Legislative Report: Statehouse protestors were disrespectful

This week’s writer is Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh.
The Vermont State House is rightly referred to as the People’s House as anyone is able to enter the building during normal hours of operation to visit or attend meetings as space allows. However, any house has certain conventions of order so that everyone can take advantage of the place. The State House differs from the lawn or steps of the building as the business of the state is not conducted on the lawn or steps. Therefore, First Amendment rights for freedom of speech and expression are unfettered in those locations.
At the governor’s inauguration ceremony last Thursday (Jan. 8) in the House chamber, a group of dozens of organized protestors disrupted the proceedings by their multiple interruptions with songs, unfurling banners, chants and speeches. All these actions were disrespectful to the governor, the Supreme Court justices, the former governor, distinguished guests and their military veteran escorts, other speakers and law-abiding spectators, along with the General Assembly and all law-abiding citizens of this state. The news media reports did not and could not adequately convey the atmosphere of uncivility, disrespect and defiance of requests for order.
The Constitution of the State of Vermont, Chapter Two, Section 8 reads: “[Doors Of General Assembly To Be Open] The doors of the House in which the General Assembly of this Commonwealth shall sit, shall be open for the admission of all persons who behave decently, except only when the welfare of the state may require them to be shut.”
The converse is that persons who behave indecently shall be removed. Therefore, those protestors may not hide behind their supposed rights of free speech. They do not have a right to disrupt any meeting of the government that they are pleased to disrupt. In my view, the active disruptive protesters should have been removed before the Joint Assembly even convened for the inauguration. Absent their prior removal, the disruptive protestors should have been removed during the meeting. The Legislature must do a better job of maintaining order, so that the People’s House remains the people’s house, not the domain of ill-behaved protestors.

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