Lawmakers debate four-year terms

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(Host) Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment extending the governor’s term to four years say the future of their amendment may be tied directly to a plan to create four-year terms for lawmakers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) At the start of the legislative session, Senate government operations chairman Bill Doyle was hoping to bring a constitutional amendment creating a four-year term for governor to the floor of the Senate this year. Vermont and Rhode Island are the only states in the country to maintain a two-year term for governor. But dynamics of the debate surrounding this issue are changing at the Statehouse and Doyle says he may have to wait until next year to present an amendment to the full Senate.

A number of House members, including Speaker Walter Freed, have told Doyle’s committee that they will not support a four year term for governor unless the amendment also creates a four year term for lawmakers. Doyle’s committee needs to look at this issue because once the Senate gives its approval to a proposed constitutional amendment it cannot be amended by the House. Freed says giving the governor a four-year term without changing the terms of legislators will create an unfair balance of power:

(Freed) “The incumbent governor could use the power of the governor’s office to campaign, I think quite effectively, against legislators that oppose the administration, or oppose the governor’s agenda, or for the opposite party of the governor. So it gives an unfair advantage to the governor’s office in those election cycles in which the governor does not have to run his or her own campaign.”

(Kinzel) Doyle acknowledges that the issue has become more complicated because of the concerns of the House. Doyle says the initial results of his Town Meeting Day survey indicate that Vermonters support a four-year term for governor by a two to one margin. But people may not support a four-year term for lawmakers as part of the same amendment:

(Doyle) “The committee, after taking a lot of testimony, may come to the conclusion that it should be four across the board. But that would require certainly public hearings, a lot of testimony. That’s certainly an option. The reason we early on wanted to speak to the House is because the House members can’t amend a constitutional amendment, and we’re obviously interested in how they would respond to any action that we took.”

(Kinzel) Doyle says his committee will have to decide what approach it wants to take with this amendment in the next few weeks.

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

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