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Flag Amendment Wouldn't Have Flown in Vermont

By ANNE WALLACE, Associated Press, 12/12/95
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The issue of flag desecration divided Vermont lawmakers in the last legislative session. But now that the U.S. Senate has refused to endorse a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration, the battle is probably over in Vermont, at least for now.

Both of Vermont's senators, James Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, voted against the measure, which proponents hoped would lead to the 28th amendment to the Constitution.

``As a veteran I personally feel that flag desecration is a vile and repugnant act,'' Jeffords, a Republican, said Tuesday in a statement. ``But I also recognize that the preservation of `free speech' as defined in the he First Amendment of the Constitution means nothing if it is not strong enough to protect the rights of those who express unpopular or even distasteful ideas.''

Every state in the nation except Vermont has voted to support a constitutional amendment to protect the flag from desecration.

An amendment would have required approval from three-fourths of the states. Last spring, Vermont lawmakers considered, but did not approve, a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment. Given Vermont's record on the issue, many experts agreed that the state would have been unlikely to approve an amendment.

It's not that Vermonters don't like the flag, said political scientist Frank Bryan, a University of Vermont professor and a native of Newbury. It's just that they like individual rights more.

``We've always been very liberal in the classical meaning of that term, not in the current political meaning of that term,'' Bryan said. ``We've always been a state that doesn't want to put symbolic restrictions on people if we don't have to.''

Last spring, Vermont's Democrat-controlled House insisted on a resolution that called for respect for the flag but stopped short of seeking an amendment.

The Senate, controlled by Republicans, insisted that a resolution should call for a formal amendment. The issue was stuck in a conference committee when the session ended this year. It is technically still alive for the second year of the biennium but it is unlikely to move.

``I think it's because we have an extremely liberal legislative body,'' said Rep. Nancy Sheltra, R-Derby, one of the lawmakers who introduced the legislation to ban flag desecration in last winter's session.

``There's a lot of room for people to read between the lines,'' Sheltra said Tuesday. ``And some of the information that they're reading between the lines makes us look like we're very unpatriotic up here.''

Vermonters traditionally don't like symbols, said Bryan.

``We just don't like anyone - especially the national government - telling us what we can and can't do,'' Bryan said.

The U.S. Senate voted 63-36 for the measure, three votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed for an amendment to the Constitution.

Warren S. Apel