Sears attacks Baruth for blog comments

As the Senate lurches toward adjournment, tensions among senators are rising.

Sen. Dick Sears rose to speak on the Senate floor Friday morning and – without naming names – chastised Sen. Philip Baruth for comments Sears found on the Green Mountain Daily blog that attacked a bill Sears’ judiciary committee has worked on this year.

The bill tries to combat prescription drug abuse. The Senate Judiciary Committee has backed an amendment that would allow police to get information from the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System without getting a warrant, drawing fire from privacy advocates — and Baruth.

The judiciary committee’s amendment also includes a marijuana decriminalization provision, something Baruth and Sen. Joe Benning have been pushing this year.

Baruth posted his comments after a blog post on Green Mountain Daily critical of the prescription drug bill. The last sentence is the best one. Here’s what he wrote on the blog.

“Just so everyone’s clear: Joe Benning and I were promised that our MJ decriminalization language would go on another bill — Senator Sears has now made the decision to put a very similar amendment on this one. But Joe and I are very, very much against this bill, and we won’t let our decrim language be used as bait — not successfully, anyway. So we plan to vote against this one, convince others to vote against it, and try our best to attach decrim to another bill entirely. Will that work? Who knows. But at least we won’t burn in the everlasting fires for encouraging this particular privacy-invading mess.”

Sears was positively peeved at the comments – which he read on the floor — and said it was an attack on him and the other four members of his committee.

Sears said the level of discussion and collegiality in the Senate this year has “sunk to new lows, in my opinion.”

(For an interesting take on the climate in the Senate this year, read Andy Bromage’s Fair Game this week).

Sears was speaking on a “point of personal privilege,” and when he was done, Sen. Mark MacDonald argued that when lawmakers speak on points of personal privilege they should keep it personal and avoid the political.

Then Sen. Joe Benning rose to tell Sears he had nothing to do with Baruth’s comments found in the blog, saying “I did not author or condone” the “words I just heard.”

Baruth sat quietly in his seat.

Once off the Senate floor, Baruth said he was sorry if Sears felt slighted, but added that it doesn’t change his position on warrant-less access to the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System.

“I was writing on a blog about something I consider to be a bad bill, so I used very strong language on a bad bill,” said Baruth.

In conclusion, the Senate’s day began with a bang, not a whimper.