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MONTPELIER — The state Senate in Vermont — the first state to abolish adult slavery — gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a proposal to amend the state constitution to remove references to slavery.

The Vermont Constitution currently says 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 Senate voted

overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment that would remove that language and add that "slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited."

The change is intended to clarify the language so there is no misinterpretation amid the current troubling times, where people are

experiencing an increase in hate crimes and attitudes of intolerance, said Democratic Sen. Jeannette White, whose committee took testimony on the proposal.

"If we can by this proposal make it clearer that

Vermont is a state welcoming to all where all are valued, it is worth clarifying the language," she said.

Colorado voters last year approved a similar constitutional amendment, and Utah lawmakers are considering a comparable measure.

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Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery in its constitution in 1777, when it was still an independent republic, White said.

Nearly 90 years later, slavery was prohibited in 1865 in the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Prohibiting it now will not change any laws and not guarantee any new freedom or rights, she said.

Democratic Sen. Richard McCormack, the lone senator who voted against it, said the language in the Vermont Constitution is imperfect but "it's an artifact like the fossils and the floor of the Statehouse."

Changing it would be "putting a smiley face on history," he said.

Sen. Debbie Ingram said she found McCormack's characterization "grossly insensitive."

"For many people, this language is not something we can excuse," she said of the current constitution.

The proposal must get final approval from the Senate before moving onto the House. The Vermont Legislature is beginning what could be a yearslong process of amending the state constitution.