign for president. Strong voices were calling for a registry of all Muslims. A segment of our population is convinced we need to keep track of every Muslim because each is committed to a creed requiring them to kill anyone who is not a member of their faith. Seeing no difference between enemy ISIS fanatics and the average Muslim, that misguided and xenophobic segment of our population has (like it or not) become associated with the Trump administration.

Rather than pointing out that the vast majority of ISIS victims are in fact Muslims themselves, or publicly demonstrating sympathy for the plight of millions of Muslims displaced by fanatical ISIS elements given birth by a war we helped to start, President Trump has stood silent. His silence causes consternation, even in the most historically conservative circles, where intelligent military strategy against ISIS is a subject of daily conversation. His silence becomes deafening when fear is whipped up by those who echo American mistakes of the past. "The only good Muslim (Indian/ Jap/ Commie) is a dead Muslim (Indian/ Jap/ Commie)."

At the height of all this came the suggestion that our national government could commandeer state and local law enforcement to create a national Muslim registry. Into that maelstrom stepped Vermont's Governor Phil Scott, who recognized a challenge to his own constitutional authority and the conflict a registry had with our state's heritage. He proposed, and the Senate has now passed, S.79. With the March 4th passing of our state's 226th birthday, it was probably high time that we restated the parameters of proper state and national functions. This bill does just that.

The bill is not complicated. It is three pages long. The first two pages contain eleven paragraphs that restate provisions of Vermont's heritage and constitution. Next come two definitions. "Personally identifying information" is defined as: "information concerning a person's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, race, color, religion, national origin, immigration status, age or disability." "Public agency" is defined as: "all officers, employees, agents, and independent contractors of the public agency."

The meat of the bill is found in three sentences. They prohibit collection of personally identifying information, disclosure of such information, and providing assistance to the federal government in doing the same. But the prohibition in each hinges on an important proviso that critics can't seem to see, a distinction that is critical to the discussion. Collection/dissemination/assistance is only prohibited when it is done solely "for the purpose of registration."

The remainder of the bill confirms Vermont's intention to cooperate with the federal government when combatting crime. It gives the governor power to enter into agreements with the federal government. It also permits state, county or local law enforcement to enter into federal agreements when a threat to Vermont residents exists due to a declaration of a state or national emergency. There is nothing in the bill that prevents a state police officer from contacting federal authorities when a criminal is alleged to have violated federal law. There is nothing in the bill which prohibits cooperation between state and federal law enforcement to interdict crime. Immigration enforcement, which has never been the responsibility of state law enforcement, remains a federal function and nothing in the bill prevents the federal government from doing its job. It ONLY prohibits collection of identifying information when the sole known purpose for doing so is the creation of a "registry," a concept repugnant to a free society.

Phil Scott stands in stark contrast to those using fear and paranoia to urge erosion of the parameters that define us as a constitutional republic. We should be thankful our governor understands the difference between state and federal authority. This is a good time to reflect on who we are. Happy birthday Vermont.

State Sen. Joe Benning, a Republican, represents the Caledonia-Orange District. He can be contacted At beaner77@myfairpoint.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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