MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate joined the House in passing a resolution apologizing for its role in the eugenics movement, in which so-called “delinquents” and “defectives” were institutionalized or sterilized. The policies targeted French Canadians, French-speaking indigenous Canadians, indigenous peoples and people of color, and disproportionately affected women.
The Senate, rather than concur with the House version of the resolution, replaced it with a “strike-all” amendment and its own wording — varying slightly from the House text, but hitting all the same salient points.
Like the House version, which passed 146-0 on March 31, the Senate resolution, reported by Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, sums up the history of the eugenics movement, and the Legislature’s active role in promoting it in the early 20th century, up to and including the passage of a sterilization law in 1931.
“While sterilization plays a major part of the eugenics story, it’s important to know that the Vermont General Assembly created elements of eugenics by segregation and institutionalization,” Collamore said. “We removed children from their families involuntarily, we removed adults from their families involuntarily, we placed restrictions on marriage, and we did it on a discriminatory basis.”
The resolution lays out how sterilization, institutionalization, and family separation had “devastating and irreversible impacts … that still persist in the lives of targeted groups and especially the descendants of those who were directly impacted.”
It further details how researchers in the Vermont Eugenics Survey, led by University of Vermont professor Henry Perkins, were granted access to case files from state agencies and institutions. Those files were then made available to police, social workers, educators, and town officials, leading to further family separation and institutionalization.
The vote on the resolution was 29-0, with Sen. Joshua Terenzini, R-Rutland, absent.
The Senate’s leadership, President Pro Tem Becca Balint and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, both released statements hailing passage.
“It doesn’t make things right. It doesn’t repair the damage done to individuals, families and communities. But it is still important that we publicly declare that the eugenics movement was horrific and abhorrent,” Balint said. “And it’s even more important that we apologize for what a previous legislature did to their fellow Vermonters. Healing can only begin after a sincere apology and a commitment to do better.”
“I applaud the Vermont Senate, as well as the Vermont House, for their leadership in further bringing this reprehensible part of Vermont’s history to light and offering a formal apology to all those who were, and continue to be, harmed by these actions,” Gray said. “I want to express my sincere apology, on behalf of my office, to the countless Vermonters, especially women, whose safety, health, and basic human rights were violated at the hands of the state.”
In other business, the Senate gave final passage to the broadband expansion bill, H. 360, and suspended its rules to send the bill back to the House immediately. The bill would spend at least $100 million to build out fiberoptic lines to bridge the state’s digital divide.
It also passed on voice vote H. 225, a bill decriminalizing the possession of less than 224 milligrams of buprenorphine, a medication used to treat substance abuse disorder. The House passed the bill last month.