Proposals of Amendment

In January 2015, five new proposals of amendment were introduced in the Senate. From 1880 to 2014, there have been 192 proposals. Eighty-eight of those proposals (46%) were made since the four-year time lock went into effect in 1975 (from 1880 to 1974 a ten-year time lock was in effect). Thirty of the 192 proposals (16%) were put before the voters and twenty-eight were ratified. Seven of the eighty-eight (8%) made under the four-year time lock were submitted to the voters and six were ratified.

The two proposals rejected by the voters were:

  • A 1971 proposal to make the attorney general a constitutional officer, create four-year terms for constitutional officers, and allow for run-off elections if no candidate received a majority was rejected by the voters on March 4, 1974. The vote was 42,724 to 38,413 against ratification.
  • Voters rejected an equal rights proposal on November 4, 1986. The vote was 95,547 to 89,426 against ratification.

Numerous proposals have addressed the judiciary, including at least ten governing the administration or organization of the courts. In addition there have been five proposals relating to juries (1995, 1991, 1979, 1921, and 1880); three proposals relating to the retirement age of justices and judges (1999, 1987 and 1983); and four relating to bail (two in 1991 and one each in 1983 and 1979).

There have been at least five proposals on term limits (three in 1995 and two in 1991); four proposals for direct initiatives by voters (1995, two in 1991, and 1975); and four proposals for a gubernatorial line item veto (1991, 1931, 1921, and 1880).

In 1913 and 1994 the voters approved amendments authorizing the Vermont Supreme Court to revise the Constitution (instead of the voters casting ballots for specific constitutional language). The 1913 amendment (Article 36 of the Amendments now found as Section 75 of Chapter II) authorized the Justices to incorporate into Chapter II “all amendments of the Constitution that are now or may be then in force and excluding therefrom all sections, clauses and words not in force.” The sections of Chapter II would then be rearranged and renumbered under appropriate titles. In 1974, after adoption of an amendment revising the judicial branch, the Justices used this section to revise the Constitution again.

In 1994 the voters adopted Article 52 of the Amendments (found as Section 76 of Chapter II) authorizing the Justices to revise Chapters I and II “in gender inclusive language.”

Among issues most frequently addressed by proposals are:

  • Extending Terms of Office
  • Amendment Process
  • Apportionment
  • Plurality Election
  • Private Property/Public Use

Extending terms of office. Between 1880 and 2014, there have been nineteen attempts to extend the terms of office for constitutional officers and/or legislators (10% of all proposals). Every time the time lock has opened since 1961 there has been at least one proposal to extend terms. Only one of the eighteen proposals made it to a popular vote and that was defeated in 1974.

The last time terms of office were expanded was in 1870 when one of the last proposals by the Council of Censors was adopted, moving Vermont from annual to biennial elections. An effort in 1880 to return to annual elections died in the senate.

Proposals have varied in their scope. In 1890 a proposal would have extended legislative, but not executive, terms to four years, with staggered terms so that half the legislators would be up for election every two years. In 1921 one proposal called for six-year terms for state senators, another for four-year terms for state officers, and a third for staggered four-year terms for state senators. Representatives would have been given four-year terms under a 1931 proposal. A 1971 proposal called for four-year terms for senators. Proposals to make the attorney general a constitutional officer and all constitutional offices four-year terms were made in 1987, 1983, and 1971. On several occasions extending terms of office was coupled with term limits. In 1991, for example, a proposal for four-year terms included a three-term limit. A 1995 proposal for four-year terms limited officers to three consecutive terms.

Amendment Process

Between 1880 and 2014, there have been fourteen proposals to change the amending process (7% of all proposals). All but one called for shortening the time lock through which proposals could be made. The exception was a 1941 proposal that would have allowed the general assembly, by a two/thirds vote, to call a constitutional convention during any session or special session. Any proposals adopted by a convention would then be put to a vote of the people. Of the remaining twelve proposals, nine would have allowed amendments to be proposed every two years; two called for a four-year time lock; and one called for six years (in 1880 under the ten-year time lock); one proposal’s text has been lost. The voters adopted the 1971 proposal for a four-year time lock in 1974.

Apportionment

The Council of Censors was abolished, in part, because of its consistent support for population (as opposed to town) apportionment of the general assembly. The growing disparity among town populations continued to generate proposals for establishing population-based apportionment. Since 1880 there have been fourteen proposals relating to apportionment (7% of all proposals). In 1965 the house was apportioned on the basis of population under federal court order (reducing the house from 246 to 150 members). A 1974 amendment brought Vermont’s constitutional language into line with the new apportionment scheme and called for reapportionment after every second presidential election (Article 48 of the amendments). A 1983 amendment (Article 50) called for reapportionment following every decennial census. Passage of those two amendments quieted apportionment proposals, though in 1995 there were two proposals to change the make-up of the general assembly. One would have created a unicameral legislature and the other would have reduced the number of representatives and senators.

Plurality Election

As of 2014, there have been eleven attempts to replace the requirement for majority election of governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer (6% of all proposals). There were such proposals in 2011, 1999, 1991, 1987, and 1979, and two such proposals in 1975 and 1971 and in 2003. Some simply provided for plurality election, others (such as 1987) set a 40% requirement. That is, if no candidate received at least 40% of the vote there would be a runoff election between the two candidates who received the highest number of votes. One 2003 proposal would have removed the majority requirement and directed the legislature to "prescribe by laws" the manner of determining election in statewide races.

Private Property/Public Use

As of 2014, there have been six attempts to amend Art. II of Chapter I of the Constitution relating to the taking of private property for public use and compensating the property owner (1991, 1987, 1975, 1931, and 1910). In 1910 there were two proposals to introduce the idea of public benefit rather than public use. In 1931 a proposal sought to clarify the State’s right to regulate outdoor advertising (billboards) vis a vis the private property/public use article.

This page was last updated: 2015-02-10