Constitutional amendments begin vetting process

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(Host) The Senate Government Operations committee is expected to review a number of proposed constitutional amendments in the next few weeks.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Amending the Vermont Constitution is not an easy process. First, the proposed amendment must receive at least 20 votes in the Senate and then it must be approved by a majority of House members during the same biennium. Once the amendment passes the Senate, it can’t be changed in any way. If the proposal survives this process, it must be approved once again by a newly elected Legislature. If this happens, it’s then presented to voters in a statewide referendum.

Since 1880, there have been 174 proposals; only 28 made it as far as the public referendum process, but voters have given their approval to 26 of the 28 proposals. An effort to create a four-year term for statewide officers was defeated in the mid 1970s and in 1986 voters rejected an equal rights amendment.

The four-year term is back this year. Vermont is one of just two states that has a two-year term for governor. Washington Senator Bill Doyle, who plans to introduce the amendment in the very near future, says his proposal would be good for economic development efforts:

(Doyle) “Almost all the governors in America are out there trying to find jobs for the people who live in their own states. And how could a governor in the midst of a campaign four, five, or six months, spend a million dollars and still concentrate on bringing in jobs. But also, the whole question of long term planning can take place.”

(Kinzel) There will also be proposals to remove the Legislature from the process of electing statewide officers if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. Rutland Senator John Bloomer has a plan that allows a candidate to win with a plurality as long as the person receives 40% of the vote. If no candidate gets 40%, Bloomer would hold a runoff election with the top two candidates a month after election day:

(Bloomer) “I think it’s a balance between the various competing interests to make sure that we have a plurality. We have the people deciding who makes the decision for our next governor. It takes it out of the hands of the Legislature and it does it through a two-step or two-hurdle process.”

(Kinzel) Legislation has been introduced implementing an instant runoff voting system in Vermont. Backers of the IRV plan say their proposal can be put into place without a constitutional amendment but not all lawmakers agree with this analysis.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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