- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont is joining a growing number of state legislatures considering measures to force presidential candidates to make public their income tax returns in exchange for a place on the state ballot.

The measure would require anyone seeking the presidency to give the Vermont Secretary of State’s office their tax returns for the past five years. The requirement would apply for both the primary and general election ballot, though a candidate who managed to win an election through a write-in campaign would be exempt from disclosure.

The Vermont bill is rattling some lawmakers who worry about a possible costly legal challenge.

“I am nervous about us taking this on and potentially having to defend it, especially in the Supreme Court because I think we would lose, given the makeup of the court,” said Sen. Jeanette White, a Windham County Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate committee on government operations.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia are considering similar measures after President Donald Trump was elected, according to a tally from the Vermont Attorney General’s office. Trump is the first major candidate in recent history to not voluntarily release his tax returns.

“We can’t take transparency for granted any longer,” said Paul Burns, president of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which supports the bill.

Only the proposals under consideration in Massachusetts and Vermont would require tax returns for both the primary and general elections.

“These are very relevant issues for voters to consider when they are making up their minds for who to vote for,” Burns said.

Two senators on the five-person committee said they won’t support the bill.

“I would do anything to give Trump heartburn. But the federal government and the constitution lays out the requirements for electing a president,” said Sen. Chris Pearson, a progressive. Republican Sen. Brian Collamore also said he would not support the measure.

Because the next presidential election is in 2020, states have a few years to pass bills dealing with the election, White said.

As a way to ensure the law has support from other states, White proposed amending the bill to include a so-called trigger mechanism, meaning the law would only go into effect if a certain number of other states decided to enact a similar bill.

Burns said his organization is working on a legal review to add clarity to the Senate discussion.

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