Symington calls for special legislative session

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(Host) House Speaker Gaye Symington is asking Governor Jim Douglas to call a special legislative session next month to consider two key issues.

Symington says those issues are the restoration of campaign contribution limits, and emergency funding for the state’s dairy farmers.

The governor says he doesn’t think a special session is needed.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) A major legal question was raised when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the contribution limits in Vermont’s campaign finance reform law were unconstitutional.

The Court ruled that limits on contributions are not necessarily illegal but that Vermont’s cap of 400 dollars for the governor’s race was much too low.

So this is the question: does Vermont’s previous law establishing a limit of 2000 dollars per election cycle become valid again or does the state have no contribution limits at all.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz believes a legal principle known as “the law of revival” essentially reimposes the previous contribution cap:

(Markowitz) “The principle behind the law of revival is this: Where it’s clear that the Legislature intended there to be some rule, the fact that the court finds the new rule unconstitutional shouldn’t leave the state with no rule at all.”

(Kinzel) House Speaker Symington thinks it would be helpful to have lawmakers endorse this principle in a special session so that all candidates will know what the ground rules are for this year’s election:

(Symington) “I believe Vermonters do not want to see unbridled unlimited campaign expenditures where there would be undue influence from people who are wealthy in campaign cycles. I think it would be very helpful to bring clarity and certainty to this election cycle.”

(Kinzel) There also seems to be growing support for a plan to create a special state milk subsidy for dairy farmers this summer. The program is expected to cost between $5 and $10 million. Symington says lawmakers could also look at this issue in a special session.

(Symington) “The recommendations that seem to be coming forward involve significant appropriations and fairly new ways of providing assistance and I think since we would be also coming back for the issue of contributions limits and some clarity for the election cycle, I think we could use that opportunity to put a stamp of approval on this help to farmers.”

(Kinzel) The governor’s campaign manager Dennise Casey says Douglas would like to avoid a special session – he wants candidates for statewide office to agree to their own contribution caps – he’s offering his own to his Democrat opponent Scudder Parker. Casey says the governor’s willing to stick to the old limit.

(Casey) “He feels that this $2000 single source limit will allow us to strike that balance and it will help to avoid an unnecessary and costly special session at this point in the summer.”

(Kinzel) Casey says Douglas isn’t absolutely ruling out a special session but it’s his strong preference not to bring lawmakers back to Montpelier this summer.

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

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