Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, the chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, decided Wednesday the bill would not get a vote before a key deadline Friday for legislation to be considered by the House this year. She said other matters are more pressing, noting the presidential election is years away.
White — who said she was bombarded by postcards from members of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group during the town meeting break last week — told committee members they would hear more legal testimony before voting. White and others are concerned Vermont could get drawn into a costly lawsuit if forced to defend the proposal.
White said she favors the ideas in S.77, of which she was an original co-sponsor, but continues to be “disinclined” to vote for the bill. She is the swing vote on the five-member committee.
Before Town Meeting Day, White said she was “nervous” about the bill but wanted to see what voters said. She said she received more than 1,000 postcards from members of VPIRG, which is asking its supporters to press for the bill’s passage. Nine communities endorsed the idea at town meeting, while one voted against it.
“VPIRG has been on the warpath,” White said just before the hearing started.
She then playfully asked VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns to call off his troops.
“We’re not going to not take it up,” White promised.
The bill would require presidential candidates to release their income tax returns for the previous five years before they would be allowed on the primary or general election ballot in Vermont. Similar measures are being considered in 17 states, largely in response to President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his returns. (Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination, released his 2014 returns but not his 2015 returns.)
VPIRG’s Burns told committee members the proposal was increasingly relevant as more financial questions are raised about Trump, including ones about his business ties with foreign governments. Burns and other supporters said requiring tax returns would provide transparency.
Committee members also considered making the law effective when a number of other states pass it too, a so-called trigger mechanism meant to protect Vermont from carrying the whole financial load if a court challenge were leveled.
Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, a supporter on the committee, said a strong message to other states could be sent if the full Senate passed the measure. Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, also supports the bill. Sens. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, and Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, are opposed.