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Vt. lawmakers table college donor secrecy bill

Fri, 03/12/2010 - 7:18am
JOHN CURRAN - Associated Press Writer - Associated Press

Vermont lawmakers, having second thoughts about a bill that would grant anonymity to donors to the University of Vermont and state colleges, voted Friday to table it.

Bowing to criticism, the state Senate ordered the bill to lie, meaning it could be amended and resurrected later or could be left to die when lawmakers adjourn their session. State Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said it will not be passed.

"I think there's been a general agreement that's been reached that we're just going to let the bill fade into infamy," said state Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington.

The measure, which was added to a bill dealing with changes in the state archives, would cover UVM, the state colleges and the Vermont Student Assistance Corp.

The confidentiality provision, which is only for those who seek it, wouldn't be available if a donor does more than $10,000 worth of business with UVM within three years of making the gift.

"The pendulum has swung," said state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi. "It was one of the first bills that passed the Senate this year and very frankly, a lot of people did not understand the significance of the exemption," said Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans.

Supporters say public disclosure of who gives what to the colleges could discourage would-be donors or expose those giving large amounts to unwarranted attention. Critics say anonymous donations — especially big ones — can give influence to behind-the-scenes individuals.

"The example I give is if Bernie Madoff and (drug manufacturer) Pfizer gave large grants to UVM, who also accept taxpayer dollars, doesn't the public have a right to know?" said Shumlin, a Democratic candidate for governor who has vowed to kill the measure.

But state Sen. Jeanette White, who is a trustee at the University of Vermont, said she's not giving up yet. She said the Senate Government Operations Committee she chairs may take more testimony on it.

"I'm chagrined that so much has been made out of this bill, which I believe the intent (of) is just to protect individual people's privacy," said White, D-Windham.

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