Vermont Senate Committee Votes to Suspend Lawmaker Accused of Sex Crimes

The Vermont Senate Rules Committee voted 3-2 to suspend Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin County, pending dismissal of sexual assault charges against the lawmaker.

The resolution still requires action from the full Vermont Senate, when it returns to work in January.

"I have had a lot of support from my constituents," McAllister told the committee, noting 2015 has been "horrendous" on him, and saying sexual assault accusations have ruined his finances and reputation. "I should be afforded the same thing any other citizen of Vermont or the United States is: the presumption of innocence until proven guilty."

McAllister, who is also a farmer, said he wants to keep his seat and continuing serving the people of Franklin County in Montpelier.

"I see it as, you've got somebody down on their knees, so you kick them in the head," McAllister said of the committee's discussion of his possible suspension Wednesday. "And that's the way I look at this proceeding."

On May 7, McAllister was arrested outside the Statehouse and accused of sexually assaulting three women, including a former Statehouse intern. The Republican denied those charges in court, and has been free on bail pending trial, which is expected early next year.

During the Legislature's summer and fall break, McAllister has brushed off suggestions he resign his seat.

"I don't believe any of my actions have ever shown I've been a threat to anybody," McAllister told his five colleagues who make up the Vermont Senate Rules Committee.

Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden County, said he believes someone facing felony sex charges should not serve in the Senate, especially because high schoolers often assist Senators as pages.

"I think that that's the Senate ignoring the dictates of its own permanent rules on sexual harassment," Baruth said of the notion of keeping a person suspected of sexual assaults in a position of power.

Committee members repeatedly said they wanted to take care in making their decision, and in advancing any resolution to the full Senate, to avoid causing potential problems with McAllister's upcoming trial.

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland County, said she has concerns that suspending McAllister would mean his constituents would not be served in Montpelier to the extent they deserve.

"The residents of that area are being denied their Constitutional right to fair representation," Flory said.

Along with the committee's 3-2 vote to suspend McAllister, a second resolution fell in defeat by a 1-4 vote. That resolution, introduced by Flory, would create a special panel that would determine how to handle Senators accused of felony crimes.

Asked after the meeting for his reaction to the vote, McAllister said he was disappointed, but vowed to show up for the first day of the legislative session, Jan. 5.

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